Pandemic and Pinterest push interest in wellness design
Paula Kennedy wellness design

Wellness design can encompass many areas and is key to adding to a person’s wellbeing.

Wellness is a hot topic in a variety of areas, including kitchen, bath, and closet design. 

Paula Kennedy, owner of Timeless Kitchen Design in Seattle, Washington, has been at the forefront of wellness design and education for a number of years. In addition to being a kitchen and bath designer for 23 years, she’s also a closet designer. In the last five years, she has been teaching and speaking. One of the current hot topics of her seminars is wellness design.

“I have done a number of continuing education presentations for the National Kitchen and Bath Association. My most recent presentation was on wellness, a topic that is fascinating to me,” said Kennedy. “Over the years I have been putting all these pieces together, from universal design to aging in place to the impact of color and the design of smart homes. All of these design elements are about having a better quality of life for all of us.”

Kennedy said wellness design encompasses many areas and is a key to adding to a person’s wellbeing. While Kennedy agrees wellness is a hot topic due to the pandemic, even before the pandemic hit she was beginning to see this as an emerging category for designers. 

“Acceptance of wellness design wasn’t an overnight thing,” said Kennedy. “I remember in the past trying to get clients to embrace touch-free or motion sensor faucets. It was like pulling teeth. Today every faucet I specify is hands-free. Consumers are definitely sitting up and taking notice of wellness in their homes.”

Part of the new acceptance of wellness design can be traced to the fact that the pandemic has meant that at least temporarily more people are at home instead of at school or at work, adds Kennedy. “For many, it was a scramble to accommodate the varying needs of everyone.”

Kennedy is from the Pacific Northwest. “Where I live we deal with a more than average amount of darkness and gloom so light is important. It isn’t just aging in place consumers and clients who are asking me for more light. All of us need more light.” 

Kennedy said she is getting client requests for interior lighting in cabinets, drawers, and closets and she wholeheartedly supports that trend. “When we are talking about lighting, it is also about light management. The goal is to give clients more lighting along with control of it. Clients can change the color in the light bulb or use a dimmer to control it. With the invention of LED lights, our options with lighting have been transformed. We can choose the color that makes every room in the house look the best.”

Kennedy said many of her clients will come to her for more interior lighting in cabinets and closets because they have seen it on Pinterest. “Before they might have considered lighting in a cabinet or drawer or closet as a luxury. They would say, ‘Why do I need lighting in my closet?’ or ‘My cabinet drawer is for utensils!’ They see lighting in all sorts of places and it is becoming an expectation. It has become a component they need. Today layering and managing light are important to wellness.”

Kennedy added having more control of light ties into wellness in terms of supporting our circadian rhythms and our sleep. “We can program the lighting in our homes, such as having the night lights programmed at 7 p.m. to change color and manage light in the bedroom with blackout blinds. On your phone, you can use a blue light filter. It is all designed to help us get a good night’s sleep,” she said.

“Light affects everything about our health and wellbeing in a space. If you have the wrong color of light in the space, we physiologically react and respond to lighting. Sometimes we don’t understand why we feel good walking into a room. Most people can’t put language to it and they don’t understand that it is the lighting that comes into play and makes them feel a certain way,” said Kennedy.

At one point in her career, getting clients interested in things like lighting was a lost cause. “Today, I see that clients and people, in general, are more open to setting aside budgets for lighting. It is becoming more of an expectation than a luxury,” said Kennedy.

For those stuck inside during the winter and in bad weather, access to daylight from skylights and windows becomes very important. A connection to the outdoors, even if it is through a window is important, said Kennedy. “Windows fall under the category of lights. I will even install little windows, 24 inches wide into kitchen backsplashes to provide added light and ventilation if they are opened.”

As to the role of colors role, Kennedy said in the Pacific Northwest and nationwide people are being drawn to colors that are emotionally supportive and mood-lifting. “Positive colors such as pale greens, pale blues, and lighter cool greys with a yellow undertone. The yellow undertone is a mood booster. Greens are attractive to people because of its connection to the outdoors.”

Sherwin Williams and other paint companies have come out with paint that has antimicrobial properties, added Kennedy. “Wood surfaces materials are a whole other topic. “Easy to clean is important. It was actually the influenza pandemic in 1919 where porcelain all of a sudden took over our bathrooms,” said Kennedy. “Before that, there were wood toilets and wood water closets. Porcelain remains popular today because it is easy to clean and germ-resistant and it even looks clean,” said Kennedy. 

Materials known for wellness include wood and cork. “Having wood countertops is like bringing the outside in. Studies have shown touching wood surfaces has lowered blood pressure. Cork is comfortable and easy on the joints plus it is naturally germ resistant. Copper sinks are pretty rare but they look great and are good at killing viruses naturally.” 

“I think we might even see a comeback of Corian or solid acrylic surface type countertops. They have been used in commercial and healthcare for years because they are antimicrobial and resist bacteria. I haven’t had any requests for it, but it might make a comeback,” added Kennedy.
Plants play a part in wellness design as well. It doesn’t even have to be a live plant, although Kennedy uses live plants often because they help with oxygen and purify the air. The best live plant to have near your bed for helping with air quality is an orchid, said Kennedy. 

Wellness is now a major ongoing category for design and there is an International Well Building Institute (IWBI), added Kennedy, who hopes to get WELL Certification soon. “We are just at the starting point of this. It is a major endeavor for home and commercial applications for now and in the future.” 

More on wellness design

Kennedy was the featured presenter for NKBA’s Wholistic Wellness – Healthy Families in a Healthy Home webinar, which took place earlier this year. 
A recording of the event is available online at

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About the author
Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.