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What is Biophilic Design?

July 29, 2023

Have you heard the phrase Biophilic Design and wondered what it means and where or how this fits in to our homes or living spaces?

Have you wondered what the term Biophilic Design means and where or how this will fit in to our homes or living spaces?

The term Biophilic Design is often heard, and perhaps has become a buzz word for something that is a quite simple concept which has been around since humans existed with the natural world. However, with the increasing focus on our planet and biodiversity loss, and a recognition that we are all dependent upon and crave a connection with the natural world, the phrase Biophilic Design has more recently become recognized in the world of architecture and interiors.

With the intuitive human draw to nature and being outdoors, and the focus on nature’s ability to help us, both mentally, physically and emotionally, the concept of Biophilia is often drawn upon when we design interiors.

What is Biophilic Design?

Biophilia simply means a love of nature. Biophilic principles focus on our innate attraction to nature and natural processes and suggest that humans have a genetic connection to the natural world around us.

The guiding principle is quite simply, connect people with nature and improve their mental wellbeing and quality of life.

We spend most of our day at home or at work, in towns and cities, with minimal contact with nature aside from perhaps a lunchbreak walk around the city. So with these important concepts in mind, it is not surprising that Biophilic principles are having an ever-increasing impact on, and importance to, our health and wellbeing. From an office and work perspective, they are now more considered than ever and their principles applied to bring nature in to the work place, yet from our home interior design perspective, they have always been very unconsciously considered when designing our homes.

Barrington Court
Flowers

An American Biologist, Edward Osborne Wilson, popularised the term in the 1980’s when his studies and observations showed that increasing urbanisation was leading to a real disconnection with our natural world. Edward Wilson was a Biologist, Naturalist, Ecologist and Entomologist, and was known for developing the field of Socio-biology.

His work was both praised and criticised throughout his life, and for those interested in knowing more about his work, it is well worth some time for further research and reading.

In the current sense, Biophilic Design uses the principles or patterns to create a human focused approach which improves the homes and spaces we live and work in, to create huge benefits to our mental, emotional and physical health and wellbeing in our increasingly busy and often disconnected lives.

In Architecture, biophilic design is built around a sustainable design strategy that reconnects people with the natural environment, focusing on three core principles.

What are the three core principles?

Direct contact with nature, using natural elements such as trees, air, water, planting, and lighting.

In-direct contact with nature, by drawing the subconscious mind towards nature with the use of natural materials, colours, textures and patterns.

Human Spatial Response, the human response to nature by creating spaces around us that energise and stimulate us, whilst also feeling calm and restorative. Essentially, creating spaces that nurture and support us through life.

One of the approaches used in Biophilic Design is the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, developed by an American Company called Terrapin Bright Green.  The fourteen pattern principles break these Three Core Principles of Biophilic Design down even further and their ethos is also well worth the read.

I was drawn to a simple phrase they use: Biophilia in Context, Rediscovering the Intuitively Obvious. The principles are not complex, they are quite simply drawing upon the things we are already intuitively drawn to from nature, and incorporating them in our interior design choices. They are quite simply the unconscious choices we already make in our design work.

How do we use Biophilic Design in our Interior Design?

Let me move away from Biophilic Design in Architecture and consider Biophilic Design in interior design and our home furnishings. We have an innate human attraction to nature and natural processes, and we are hugely aware how nature can enhance and shape our mental and physical well-being. Many of us are already designing with nature at the forefront of our decisions, using biophilic designs and natural sustainable materials, and making these decisions with a mix of both conscious and unconscious choices.

It is simply what we are innately drawn to in the natural world when designing interiors. And that is Biophilic Design.

Damson Farm
Damson Farm

Biophilic Design should not be complicated or extreme, it can be as simple as you wish it to be, but the elements of any interior design should draw you in and create an emotion. Consider an essence in your interiors that both energise and stimulate, whilst feeling calm and restorative too.

Biophilic Design is not about bringing lots of plants into the room but instead opening the space to breathe, with a few plants, allowing fresh air flow and light through, adding natural elements and natural colour, pattern and texture and designing your home to bring the outdoors indoors in other ways.

I shall attempt to put this in to some context with some examples of our reaction and emotion to the natural world and interior design.

One of the places where I am most inspired and drawn to work and rest, is the cottage we return to in Cornwall on the Helford River. I am often sat at the kitchen table early morning, with the old wooden sash windows open regardless of the weather, the interiors are beautiful throughout the cottage, the kitchen windows are simply dressed with Kate Forman interlined roman blinds with a soft pelmet over.

Sat at the table working on the laptop, feeling the cool sea breeze on my face, hearing the fisherman walking along the shingle, and feeling the pull of the estuary drawing me out before the world awakes.

This simple coastal kitchen, of soft calming blues and creams, with subtle coastal themes in the artwork on the walls, and in the mugs and plates in the cupboards, always remains an innate part of the calming experience on our visits, and a place and room we are drawn to. Although it is not our home, it always feels like returning home, with space and sea air to breathe in.

The popularity of bi-fold doors has increased over the past years, and they are most certainly increasing in their size too. It is not uncommon for me to see 5-8 metre wide bi-fold doors or windows when I visit a new project, wall to wall doors that open up an entire wall to nature, and when you slide them open, you feel as though the garden is now a part of that room. The architect has designed them for a reason, to allow the view outside to be centre stage and to draw in lots of light. Yet the sheer expanse can be incredibly daunting to clients but, with well-considered choices in fabric, colour and design, the benefits are extraordinary and often incredible.

The eye will always, inevitably be drawn to the world outside the doors, drawing you outside and equally, drawing nature in to the room. To stand in stillness and silence, to simply absorb the wide expanse of the view and breathe in its effects on you, is something to experience. It is one of calmness. Yet, it often fills us with excitement and inspiration too.

When considering how to use Biophilic Design in your home, consider the parts of nature that draw you and inspire you, that give you that sense of calmness, that wrap you up and support you, and the places in nature where you find your most peace and inspiration.

Then look at your home and create those same feelings within each room, bringing in the core elements to design your perfect room, using natural sustainable materials and fabrics, naturalistic patterns and textures, looking at the light, creating space and adding colour.

When I am with a new client, I often look at the view outside the windows and breathe in the light and space and colours and textures, and then turn around and look in to the room, and consider the same elements. Interior design should not be rushed, it often takes time to evolve, room by room. I very much prefer a thoughtful and considered approach to interiors and interior design, by creating your journey to a sustainable and balanced life at home. And naturally and unconsciously biophilic of course.

Middleton Lodge

In June, we were lucky enough to attend ‘Planted’ at National Trust Stourhead in Wiltshire, an event promoting nature-based businesses and organisations. There were varied talks on Biophilic Design and how it can reduce the impact on climate change, how can we cool and future proof our gardens against the threat posed by global warming, how can we reverse the effects of human activity on nature and biodiversity and so much more over the three days. And a wonderful array of quality, nature-based exhibitors too.  If you are in the area next year, it is well worth the visit.