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Design Lessons for Creating Sacred Interiors

Georgia Marcantoni on how we can improve public spaces to bring greater balance to our lives.

by Simone Spilka

February 20, 2018

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The Assemblage member Georgia Marcantoni started her career as a set designer and prop stylist and worked for design brands including ABC Carpet & Home before launching her own company for creating holistic interiors. Focused on “supporting betterment and best practices,” Marcantoni’s seamlessly blends wellness into the backdrop of the workplace or home. This mission is based on the belief that our environments should provide us with “a little bit more joy, a little bit more fun, a little bit for play,” and allow people to gracefully deal with life’s challenges as they arise. Marcantoni’s philosophy is that interior design doesn’t have to be over-complicated or intricate because there is beauty and magic in subtlety.

We interviewed Marcantoni to learn more about the power of designing sacred spaces, the importance of surprise and wonder in her work, and improving public spaces to bring more wellness and balance to our daily lives.

The Assemblage: Tell us about the inspiration behind the piece — or nest— you created at our House.

Georgia Marcantoni: The core values of The Assemblage led the way on it. Before, it was just unusable space. Knowing the way that people like to work today, and in this type of environment, we just needed something casual where you can lounge around and be on the floor. It’s a 5×8 space — a perfect size for three or four people to huddle in together, or two people to lounge out.

If you’re sitting on the floor and really relaxing, then you have a view of the ceiling. A lot of times, designers don’t think about that. But ceilings are super important in my perspective of space because I create in a full way; it’s all about rejuvenation and wonder and awe and coming into that state of the unknown.

I wanted to provide something that would hold the space so that people could feel really safe inside of it, go on an adventure and experience something out of the ordinary. There are a lot of beautiful little details, so every single time you come in, you can notice something else. The same way in which you go to the forest and sit with a tree and look up and see something new every time. I think that’s deeply healing.

Our interview was inspired by the creative nest Georgia Marcantoni created on the mezzanine of The Assemblage NoMad, where members take meetings, meditations and — sometimes — even naps. Photo by Inna Shnayder

TA: Is the ‘nest’ based on any specific design philosophy?

GM: There is a design philosophy called biophilic design, which says we should design in alignment with the natural environment — and this space in particular is about creating a place of refuge. Ninety-eight percent of the materials used are preserved, real flowers, and I wanted to bring the outdoors in for people, and to give them the curiosity to question if it’s real or not real. All of my work is really to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, because that’s the side of the nervous system that heals.

This [space] wasn’t fully designed with sound as the intention behind it, but I also wanted it to be an interactive space that could involve the tactile and audio parts of it. So you go in there and take that enchantment to the next level. Koshi chimes are obviously a beautiful tune for that; a lot of sound healers use those, because the harmony that happens is special. There’s also gold chain and dandelion LED lights in there; lots of little things that you sort of know, but you don’t normally know together.

I want people to stop and inhale, and if I can accomplish that, I’ve succeeded. I think that’s what people want more; it helps you slow down, it helps you connect with yourself.

TA: Is the surprise element of design the most important?

GM: Yes. Maybe refine the word surprise as less surprise and more curiosity, like the unexpected. I think that’s really important.

We put a lot of boundaries and limitations on what’s possible. If you think about the environment in general, we chose the way our buildings and roads are built. There are a million ways we could have done it; that’s just the one that was chosen, for whatever reason, and it is largely destructive for us. Now we’re coming to awareness and realize we can choose anything. So, why choose something that you’ve done a million times or you’ve seen a million places? Your space is a place to express in a physical, tangible place your non-tangible mind and the truth of who you are. So play with it, give yourself the opportunity to be that real.

I think a lot of people get scared with design, especially with interiors, because it can be expensive to try different things. I always try to welcome people to consider that there are not wrongs and rights, because it’s just the physical projection of your internal world, that’s it. It moves, it’s fluid, it’s going to change. Every time you change, your physical space will change, and every time you change the physical space, your internal space will change. You can play in tandem with that and try different things and see what it feels like.

Sometimes you go to a store and a great stylist will invite you to try something on that you would never think looks good on you. When you put it on, it invites a new part of yourself to come forward that maybe has been hiding, and you didn’t know how to get it out.

It’s like that — I love showing people they’re more than they think they are, that life is more than they think it is, that there’s magic in the mundane.

TA: If you’re a bit fearful or paralyzed by interior design, it could feel like an overwhelming challenge to get started in organizing, but creating sacred space is vital. Can you speak to the notion of designing your home and your workplace to be “sacred?”

GM: Your space is there to remind you of who you really are. It’s a tool. And most people don’t use it as a tool; they use it as a utility. You can come into realizing that it’s a tool to help support you in your total wellness.

Once you start there, then you have to ask the question, “What do I actually need to be well? What supports me?” A lot of us don’t know how to really take care of ourselves. Your space should be set up so that you can dance through it — and that goes from your closet to your bedroom to the kitchen. Those three main places are really worth nurturing. It doesn’t have to be drudgery; it can just be fun and play, so give yourself that. Come into the bedroom and give yourself really beautiful bedding and a comfortable mattress that it’s hard for you to get out of in the morning, and that you crave to come back into.

