Goodness me, haven't we been at home a lot in the last year! Hard to believe, we've been living in these strange times that long. With so many of us now living and working from home as a result of Covid, the importance of our home environment has never been greater.
So I was delighted when my good buddy Sharon Lomas of https://www.astoryofhome.com/ agreed to share with me, a valuable insight in to the importance of considering biophilic design in our interiors. Sharon and I became friends through Instagram, bonding over our love of all things green, vintage and house plants! Sharon has studied the principles of biophilic design in detail, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge when working with clients, enabling them to connect their interiors to nature, creating a haven of calm and relaxed spaces.
But what is biophilia? And why should we be applying its principles in our homes to improve our overall wellbeing? I’ll let Sharon explain:
I first came across the terms biophilia and biophilic design around four years ago. I understood it as a “love of nature” and “nature inspired design” and it dawned on me that this had always been the foundation of any of the creative projects I had ever done. I thought it was a lovely term for something I have always felt akin to.
I was intrigued and I began reading more articles and blogs on the subject, I was really drawn into the research behind it. What this led to was a new world of science, theory and a set of design principles that consider not only humans innate connection to nature but a way of creating wellbeing in our living and work space through design.
Why reconnecting to nature has become so important
The term “biophilia” was first coined by Enrich Fromm in 1973, a psychologist who believed humans have a connection to the natural world through a genetic inheritance. It was biologist Edward Wilson however who really popularised the theory in the 1980's. He recognised the connection between stress related issues that come with humans’ rapid urbanisation and the resulting lack of connections to nature.
Modern urban living means we now spend 90% of our lives indoors – homes, cars, public transport, workplaces, cafes, restaurants, gyms. Air quality indoors can be 4/5 times more polluted than outdoors, with 96% of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) coming from materials and furnishings we surround ourselves with and which can irritate the nose and throat, to say the least.
For the majority of us our lives now revolve around technology. 93% of UK adults now own a smartphone, on average a 1/3 check their phones during the night, touching them over 2600 times a day – how shocking is that!
Our constant state of distraction, disruption to our natural circadian rhythms, exposure to indoor pollutants and artificial light is having a dramatic effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. It’s no wonder that the World Health Organisation considers stress related illnesses and mental health issues as global health epidemics of the 21st century. What biophilic design proposes, is a design process which puts humans and their wellbeing at the heart of any design choices, with practical solutions to help soothe and restore our mental & physical wellbeing.
So what is biophilic design?
Biophilic design is an evidence based approach to designing spaces that help us connect to nature and natural systems. Taking this approach to designing our interior spaces, means that every day we can harness the many health benefits of actually being in nature in order to:
· Reduce stress levels
· Reduce heart rates and lower blood pressure rates
· Improve recuperation from physical and mental exhaustion
· Improve creativity, productivity and concentration
· Reduce irritability
There are 14 patterns of biophilic design which consider how to connect our interiors to nature - 14 features you can bring in, to enhance a connection to nature within your interior space.
These range from incorporating direct connections such as plants, air flow, water and natural light, how we can use references to, or representations of nature through organic shape, pattern & texture and how we can mimic the qualities of the natural environment to create spaces which stimulate, excite, calm or relax.
I believe we have a biophilic core, elements of nature which make us feel at our calmest and most relaxed which are specific to us as individuals. For me it’s green landscapes, mountains, woodlands, proximity to water with a preference for spring and autumn seasons, this is why I came to live in the Lake District. For somebody else it may be the rugged Cornish coastline, tasting the salty air on their lips, the smell of ozone and brushing through grasses in the sand dunes during winter. Both are natural spaces, connecting to nature yet both conjure up totally different palettes of colour, texture and mood. I use this theory to design spaces that reflect my client’s favourite experiences and feelings when out in nature.
How I’ve implemented biophilic design in my sitting room
You don’t have to cram all 14 design patterns into one room but here are some examples of how I’ve considered connecting to nature in the design of my sitting room.
