Biophilic Design Strategies for Home Interiors
By Nicole Barr for GaleriePerrie.com
As people seek to live healthier lives, a new, innovative design trend has appeared that promotes wellness through architecture and décor. Based on studies showing that being closer to nature–even in forms like sustainable materials, botanical art, houseplants, or natural light–is beneficial to human health, biophilic design is the practice of forming a closer connection with nature by introducing its presence into how buildings are constructed and designed.
The approach originated with Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and Harvard University professor who, in 1984, published Biophilia, which coined the term and defines it as “the innate tendency to focus on life and the lifelike processes.” Since, biophilic design has increasingly sought to incorporate the natural world into built environments using raw natural resources to create a sense of harmony between natural and artificial elements. The fundamental goal is to create a better habitat for people, based on the fact that we are biological organisms with an inherent need to connect with nature, even in modern spaces.
Biophilic design also promotes psychological well-being. When applied, it has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve productivity, and enhance creativity. For instance, in 2019 William D. Browning, co-author of Nature Inside: A Biophilic Design Guide, helped publish a study on the impact of Biophilic learning spaces on student success. In a sixth-grade Baltimore classroom, the research team installed wallpaper with a wave pattern on the ceiling and a carpet resembling prairie grass, in addition to dressing the windows with shades printed with the shadows of trees. After a year, the students achieved, on average, 3.3 times higher on tests and showed a reduction in stress.
According to Browning, “There’s a reason why you have the aquarium at the dentist’s office.”
Moreover, as well as improving student performance, biophilic design can promote a sense of connection with nature even when you’re not physically immersed in it. Researchers for the 2012 study “Healing environment: A review of the impact of physical environmental factors on users” found that when biophilic design was applied in healthcare settings, patients received substantial healing benefits.
In fact, patients who had rooms with views of nature also had shorter postoperative stays, needed less pain medication, received fewer negative evaluative comments from nurses, and had slightly lower scores for minor post-surgical complications. The study also found that representational images of natural features such as landscapes, flowers, gardens and water-scapes reduced stress and improved outcomes like pain relief.
Windows and doors are gateways to nature, offering opportunities for light, views, ventilation, and access. Maximizing exposure to natural light, then, is perhaps the most important initiative of biophilic design. Natural light is also essential for the correct functioning of our circadian rhythm. So, designing an interior that allows for maximal access to it will help improve sleep at night and boost alertness during the day. First, consider the amount of natural light coming into your home. Then work to maximize it by repositioning furniture, opening curtains, and clearing obstructions.
Additionally, it may help to highlight areas of your home with the largest windows, as expanses of glass can provide views and an engagement with the outside world. Design your space around the availability of natural light, and consider how sunlight moves through each space from morning to sunset. For example, place the dining table where it will receive evening sun; situate a writing desk or breakfast nook beneath an east-facing window. For homes with smaller windows, consider adding mirrors or reflective surfaces such as glass tables to your home to reflect what light is available.
Incorporating houseplants is the simplest way to go biophilic, not only because doing so adds beauty but because it increases well-being. The 1989 NASA Clean Air Study found that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, while also filtering out harmful airborne chemicals, such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene—all of which are commonly found in everyday objects like furniture and building materials. When choosing plants, consider what you can commit to maintaining; plants like succulents, snake plants, and aloe need less maintenance than most, making them ideal for any home decorator on the go. Also, consider available lighting, as plants like bamboo and chamaedorea can die from too much sun exposure.
Finally, though artificial plants can still have biophilic benefits for your psychology, it is best to avoid them as the production of artificial plants can have detrimental effects on the environment and are often made of toxic, non-biodegradable materials.
Color can enhance the beauty of a space while connecting us to the outdoors and boosting health and well-being, so choosing soothing, nature-inspired tints and shades is important in creating tranquility and balance. Naturalistic blues, greens and neutrals (or earth tones) are key to re-enforcing a biophilic atmosphere, while muted yet bright colors suggest light and air; look for colors like ocean blue, terracotta red, stone gray, moss green, or sand beige. Use bright colors as accents, as this is often how they would be found in nature.
Find Inspiration Naturally
Modern architecture is dominated by straight lines and right angles, though this is the furthest from what we find in nature. Moreover, the global economy has made the same materials and products available practically everywhere so that a sense of place has been lost now that our homes are no longer rooted in the materials that reflect the landscapes surrounding them. For a more biophilic approach, then, consider natural shapes and forms with all their irregularities and curves as inspiration. Also, incorporate locally sourced natural materials, syncing your interior and exterior. The use of organics like wood and stone is especially key, especially if they are formed in biomorphic patterns. Likewise, artwork, sculptures, architectural features and furnishings are available that abstractly or directly depict nature or make use of natural media. Even a simple photograph of a lake by Jeffrey Conley or a sculpture of an organic structure by Abid Javed can amplify the biophilic atmosphere of a room.
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