Amid pandemic, homeowners, their children, and designers turn to these ‘alone spaces’

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Hingham teen, Syd Palese, in front of the man cave he built when school was interrupted due to COVID-19. “We’ve had Mother’s Day, family dinners, and general hang-out time in there,” said his mom, swimwear designer Jill Palese. “It’s become his sanctuary.” Jill Palese

Despite a strict rule for keeping work life separate from sleeping space, Paige Lewin has retreated to her bedroom during daytime hours. No, she hasn’t taken to her bed. She’s parked herself in a comfy chair by a window to conduct remote design consultations with clients.

“The boys have basically taken over the first floor for school and the basement for saxophone and karate,’’ said the founder of Reading-based design firm Tess & Ted Interiors. “The sax playing lasts three to four hours a day, and then there’s the endless bass drumbeat that travels through the house from my 14-year-old digital music producer.’’

In other families, it’s the kids who have jumped ship. Twelve-year-old Charlotte Schwartz, who lives on the West Coast with her parents, three siblings, six ducks, two cats, and a basketful of foster kittens, has all but moved into the family minivan. “She got driven out by the heat this week,’’ her mom, Kathleen Schwartz, a wedding photographer, reported. “My husband ran an extension cord through the window so she could have a fan.’’ He also pitched a tent in the backyard for their youngest.

Marisa Timmins Rowe, director of development at the Wellesley Free Library Foundation, ordered a garden shed to be used as a clubhouse by her sons, ages 8 and 9. Their modestly sized Natick home lacks a basement, and plans to add another story are on hold. “They can make a mess and be loud out there, and I won’t have to see or hear it,’’ Rowe said.

Hingham teen Syd Palese built his own man cave using wood collected from a neighbor and YouTube videos as a guide. “He just went out to a far corner of our yard and started clearing brush,’’ said his mother, swimwear designer Jill Palese, whose company, Call To Action, has been producing free gowns for local health care workers. “He said he didn’t want to waste all that time before online learning clicked in.’’

While children’s playhouses have long been backyard fixtures, at-home hideaways for adults are on the rise. Local designers say that in the past few years, they have been creating many more tranquil spaces. These include lounges for moms craving “me-time,’’ sitting areas designated as no-media zones, escape hatches for second-home owners weary of socializing with guests, and studios for hobbyists aiming to immerse themselves in everything from painting to bonsai tree training.

Colin Flavin, principal architect of Cambridge-based Flavin Associates and principal landscape architect of Woburn-based ZEN Associates, collaborated on this project west of Boston. The modern glass structure, which includes a bonsai tree studio at the rear, looks out to a traditional Japanese garden in the style of a dry riverbed. —Peter Vanderwarker

Kathryn Goldenoak of Arlington-based Spring Green Interior Design concentrates on the way rooms make us feel. “We live in a society in which we are constantly bombarded,’’ Goldenoak said. “To be in a space where you can focus on something that feeds you rather than depletes you is a welcome relief.’’ The social image-sharing service Pinterest reports that in the past year, searches for “art therapy activities’’ have jumped 444 percent, for “social media detox’’ have risen 314 percent, and for “garden room’’ have increased 104 percent.

Architect Maryann Thompson, whose eponymous firm is in Watertown, is working on a stand-alone, backyard crafts studio, as well as a home on Martha’s Vineyard that is literally wrapped around a greenhouse. “The client said, ‘I want to live in and amongst plants all year long.’ The greenhouse is his place of refuge,’’ Thompson said.

South Shore floral designer Julie Raymond, owner of Bittersweet Gardens, finds solace in her greenhouse. Now her 9-year-old daughter does, too. “I’ve been finding her out there doing schoolwork, chatting with friends, and making TikToks,’’ she said. “I love having her join me, as she held little interest in [my business] before.’’ As for the plant life, Raymond said, “Our flowers and seedlings are in full swing, completely unaware of any virus.”

Melrose-based designer Justine Sterling turned a too large dining room in Norwell into a quiet space where her clients could look out over the river and watch the birds. Comfortable chairs face the window, which Sterling left bare. “The space is casual, connects to the outdoors, and provided the couple with instant tranquility and calm,” she said. —Jessica Delaney

Gracie May, who lives in British Columbia, transformed her home’s covered patio into a wonderland of sorts for her teenage daughter, who struggles with depression. “When things shut down she barely left her room,’’ May said. “We strung fairy lights, added a sofa and power for her computer. She spends hours outside in her little sanctuary, drawing and talking to friends on FaceTime.’’

