Spaces That Make Us Feel Alive

Words and Imagery by KAREN ROSENKRANZ

Trend forecaster and author Karen Rosenkranz on shifting our priorities towards a more embodied and considered domestic experience.

In the current discourse about the future home, technology often plays a dominant role. Digital devices monitor heating, manage fridge contents, operate entertainment systems and anticipate our desires before we are aware of them. More and more tasks can be outsourced and automated. A plethora of services fuel our desire for instant gratification. This uninspiring vision overlooks both human needs and planetary emergency. Homes are hyper-connected, yet we feel lonely and isolated. Excessive comfort makes us numb and sedentary. Novelty is fetishised, while the living systems that support us are depleted.

Perhaps it’s time to apply a new set of metrics to our domestic lives. Let me offer a few suggestions:

Elements of discomfort

A few years ago I spent a week at a bothy in Scotland as part of a residency program. There was no running water, no electricity, a compost loo 50 metres from the bothy, and a wood fire stove to heat the space and cook. It was not comfortable, yet I have never stayed in a place that made me feel more alive. While this might not be the most practical solution for everyday life, I believe we need to embrace a more rugged way of living again. Humans were never meant to spend so much time indoors. Instead of just cushioning us from the volatile world outside, our domestic environments should invite us to feel intensely. This also entails learning to do more things by ourselves and within our communities again, from growing and preserving some of our food to mending what is broken. Simpler, analogue solutions in the home are easier to understand and repair than hi-tech devices. Even the smallest level of self-sufficiency is empowering. The disruptions that are surely coming our way will need all the resilience we can muster up. We better start training that muscle and embrace the discomfort.

Impactful and striking, synonymous and at odds with its environment. Stone boulder, Burgenland, Austria by Karen Rosenkranz.

Respecting the rhythms of life

There has hardly been a time before when people led such disembodied lives. We exist in our heads and our phones. Homes are optimised for consistency, allowing us to keep the same pace and intensity throughout, completely ignoring the basic yet fundamental cycles of life. Living more in tune with the world outside – seasons, weather, and moon phases – can help us to drop into our bodies. If we notice the subtle shifts occurring within, we can adopt more regenerative practices. Guided by our circadian rhythm, we naturally slow down during the dark season (the concept of wintering), and become more active and outwardly productive in spring and summer (our current state all year round). Can we create spaces or rituals that foster a more direct relationship with the world outside and heighten our sensorial awareness? Making the home a more sensuous, tactile space creates an antidote to the intangible, digital worlds we inhabit. We have bodies! We exist in a greater web of life! Our homes should pay homage to this interconnectedness.

“Making the home a more sensuous, tactile space creates an antidote to the intangible, digital worlds we inhabit. We have bodies! We exist in a greater web of life! Our homes should pay homage to this interconnectedness.”

Intentional connectivity

There are a million reasons to reach for the phone. I don’t know how many times a day I catch myself scrolling or reading through message threads when all I want to do is a quick Google search. Digital technology has its place, but we’ll have to rethink how it best serves us. The distraction it enables is wild, yet we allow it to colonise every aspect of our lives. If we want our homes to be more restorative spaces, do we really need high-speed internet connection in every room 24/7? Different areas in the home should enable certain states of being, bringing specific requirements towards connectivity. By now most people sense that an always-on lifestyle is neither healthy nor desirable. We need to challenge the glorification of hyperproductivity. Managing connectivity in the home is a simple first step of resistance. Wouldn’t it be great to switch wi-fi on and off like a light? Time has become so elusive. We all want more of it. A more intentional approach might help us reclaim some of it.

Analogue photo by Karen Rosenkranz.

Duty of care

Capitalism is fuelled by a manufactured desire for novelty. It is difficult to escape product hype cycles and the superficial sustainability claims made to justify (over)consumption. But we have a responsibility towards our belongings! In our current economic model, it is cheaper and easier to throw things away and buy them again, than to repair them. We must take better care of the products we own and consider the whole lifecycle of the materials they are made of. Rather than following the latest fad, let’s think more long-term and invest in high-quality items that last. My ideal home is filled with fewer things, but things I know how to care for and repair. A vintage, pre-loved leather sofa might be a better solution than a new product made from renewable materials. Essential is a more considered relationship to our stuff, the planet, and ultimately ourselves.

Our homes are where we can most readily shift our habits and priorities. Let's be guided by principles of resilience, embodiment and interconnectedness. We might gain a new sense of aliveness in return.

Discover Karen Rosenkranz here and purchase her book City Quitters here.