Spending more time with family or flatmates is one of the most wonderful things to get out of shelter during the coronavirus pandemic. It's also one of the most difficult. The truth is, togetherness is great until you want to be alone. Before the pandemic, I had retired to a cafe on the street when I needed a break from all the Lego rummaging, Cheetos crunching and questions at home. But now that these old hiding spots often feel more stressful than calmed down, the only option is to cut out your own escape pod.
"The value of creating a private oasis is in the mental refreshment," said Dr. Sally Augustin, environmental psychologist and founder of the design studio Design With Science. "It's an opportunity for thought." So if you're thinking about escaping to give your mind some time to reset instead of looking for a new physical space, you can find a break without going outside – even if it's a chair that just turned, a large pillow on a rug in the corner or a pair of noise-canceling headphones.
It's all a matter of personal preference and, in general, few principles apply. This can also be done inexpensively. "What matters is everything that is fun and what is not distracting," said Nia Lawrence, creative director at Essence Communications in Brooklyn. "All you need is the smallest corner."
Here are seven strategies to create your own oasis no matter how small your space is.
Find forgotten space
"The pandemic has forced us to rethink our use of space," said Malachi Connolly, architect and owner of Malachi Connolly Design in Brooklyn. Imagine restaurants that use alleys as dining areas or schools that set up classrooms in courtyards. "Space has been democratized and interstitial space can become primary space."
You can spot these unused spots around your home too – maybe in a foyer or even a laundry room. Leslie Barrett, architect, interior designer and partner at Studio Sucio in Los Angeles, created a corner in her bedroom by improvising a table with a marble top and placing it with a chair between the window and dresser. "Before," she said, "it was just ground."
Like those coffee tables on the side street, a home shrine can be set up and dismantled on an ad hoc basis. When you have modular furniture, you're breaking the expected precautions, said Barry Reidy, manager of rural interior design at Ikea US. A sectional modular sofa can be divided into individual chairs with the armrests in the middle instead of the ends to create more personal space. A modular dining table can be detached after meals and pushed to the sides of the room to create an escape pod for one person, as Mr. Connolly said he did in his house.
Everything can be a limit
Room dividers, bookcases, or houseplants are some obvious ways to cordon off a private space. However, simply sitting in a high-back chair can provide a cocoon-like unwinding and parting experience. People like having their backs "protected" to relax, said Dr. Augustine, noting that this corresponds to our innate preference to avoid surprises from behind, be it a hungry predator (in prehistoric days), mischievous cats, or sneaky toddlers.
Ms. Barrett holds a high-backed rattan peacock chair and throne in her open living space. Even more substantial would be a porter's chair that has a curved top and creates a deeper sense of separation and security. But any large comfortable chair can, especially if you can put your feet up. John Loecke, co-founder of Madcap Cottage, a design and furnishings company in High Point, NC, said, "A chair gives me permission to relax and have 20 minutes of bliss in a hectic world."
Block the noise
Depending on your situation – possibly noisy children or a videoconferencing partner – headphones can be critical to getting you there. Even regular earbuds will help, but if you want to create a real sense of separation, consider noise-canceling headphones that have features that actively attenuate noise and, in many cases, touch your entire ear. With my noise-canceling headset, a weighted blanket, and a book on the end of the couch by the window, I can turn off the soccer game the boys watch on TV.
Establish the law
Most people will find clues on when not to be bothered. "But people vary," said Dr. Augustine, so you may need to establish some rules to avoid misunderstandings. Let your partner, roommate, or children know that when you put your headphones on, or sit in the white chair, or whatever you've set up, they should be mumbling a word in response to questions you are for a set period of time.
Some parents put up a sign or flag to let their kids know that they need some time so as not to disturb. If your children are having trouble understanding this, then coming to your oasis can create a private oasis for them to enjoy. Ms. Lawrence, Essence's creative director, set up a tent for her daughter in the living room.
Bring the Outside In
If possible, set up your escape area near a window. "It gives you visual focus length beyond your small space," said Ms. Barrett. In other words, you can pretend your little oasis is bigger than it really is while relaxing your eyes and mind.
Seeing greenery – whether from the window or a plant on a nearby table – can also channel feelings of relaxation and escape, said Paul Harris, Ph.D., a psychologist at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, who also a degree in design. A recent study by the American Society for Horticultural Science found that workers experienced better mental health gains if they purposely stared at a desk of their choice for three minutes when they were feeling stressed. If you don't have a green thumb, try succulents, which are low-maintenance but visually appealing.
"We don't know, but we are constantly examining our environment," said Dr. Augustine. In order for our brain to feel refreshed, we need to "manage the visual complexity," and that includes clutter. While there is no point in keeping the rest of the Marie Kondo site tidy, make a commitment to clearing the immediate vicinity of your island and your line of sight of trash. Keep the books or whatever you want on hand in a nice container. I find that pushing the Legos off my side of the coffee table and couch dissolves significant anxiety once I'm finally settled in.
Make it yours
Mr. Loecke from Madcap Cottage recommends decorating your oasis with design elements that mean something to you: “Ask yourself: is there a place you like to go? A moment that you would like to bring back to life? "
Find some large pillows or a lampshade with patterns that remind you of a tropical escape, or a small rug with a texture that you love. You can also find great road trip photo frames, magazine covers, artwork for kids, and your favorite gift wrapping – anything, really.
Lighting can also go a long way in making your personal space stand out from the rest of your home. Use lamps that give off a pleasant light, regardless of whether you choose a floor lamp or a table lamp. In general, soft, diffuse lighting can make the room look more welcoming, Reidy said. It can help you delineate your space and it gives you the ability to customize the lighting to suit your own preferences without considering the needs of others. That in itself can be refreshing.
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