The Psychotherapy of Design

I feel so cleansed. We just spent two days DIGGING out of our storage room. Multiple trash bags, an impromptu yard sale and a carload of stuff bound for Good Will later, we have a room that works.

OK, not a storage room you would find in any magazine, but an organized pantry, appliance shelves, and coat racks with only coats that we currently wear.


The cabinets (formerly our kitchen's before the renovation years ago) now ONLY contain dishware, placemats, and serving pieces we like and use.

There is a point of design to be made here, even if the storage room is far from beautiful. The reason I have such an incredible lightness of being about this project is that we have gotten rid of so many objects that were taking up space and — yes — emotionally weighing us down. Knick-knacks given to us over the years that we never used; a million picture frames (I’m not a picture frame person); outgrown toys; old coffee pots that for some reason we never got rid of when we purchased a new one; the creme brulee torch that never made it out of the box.

To the point where you couldn’t even walk a straight line when you came into this room. Mostly because of STUFF that falls into the category of “well I can’t just throw it AWAY….” So it all sat and sat… and built up into a virtual hoarder’s lair where it became harder and harder to find the things that we actually needed and used.

Which brings me to Baltimore designer Kim Eastburn.  I met her nearly two years ago, and was absolutely transfixed as she told stories about clients whose desire for “a new look” were really the result of a much deeper longing for a new emotional space — that these were people in some sort of transition in their lives — divorce, kids moving out, you name it — that all of a sudden made their surroundings seem “off.”

Kim has the power not only to beautify your home, but to clear away your emotional cobwebs, too.

Fast forward to this fall, and Kiim’s perceptive talents as well as her design skills are being noticed for this approach. For one, Baltimore Style magazine recently featured her in a wonderful profile titled The Design Shrink;  “You can’t underestimate the impact of a physical environment on your well-being,” she says in the article. “If it’s stagnant and stuck, chances are you are, too.”

What woman wouldn't have instant peace of mind in this boudoir?

Kim has a blog, also called Interior Design Shrink, where she muses about all these topics. Her most recent posting is about how there has to be a certain amount of destruction before you can reconstruct what’s truly important to you in your home: If there were a fire, for example, what would you grab before running out the door? Some have surprised themselves with the answer.

She quotes one woman whose home was threatened by wildfires in California: “Turns out, all the clothes, jewelry and paintings she labeled important, really had little value to her in the big picture. Seems the wildfires were a blessing in disguise. It was the catalyst that made her ask, ‘If all this stuff isn’t really worth saving, then why is it cluttering up my closets, bookshelves and fireplace mantel? What are all those clothes in my closet doing there anyway? And why do I save all those snow globes?’ ”

A beautiful illustration of what you get when you pare back to only the essentials.

When I met Kim last year, I was really struck by her powers of perception. She has never been to my home, but after talking with her for over an hour, she said she was seeing a yellow room with white trim. Our bedroom is a soft butter yellow with white trim! She really can see through someone’s personality and quite literally turn it into color and fabric — kind of like how some people hear music and immediately see a color along with those note patterns.

I would really like to meet the person who lives in this space!

I spent a long time last night reading through Kim’s blog posts, and I started to see why small changes we’ve recently made in the house have had such a huge impact.

For one, I took down a painting next to our front door that my mother had given to us a long time ago (sorry, Mom!), which had a huge garish frame that never felt right for me. I had found an old painting that my great grandmother had painted, dusted and dirty, and recently I took it to Evelyn Avery to be cleaned, refurbished, and framed. Here is the glorious result:

The painting hangs over a chest that my husband had built for my by Caleb Woodard, whose shop is in walking distance from our house. The combination of two pieces that have so much meaning to me makes this small little vignette perhaps the most important part of our whole house. I recently told Jim that these things constituted the first “real” part of our house, and Kim’s writings certainly explain why.

The frame is so perfect for this painting, and the paint has a new glow to it. Look closely at the lower right corner to see my great grandmother's signature -- Jennie Artz. I was named after her.

I run into some people who complain that this or that decorator created a design that was to the decorator’s style, not the homeowner’s — that the decorator didn’t listen to them. Kim is all about listening, and when you are with her, she makes you feel like there is no other person in the world besides you.

Another of Ki'ms dreamy designs.

“We can learn so much about ourselves by reflecting on the space that houses the life we build there. Whether it’s an update or total gut job of the physical or metaphorical ‘home,’ it is always up to us whether or not we will live happily ever after,” she writes in this post.

These are lessons we all should remember the next time we are moved by a desire to redo a room, or even the whole house. Thanks, Kim, for helping me think in a new way about the meaning of  interior design.


  1. I’m going through this also since we just moved into a townhouse we bought here in Arlington this summer, but still own our (large) house in Arkansas. We have inherited so much stuff, from furniture to silver to cut glass that we have enough for both places – really, too much! Paring down is our goal as we will eventually live here only. Now I’m trying to decorate a townhouse – but without buying anything, just reusing.

  2. Great post, Jen. And thanks for the introduction to Kim Eastburn. And congrats on that cleanup! Have a wonderful holiday~