How can I make my apartment more like the outdoors, esp. making it more visually interesting and dynamic?
June 2, 2006 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I want my life to be more "sensor-y" exciting. I could get a bunch of great art works (paintings and sculptures, say) but seeing them day in and day out my brain would filter them out. In a sense, I'm trying to make my apartment as much like being outdoors as possible, using technology.

This is unlike a dynamic ecosystem, which has a balance of consistentcy and change, which I understand is at least partially the basis for our desire for sensory experiences (due to comparatively dull office and living environments).
Some ideas:
1. Lamps and track lighting can be adjusted and moved around, and could even be given small motors to move slightly or slowly (sort of emulating sun's progression). Or could the sun's effects within apartment be amplified somehow? The flickering light of a candle flame or fireplace is also great, are there good electric emulations of that or good convenient and safe (and cheapish) ways to light with flame?
2. Smells. I have this concentrated lime spray that smells great and natural (it's only lime), whereas most smells from incense, etc. have things I'm allergic to or just don't like. Recommendations for adding allergen-free smells, esp. dynamically, to an apartment (or appropriately for a workspace)?
3. Touch. I'd love to have an uneven floor, but don't know a good way to do this in an apartment.
4. Visual. Plants are great because they are always slightly changing and a great visual benefit, but it's hard to get the same level as being outside. Ideas?
One idea I had is to someone use chemicals that form an autocatalytic set whose reactions go through different colors, combined with other things. But I don't know how to do this. It seems someone else would've had this idea but I haven't found it.

Anything else related to making my apartment and office more like the outdoors is welcome.
posted by Furious Fitness to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like adding more natural elements -- plants, flowers, natural light -- would accomplish some of what you're talking about. (As would going outside more!)

You might want to check out the Hundertwasserhaus for inspiration.
posted by occhiblu at 10:36 AM on June 2, 2006

wow. are you familiar with the character Gadi in Marge Piercy's novel He, She And It? There's a great scene on pages 225-227 that you should read.

Where's your office/apartment? Can you just open your windows?
posted by billtron at 10:45 AM on June 2, 2006

You might also consider just going outside more.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:49 AM on June 2, 2006

I open my windows constantly and go outside a lot, but the sensory experiences of where I have to spend most of my life--in my office and apartment--I would still like to change and improve upon.
posted by Furious Fitness at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2006

I like the idea of track lighting moving constantly. I personally like the way light looks reflected from non-still water onto a wall.

Carpets of varying thickness and material can give you some texture, as can furniture arrangement.

As far as smells, herbs and flowers are the most obvious, and if you pick ones that have a cycle, such as morning glories and moonflowers(not a good example, they're better outside) you'll have changing visuals as well. If you can't do that due to allergies, I know there are institutional systems that mist air freshener at intervals. Presumably you could get one from a janitorial supply place, change the fragrance to your liking, and install discretely.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2006

For scents, I use a special burner filled with essential oils mixed with a bit of water. The burner is just a stone cup with a tealight candle underneath it. If you go to an aromatherapy-type shop they should be able to suggest an oil mixture to you that suits your ouside-y description (pine? eucalyptus?) and sell you a burner, too.

You could also get one of those small indoor fountains that simulate a trickling steam. They tend to make people need to pee a lot, though!
posted by hazyjane at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2006

Many times local art museums will let you rent art and rotate it on a regular basis - every quarter you could change the paintings in your apartment. You wouldn't want this with steam/humidity indoors, though, but it might be a nice way to complement more plants and these various ways of opening it up.

If you're into modern design, there are all sorts of interesting wall treatments, in tiles and papers, in contemporary styles. Check out for info on this kind of stuff.
posted by luriete at 11:35 AM on June 2, 2006

This idea blows my mind! Amazing. Anyways, don't forget about the easiest sense to modify: sound... having a low volume naturalistic track playing in your living space can be transforming. Ocean waves, chirping jungles, windstorms, etc. Much better than the dull white noise of the appliances.
posted by superfem at 11:42 AM on June 2, 2006

Beeswax candles - beautiful light and a subtle, natural scent. I have allergies and beeswax is fine for me.
Maybe you could hack one of those dawn simulator alarm clocks (for S.A.D.) to be a variable incandescent light source.
Mobiles which reflect verdant colours, hung near windows.
Bring in fresh cedar boughs or fresh cedar/cyrpess wood -- yellow cedar if you can get it - and just put a piece behind the sofa. Very subtle.
Get a pair of ferrets. heh.
posted by Rumple at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2006

Fish tank and/or vivarium, desktop or wall fountain, digital photo frame for rotating scenery (or alternately, you could hook up a projector to your computer and run the screensaver so you have huge scenery), herb garden for scent --lavendar, mint, etc. (if your windows give enough light), open windows or a small fan for breeze, birdfeeder in the window, wind chimes.
posted by sLevi at 12:25 PM on June 2, 2006

Don't forget hanging prisms in the windows for throwing rainbows around. I have some in the kitchen and they tickle me no end.
posted by trout at 1:54 PM on June 2, 2006

I'd buy a big fish tank (100 gallon, maybe) and put it in the middle of the room. Have focused lights shine through from each side. Have some mild water disturbance so the water is always moving. That'll make patterns like nothing else.

One of the coolest rooms I was in had 10 LED arrays with frosted glass shades scattered around the room. The arrays were programmed to shift hues in various patterns, and the frosted glass took out the mechanical/harsh aspect of it. I remember it was very easy to recreate a sunset, midday, deep (purple/blue) night, hot dance floor, etc environment. This guy had the system hooked up to a microcontroller with custom firmware and a simple analog control panel, but I'm sure you could link the MC to a serial/usb cable and control it via your computer (maybe there's a way to bypass the MC altogether).

Re the floor, I've always thought it would be interesting to have a few rooms filled with sand or very fine gravel. You'd need something to put it in, obviously, to protect the floor, it'd need to be thick, and there would need to be a way to get it off of your feet/shoes/etc before you left the room(s). Gravel would work better, but wouldn't have quite the same texture (obviously). For getting it off your feet, those corrigated plastic mats they always have in commercial kitchens for traction have seemed pretty good as scrapers for feet.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:55 PM on June 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

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