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How to Bring Nature Indoors

Humans as we know them today have been around for approximately a couple of hundred thousand years. 99% of that time was spent living in the natural world, in agricultural societies – it’s only the last 1% when we’ve lived in artificial spaces that we have created ourselves. Most of our evolution therefore has involved a deep biological link to our natural surroundings and the hypothesis that we have an innate, genetic connection to nature is known as biophilia (from the Greek for "love of life"). This belief, that we psychologically respond positively to nature, also maintains that for us to benefit properly, it must be experienced repeatedly. And, in case you were thinking I’d changed profession, that’s the moment this stops being a history lesson and becomes an interior design blog again, with the concept of biophilic design!

Image courtesy of Tom Raffield– himself a great advocator of biophylic design

Most of us apparently spend over 85% of our time indoors, shut away from nature. Biophilic design is one strand of interior design that aims to improve our indoor spaces, such as workplaces and homes, by helping us to re-engage with nature. Regular readers of my blog will know that interior design isn’t just about colours and cushions; it encompasses materials, light, atmosphere and experience, and as such, it’s the perfect medium to incorporate multiple aspects of nature. But why should we? Why has it become such a trend in recent years? And why are the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple redesigning their workspaces to look like rain forests?

The Benefits of Biophilic Design

How does leaving your desk or your steamy kitchen to walk through a park or along a beach make you feel? For almost all of us, there’s a noticeable lift, some kind of subconscious kick we get from getting outside, even if it’s five minutes’ escape in a garden chair. Nature somehow helps us relax and de-stress. Countless studies show a range of physical and mental health benefits to having regular contact with nature – there’s even evidence to show that just touching real plants can have a calming effect, which is why so many people enjoy nurturing potted plants.

Incorporating elements of nature into our modern-day indoor environment through biophilic design has been shown to reduce stress and decrease blood pressure, as well as aid creativity and improve mental well-being. Plants, as one example, help to clean the air and increase the humidity, but there are many more ways we can incorporate elements of nature into the interior design of our homes beyond a couple of cacti on the windowsill.

Biophilic design – houseplants help induce a feeling of calm in the garden room of our Abel Gardens project

Putting it into Practice

One indestructible spider plant on a shelf isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid! In terms of houseplants, you can’t really go over the top – big, small, leafy or structural – they all work as focal points or fillers of alcoves, but let’s take a step back from these living accessories and look at the bigger picture too.

There’s no better way of bringing the outside in than by looking at it through a window, so maximising natural light and making the best of what you have, creating a space with some kind of view if at all possible, is the first step. Consider removing curtains that take up some of the window aperture; adding a window seat, perhaps; whatever you can do to see outside from your desk or your favourite chair. I know that not everyone has a view they want to look at, so there are other tricks of the trade we can deploy to help.

Add a window seat to create extra seating and blinds that allow as much light in as possible. This is from our Ferry Road project.

If you can’t look at rolling hills, the ocean, or a jungle of plants through a window, you can definitely enjoy a picture of it on a wall. Looking at art with biophilic themes has been shown to have the same calming benefits as the real thing, and we can also extend this from paintings to the designs that we choose in our wallpaper, fabrics and accessories. Botanical shapes and patterns are everywhere when you start to look for them, and they will all still give you that visual link to nature. Leaf prints, wave patterns and floral designs are abundant and using complementary colours common in nature – greens, blues, earthy browns and gold – will all add to your biophilic palette and ultimately a calm, stress-free interior!

Incorporating houseplants, vases with flowers and botanical prints brings a sense of calm to this living room design by Kate Lovejoy Interiors

If you would like advice on putting together a biophilic design for your interior, contact me to find out how I can help.

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