According to one theory, because the human race evolved in the African savannah, it is our preferred natural habitat, regardless of culture or geographical origin.
Although most of us spend most of our time living and working in artificial environments, we still look for the characteristic elements of our ancestral landscape that have allowed our survival and improved our overall well-being.
To feel good, we need daily contact with nature. Recent research shows that those who lived in an environment with few green elements and natural light during the lockdown were twice as likely to fall into depression.
For all these reasons, interior design inspired by nature (also known as biophilic interior design) is becoming increasingly popular.
The History of Biophilic Interior Design
The concept of design inspired by biophilia emerged a few decades ago with the book ‘Biophilia,’ by biologist E. O. Wilson. The literal translation of ‘biophilia’ is ‘love of life’.
Wilson and Yale professor Stephen Kellert expanded the idea to include the fundamental needs of man that have evolved through, and are satisfied by, contact with nature.
Research increasingly shows that nature-inspired design can reduce stress in all types of built and interior environments.
In 2011, the International Journal of Environmental Health Research issued data-backed ‘recommendations for contact with nature’ to ‘create healthy places’.
Some of these recommendations included:
- Maintaining therapeutic gardens
- Welcoming animals into inside spaces
- Using natural light to illuminate rooms
- Creating an expansive view of the surrounding nature
- Incorporating nature photos and life-like natural art
What is Biophilic Design?
Biophilic design is a design model for creating environments inspired by nature. It applies to all types of artificial spaces and has some fundamental requirements.
Some of these requirements include prioritizing natural lighting and views towards green areas, paying the utmost attention to air quality and natural ventilation, carefully choosing which plants to insert, opting for materials of natural origin for furnishings and finishes, and using chromatic shades inspired by the colors of nature.
Now that we understand the principles behind the nature-inspired interior design, let’s look at some ways to apply it at home.
Organic and Natural Colors
Neutral shades ranging from beige to brown are some of the most popular colors because they are common in nature’s palette. Other colors include greens and blues that recall the shades of unspoiled natural landscapes, from seas to mountains.
You can apply these colors to the walls, furnishings, and accessories such as carpets, cushions, and lamps, enriching the interiors with different shades.
Using plant fibers like wicker, rattan, and jute is another trend that follows the same color palette and brings nature inside.
Another fundamental point is the choice of materials – they should be natural and harmless to the individuals’ health and the environment during their entire life cycle.
In general, natural materials do not emit harmful substances and have organic geometries and textures, which respond directly to our biophilic needs.
The first material to mention is wood, which has always been the most used raw material to create most objects for daily use.
However, nowadays, what looks like wood is often a compound of sawdust, glues, and resins of artificial origin masked by wood. In case your budget doesn’t allow you to opt for natural wood, make sure that these alternative materials have low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), among which the most dangerous is formaldehyde. One option is to choose materials made from agricultural waste, such as straw, corn, and hemp.
Another way to integrate natural materials into your home is to have a rough stone feature wall, which adds a natural feel to the house. For example, the combination of natural stone walls, stone flooring, and greenery in a bathroom can mimic a tropical cave.
Bringing Nature Indoors with Large Windows
Another common feature of the nature-inspired design is the house ‘opening’ to the outside. This continuity from the outside to the inside is achieved by using large glazed openings. The limit between outdoors and indoors becomes very thin, creating a life in connection with nature even when you are inside.
This way, it’s possible to maintain visual contact with the landscape. Large windows also let in lots of natural light, making us feel more active and concentrated while uplifting our mood.
Another significant benefit is improved air quality. Good ventilation in rooms alleviates the effects of indoor pollution, often causing headaches and respiratory problems.
Imagine living in a house near the sea, such as in Vancouver, overlooking one of the city’s beautiful beaches. A large window allows you to enjoy the view and breathe the salty air, helping you connect with nature and leverage its health benefits from the comfort of your home.
By avoiding boxy lines and integrating organic shapes, such as oval-shaped sinks, curved bathtubs, and floral-patterned wallpapers, you can create a room design that evokes nature.
Water elements that you can see, hear or touch also contribute to the feeling of comfort. Some ways to achieve it are to use an aquarium or decorative bowls.
Houseplants and Greenery
The simplest and best-known strategy to bring nature home is to use plants. In addition to responding to the human need for daily contact with nature, plants also:
- Improve our mood
- Clean the indoor air by absorbing formaldehyde and VOCs
- Adjust the humidity
- Release oxygen
- Improve the acoustic climate
You can take things up a notch by creating a living wall of succulent plants. Living walls in shades of purple and green are easily sustained and can be maintained ethically and economically. These bring the outside indoors in a unique and artistic way.
An easier way to achieve a similar statement wall is to use potted plants. White walls paired with white pots almost make it look like plants are growing out of the cracks in the wall.
Another option is to install hanging plants – a relatively simple way to compose an indoor garden.
If you happen to have an outdoor space, such as a backyard, you can use plants to blend the line between the outside and the inside. Considering plants’ health benefits, you can use them to create a backyard retreat.
Use Natural Biophilic Design Scenes
Another nature-inspired design strategy is to use wallpapers with natural scenes. When we’re surrounded by nature, we experience lower levels of stress, anger, and fear. Also, nature improves physical health by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.
For example, wallpapers with forest scenes bring a feeling of serenity and tranquility. On a psychological level, our brain seems to react as if we were physically in the midst of nature.
To maintain this serenity, combine fine furnishings in white or natural wood, so the focus remains on the natural scene.
With these simple yet unique ideas to bring nature into your home, it might seem like the biophilic design is all about adding a few plants. But that’s far from the truth. If you’re in doubt about applying this style at home, you can consult a professional interior designer who can help you find the best solutions for your home. In any case, it’s worth inviting some of nature’s abundance inside.
Alice Ibba has graduated in Architecture and is working as a freelancer, combining her passions for interior design, holistic wellness, sustainability, psychology, and graphic design. She defines herself as a multipotentialite. You can get in touch with her on LinkedIn.