They have been our refuge, literally, for months. They comforted us but also suffocated us, barricaded as we were within their insurmountable walls. How has the relationship with our home changed during the psychological trauma that was the pandemic? Can we ever go back to looking at it with the same eyes? And do we really want to do it or use this opportunity to start a new relationship with our home space?

* Ernestina Rossotto is a psychologist and psychotherapist. She devised Psycho-Design which studies the relationship between people, environments and objects.

The lockdown has been long.

For those who have always thought of the home as a place of passage from one activity to another, staying still has not been easy. Yet in these months many have had to learn how to do it, and in the worst possible way. Not time that they desired, but time imposed by circumstances. What has happened in the meantime in our relationship with our homes? For some the home has become an enemy, experienced almost like a prison, though it used to be a place of welcome and protection. For others, homes have remained (or been discovered as) a refuge, a shelter, a place of love and togetherness. All these people, at some time, have yearned to possess or inhabit a house.  The difference lies in one word: love.

If we love our home and take care of it, it will love us back, taking care of our authentic needs. The goal is not to live in a perfect house like the ones in magazines, but in a home that is perfect for us: to give us what we need, when we need it. Like a person we love, who loves us.

To do this well, it is useful to think about the home as a network of relationships. First of all with ourselves: to understand ourselves, to express our emotions and necessities. And with the people who share our vital space: so they can be more aware of us and of themselves, and of the meaning of the spaces we share. And, finally, with the objects that often bear witness to something deeper than mere function or appearance.

A family heirloom (a mother’s bed, a grandmother’s dressing table, photographs of ancestors) might lead to arguments: why keep it? Rather than grasping at straws to find functions that might in any case be replaced, it would be better to look inside ourselves, to understand what that object means to us. If certain presences connected with past memories bring pain or irritation, it might be better to banish them from sight. On the other hand, if they bring important experiences back to life, they should remain (and be shared). It might be interesting to play a game here: all the members of the family choose three objects they are particularly fond of, and three objects they would like to throw away, explaining the reasons behind their choices. The discussion can lead to greater mutual awareness and a partial “refurbishing” of the house. Everything cannot be left unchanged over time, because the home has to change in keeping with our changing needs.

If you cannot replace a piece of furniture, changing its color can help to make a room seem more welcoming. Adding cushions on the sofa or removing shelves and other items, or replacing a chandelier with a new one, changes our perception of the home and our relationship with it, making us perceive the context as more comfortable and pleasant. From the primordial home, the mother’s womb in which we all once lived, we need to recover the sense of wellbeing, protection and uniqueness, translating it into objects, spaces and furnishings.

When we set out to furnish a home we look for advice and inspiration, from magazines or professionals, and the haste to reach a decision, or the lack of time, can convince us to settle for prepackaged solutions. Instead, it would be better to concentrate on what we like, what we want, what colors “work well” for us.

Creating a home that fits our needs means knowing who we are and what we require most. For example: do we prefer a terrace or balcony on which to grow flowers, or a corner for writing, reading, listening to music? What makes us feel good? What are our priorities?

Though it isn’t trendy, we might want to insert a cherished old armchair. If we love the color violet, we should use it. If we like shadows more than brightness, we should make our spaces dimmer.

If there is anything positive about this pandemic, it is the possibility of seriously coming to terms – over the long term, in the moment of difficulty and need – with our living spaces. And with ourselves in relation to them, with the people and objects that inhabit them, together with us.

Therefore this might be the best time to observe our wellbeing in the home, making some simple, economical but vital changes for improvement. Taking what truly counts as our starting point: our love for ourselves, those close to us, and our home.

Let’s not waste this opportunity.

A Room in the Garden’ is a multifunctional octagonal environment. Designed by Studio Ben Allen in London, it transforms according to needs into a study, living room, games room or bedroom. Illuminated by light coming from a large window overlooking the garden and from a central skylight, it is designed to be built, dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere simply and quickly.


Cover photo by Alessandro Furchino Capria @alessandrofurchinocapria, part of 100 Fotografi per Bergamo charity to support of the intensive care unit of the Papa Giovanni XXII Hospital in Bergamo during the Covid pandemic.