Ingrid Fetell Lee literally wrote the book on joy. Here’s what her research taught her about decorating for delight.

By Elizabeth Sile
January 22, 2019
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Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller

In July 2017, when Ingrid Fetell Lee and her husband, Albert Lee, bought their three-bedroom home in East Hampton, New York, Ingrid was writing Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness ($20; amazon.com). For 10 years, Ingrid had researched the things that universally bring people joy (that fleeting feeling, different from happiness, that we get seeing a balloon or flowers). Pulling from science and her industrial-design background, Ingrid found that adding more joy—at home, at work, in public spaces—can make us healthier and happier. It was a given that Ingrid and Albert would design their home with joy in mind, adding hits of unexpected color and highlighting their natural surroundings. “I wanted to create little moments that bring me joy as I move through the house,” she says.

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Lee had an easy source of inspiration for her decor: the research from her book, Joyful. Top among her findings was that pops of color energize spaces and people. So she painted an antique bench kelly green to create an immediate impact when you walk in the door.

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Ingrid’s research found that seeing and feeling elevation and buoyancy—via things like hot-air balloons, skylights, and tall ceilings—make us feel good. So naturally, she and her husband love the airy nature of this room. They opted against bulky furniture and instead chose lightweight pieces to enhance the vibe. Ingrid cozied up a vintage camp cot with a fluffy duvet and piles of patterned pillows and decorated the window seat with textiles from her travels. Unifying colors keep it all cohesive.

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Outdoor views and greenery have been found to have a positive effect on our health and mood. With that in mind, Ingrid and Albert positioned their bed opposite a dormer window. The view of their backyard’s trees is a daily dose of pleasure. “It’s so nice to wake up and look out at that,” Ingrid says. The couple added pops of bright color, like the antique bench painted fluorescent yellow (a particularly powerful space-brightening hue because of how it reflects light), pillows, and Moroccan rugs, to infuse the room with energy.

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Unexpected touches make everyday items feel new each time you use them (like pairing patterned socks with a suit or lining a drawer with bright contact paper); Ingrid added colorful stripes to the seats of wooden dining chairs that she had painted green. Repeating patterns and symmetry also tend to elicit joy (think about how good it feels to organize), so this room’s walls are lined with beadboard. And because people find joy in the combination of variety and abundance (picture confetti, or a kid in a candy store), she typically keeps a bowl of fruit on the table.