‘His and Hers’ Bathrooms Are out, Says Southern California

It’s time to remove phrases like “his and hers” and “master suite” from home listings. At least, that’s the hope of interior designer Sarah Barnard, who says these dated descriptors should be replaced with more inclusive terms.

Based in Southern California, Ms. Barnard, who identifies as queer, has owned her own interior design firm since 2003. The WELL and LEED accredited designer puts an emphasis on creating spaces that are inclusive to a variety of people while also supporting the wellbeing of those who inhabit the space. 

In addition to inclusivity in interior design, Mansion Global spoke with Ms. Barnard about sustainable design trends and how nature inspires her work. 

Mansion Global: What does inclusive interior design mean and why is it important to you?

Sarah Barnard: Inclusive interior design involves creating spaces that feel safe and comfortable for a wide range of people. This process begins from the start, ensuring that there is enough trust for people to feel comfortable honestly expressing their needs to develop genuinely supportive solutions. Most spaces aren’t designed for those with sensitivities and can feel inhospitable or anxiety-inducing. Creating spaces that anticipate ranging needs, from healthy indoor air to calm atmospheres, a connection to nature, and physical accessibility can contribute to spaces welcoming for a broader range of people. Often, designing with these considerations in mind contributes to ease of use for most people and can be universally beneficial.

MG: What are some examples of outdated interior design terms and their more inclusive replacements?

SB: “Grandfather,” as in a grandfathered building, is regularly used in design to describe a building legally built under an older code that may no longer meet specific zoning or code requirements but is permitted to remain in use without updates. The term originated in the late 1800s in the American South to defy the 15th amendment, preventing Black Americans from voting. Instead, “legacy” or “exempted” offers an alternative less embroiled in racist histories. Throughout the housing industry, there is a shift from using “master bedroom” to “primary bedroom” due to the racist and sexist connotations of the term “master.” “His and hers” bathrooms is another term best replaced, instead opting for “dual closets” or “dual bathrooms” to avoid gendered language that may be presumptuous about use or lifestyle.

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MG: In what ways can design support one’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing?

SB: In the same way that our environments can reflect our mental state, we can change our settings to help positively influence our mood and decision-making. When we walk into a space that feels cluttered or chaotic, it often feels activating as our mind tries to absorb visual information and, in some cases, can cause physical tension. When entering a space like a spa, our senses are positively engaged, and we may feel a sense of peace and relaxation from the visual cues we are receiving. Once experiential goals in an interior are determined, interior design can work to support those intentions, whether that is using nature to encourage peace and calm or designing a kitchen to promote healthier eating habits through visual cues and workflow.

MG: Sustainability is also a component of your design work—why is that important to you and how do you implement it?

SB: We are at a stage in climate change where sustainability is an essential consideration across all industries. In design, we are often working directly with materials from the earth, and thoughtful decision-making is crucial to prevent negative impact, especially when there are so many opportunities to make enduring environmental decisions during the design process. Our studio’s practice engages in sustainable design through mindful consideration of energy and resources, personal and environmental wellness, and broader global impacts. These methodologies are implemented by specifying solar systems and energy-efficient appliances, sourcing natural and lower-emitting materials, incorporating biophilic design, and considering effects on local flora and fauna. By taking a holistic approach to sustainability, we can minimize the impact of our immediate decisions while implementing a design that can support the environment over time.

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MG: What sustainable design elements are on trend right now?

SB: Home automation is an excellent option for sustainable design, as it offers both convenience and energy efficiency. Beyond being able to set, automate, and in some cases, remotely manage lighting or thermostats, many smart window treatments can also be scheduled to open and close at certain times, using the sun to warm and cool spaces and reducing the use of air conditioning and heating. Biophilic, sustainably made products are also gaining popularity as they offer a much-needed connection to nature. As our clients have increasingly desired contemporary updates to natural floral patterns, we have created our own line of sustainable, nature-inspired wall coverings, textiles, and home goods called Kale Tree.

MG: What are your personal favorite design features?

SB: My favorite design elements are those integrated with nature and support all property residents, including wildlife. I’m an avid birder and naturalist and care deeply about the safety of local and migrating birds. Bird safe windows are a fantastic alternative to functional but unsightly bird deterring add-ons like stickers and strings. To make the most of these window views, our studio recommends landscaping that supports local flora, fauna, and funga contributing to environmental wellness while providing an interior connection to nature.

More: Sustainability and Luxury Are Made for Each Other, Says Eco-Focused Designer

MG: Where do you find inspiration?

SB: My inspiration comes from nature, whether that is finding direct inspiration from the nature surrounding my clients or from creative thinking during time spent outside. I prioritize spending time in my garden and walking as part of my routine. I often see something outside that may spark an idea, or creative solutions to something I’ve been mulling over may pop up when I’m relaxed and enjoying the outdoors.

MG: How do you define luxury?

SB: Luxury, for me, is often closely associated with a sense of peace and connection to nature. There is a reason so many people enjoy vacations on remote islands. Having a calm and mindful experience surrounded by a beautiful natural environment can be a profoundly luxurious experience.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. 

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