Can your home help you live a longer, healthier life?
Explorer Dan Buettner thinks so.
"I not only believe it, I can show you the research," said the Minneapolis author of "The Blue Zones," about cultures around the world that nurture longevity.
But his own house wasn't living up to its potential. It had good bones, an updated kitchen and a spectacular setting overlooking Lake of the Isles.
But Buettner, who bought the house in 2006, knew that it was "under-celebrated." The house didn't make the most of its lake views. The second and third floors were designed for family life 100 years ago and didn't really fit his family, which includes three children, ages 12, 15 and 23.
And Buettner is the first to admit that home decor isn't his forte. "I have the designer capacity of a small soap dish," he said.
Enter a team from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), who transformed Buettner's house into a showcase. This year, the challenge was multilayered. Designers went beyond making cosmetic improvements that reflected Buettner's taste and lifestyle. They were challenged to incorporate his Blue Zone (www.bluezone.com) principles, while also featuring his eclectic collection of art and artifacts gathered during his travels around the world.
"Everyone knew that Blue Zone principles were important to him, so we decided to make that part of the design process," said project architect Lars Peterssen, of Peterssen/Keller, who, coincidentally, was also the home's previous owner.
Exercise, the kind you get from regular daily activities, is an important ingredient for longevity, Buettner has found. Going up and down stairs multiple times each day, for example, is just as good for your body as a trip to the gym, he said.
"It's about land-mining your house with opportunities to move," Buettner said.
One example is the new "Destination Room" that designers from RCC Interiors created on the third floor of Buettner's home. It's a cozy, enticing retreat that "feels like being in a tree house," said designer Jennie Korsbon.
In addition to inviting exercise, the room was designed as a place to "downshift," another Blue Zone principle. In it, Buettner plans to read, meditate, play games or do artwork with his kids, and listen to them play their instruments. There's no clock. "It's easier for time to drift away," he explained. And there's no TV, no computer, no electronics of any kind. "Screen time is not good for you," he said. "About an hour a day is OK, but after that, you're watching at the expense of activities that create more authentic happiness."
Social interaction is one source of authentic happiness, according to Buettner, and with that in mind, his front porch was a high design priority. "People used to sit on the porch, but with the advent of air-conditioning, they moved to the back of the house," he said, losing their connection with their neighbors. A front porch, where people can see and be seen, is an invitation to social interaction. "Holly [Bayer of Hauthaus] worked with me to make that place warm and inviting."
Social interaction also drove the design in the living room, where Carla Bast, of Carla Bast Interior Design, and Mary Ellen Gardiner, of M.E. Gardiner Interior Design, combined Buettner's art and antiques with new artisan-made pieces. "He entertains a lot, but before, there wasn't enough seating and lighting," Gardiner said.
The room now has spaces for intimate conversation, as well as larger groups, Bast said. "The goal was the Blue Zone idea of gathering with your tribe, while embracing his history and the beauty of naturally aged things."
Turning his home over to a team of professionals was a new experience for Buettner, who admits he was sometimes slow to "see the vision. Now I see why we painted the hallway dark plum, which I hated at first," he said. "It pulls out the colors of the kimono [that hangs on display]."
Buettner did insist on keeping some existing design elements, including the unusual decorative painting in the dining room. When Peterssen owned the home, he had an artist friend paint Russian and Ukrainian motifs inspired by churches on the walls. Designers initially wanted to paint over the artwork, Buettner said. But he considered it "whimsical and fun. And the guy who painted it died in a tragic bike accident. They can't be redone."
Peterssen was pleased that Buettner kept the painting, but he felt no pangs at other changes that were made to his former home. "It's Dan's house now. The most important thing is to make him comfortable and make his things look good in it," Peterssen said.
Before the redesign, Buettner, for whom travel is part of his job description, "was just camping out in that house. Now it's his home."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784