‘Be’ at home.

Given the ‘unprecedented’ grip that the corona virus is placing on our everyday lives, it is a fair estimation that it has had an effect on all of us to varying degrees.

Following government orders I have had to retreat into my home, away from the workshop sharing in the common cause to do our bit in slowing and ultimately defeating this virus. 10 days ago I was in the workshop making jigs and templates to make a bench, the first piece of my new collection, before realising that it was not fair or responsible to continue to work in a workshop with other makers. At first I found myself at a serious ‘loose end’ but I am now finding ways to combat this. The first is reading, learning and writing, so here we are…

Whilst Covid-19 is a test to our livelihoods and businesses, it is also giving us time at home to concentrate on learning new skills, reminding us the need to be resourceful and the need to respect the space we share with others and their boundaries. I believe it is also a good time to ‘be’ in our homes and appreciate what we ‘have’, not what we ‘think we need’. What makes our home a relaxing place to be? We are all so different. Some of us choose to live amongst all of our treasured possessions which others might refer to as ‘clutter’. Your neighbour may live with whitewashed walls and minimal statements of their personalities.

Being a cabinet maker and a lover of wood, I have always liked to have my favourite material in different shapes, sizes and species. This is usually mixed with fabrics of different weave, colour way and style as Matilda, my wife, is a textile designer of Haveli Design. The combination of the two materials is our happy medium, but today I wish to concentrate on wood and the positive effects it has on our state of mind and being.

I read in a book, or heard on a video once, that cabinet makers look with their hands.

It is a beautiful phrase that holds truth. When you have spent years running your hands along sanded table tops they get incredibly sensitive in detecting imperfections. Before a piece of furniture is oiled it is imperative that you can highlight these imperfections so as the table is perfectly prepared for finishing. As well as being a useful tool for my work, touch also creates comforting emotional response. The feel of a warm plate of steaming food in your hands as you walk to take your seat at the table, the same with a mug of tea on a cold day. The crisp satisfaction of your fingers flicking through the pages of an old book or the security you get from holding the hand of someone you love. Touch is emotive.

A group of Japanese scientists did a study aimed to clarify the physiological effects of touching wood with the palm, in comparison with touching other materials (stainless steel, marble and tiles) on brain activity and autonomic nervous activity. The results concluded that the effects caused by touching wood with the palm showed reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and reduced heart rate compared with the touch of other materials, inducing physiological relaxation. (1) So there you have it, touching wood with your hands is scientifically proven to reduce stress and induce relaxation.

Being used to a workshop and practical environment I have struggled being so desk bound. I sit at my laptop trying to summon some sort of ‘plan’ to contribute to my business. It is not easy to remain calm all day long, so I have found myself bringing the house plants a bit closer to my desk.

I enjoy being in modern concrete buildings, I think they are , especially when decorated with splashes of colour in art and plants, however that is purely from an architectural aesthetic, physiologically they induce a feeling of cold.  Wood positively contributes to our indoor environment. A study was carried out in Slovakia, where a waiting room in a doctors surgery was renovated in pine and oak and the results proved that on a well-being level the patients were in a more relaxed state than before the renovation. On a micro level, wood has impressive antimicrobial properties, it improves air quality and is a natural insulator of thermal energy, helping to regulate the temperature of your home. (2). Another study tested the psychological effect that the appearance of wood based products had on our well being. “There also appears to be a strong belief that the use of wood can help to create healthful environments, and commonly evoked descriptors for wood rooms include “warm,” “comfortable,” “relaxing,” “natural,” and “inviting.” A human connection with wood and the natural world are used as a focal point for improving health and recovery times and reducing stress levels. This method of architectural and interior design is put into practice with impressive results at the Maggie Centres.

Maggies centre

On Sunday we took our daily exercise exploring the Savernake forest next to where we live. The sense of calm that it instilled in me was extraordinary. It was a windy day and the trees swayed above our heads. There were beech, sweet chestnut, yew, hazel and a famous oak tree known as ‘The King of Limbs’. Being in the presence of these majestic trees, big and small allows us to feel more connected to our natural roots. Our ancestors used to roam these woods for thousands of years, foraging and hunting for their dinner. These ways are still ingrained in our DNA and therefore, it is no wonder why we psychologically and physiologically react positively to the presence of nature and trees, and wood in our homes.

So whilst we spend more time in our homes, working and waiting for this horrible virus to dissipate, try focusing on those treasured things (wood or otherwise) that lower stress levels, instil calm and make you feel glad to be in your nest, and when you get your moment to take some exercise, head to where there are trees and notice the buds and life appearing on the tips of the branches. Try and notice how they are emerging a little more every day. When life goes back to normal, you will be too busy to be so mindful as you can in these times. We must all try and focus on the positives. We are unlikely to ever experience this much ‘time’, free from distraction again in our lifetime.

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