LUXE Summit Part Two: What Is Wellness Architecture?

For Part One of Blair Costello's experience at the LUXE Living Well Summit in Los Angeles, click here.


I’ve always been one who is sensitive to spaces, energies, and experiences.

I’ve always been one who gravitates to nature for healing, restoration, and peace.

I owe so much of that to the transformative place I called home as a child, the side hall Federal on the banks of the Connecticut River.

You can’t tell from the photos, but there was a huge, I mean HUGE forsythia bush in our backyard. This monumental flora grew up from the earth, reaching toward the sky and cascading back down to the ground, forming a natural hollow within that was just for me. I played there with friends, honed my awareness of the detailed beauty of nature and its intricacies, and formed my appreciation for nature’s ability to heal and provide shelter, security, and comfort. 

There is a weeping paper birch tree right here alongside the west elevation of my home. At one point in my childhood, when my dad decided to build us a deck, he didn’t tear down the tree. Instead, he built the deck around it - allowing it to be a focal point of this highly-used family space, allowing its presence to be celebrated and enjoyed daily. Every few years my dad would bring out his hand saw and saw the hole a bit larger, for as the tree grew, so did the hole, and so did our memories beneath its branches.

This place you see, which holds so much space in my heart and soul, is historic. It was built in 1775 and was the youngest in our neighborhood, a historic district in Middle Haddam, Connecticut. Historic buildings are special, and we can look to them as we transform our practice for the better.

Can we transform our practice to deliver beautiful designs that withstand time and trends? Can we transform our practice back to heirloom quality, legacy buildings?

I think we can.


“Architecture is an expression of values – the way we build is a reflection of the way we live.”

Norman Foster


Thinking back to historic structures and the fact that buildings can withstand time, trends, and style, it's a shock to learn that the average lifespan of a modern-day building is 27 years.

Beyond that, here are some harsh facts about our industry:

  • 90% of our time is spent indoors. Source
  • The built environment is responsible for 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Source
  • Toxic chemicals in our homes are linked to cancer, reproductive issues, acute respiratory illness, autism, and more. Source
  • Stress is now considered a global epidemic, and buildings themselves can actually cause stress. Source

What do these facts say about our values?

Can we transform our practice with values that benefit the whole?

There are a number of problems, but we believe that wellness architecture is the transformative solution.


What is wellness architecture?

Wellness architecture is a regenerative design approach that promotes healthy outcomes for people and the planet. At Vera Iconica, we focus on how materials, objects, and spaces impact our health and well-being. We design experiences in harmony with nature where people thrive, that are free of harmful chemicals and stress-inducing elements. We avoid toxins wherever possible, and educate our clients, collaborators, and peers on healthier specifications and solutions. Taking this a step further, into a realm that isn’t as quantitative, we follow an intuitive design process to deliver beautiful spatial experiences with soul.

Architecture and design impact us at every level, all the time. With 90% of our time spent indoors, it better be good and good for you. The visual above gives you an idea of where today's conventional design and wellness architecture live in relation to energy, resources, and systems.

The harsh realities of today's conventional design are that it's not doing much for you or the planet. The Harvard School of Public Health has released information about the air exchanges of conventional buildings built to code. The high level of VOCs and CO2 in these environments can reduce cognitive ability by up to 50-60%. "Green" design is a step up from today's conventional best practices, but it's not good enough.

Speaking of best practices, consider the widely accepted use of spray foam insulation found in most contemporary buildings. How can an industry best practice require the installer to wear a hazmat suit while handling a material that is a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor? Especially when healthy, sustainable, and regenerative solutions exist. Sheep's wool is a terrific example: the price point is similar to spray foam insulation, but it's 100% natural, non-toxic, resistant to mold and mildew, regenerative, and self-extinguishing. That should be our first choice, and this attitude toward people and planet should set the standard for decision-making as architects and designers.


The Vera Iconica Wellness Wheel

Our Wellness Wheel above serves as a baseline for the qualitative and quantitative dimensions relative to our work, playing a large part in our methodology and design toolkit. The seven dimensions of wellness supported by architecture, Cultural, Ecological, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Social, help us transform perceptions about how and why we do what we do. They help us communicate effectively with our clients, contractors, and collaborators to receive their buy-in and establish values and goals early on in the design process.

Lucky for us, architecture is naturally interdisciplinary, living at the intersection of art and science. As design professionals, we need to recognize the power that space and design have on the mind-body experience, and transform our built environments as the an ultimate health improvement tool.


Through our work, designers have the power to impact all dimensions of wellness.

Society today is stressed, overstimulated, and suffering from cognitive fatigue. This degraded state of being can be partially attributed to our experience in with the built environment where we spend so much of our time. We often lack a sense of control over conditions of our environment (think lighting or thermal conditions), there's confusion caused by poor design in many public spaces, and the fast-paced nature of life demands our attention all the time.

That's where wellness architecture comes in. The built environment can cause stress, but it can also be used to mitigate and alleviate the stressors of our modern existence.

