The Psychitect Is In: How One Therapist Helps Couples Tackle Design Projects Together

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By Kate Reggev
Meet Rachel Melvald, a psychotherapist who uses her background in psychology and design to resolve issues between couples who are in the throes of a high-stress project.

If you’ve ever embarked on a design project, whether it be selecting a new sofa to a massive gut renovation, you probably know how stressful, confusing, and mentally exhausting the experience can be. Enter the "psychitect": Rachel Melvald, a licensed psychotherapist with a background in fine arts, architecture, and psychology who specializes in helping her clients maintain good relationships—both romantic and professional—during the design process.

Psychitect Rachel Melvald brings together the fields of therapy and design in her practice.

Psychitect Rachel Melvald brings together the fields of therapy and design in her practice.

Who Is Rachel Melvald?

Melvald studied fine arts and psychology at the University of Michigan and training at both the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the UCLA School of Interior Architecture. This multifaceted background allows her to do everything, from reading architectural drawings to analyzing design preferences, and from curating art to developing methods for stress reduction—from when contractor deadlines are missed, for example.

The psychitecture office of Rachel Melvald achieves a sense of domestic comfort as a psychotherapy space.

The psychitecture office of Rachel Melvald achieves a sense of domestic comfort as a psychotherapy space.

The Birth of Psychitecture

After more than two decades of working as a licensed psychotherapist in both the private and public sectors, Melvald started her own private practice, calling it pyschitecture: a balanced blend that uses her disparate areas of expertise to guide clients beyond mind and body well-being into sound investments through the cultivation of space.

Rachel worked as a consultant in the design process for this ground-up remodel of a Malibu home directly on the ocean.

Rachel worked as a consultant in the design process for this ground-up remodel of a Malibu home directly on the ocean.

During her practice, Melvald pinpointed a correlation between the high-stress situation of a home remodel and the growing tension between couples during this process. "I noticed many of my clients turning to couples therapy while remodeling their homes," she says. "At such a stressful time in the relationship, it was an opportunity to explore dynamics already at play [and] to remediate the dysfunction that can ensue."

Rachel Melvald co-curated the Cuban art exhibit The Future Moves Slow in the atypical, white cube gallery setting with a meandering back garden, which makes recalls a tropical setting.

Rachel Melvald co-curated the Cuban art exhibit The Future Moves Slow in the atypical, white cube gallery setting with a meandering back garden, which makes recalls a tropical setting.

Says Melvald, "I problem-solve with the couple and support them in creating a harmonious design process, not a confrontational one." Her multifaceted method draws from the principles of neuroscience, Jungian analysis, somatic experiencing, design-led contextual inquiry, phenomenology, environment psychology, experienced-centered design, and mindfulness. 

Melvald often works with couples who are going through the renovation process to help them work together and de-stress.

Melvald often works with couples who are going through the renovation process to help them work together and de-stress.

Case Studies

What are her methods like? For individual clients or couples, she typically starts with sessions to understand her client’s design vision, whether it be conscious or unconscious. She delves into connections between personal history and personal preferences, tying together space, art, and experience.

I problem-solve with the couple and support them in creating a harmonious design process, not a confrontational one.

—Rachel Melvald

In one case, Melvald worked with a married couple during a condo purchase. However, they didn't exactly see eye-to-eye—the husband wanted to continue renting for its convenience, while the wife wanted to invest in a property. Furthermore, while he stipulated needing air conditioning, she dismissed it as a luxury. Through this conflict, Melvald unearthed issues around the husband's tendency to make unnecessary purchases while the wife struggled to remain the breadwinner and voice of reason. Ultimately, the couple divorced, and the wife continued the purchase and renovation of the condo on her own terms. 

"Through a psychotherapist lens, psychitecture is able to reflect the authentic and highest self in art curation and design projects," says Melvald.

"Through a psychotherapist lens, psychitecture is able to reflect the authentic and highest self in art curation and design projects," says Melvald.

"In this instance, the couple needed support in finding themselves through the remodel to learn they would be happier separated," says Melvald. "[The wife] ended up...designing based on her taste which brought her much joy—an expression of self she had never had, coupling up and getting married when she first left college." 

The construction or renovation of a home can easily be one of the most stressful points of conflict in a relationship, and Melvald seeks to facilitate communication, both with the couple and with the design team.

The construction or renovation of a home can easily be one of the most stressful points of conflict in a relationship, and Melvald seeks to facilitate communication, both with the couple and with the design team.

In another case study, Melvald worked with a couple that, in the midst of making a home purchase, felt dissatisfied with their sex life and scared that their relationship was becoming a friendship. "I worked with the couple on managing stress related to the ups and downs of purchasing a home," says Melvald, "and then assessed both clients' vision of what their sex life would look like in their bedroom." These so-called vision boards helped her lead the couple to make fruitful design decisions about the bedroom, and set better intentions for their sex life.

Melvald even makes connections between design preferences, like color and material selection, and personal histories and experiences.

Melvald even makes connections between design preferences, like color and material selection, and personal histories and experiences.

When acting as a go-between for an architect or designer and a client, Melvald first works with the architect in a one-on-one session, or even with both the client and the architect to better facilitate communication between the two parties. In these types of situations, Melvald seeks to understand the artistic concepts of the architect in concert with the needs and desires of the client.

Ultimately, the psychitect seeks to understand what a client wants in a home, personal art collection, production design, or place of business—and helps realize that vision. 

Through a psychotherapist lens, psychitecture is able to reflect the authentic and highest self in art curation and design projects.

—Rachel Melvald

Are you tackling a design project with a partner and feeling the strain on your relationship? Email community@dwell.com about your problem with the subject line Psychitect for the chance to get advice from Rachel Melvald.