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Homeowners add features that create happiness, Homes HQ

Here, the homeowner – an avid bird watcher – requested her own personal sanctuary: a space with a panoramic view of the Red River to watch birds and other wildlife that traverse the river banks. Gilbertson Photography for Meland Architecture / Special to The Forum1 / 4
Built-in reading nooks have become increasingly popular spaces in recent years and can be incorporated throughout the home. Gilbertson Photography for Stahl Architects / Special to The Forum2 / 4
Here, owner and graphic designer Chris Hemmah assembled an intimate conversation space within a two-story atrium in a downtown Fargo loft. The EcoSmart fire element and a custom-built pit help to create a cozy feel. Gilbertson Photography for Stahl Architects / Special to The Forum3 / 4
This lakeside retreat frames an expansive – yet cozy – view from a second-story reading nook that doubles as a grandchildren's favorite hangout and guest bed. Gilbertson Photography for Stahl Architects / Special to The Forum4 / 4

FARGO — For many people, the home is more than just a place to eat, sleep and raise a family. It's often a place of tranquility, providing comfort and happiness. But the happiness doesn't happen by accident.

"People who are intentional about it set up any house to be a sanctuary," says Phil Stahl, the founder and architect at Stahl Architects. The people, or rather, the homeowners, dictate what that space looks like and what features bring happiness to each individual.

A home sanctuary will look different depending on the person, and there are many things homeowners can do to change the look and feel of their home.

Acoustic-filtering properties

Heidi Toso, a design specialist at Thomsen Homes, says because of the popular open-floor concept, acoustic-filtering properties are being added to homes.

"People's homes are becoming their sanctuary, so I've noticed that noise reduction is a big thing," she says.

Features include quiet, energy-efficient appliances, soft close drawers and doors for kitchen cabinets and solid core doors for bedrooms.

In the building process, homeowners can also request specialized insulation. Stahl says spray expansion foam, structural insulated panels and insulating concrete form are all ways to seal the home and block out noise. Adding insulation between floors can also reduce noise, adding to the sanctuary feel.

Owner Chris Hemmah assembled an intimate conversation space within a two-story atrium in a downtown Fargo. Special to The Forum


The ability to control lighting based on mood or occasion is another way homeowners are making the space their own, and technology makes that possible. Companies like Lutron have designed systems with pre-programmed lighting (and window controls) for different occasions.

Stahl says homeowners can set up a handful of light settings — giving their house smart home characteristics. While a setting for full lights works great for cleaning, a separate setting can be used to turn off all lights before bed so homeowners don't forget a room. A vacation setting might cycle lights throughout the home on a timer, while a dimmed function may be used for parties or relaxing evenings.

Making the most of the natural light available can also make a difference. Stahl says homeowners should consider designing their home to see natural light in the places they need it most — at the end of a hallway or on high-traffic paths. By shifting windows to these common circulation paths, the home becomes brighter, and "every direction you're going, you're looking outside," Stahl says.

"You can have lights off during the day, because where you're walking, your circulation paths are lit by natural light. It's a healthier house, it's a cheerful house. Natural light is appealing," she says.

Color and design

A home's design itself can also bring tranquility. Stahl says the current era of retro-modern design calls for clean lines and less detail in cabinets and furniture. Simplicity alone can have a calming effect on homeowners.

There's also psychology to color, Stahl says. The Chinese art of feng shui says that shades of pink can calm a room, while green hues symbolize nature, emitting refreshing, serene vibes. By being intentional about color in each space, homeowners can affect the feel of the room.

Custom spaces

One of Stahl's clients requested a soundproof room to keep sound in when he played music and movies.

"This was specific to his sanctuary, his sound room," Stahl says. "It wasn't just to be in there and be dead quiet."

Others seek solitude. Reading nooks have become increasingly popular. Stahl says that by adding a foot to a switchback staircase, homeowners can create a library that lines the stairs and a bump out reading nook at the landing.

Sarah Susanka, a Minneapolis architect, wrote a book called "The Not So Big House" where she explained the importance of an away space — "having a special space that's specifically your own," Stahl says. For him, that means a studio room where he incorporates memories of his kids, like a kite from daughter hung on ceiling, his son's hammer divots in the floor and "nothing but positive thoughts," he says.

Everyone has their own definition of a home sanctuary. For some, it might be a place of solitude, while for others it's an outlet for expression. Either way, the key to creating the perfect space is being intentional about it and that is what many homeowners are doing.