Window plants in tins

Create an inspiring space now

Though it’s often overlooked as a place of learning, the home provides an invigorating environment for adults and children alike in which to flex their intellectual muscle and explore their creative abilities. If you pay special attention to the large and small details of spaces where learning, leisure and work take place, you can establish dynamic rooms that help you feel more stimulated, inspired, inventive, original and productive.

So think beyond style when considering the appearance of some spaces in your home. Whether you’re building, renovating or simply want to embrace a décor change, the following interior design, storage and style ideas will help fire up the minds of everyone in your household.

Break the rules

Thinking outside the square and using objects for functions they weren’t originally intended for is a great way to challenge the imagination and encourage greater creativity. Find ways to break the rules, such as the following ideas.

Recycled bookends
Symmetry creates a visual appeal that draws and satisfies the eye. So having two of anything on either side of some books will instantly foster appeal. Why not try bookending with two

  • Heavy metal Chinese dragons
  • Cheap jewellery boxes with beading on the exterior
  • Small round hat-style boxes weighted with something like pebbles (with lids fixed shut) or used to house craft and sewing materials
  • Carved sandalwood boxes
  • Old-fashioned irons?

Pretty door stops
You can purchase modern door stops in lovely shapes such as owls, pigs, turtles, elephants and even apples and kettles.

Cards in photo frames
Display postcards from an art museum featuring famous pictures of celebrated painters like van Gogh, Picasso, Dalí or Toulouse-Lautrec. Or feature beautiful nature pictures of mountains or sweeping beaches from places you have visited or postcards others have sent you. In addition, use small photo frames to feature lovely cards with artistic depictions of nature, such as flowers, butterflies, leaves, sea urchins, frogs, peacocks and kittens.

Unusual wall hangings
Think beyond colourful mobiles and wall hangings suspended from hooks on the ceiling. Fix a couple of old bike wheels to the wall and hang toys, puppets or other objects from them on hooks. Make mobiles out of feathers or old silver forks and spoons, large paintbrushes dipped in different colours and left to dry or beautiful origami birds or strands of assorted ribbons.

Install hooks or rows of lace, twine and wool across old glass-free mirrors and picture frames and hang items from them, including stringed beads, cute cotton dolls or puppets or single-strand wind chimes.

Curtain rings
Place curtain rings on small pieces of painted or lime-washed dowel rods or wooden or decorative cloth-covered coat hangers and use them to hang all kinds of objects.

Ladders & trellises

Fix a couple of old bike wheels to the wall and hang toys, puppets or other objects from them on hooks.

A wooden or bamboo ladder can look vibrant or beautiful when hung with sarongs, patterned material or beautiful origami paper in different designs. A stepladder can become a stand for pot plants. A wooden Garden trellis can be fixed to the wall and used as scaffolding for hook-on wire or cane baskets, or as a rack with hooks to hang aprons, pots, pans and measuring spoons for “pretend cooking”. Or a trellis can provide the backdrop for a natural art installation where you weave found objects like leaves and twigs and flowers through the trellis.

Motivate minds

Ensuring your indoor décor includes a range of patterns, textures and features can help both adults and younger family members feel more focused, energised and invigorated within the space.

Bring nature indoors
Greenscapes are well known to induce feelings of calm and elevate mood. So bring aspects of the beautiful outdoors into your learning spaces wherever you can, using:

  • Pot plants. Go for plants with a variety of sizes, leaves, textures and colours.
  • Nature trays. Invest in appealing wooden trays and use them to display lovely found objects from your yard, bushwalks or trips to the beach. Change some of these according to the season. Or use some of these objects, such as dried flowers and beautifully veined leaves, to inspire artworks or decorate craft.

Create a sound box
Start off with simple percussive instruments like castanets, shakers and tambourines then add to the mix over time with new additions such as a little thumb piano, some recorders or small pan pipes. Choose these instruments in natural materials such as wood and bamboo so that they are beautiful to look at as well as listen to.

Go vintage
Some lovely objects can be sourced in second-hand or antique stores and they can add instant character and a sense of history to indoor spaces. These include items like wooden chairs, plant stands, storage jars and vases or milk jugs. You can also find lovely retro objects to hang on the walls like vintage flying ducks or geese. If going second-hand is too expensive, look for reproductions. Some homeware stores are now doing vintage-looking clocks, trays and photo frames which have been made to look distressed and aged or fashioned out of recycled goods.

Use walls like canvas

Though it’s important not to overdo different patterns as the space will appear too busy or frenetic, decorating the walls is an easy way to bring a room to life. Try these tips to introduce new colours, patterns, texture and stimulus to your walls.

Install a chalk wall
This is great for your kids to draw on or practise writing letters and numbers. It also provides a place for adults to doodle — a pastime that is very beneficial for problem solving and creativity. Once a month, draw a feature picture that takes up the top part of the board. This might be of something simple like a rainbow or snake, or something a little more complex like a vine with fruit and flowers. Encourage the kids and extended family or friends (if they pop in) to pitch in and add something to the drawing so that it feels like a community effort.

Paint a scene, border or pattern
You can get a local artist to come in and reproduce an image of a particular scene you like. The image may feature dragonflies, frogs on lily pads or the sun, moon and stars for your children’s play space and a scene of trees or cherry blossoms or a waterfall in your space. Or you could go for something more 60s, such as a geometric design. Or, if you don’t want to paint a wall, consider using different stencils to add some lovely shapes as a border around the room or patterns on floorboards.

Add a different texture

Thinking outside the square and using objects for functions they weren’t originally intended for is a great way to challenge the imagination and encourage greater creativity.

