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.