Getting started with sanctuary

When I was a little girl I wanted to be like Olivia Newton John. I wanted to play guitar and sing with the voice of an angel. So I convinced my mom to let me take guitar lessons. But I didn’t learn how to play “I Honestly Love You” or “Have You Never Been Mellow”. Instead, I learned “Kumbaya” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”. Not exactly what I had in mind.

But along with that I learned some important things. Basic things, sure – but important. Like how to hold a guitar properly. How to make basic chords. The value of practice. And what it feels like to work hard at something. And every single one of those things have helped me at one time or another in my adult life of design projects, writing, and parenting.

Sanctuary is the art of creating peace around us to inspire peace within us. I’ve written a lot about putting this art into practice and the difference it’s made in my life, my daughter’s life, and the lives of our clients at Lisa Kahn Designs.

And so, in honor of my early aspirations (Olivia, if you’re reading, you still inspire me) I want to give five sanctuary strategies – some basics, if you will – to create sanctuary where you live, where you work, and anywhere you do what is most important in your life.

Sanctuary Strategies

If you’ve been wondering how to get started creating sanctuary for yourself, these are for you. There’s nothing hard here – no paint deck or fabric swatches required. These are just some simple things you can do right now. So let’s get started.

1. Declutter

Straightening up and treating yourself to a clean, neat environment is inspiring and calming. You might even be able to hear yourself think. (and if you tell my mom I said this, she will know that she finally won the Battle of Neatness – do not rat me out)

2. Erase the boundaries between you and the natural world

Maybe, like me you live in a warm climate and this is as easy as opening the sliding doors onto your lanai. But if you live in a locale with a cold winter, set up a space by the window so you can look outside. I promise that keeping your eyes trained on Mother Nature will bring relaxation into your space and into your mind. And if you don’t even have a window? Grab some beautiful pictures of mountains, or the ocean or even a forest. Whatever natural scene makes you pause to study it and want to take a deep breath.

3. Embrace that natural world and bring it right into your space

For me, opening the house up to the fresh winter air is simple. But maybe for you that fresh winter air is not 70 degrees but more like 7 degrees. If so, how about put a pretty, fresh potted plant on your work surface, or a bowl of shells you collected at the beach last year? Maybe a stick you gathered on a hike you took with a friend or a rock you took fished out of a river. You need something, anything, to bring the colors, textures and energy of the natural world right inside where you can touch it and experience it first hand.

4. Put on some soothing music

I love music. And you may know that I am married to a madly gifted musician and composer. We experiment with all kinds of music at home to create a feeling of sanctuary. My current obsession is an hour-long mix called Luminous Spaces, put together by Dave Michudo. It’s beautiful music for writing. Music changes the energy of a space and literally alters your brain waves. Pick some for yourself that engenders a feeling of calm.

5. Light a candle

It doesn’t even have to be dark outside. Light that candle and watch the flame flicker. Smell the wax as it warms and begins to melt. Candles are magical things. I can’t get enough of them.

There are at least a million strategies like these, and I will eventually share them all with you. But for now, maybe this is enough to get you started on your own path to sanctuary. If you have questions or things you want to share, speak up! I’d love to hear — add your thoughts in the comments below.

With gratitude,




  1. Thank you Lisa for this post. I am in a declutter, only keep what nurtures me, place in my life. I am not willing to hold on to so much anymore. In my home and in my spirit. It is profoundly liberating. I have always been a great admirer of your design work. I hope when I am done with my home decluttering, I can find that my home holds a feeling of serenity and nurture. Things I learned from watching the end result of your jobs.
    My best,
    Kathy Stafford

    1. Kathy, I could not agree more. Getting rid of clutter is sublimely liberating. And thank you – you’re very sweet.

      I know that when you’re ready, you’ll be ready to create YOUR sanctuary. If you need a point in the right, just reach out. I would LOVE to help you.


  2. Lisa,
    This blog just saved me a trip to the physcologist! Thank you for sharing, in a beautifully written way, the first 5 steps to a life of peace, joy and living in harmony with loved ones and mother nature. So off to the mancave I go, with my coffee in hand.