At Vera Iconica, our diverse, multifaceted, holistic toolkit helps us design environments that elevate daily life and provide opportunities to heal and restore. In the final segment, I'll share four Tools of Transformation that have a profound impact on designers and inhabitants alike.


LUXE Summit Part One: The Inaugural Living Well Summit in LA

For Part Two of Blair Costello’s experience at the LUXE Living Well Summit in Los Angeles, click here.


Newly promoted to Principal and Owner at Vera Iconica Architecture, Blair Costello leads our firm as Director of Interiors & Healthy Living. Blair was recently invited to speak at the Living Well summit hosted by Luxe Interiors + Design, a print and digital publication known for covering the latest and greatest happenings in the design industry. As of late, the brand's attention has shifted to wellness, particularly the future of wellness in the home. With 15 years of design experience from New York to Jackson Hole, including the Vera Iconica Wellness Kitchen™, who better than Blair to speak on Vera Iconica's cutting-edge wellness design philosophy? Keep reading for Blair's reflections on the conference.

Conference Reflections from Blair Costello, Director of Interiors & Healthy Living

My recent experience with the LUXE Living Well summit was one for the books, and the invitation to speak was exciting! The event drew industry professionals from around the country, united in the belief that design has the power to facilitate living well. LUXE and the selected speakers presented wellness topics across four pillars: Rest, Nourish, Create, and Transform.

I had the privilege of speaking alongside experts including Max Lugavere, wellness journalist and New York Times besetting author, Dr. Sara C. Mednick, sleep researcher and cognitive neuroscientist, Jonsara Ruth, co-founder and design director at Parsons School of Design Healthy Materials Lab, Caleb Anderson and DeAndre DeVane, co-founders of the Well-Designed initiative, Edward Leaman, innovative brand leader, and Jeremiah Brent, celebrated designer. Quite the lineup!

Though topics ranged from sleep and color to landscape and kitchen design, all of our presentations shared a common thread: the importance of sustainability and evoking change in our practice to influence behavior, lifestyles, and environmental impact. Included in my presentation was the idea that good for you is good for the planet. That really resonated with people.


Naps are powerful healers when it comes to focus, creativity, and execution of tasks and behaviors. Dr. Sara C. Mednick spoke about her book, The Power of the Downstate, which covers the positive effects of rest on our performance as humans and our ability to adapt.


Eating an omnivorous, diverse diet with little processed foods improves our health across the board, both physically and mentally. Of importance are eating and shopping locally, preparing our own meals, and getting moderate exercise. Max Lugavere provided key insights on nutrition and the issues facing our food system, namely, we should be eating for nutrition and not changing our diets based on the latest fad. 

I joined the stage to share the benefits of the Wellness Kitchen which you can read more about hereVera Iconica’s Wellness Kitchen was developed under the premise that the kitchen is the true heart of the home. We design the space to comfortably gather, entertain, and nourish one another. Design considerations include food delivery, storage, preparation, cooking, social activity, consumption, and disposal, alongside attention to healthy materials, systems, and construction techniques. 

Vera Iconica Wellness Kitchen™ at the WHIT home in Lake Nona, Orlando, Florida

We have a long way to go when it comes to repairing much of the toxic nature of our industry, but there is hope. There are incredibly intelligent and creative people out there developing new, healthy, and sustainable products all the time! In line with this idea, Jonsara Ruth talked in-depth about the work of Parson’s Healthy Materials lab and burgeoning manufacturers with healthy sustainable products. She encouraged us to use them as a resource and keep the conversation going.


As the keynote speaker, I was honored to kick-off the conference with my presentation, Transformative Design Rooted in Values. I shared with my peers how, as architects and designers, we have the power to transform how our industry impacts the planet as well as our clients’ lives, behaviors, and lifestyles. There are many ways to do this. For some, it might be crafting conscious construction details and material selections throughout a building. For others, it might be working toward legacy-quality, heirloom outcomes that are healthy and free of toxics. Either way, designers are leaders and we have the power to transform the world around us. I look forward to sharing more of this presentation content in VIA’s online Journal in the coming weeks. 

Conference Highlights

After the morning programming, Pamela Jaccarino, Editor in Chief of LUXE, moderated a panel discussion with Ed Leahman (California Closets) and Jeremiah Brent (Designer and TV Host) that further pressed the value of ritual, mindful living, and the power of design to impact lives.

We also participated in an exercise on letting go hosted by the founders of Well-Designed. Well-Designed is a membership-based organization that knows full well the struggles of the stressful, demanding profession we have all come to know, love, and be a part of. Their programming provides much needed support and rejuvenation.

Every person at the LUXE conference contributed to a palpable energy all geared toward the future of design and living well. The speakers were inspiring, the attendees were engaged, and the location couldn’t have been better for the topic at hand. I met fantastic professionals and learned from each interaction. We’re at a thrilling turning point in our profession and society, and it’s the perfect time to focus on smart, healthy, lasting impacts as design professionals.

Stay tuned for an overview of my presentation, Transformative Design Rooted in Values, in the coming weeks!