The notion of creating a “Holy of Holies” in a home—a room of one’s own—came to me while exploring the connection between architecture and spirituality. During my research I discovered an ancient sacred structure called the Tabernacle that embodies archetypal patterns for creating sacred space and includes three main areas: the Outer Court, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies—or, more simply put: public, private, and intimate space. As an architect I was particularly drawn to the Holy of Holies, a place to reconnect with one’s heart. These heart spaces are often overlooked in home design, where kitchens, master suites, and great rooms take center stage, yet they are essential if we want our home to feel like a refuge and retreat. We can create them for ourselves, for our children, and for our relationship with our partner, allowing ourselves to slow down a bit and remember what we hold dear.
Having a Holy of Holies to share as a couple has a profound impact on the relationship. It offers a place to reconnect with our partner, putting aside the other roles and responsibilities that demand our focus and energy. Time spent together in a sacred space can solidify bonds of love and mutual respect and help us weather the transitions, conflicts, or challenges we face. My husband and I have a sitting room off our bedroom where we enjoy a cup of hot tea together each morning. Two soft chairs with cotton throw blankets angle toward each other with an ottoman in between. The windows in the room face west and frame a view of the Flatiron Mountains. An oriental rug, a bookcase filled with books, coffee mugs, and photographs, along with a small table for a teapot, complete the space. This is the place where we discuss a variety of topics—from household repairs and schedules to the dreams we had the night before. We say a quick prayer together and hug good-bye before heading off in separate directions.
Lately, our morning ritual has begun to shift and seems to mirror the new phase of life we are entering as a couple. With the departure of our youngest son to college, we are now empty nesters. Our shared morning tea has been replaced by a protein fruit smoothie that makes the kitchen nook a more convenient place to be. We sometimes meet in our sitting room and other times at the kitchen table but haven’t settled into a new routine as yet. A large flat-screen TV has been added to the sitting room behind my chair, as well, a compromise that took some negotiation that is symbolic of the give-and-take of marriage. It seems fitting as we transition into this new season of life that our sacred space may need adjusting as well. We have discussed replacing the wooden kitchen table in the nook with two soft chairs, a small side table, and a place for a coffee pot and blender. I am excited about the possibilities for our new space, both the physical space in the nook and the space opened up for my husband and me to explore.
Kathy describes the Holy of Holies she and her partner created in their home. Two chairs were added to a sunroom filled with overflowing plants and daylight streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows. Every afternoon they meet in their space to unwind and catch up with the events from each other’s day. Pausing in the evenings to acknowledge one another’s presence has deepened their appreciation, understanding, and love for one another. Kathy has also noticed that if they’ve had a conflict or need to discuss a difficult issue, they are both drawn to their sacred space because it is seasoned with positive encounters and feels like a safe place to talk.
In contrast, Pete and Sarah stumbled onto their sacred space by accident.
As an event planner for a national organization, Pete is required to travel extensively for several months a year. During this time an old back injury tends to flare up due to the added stress. His wife suggested they install a hot tub on their back deck to help alleviate his back pain. A master gardener, Sarah fills her backyard with lavish plants and flowers and vines that weave through an arched trellis. It’s a luxurious spot for soaking in warm water and being soothed by pulsating jets. Sarah began to join Pete in the hot tub, bringing along two glasses of refreshing iced tea. Soon it became a daily ritual whenever Pete was in town. Though the original intent for the hot tub was to relieve Pete’s muscle tension, it became the place where Sarah and Pete catch up with one another during his season of traveling. Undisturbed by children, phones, and other distractions, they can listen to one another with focused attention.
A couple’s retreat space offers numerous possibilities for creating a place to be together in an intentional way. Adding this type of retreat space may involve some sleuthing. When do we tend to check in with one another? What do we enjoy doing together? What changes would we need to make to allow time and space to be together? Two musicians made a niche near their family room for a piano, guitars, violins, and drums. Here they rekindle their passion for music and their enjoyment of experiencing it together. Regardless of the activity, having a place set aside to share with a partner deepens the relationship.
Excerpted from Sacred Space at Home: Architecture with Soul, by Anne Knorr. Home Design Publishing, 2012. Reprinted with permission.