Rob Austin-Murphy at the garden entrance to the Inn at Paradise Farms, circa 2008.


Creating a ‘sense of place’ is, I believe, the ultimate achievement of a well conceived and executed interior design project. Why? Simply because a space that embodies a ‘sense of place’ is so enjoyable to experience, because it’s rich and memorable, and because it is increasingly rare in a mass produced and generic world. A sense of place is what we seek when we travel. And, I believe it is ultimately what we seek at home—if only we knew how to create it. A ‘sense of place’ is not easy to achieve, it is increasingly rare to encounter and it is not that easy to define.


So what do I mean by ‘a sense of place’? My definition of a sense of place is a space that has a certain presence about it which speaks to you in a deeply personal and profound way. It is some place that your senses recognize as something special and a place you want to experience. It has a certain essence to it that is at once intriguing, alluring and perhaps mysterious. It is a place where you want to be, or hang out. It is the kind of place that I am drawn to study because as a designer I want to understand exactly what it is about this place that grabs me in the way it does.


If I take a quick moment to remember a few of these places which come to mind—a Moroccan inspired room at a friend’s summer house, the mid-century modern beach side cottage furnished simply and inspired with Coast Salish artifacts, and a tiny bistro nestled along a slough in the Skagit Valley outfitted sans apology with cast offs and mismatched furnishings and fittings. [I should mention that the food is really good also and that just adds to this sense of place].



A detail of the  mudroom entrance at the Inn at Paradise Farms Bed & Breakfast. This design project was a study and celebration of a sense of place–in this case a relaxed and comfortable country B&B.


One of the things that I find most astonishing about these simple, yet remarkable spaces, is that they do not come across as being self-consciously designed. It may even be this quality that is required for these places to live long in our minds and hearts. These places also tend to be the natural and authentic expressions of their owners who care about such things as evidenced through the selection and placement of furnishings and objects. Another aspect is that these places have a vision behind them which is the engine that drove the creation of them in the first place. Throw in a certain measure of doggedness and creativity and you have the beginnings of what I am attempting to articulate.


The inspired Moroccan room resulted when a friend took a trip to Morocco to study plaster work techniques. She fell in love with what she encountered there and wanted to capture that sense of place in a small room in her home. It wasn’t an attempt to recreate a traditional Moroccan space. Rather, she was able to capture ‘the feel’ through color, diaphanous Moroccan fabrics, an abundance of multi-colored pillows plus the traditional, low-slung wall-hugging banquet that lined the walls. A few small pieces of exotic furniture, a brass tea server and a few objects that she brought back in her luggage completed the room. Sipping fresh mint tea in that space was enough to transport you to another time and place. My mother who was not much of a traveler and who did not imagine that she would ever travel to Morocco felt she experienced something genuine, real and truly exotic within the embrace of that space.


To create a sense of place is a very high achievement indeed. And, I know this is what I want achieve in each of my design projects whenever and wherever possible. The pay off and the rewards are huge for all involved in its creation and use. Spaces like these inspire, nourish and restore us—especially in an increasingly virtual and rapid paced world which is invariably branded with someone else’s name and aesthetic. Is it any wonder that a place with a genuine sense of itself would speak so deeply to us and that we would want to linger a moment longer . . .  or for a life time?



Table top detail of the mudroom hall stand. Simple objects, dappled sunlight and flowers from the garden conspire to evoke an undeniable sense of place.


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