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The Residential Retreat:

Neuroaesthetics and the Art of Destination Living

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Residential Retreat, Destination Living

Retreat: a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax.

Oxford Dictionary

I have had the pleasure of traveling throughout the Americas, both North and South, as well as the Caribbean, yet one of my favorite places is home. Coming home is easy and staying is easier still when it’s not just the place to escape to at the end of it all, but a place that truly nourishes the soul. Each of my residences, despite the location, have had something in common. Each could be described as a sanctuary, an oasis, what I coined as destination living, and the residential retreat. 

The residential retreat has been a trademark of mine since my first home. I’ve found joy in making a house a home while artfully capturing the essence of what makes my favorite public spaces so appealing. Destination living and the residential retreat make a house, not just a home but also a sanctorum for the spirit and respite for the mind. 

Now, more than ever, creating a restful home is an act of self-care. Home is where the heart of the family is in a whole new way. It has once again become the epicenter of life. Everything is happening there: school, homework, business deals, and conference calls. Many have canceled travel plans and are enjoying stay-cations instead of vacations. Because of this, the quality of that environment should be of paramount importance.

“We are exquisitely designed for aesthetic experiences, from the mundane to the sublime.”

-Susan Magsamen

Creating a visual feast for the senses once seemed indulgent or unnecessary for some. Others felt that it was reserved for the wealthy or only an elite few art collectors. However, scientific studies show that aesthetic experiences profoundly impact our biological circuitry. This is the premise of the experimental field of study called Neuroaesthetics. Neuroaesthetics was coined in the 1990s by Semir Zeki, renowned neuroscientist, and professor at the University College of London. Neuroaesthetics marries neuropsychology and aesthetics, and its research centers on neurological and biological responses to art, along with their ability to evoke feelings of pleasure. 

My gulf coast pied-et-tierre became an accidental case-study in neuroaesthetics. Hidden on the fringes of Florida’s gulf coast in a beach-inspired property, quietly nestled atop the building’s top floor, it is a trifecta of neuroaesthetics, destination living, and the residential retreat concepts. Palm trees and blue skies accent the property, and the grounds offer fragrant blossoms on the Edenic escape. The paired-down and artfully designed interior has every need provided for and little luxuries at hand. Well-appointed, streamlined, and clutter-free, it provides a haven for both creative and cognitive thought. 

Research has shown the correlation between environment and subjective wellbeing. Untidy, cluttered, and visually unappealing spaces were found to have a profoundly negative impact on the level of achievable enjoyment within any given area. Overall satisfaction with life was also compromised, ultimately leading to stress and depression. 

In her article, 5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter Out of Your Life, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP, and Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of Fulfillment at Any Age wrote:

Streamlining seems to have its advantages, then, not just as a housekeeping tool, but as an essential process for maintaining your happiness in your home environment and at work. At the same time, cutting through the clutter can benefit your physical health and cognitive abilities.”

In 2016, the University of New Mexico’s Catherine Roster and colleagues examined how clutter compromises an individual’s perception of home, and ultimately feelings of satisfaction with life. However, neuroaesthetics takes the impact of the personal environment a step further.

In her article published by The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Your Brain on Art: The Case for Neuroaesthetics, Susan Magsamen, the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, a pioneering neuroaesthetics initiative from the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine stated:

“Neuroaesthetic researchers are also studying the activation of reward systems and the default mode network when viewing or creating art. The reward system releases feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that trigger sensations of pleasure and positive emotions. We see these pleasure centers light up in the brain when we are both creating and beholding the arts or engaged in aesthetic experiences.”

Magsamen highlighted how the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs partnered with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), to launch the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network initiative. This national project employs creative arts therapists to help service members, veterans, their families, and caretakers deal with combat-related trauma. 

“They receive a daily dose of art therapy through writing, music, or art-making, alongside conventional medical treatment,” she shared in her NHI article. 

“Research now makes clear that experiencing or creating art sparks a dynamic interplay among brain cells that spearheads billions of changes affecting our thoughts, emotions, and actions. This knowledge elevates the arts to a superpower in its potential for healing and empowerment. Indeed, if we were to design a tool from scratch to improve learning, health, and overall wellbeing, it would look like the arts.”

If scientists, therapists, and researchers agree that environment can impact your wellbeing, why not make it the most positively impactful space possible? If experiencing or creating art and music heals, why not bring this experience into your home? Why not make your home a healing center for you and your family?

Taking a cue from these experts means that you can elevate your environment and sense of wellbeing through art, sculpture, and music. If we will be no other place, we will be home. Now is a great time to make your home a sanctum that you never want to leave. Look for ways to bring the healing power of the arts into your space to create your residential retreat. 

Get an exclusive inside look at Venesulia’s Gulf Coast pied-et-tierre and the application of neuroaesthetics to create her residential retreat. https://youtu.be/ikdknYbnRuI

-Venesulia

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