There may not be a current cure for the coronavirus, but there is a remedy of sorts for the doldrums of quarantined life. The average home has all the components for the healing formula, says local designer Mischelle Thiels. It’s called rearranging furniture. But psychologists have another name for it: self-care.

With Thiels and her husband both working at home and their teenage daughter going to school virtually, Thiels knows that confinement within the same four walls calls for a change of scenery. Not only has she faced this challenge of transforming external spaces for internal peace in her own life these past months, but it’s what she does for a living as an interior decorator, an organizer and a real estate stager.

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A living space can double as a workspace if the furniture is versatile. Here, the drop-leaf dining table can become a desk when the leaves are dropped and a modified bentwood chair is pulled up to it. Bring in the outdoors with a plant or two, and keep the colors energized and the surroundings simple.  

For her own family, Thiels had to reinvent the way they inhabit the 1,500 square feet of space in their mid-1800s French Quarter townhouse. Bea, 15, a sophomore at Lusher Charter High School, moved her desk into a wide hallway. Thiels’ husband, Paul (a financial planner), moved his home office to the living room, and Thiels turned part of the kitchen into her workspace.

With the changes in function came a rearrangement of furniture and accessories. Psychologist Scott Glassman talked about the added benefit of such changes.

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The same sofa turned diagonally can open up the room. Thiels mixes circular shapes with a gallery of square and rectangular art above the staircase. A change of lamps and a mix of yellow and blue throw pillows and a cream ottoman make this a welcoming and freestyle space.

“Stress is associated with what you see every day, especially if your home has become your office. Changing up how things look opens the door to new, more positive thoughts, feelings and choices,” said Glassman, creator of “A Happier You” course at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine that kicked into high gear with the arrival of Covid-19. “Coping with many restrictions from the pandemic, we can easily lose a feeling of control. Changing your environment around, even in small ways, can restore it.”

The process

Thiels knows the connection between visual surroundings and a positive outlook from a decorating standpoint. A single room can go from a colorful bohemian theme to sophisticated minimalism to cozy-chic comfort to urban Zen. And with each look comes a state of mind.

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Pink throw pillows and glazed green lamps from an upstairs bedroom, a throw rug borrowed from the kitchen to layer over the original living room rug, and a drop-leaf table (which often doubles as a desk) turn this sitting room into a dining area.

She says a room’s transformation can come at little or no cost. You simply shop in your own house, borrowing from bedrooms for the living room or from the dining room for an in-home office. The process is not just about moving furniture around, but also moving art and rugs and lamps as well. Dig deeper, and you may find buried treasure in your attic or storage.

How to start? Thiels has it down to a science, but her advice includes lots of room for using your imagination. Here’s how she described the process of re-creating a space. 

DEFINE FUNCTION: Start by deciding the function of the room you’re revamping. What do you need it to be? An office? Another living area? “Don’t be locked into the original purpose of the room,” Thiels said.

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The bright blue exterior French doors open into a room that Thiels transforms simply by rearranging furniture.

Ironically, the pandemic gives you more indoor freedom. Since following CDC guidelines restricts visitors in the home, you can turn your living room into a bedroom if the mood strikes you. Turn that upstairs bedroom into a study, where you can be away from distractions. Or simply change the living room up periodically for a change of scenery.

“It can be boring to be home all the time,” said Bea, “but when things are changed around, I feel as if I have gone on vacation. I don’t feel as trapped.” She assists her mother as mover and collaborator when the urge for change arises.

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Pottery bowls with lemons and apples

EVALUATE ACCESSORIES: “Open your mind to the possibilities,”  Mischelle Thiels said. Look around your kitchen for distinctive platters and bowls. Take a visual inventory of all the patterned and textured throws and rugs in other rooms or tucked away in closets.

And what about books with beautiful covers that have been gathering dust on a shelf?

“Dig out those treasures and evaluate what you have,” said Thiels. Her own sentimental favorites include the wooden Mexican folk art cat her husband purchased for her 26 years ago and the bright painting she purchased for $50 from a favorite B&B that was closing.

A NOD TO NATURE: Plants add nature elements to a room. Thiels prefers cuttings from the yard, whether it’s a single large leaf or greenery mixed with blooms. Outdoor furniture can sometimes double as indoor decor. There are reasons that indoor-outdoor rugs have gained popularity — price, versatility, vivid colors and high-traffic durability because they are synthetic.

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The Mexican folk art carved and painted cat incorporates sentiment while adding color. Thiels’ husband purchased it for her 26 years ago when they started dating. El gato sits above etched wooden bowls mounted to the wall.

Decision time

Once you’ve gathered your treasures, make some simple decisions. 

THE FLOOR: Maybe you love the hardwood floors or painted concrete just the way it is, but if you have decided on floor coverings, put those down first. Thiels sometimes uses a large throw rug, then layers it with a smaller, brighter rug for a mix of color and texture.

THE ANCHOR: Start with the biggest piece of furniture. In Thiels’ home, it is a contemporary modern sofa in aubergine velvet. Position it where you want it in the room. “You have to be able to change your mind because the way you envision it may not work,” Thiels said.

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Designer Mischelle Thiels

ACCENT FURNITURE: Next, bring in the smaller pieces like side tables and chairs. Thiels brought in glass-top side tables she purchased at a garage sale for $50. The see-through element adds a sense of more space. For another look, she brought in an upholstered bench to place in front of the sofa, serving as either an ottoman or coffee table.

LIGHTING: With the furniture in place, think about lighting. Thiels isn’t a fan of overhead fixtures — she  likes lamps. Determine where a light should go, and then choose the table that works best with it. Lamps, available in a variety of designs and prices and typically scattered throughout a home, are easy to interchange.

Think about the mood of the lighting. Should it be subtle or dramatic? Thiels has a stock of lamps, each with a story. There’s the eye-catching midcentury modern lamp her mother-in-law found at a lamp factory that inspired a family trip to view it. And two green-glazed ceramic lamps Thiels describes as male and female, one squared off and the other curved. One pair cost $6 at a Florida flea market.

ART: Switching out art among rooms is an easy way to refresh the look of a home. Art, says Thiels, should not be intimidating. “Art is anything that is personal,” she said. “A menu can be art, as can a garage sale purchase that caught your eye. Children’s art is often genius in that they use bright colors, and it is abstract. Curate your own home. Slowly buy things you like and connect to. Take a walk around your home and look in cabinets and closets and attics. Then make a pile of possibilities from which to choose.”

One of Thiels’ treasures is a colorful abstract painting she purchased at a garage sale because she liked the colors. With no artist signature, Thiels turns it horizontally or vertically, depending on the wall space she fills.

PHOTO OP: Take a smartphone photo of your freshly designed room. “You can tell much more from a photograph. You can see if anything needs to be shifted, or if something looks too busy,” Thiels said. 

REASSESS: Go back to what you wanted the key function of the room to be. Was it to be a place to be calm and centered? Was it to be vibrant where family activities take place? Does the room reflect your goal? Then you’ve succeeded.

Both Bea and her mother see creating living space as a family collaboration. The possibilities are many, proving that Glassman’s theory that “A Happier You” is not a solo act.

“Revamping your living space can be a change to strengthen the relationships with those you live with. It can be fun to do it together, making it an opportunity to share creative ideas and support one another,” Glassman said.

While staycationing at home this summer (sigh, sob), I have consoled myself by looking for ways to perk up my days and my house without draini…


Just when you think it’s safe to do a home improvement for the sake of, heaven forbid, your own pleasure, your house has other plans.

If I could afford anything, what would my home look like?

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