This might mean tiling a wall or putting up coloured parquetry or bamboo panels. Or you might opt for painted, distressed or stained wooden boards or horizontal wood panels, or hang an unusual beaded curtain down the entire wall to create an eye-catching pattern. Alternatively, your feature wall might be covered in appealing shelves that house some kind of collection such as colourful bottles, objects from the sea or novelty salt-and-pepper shakers.

Colour power
Unsurprisingly, a monotone colour scheme is not the best choice in an area of the house used for study, play or work. Back in the 1970s, Rikard Kuller found that colour and different patterns had a stimulating impact on the central nervous system and the cortex of the brain, the grey matter associated with our higher-functioning thoughts and actions. Research has since shown that students learn and perform better in an environment that uses some colour rather than institutional white. To introduce more colours to your learning space, try the following.

A feature wall
Whether you pick a special colour as a contrast to white or a more vibrant version of a lighter colour such as green, the room will immediately seem more interesting. Adding pearl paint to one wall or the ceiling can be a nice soft touch. It can look spectacular, particularly if the walls capture shimmering light at some point in the day. Or pick patterned wallpaper and use that for your feature wall. A medium shade of blue, green or light purple for a feature wall works well when combined with warm neutral shades like oyster, beige or sandstone. In his five-year study of schools, famous artist and colour researcher Harry Wohlfarth, from the University of Arizona in the US, found that blood pressure reduced and calmness and academic performance improved when students were looking at colours like warm yellow and light blue and when the blackboard colour was blue instead of dark green.

Accents of colour
These may be in contrast to the colours on the wall. Accents can be added through painting shelves, tables and chairs and through a choice of storage boxes, mats and wall hangings.

Go for a range of colours, some stripes, a gorgeous paisley pattern or something earthier in a tribal design.

Stimulating storage
To ensure that a space helps you feel more creative or cerebral, it helps to have an array of visual triggers. Display inspiring materials used for play, art, craft, problem solving or education so they are easily accessible. Even without touching them, they will help switch on certain parts of your brain.

Metal buckets
A row of metal buckets of different colours or sizes or of uniform size in silver is a lovely way to store craft items such as ribbon, paintbrushes, Paddle Pop sticks, crayons, pencils and pipe cleaners.

Jars & canisters
Jars of all descriptions, spice containers, vintage glass jars and 50s-style coloured canisters can be great for storage. They can also be used in the office to store items like paper clips, drawing pins, rubbers and pencils.

Hanging shelves
Buy them in a few different colours or in calico and use stamps and paint to cover them with different designs.

Old cases
Old suitcases, school cases, guitar cases and picnic baskets can be used for storing craft materials (in smaller containers), toys and dress-up clothing. Line them with some pretty paper for extra visual appeal.

Attach baskets to walls vertically and horizontally for visual interest then use them like shelves to house everything from art materials to books and knick-knacks such as little statues. Within baskets, use other containers such as a lovely cloth or coloured paper bag that houses craft paper.

Plastic ones in bright colours are versatile for storage and hardy if the kids decide to sit on them — or in them! Old tea chests and smaller packing crates can look fantastic stocked with colourful items such as gift-wrap paper or painted canvases.

Places to be secret

A tepee or pop-up house

Students learn and perform better in an environment that uses some colour rather than institutional white.

These can provide the equivalent of an indoor cubby house. They can provide a lovely spot to lie back on a pillow and read or sit up and do something creative like a crayon drawing. In a living area or large office, a tepee for adults can provide a soothing space to write a journal or poetry or enjoy a chai or herb tea, meditate or simply sit still and listen to some relaxing music.

A big cardboard box
If you know anyone who’s buying a new washing machine, dryer or dishwasher, get them to save the box for you. Children enjoy hours of fun in boxes, which are the ultimate simple cubby house. Within a moment, imagination can turn them into a space ship, a boat or a cave in a secret forest. Smaller cardboard boxes can also be used. Paint them and repaint them from time to time to look like trains or cars or fairy carriages.

Curtains & nets
These can be used to divide rooms or encircle a couch or a pillow corner to immediately create a secret, private space. Tab curtains are cheap and come in a range of patterns and colours. They also offer the chance to add different texture to a room, whether you opt for something silky or something rougher hewn and woven in appearance. Alternatively, you can use a mosquito net, normally used on four-poster beds, to surround a day bed or reading nook and create a sense of shelter.

Travel with your senses

Objects and décor from other cultures can help you feel as if you’re breaking the monotony of the mundane and stimulate your senses and creativity, too. That’s a good reason to give indoor spaces such as a large rumpus sunroom a cultural makeover or add more accents of other cultures throughout your house. Try these quick, easy cultural homages:

  • Asia. Add a few decorative Asian cabinets, boxes or a decorative screen. Paper lanterns, a kimono or two hung on the wall, some bonsai plants and suspended origami paper or silk umbrellas can help complete the look.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa. Look for prints that are geometric or tribal — you can even throw in a few scatter pillows in a leopard or zebra print. Add some African statues and masks around the room, along with drums, woven pots and baskets. Finish off with some vibrant wall hangings with designs in earthy colours such as reds, yellows, browns and rust.
  • Morocco. Invest in a couple of round ottomans to scatter around the space. A well-placed day bed can add to the right atmosphere. Scatter it with pillows in Moroccan-style designs and hang some silky tab curtains around it. Go for a vibrant mix of colour such as ochre on that wall and contrast with accents such as purple and deep green or gold or rich crimson. Add some coloured teardrop-shaped glass bottles up high where little fingers can’t reach them. Hang or display some Moroccan lanterns with stained glass in them around the space to add more lush colour. Leave them empty of candles if you’re concerned that they might entice your child to try to want to light them.

Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist. She is an advocate of nutritional medicine and specialises in all aspects of health, from exercise and disease prevention to stress, depression and women’s health issues.

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