I want to help people create beckoning experiences for things that are good for them. If you meditate every day or you’d like to, let’s create a special corner that’s meant for that, with a wonderful cushion and throws and candles or anything else that you like to be part of that experience.

Figure out what you need to be safe, to feel nurtured, and to feel excited and beckoned. You can have all of those reminders in there of where you came from, where you are now, and where you know you’re going. Wellness and happiness is simpler than we think it is.

Stuff around your house should take you on a bit of a journey, giving you talking points that open you up to share more deeply about yourself when people come over. Like a picture that reminds you about that amazing trip to Guatemala, and how it opened up your eyes. Each time you feel down, you can come home and you can see that image or you can touch that fabric and remember you’re actually OK. That’s really what sacred spaces are about.

And [sacred spaces] can be anywhere. I hope to bring more to public spaces, because urban people are my focus. In that environment, you don’t go home as often, so we really need to have safe spaces along the way, throughout the day, that are for the public, that have no cost to anyone.

Wellness will improve society at every level, including financial, and it doesn’t have to cost money. Luxury is a state of mind — it’s not a dollar value.

TA: How can we expand this concept of holistic interiors globally — in terms of art installations, and in public spaces in major cities. How can we create more spaces that have this energy?

GM: This last election year I saw the anxiety that was living so vehemently in people, which obviously has continued. As the world gets more and more chaotic outside of us and all of the spaces that we can’t control, at least at your home level is a reality that you can control. You can control the rules and environment there, so it’s a good starting-off point for people, because you can hold the vibration there.

Opening it into public spaces and commercial spaces is where sound started entering the spectrum for me, because it’s so neutral. I think there’s so much value in just giving people that self-exalted experience by just letting them come into a space and hear a gong or a chime, and it can change you. It can open you up to be curious, and realize that things can be simple.

When you get to that extreme point of doing things that you know how to do but you don’t like the outcome, that naturally opens you up to trying other things. That’s part of why society has shifted so much in the last 10 years toward holistic thought and healing practices.

And beauty itself is really healing. We undervalue that a lot of the time or don’t realize the power of it. When you go out into nature and you stand on that cliff and you see the vastness, it reminds you of your own vastness, and that’s why it feels better. So, creating public spaces that can offer that expansion, that breath, that pause, will help people. I am studying so I can work with designers and architects and city planners to help them understand how they can design in a way that adds more wellness into the experience.

TA: And how do you actually define holistic design?

GM: It’s understanding how we can design spaces that support your betterment and your best practices. We do that through a full-sensory analyzation of your space and yourself. It’s a way that you can support yourself in a little bit more joy, a little more fun, a little more play. And dealing with the shit that does come up. How can we actually clear up your space, and set ourselves up for success and just bring more fullness to what you’re doing.

TA: What was the biggest challenge to getting where you are today?

GM: I used to be really sick with an autoimmune disorder, and I healed myself holistically. That’s really where the work comes from. I realized [in this process] that my thoughts created my illness, that my relationships, my food, my skincare, my clothing created my illness. I got really scared. I became neurotic and felt like I needed to be a bubble person because I felt like every single thing I was doing was making me sick. And I freaked out for a while. Luckily I had been on my yogic path for a few years, and one day it hit me—polarity! If everything can hurt me, then that means everything can support me. I wanted to shift from harm to help.

Autoimmune is the number one killer in the world. And autoimmune, on an emotional, mental level, is a confusion of understanding what’s harmful and what is helpful. So, that’s why your body attacks the opposite thing. There’s so much confusion, there are so many opposing sides that all counter each other. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking medical or food or what. Like government and politics. There’s so much information, you’re overwhelmed, and you can’t filter it out and understand it.

TA: Your personal life is deeply embedded in the work that you do. Was that the worst of it, or did other things come up in the last two years since starting on your own?

GM: I’ve gotten clear, and I’m taking action and things are progressing, but maybe not to the level that you think. Gabrielle Bernstein used to be one of my clients, and she always talks about an overnight success that took ten years. And I think that that’s the thing: The people who you admire, people you want to emulate, the lives that you want to live — for the most part are people quite a bit older than you. There’s a couple people in their twenties who are making it happen, but it’s more rare.

You just don’t know what they actually went through to really get to that point, or even how much stuff I’ve done that nobody knows about. That’s been challenging, because I’m a speed demon, and then I get in my own way like everyone else does. So, just me being my little me is my biggest challenge sometimes: she’s strong willed and gets in my way a lot. I’m just starting to tame that little dragon so she can be my accomplice instead.

TA: Do you plan to create more for The Assemblage in the future?

GM: I have lots of really big ideas. We could go so much further.Let’s do it. I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to do some really weird stuff.

TA: We like weird here, for sure.

GM: Hopefully I’ll get my chance.

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