Smart homes and technology have enhanced our lives in many ways, but Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri need to go in time-out occasionally. Our smartphones and personal devices often blur the lines between work and home, bombarding us with emails, texts, and phone calls interrupting moments between family and friends. People walk with their heads down, staring at their devices in a trancelike state. We have earbuds hanging out of ears and people go around as if they are carrying on a conversation with themselves, even babies in supermarkets and toddlers in restaurants are being immersed in technology to keep them occupied before they can communicate in full sentences.

Technology has driven design. Our workspaces are devoted to charging stations, interactive touchscreen walls, and video conference calls on Skype. We FaceTime, Snapchat, post on walls, upload pictures, follow and tweet, then return home to be greeted by Alexa, who unlocks our doors and turns on our lights. We are connected to people from all over the world, and yet we don’t know them. How can we be so connected to one another, yet at the same time feel so disconnected?

People have an instinct to belong to small groups – a tribe, if you will. Due to the growth in technology, this tribal connection has seemingly been lost in our modern society.  I believe that we can reclaim those small groups and relationships through design.

To begin the process, determine exactly who is in your tribe. Does it consist of children? Is it multigenerational with specific needs? Will someone try to age in place for as long as possible? Do you invite your friends and family over because you love to entertain?

We know that the needs of your tribe and how you spend time together has a direct influence on your relationships and wellbeing, so wellness should be kept in mind when planning your home. Your design should be intentional, so it can assist in nurturing your relationships.

We seem to be aware of our physical needs, but in these days of growing technology, we need to look at design from a psychological standpoint as well. Humans are social creatures, and we all need to feel a sense of belonging and security within our relationships. How can your space nurture these feelings? One way is to ensure you have an area away from technological distractions that is specifically designed for activities that help the connection between you and your tribe.

For many, the kitchen is the heart of the home; food brings people together, so why not incorporate an island and plenty of space for multiple cooks? This will not only serve as a visual anchor and increase efficiency, but it is a natural gathering space that encourages conversation. Or, try incorporating an indoor herb garden into your kitchen design. The simple idea of planting an herb garden can serve as a teaching tool for children and spark conversation about where our food comes from. It also encourages us to explore the creative spirit we can bring by cooking with fresh ingredients. Plus, there is the visual and natural benefit of viewing lovely greenery that naturally cleans the air!

Another way to unplug is to capture the joy of being outside. We as Michiganders are fortunate to live in such a beautiful state, and outdoor living is part of the Michigan culture and experience. When designing your home, take advantage of that gift by purposely designing a space that serves as a solution, removing you from all the hyperconnectivity of technology. Many of us have fond memories of sitting around the fire telling stories and roasting s’mores. Incorporating a fire pit at your home allows for these memorable experiences and serves as a focal point for social gatherings. The ability to enjoy an evening outside in any setting is a natural catalyst for great conversation, promoting connection with others. When people disconnect from technology and connect to nature, they feel happier, healthier, more energetic and optimistic, and develop stronger relationships.

If your tribe prefers a sitting area, make it just that! We create media rooms and gaming rooms, how about a room that is devoted to conversation? These areas should provide comfortable spatial relationships that promote eye contact. Also, be aware of room colors, patterns, and materials that can encourage conversations.  Lastly, choose comfortable furnishings; it helps people relax, focus, and linger longer.

Whether it’s designing a room for game night or creating a multipurpose room that promotes working side by side on individual projects, the result should provide an area away from distractions. Let the space encourage and nurture the activities that develop relationships. Choose a designer who will help you incorporate all the smart technology that makes your life easier that also helps fulfill the social and physical needs of your tribe. If that has been accomplished, your space will never go out of style!

So how about it, ready to create that space to reconnect?  Put the phones in the basket and give Alexa a night off. Disconnect to reconnect and embrace your tribe.