My favorite enlightenment joke goes something like this:

A young monk queries the esteemed teacher: “Master, how will my life be different once I attain enlightenment?” The sage thinks for awhile and answers: “Before enlightenment – chop wood, prepare food, carry water” – and after a long pause, he adds: “After enlightenment – chop wood, prepare food, carry water.”

IMG 0798It seems to me that when people think of remodeling their homes, they put an amazing amount of time, effort and money into what’s unique and surprising while often avoiding this simple truth. The daily routine will always be with us. No matter how exciting, no matter how novel we may wish our lives to be, we will always “chop wood, prepare food, and carry water” – or whatever the particular routine may be. What makes it interesting, however, is how we surprise ourselves along the way through encounters with life’s small pleasures.

There are many ways people do this unconsciously. They post their kids’ latest paintings on the refrigerator door: they marvel that their dog doesn’t dislocate his tail as he greets them at the door; they smile at the sudden shock of chimes ringing in the wind. These are a few of the many common portals into surprise that we regularly open for ourselves.

But are you aware that there are architectural principles that undergird such portals? In fact, designers have a vast array of options to subtly direct your attention. These include changing scale, emphasizing a view, contrasting colors, scattering light in unusual ways, and playing with different textures of materials. The framework of the house is arranged to get you where you’re going and support what you’re doing -- but if you allow yourself to notice the details and stop for a moment and take a quiet look, you could be in for a pleasant surprise.

But notice I referred to ‘subtle direction’ above. In this case, more is not better. I’ve visited houses where the designer has added color, interest, surprise, everywhere you turn. The mind goes numb; the effect is lost. Portals into the surprising essences of life are delicate things – to be treated with care.