Interior designers also are fielding many requests for spaces devoted to yoga and meditation. That’s hardly surprising considering the practice of meditation by adults in the United States tripled between 2012 and 2017, according to a report by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Pinterest saw a 108 percent year-over-year increase in April for the term “meditation tips for beginners.’’

North Shore designer Holly Gagne is considering whether to offer a package specifically targeted to clients looking to create sanctuary spaces. “Practices like mindfulness and meditation have become more mainstream,’’ she said.

A comfortable chair in a corner by a window functions as a serene spot in this Manchester-by-the-Sea home decorated by Rowley-based designer Holly Gagne. “When designing a sanctuary space, think about textures that feel good to you and sights that make you feel calm,” Gagne said. —Eric Roth Photography

Boston-based designer Dane Austin is designing a Zen room in Weston for a couple with three young children. The room — meant solely for meditation, yoga, and relaxation — will supplant a seldom-used enclosed porch. Pauline Curtiss of Lincoln-based Patina Designs will paint an organic motif on the upper portion of the walls and ceiling. “It’s best viewed and appreciated when lying in Shavasana [corpse pose],’’ Austin said.

One doesn’t need a dedicated space to meditate, however. Rick Miller, a clinical social worker with private practices in Boston and Cape Cod, reminds us that peace is a state of mind. He asserts that people can draw on memories of a beautiful place that inspires them to conjure calm. “It’s a combination of physical space and internal space that contributes to one’s mindset,’’ Miller explained.

Moira Murphy, a mother of two and a certified yoga instructor who lives in Roslindale, has an approach that exemplifies that ethos. The nook where she practices became her husband’s (temporary) home office.

“I seek alone time for meditating, exercising, and yoga on my back deck,’’ Murphy said. “I have made my peace with being exposed to the neighborhood and love my time in the fresh air.’’

Boston-based interior designer Steven Favreau and his fiancé, who used to be a Catholic monk, have a chapel in their Millbury home that features a custom mirror, relics, plaques, statues, a tabernacle, and books. Favreau said: “Most [if not all] of my design shows the juxtaposition between old and new, gritty and sleek. Together, they elevate each other.” Favreau, who was not contemplative prior to the relationship, said, “I stop into the chapel every morning to meditate; it has become a daily routine.” —Steven Favreau
As part of Somerville-based Squarehouse Studios’ redesign of her Roslindale home, Moira Murphy gained a yoga studio, which the family calls the “quiet room.” Murphy’s husband is currently using it as an office, so she has been practicing yoga on the back deck. —Joyelle West Photography
Inspired by a bit too much togetherness during stay-at-home orders, architect Stephen Chung of Wayland designed this 12-by-12-foot “COVID studio” as a tiny backyard getaway. “I think everyone in my family would like this,” Chung said with a smile. “Alas, as most of my projects have stopped, I don’t have any money to build it.” —Rendering by Stephen Chung
Spurred by the chaos of COVID-19, Dani McDonald, who co-owns South End boutique Flock, and her husband decided to transform the second floor of their Hingham barn/garage into an adult lounge. “Working from home has been hard, with lots of noise and interrupted calls,” McDonald said. “We need a space totally separate from the kiddos.” They recently painted it white and are awaiting the installation of new doors and windows. —Danielle McDonald
Boston-based architecture and interiors firm Hacin + Associates designed this minimalist meditation space on the top level of a Beacon Hill townhouse that overlooks the Public Garden. —Trent Bell Photography
Josh Slater, principal of South End architecture firm 3.0, enhanced the glass library in this South End condo into a warm study that is the unit’s focal point. “The phrase ‘space for reflection’ was used in early conversations,” he said. The room is acoustically isolated from the living area and kitchen. Slater employed the Japanese wood-burning technique called shou sugi ban to treat the cypress panels in order to create texture and depth. He noted, “There is just enough visual privacy to make it contemplative, but still transparent.” —Eric Roth Photography
Interior designer Amy Dutton, who lives in a modest-sized bungalow, laid down the law with her family regarding private time. She said: “This is my chair in my bedroom in Portsmouth. It is where I pray, journal, and meditate. I have aromatherapy and representations of the five elements. My rule with my family: If the door is closed, do NOT knock unless it is life threatening.’ ” As for her alone time areas she’s created for clients, she said: “Sadly most lost their sacred spaces to working at home or nurseries. Ah, how life moves on.” —Amy Dutton
When Nilda Martin’s daughter returned from college in March, the designer and cofounder of Space transformed the basement of their Marshfield home into a place for her to hang out. Martin, who practices and teaches meditation for her pop-up, Expand Meditation, uses it, too. —Nilda Martin

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at