Slow home design is the principle of slowing down to design homes and spaces that are sustainable, practical and functional. The slow home movement was founded in Calgary by John Brown, Carina van Olm and Matthew North as a response to the poor design practices that have pervaded the mass housing industry the past few decades. It encompasses many ideas on how to live more sustainably – from LEED certification to the simple positioning of windows – and for for those of us who aren’t able to build new or renovate from the ground up, it’s a concept we can embrace by simply looking for ways to make our homes more efficient, easier to maintain, and better for our overall wellbeing. 

slow home design and home sustainability

Back when I lived in Calgary from 2010-12 I leaped at the chance to take weekend in-studio workshops and courses from Slow Home Studio.  Brown, Olm and North lay out 12 Steps to a Slow Home and teach designers and builders to strive for a more “considered, calm and intuitive” approach to residential design. The concept is to use well-considered design principles to create smaller homes that will be environmentally sustainable, continue to meet the needs of homeowners over time, and are built to endure. 

Courtesy of Slow Home Studio

Courtesy of Slow Home Studio

Brown says in an interview with The Chicago Tribune that a slow home is:

“reasonably sized and carefully designed to support its occupants. It might have an entry where family members can easily take off their boots, stash their keys and store their backpacks, for example. It might have a living space that encourages people to talk or read, not just watch television or surf the Internet. It’s energy efficient, filled with natural light and designed for easy flow among rooms and access to the outside.”

North continues the explanation in an interview with The Calgary Herald:

“I think the boom of the big-house era is coming to an end. So those houses will be less desirable and valuable as time goes on,” North says . . . Expect a shift to smaller, more energy-efficient homes, North says, and a move away from homes on the fringes of cities. A decade ago, a 5,000-sq.-ft. home sounded like a dream to some. These days, that much square footage “sounds like a noose around your neck. There’s uncertainty about the energy cost to heat your house.”

These principles and 12 steps make a lot of sense to me, and really, most of them are common sense. But in this age of building fast and big and cheap and decorating according to the latest blog trends, common sense often goes out the window. That’s why I love the idea of building, renovating and designing slowly. Because when you slow down to really understand what you need from your home, how you will use it, and how to make it work better for you, you’ll end up with a space that’s easy, happy, restful, relaxing, welcoming, and cost-efficient. Yes, it is possible, even if you aren’t able to start from scratch. 

Over the last years I’ve taken the concepts I’ve learned from the slow home movement and used them in my own houses and apartments and with clients. I always put function, wellbeing, and sustainability first, then layer in elements that make a space beautiful and meaningful. These are often just small things that any of us can do with small or large budgets (and sometimes without any budget at all).

Do I struggle with finishing a project slowly? Yes, definitely. I’m not one to live in unfinished chaos for long – it makes me come undone myself. However, I do think that a space evolves slowly over time, so while I decorate with what I have now and keep things organized and “finished”, my spaces are never actually finished because I continue to infuse them with new finds from flea markets, new artwork or photographs of something that makes me smile, and more comfortable and eco-friendly furnishings as I’m able to save up for them. 

So if you like this idea of creating a slow home – even in your existing home without much money to spend – here are some easy and practical ideas. 

1. Think about how you use every room in your home.

Are there spare bedrooms that you haven’t been in since the kids flew the coop? Use them for something that’s meaningful to you and will help you flourish – perhaps a yoga room or a painting studio. Or close them up, turn off the heat and never waste another minute dusting them again. 

2. Let in the light. 

While you may not be able to locate your existing home so it best takes advantage of the sun, you can make sure you open up your windows to let in as much light as possible. If you have curtains that are blocking light, remove the rods and hang them higher and wider than the windows, so that the curtain panels hang outside of the casings when opened during the day. Place mirrors on walls opposite your windows to bounce more light around the room. Oh, and give your windows a good cleaning – it’s amazing how much a little outdoor dirt can diffuse light entering your home. 


3. Strive for sustainability.

Consider upgrading taps, showerheads and your toilet to water-friendly options to conserve as much as possible for our planet and communities. The sources for this design board for an eco-friendly bathroom are here.  

4. Make your entryway functional.

This is a must for easy, happy living. There’s nothing more frustrating than piles of boots and bags in the entry to trip over, and never being able to find your keys. No matter what your entry size – create a space for essentials that include hooks, a small stool or bench, baskets or bins to catch mittens, boots, etc., a mirror, and a shelf or console table with a bowl to keep keys, sunglasses, etc. This post on 5 Essentials for Small Entryways gives you more details and inspiration. 

5. Organize your kitchen to make it easy to be healthy.

Have a windowsill or shelf in the window to grow your own organic herbs. Put your dry goods into large jars so you can see them easily, and take them to the bulk store to fill up sustainably. Have healthy snacks front and centre. Create a drink station on the counter so that everything for coffee, tea, and smoothies is at your fingertips. 

slow home for ordinary people

6. Take back your spaces for actually living the way you want to, not the way you give in to.

Hide your TV or at least place it so it’s not the focal point of your living room, and arrange the furniture to accomodate more conversation and games with the whole family. Actually use the dining room for family meals by having a large table, comfy seating and good lighting in that room. Or if you really won’t ever use it, ditch the table and use the space for something more meaningful. 

7. Make your bedroom an oasis. 

Declutter your bedroom and make it a calm place to unwind and get a good sleep. Remove the TV and other electronics. Clear your nightstand so you have room for just a good book, a good light and a little bowl to toss your watch into. More ideas for a simple, healthy bedroom and nightstand here

designing and decorating a slow home - how to create a beautiful home on a budget

8. Get control of your bathroom and simplify it.

First, make sure it promotes healthy living by swapping out the plastic vinyl shower curtain for a PEVA or organic cotton/linen one, and use natural air fresheners and cleaners. Next, clean off your counters and organize your toiletries, cosmetics and appliances into separate drawers or baskets so everything has it’s own place and you never have to waste time searching for things when you need them. This post outlines seven simple steps on setting up the perfect master bathroom. 

9. Organize, simplify and declutter on a regular basis.

Don’t hang onto things that just get in the way, take time to dust and clean, or just plain aren’t useful or bring you joy. A slow home is filled only with practical, functional, meaningful and beautiful things that you truly enjoy and use.

10. Decorate slowly with meaningful things.

Take time to find, restore, and collect things that will make your home beautiful in a way that’s unique and special to you. Frame photos that tell your story, or mementos from places you’ve been. Clean up your grandparent’s antique treasures if they bring back good memories. Search for the right sofa that you’ll want to sink into every evening and forget your worries. 

how to decorate a slow home

Slow design and slow decorating may mean that your home doesn’t look like it was pulled straight from a store catalog, but I think that’s a good thing. Because it will be personal, and it will help you live your best life. It will be sustainable, both for the environment and for you as you move through different stages and have different needs. A slow home will inspire slow and intentional living, and if you’re anything like me, that feels like a really good way to live. 

how to create a meaningful slow home