Did you know that spending just 2 hours outside a week can have a massive effect on your mental health and wellbeing? “We hear a lot about outdoor air quality warnings, but we almost never hear about the fact that our indoor air quality has been shown to be between 2 and 5 times more toxic,” designer Sarah Walker says. “As an interior designer with a specialized focus on wellness for the home, I know there’s a lot that we can do to improve our indoor air quality, but we still need time outside to ground and recharge ourselves. And I mean recharge quite literally. The earth’s surface is negatively charged, and negatively charged atoms will bond with positively charged atoms in our bodies to act as natural antioxidants. Just being barefoot on grass or sand for 10 minutes can lower anxiety and rebalance your body from all of the EMF pollution and geopathic stress its inundated with from our tech-centric way of living.”

Beyond those clear benefits, the Vitamin D and the mental reset of being in nature and breathing more deeply (as opposed to being on our screens 24/7) are just a couple more reasons why experts say 2 hours of outside time a week has a massively positive impact on our physical and mental well being. That said, if you have a lackluster outdoor space, you may not feel inclined to get that fresh air. Sarah felt the same about her own backyard. “When we first bought this home, the garden had an unhealthy pear tree next to the cherry tree that made our outdoor space almost uninhabitable. There was a broken-down shed that looked like something out of a Tim Burton film, and the lot sloped so that we couldn’t really create a dining or seating area comfortably,” she recalls.

The first thing they did was to remove the pear tree and create tiers to the garden — an upper tier for dining and a lower tier for seating — that worked naturally with the slope of the landscape. “We did it ourselves, first pouring concrete footers and then finishing each section with a frame of 12×24 natural stone tiles and filling them in with pea gravel,” the designer says. “I love the pea gravel because it’s both the epitome of casual, French elegance and also really cost effective.”

Phase 2 included more of the fun stuff. They used TojaGrid‘s modular brackets and sail covers to create the framework for a dining pergola, and customized it by painting the brackets a warm white and staining the cedar beams to match. Sarah had custom outdoor curtains made from Sunbrella fabric to create a sense of discovery and intimacy. The piece de résistance of the outdoor dining area is the custom marble dining table made of North American marble from Polycor — the bold vein structure has an elegant European look, and makes for a beautiful statement to anchor the space. The designer credits a trip to France as inspiring the design. “I was definitely influenced by the secret courtyards and patios you find in Paris – the kind where you’d never know they exist from the outside of the building, but when you go in the world just opens up to you with this invitation to discover something very special. I couldn’t achieve that with architecture, of course, so I used the drapery on the pergola to create that feeling of discovery, intimacy and occasion.”

The European aesthetic was carried over to the seating area with a gorgeous custom marble coffee table. “We repurposed the sectional frame we already had by having French mattress-style bench seat cushions and custom pillows made from Sunbrella for Holly Hunt fabrics,” Sarah shares. “Everything is really neutral which allows all of the shades of green in the garden to come to life and act as a vibrant backdrop for making memories together outside.”

For your own outdoor spaces, Sarah has a few tips:

— If you can’t create a drapery-framed pergola, consider placing some tall olive trees or palms in planters as a visual screen to create more privacy and connection with nature.

— You can also create more moments of connection by creating a seating area that fosters conversation. Gathering around fire is always a mesmerizing way to do that if you can.

— If a fire pit isn’t an option, opt for a beeswax candle garden and some globe string lights to create some magical nighttime ambiance.

Of course, we love beautiful design, but it all comes back to our mental wellbeing. Sarah concludes, “Think about creating a backdrop for slowing down and making memories together as an investment in self-care and in your relationships. You’ll feel so much better for it. I really believe we can design the lives we want to live, and that our homes can be as healthy as they are beautiful if we design them with mindful intention.”

Learn more about her approach to healthy design here.