To reference my love of green landscapes and woodlands I painted my walls in mid tone green, this gives me the feeling of being cocooned by the landscape. Feeling this connection to my favourite spaces gives me the calm, tranquil and restorative mood I wanted in a room where I spend my time relaxing.
I mixed different natural materials and textures to represent how I experience nature through other senses such as touch. I’ve used wood, wool, linen, velvet and an olive green sheepskin draped over the back of a low chair which reminds me of moss covered tree stumps that I might perch upon when walking through the woods.
On as many surface as possible I have used nature inspired patterns or artworks depicting natural scenes. I have lampshades featuring flower prints & bird designs, cushions featuring butterflies & ferns and botanical illustrations and artwork featuring woodlands, trees & landscapes.
Plants feature on every possible surface in my home. Over the last few years I learned to care for house plants (where once I would kill them just by looking at them) and this has become a very therapeutic hobby. Sharing your home with plants is not just simply decorative or therapeutic though, many can play a huge part in helping to purify the air. Plants such as the Peace Lily, Boston fern, Snake plants and Aloe Vera are all super-efficient at cleansing the air – especially important when you consider the amount of time we now spend indoors and the toxins that can bring. Placing plants at varying heights and having some trailing species hung from the ceiling/higher positions also gives a connection to how you experience greenery in nature, isn’t not all at one level or one focal point.
Including real wood in your homes has been shown to really benefit your health by reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
I was lucky enough to have the original floorboards hidden underneath a carpet so this was quickly removed. Having changes in flooring helps create another sensory experience to replicate the ground beneath you in nature. I chose to add a rug to my wooden floor. The rug I added brings in lots of colour in an abstract pattern, picking out the autumnal colours I love to see as the seasons change.
I’m lucky to have several windows and glazed doors in this room which obviously serve as a great source of natural light but by adding lots of mirrors not only reflects light around the room but also offers up reflected views. So whenever I pass a mirror I see the natural elements in the room through them. My furniture is also placed either facing windows with views outside, or with views onto natural elements such as artwork, patterns or colours.
How to adapt and use some of these principles in your home:
Here are my top 10 starter tips for bringing biophilic design in to your home, simply and easily, with only a little cost:
1. Open your windows – sounds a bit like learning to suck eggs I know, but opening your windows every day, even in the depths if winter, allows toxins out, fresh air in and helps regulate moisture. Keep your windows clean to allow as much natural day light in as possible
2. If you are working from home, position your desk or a chair facing a window to capture any views of the natural world and soak up as much natural daylight as possible.
3. If you don’t have a view, position a couple of house plants close to the window or place a window box on the outside window ledge or a balcony.
4. Create a view inside- position a nature inspired artwork + plants in a direct line of view from a chair/sofa or position to be reflected in a mirror
5. Use nature inspired patterns on fabrics, lampshades and wallpaper to reference nature everywhere you look.
Sharon uses nature-inspired patterns, in her home, some of which are from her own fabric designs available through her design company: https://www.lomasandlomas.co.uk/
6. Create a gallery wall of nature inspired and botanical artworks
7. Consider other senses:
a. touch - mix natural textures such as wool, sheepskin and cotton velvet to replicate the variety of textures in nature
b. smell – diffusers and candles ( 100% natural only please ), cut flowers or fragranced plants like Jasmine or lavender, have potted herbs in the kitchen
c. Sound – open windows to hear the birds or play nature sounds, place a bamboo plant near an open window to rustle in the breeze or add an indoor water feature
8. Wood – use real wood wherever possible in your home, a solid wood bed has been shown to aid sleep while reducing heat rate and blood pressure
9. Colour – The next time you decorate a room, think of your favourite natural space and replicate these colours into your design
10. Plants – always plants and the more the merrier giving you a direct connection to nature. Choose air purifying plants to clean your indoor air. Create a green wall or even a plant throne. I would always favour real greenery but faux plants can still have a positive visual effect and are better than none at all. Faux plants are also great in tricky positions such as close to radiators or where there is no natural light.
I hope this inspires you to incorporate biophilic elements in your own home and interiors projects. I'd really love to hear from you if you do!
A massive thank you to Sharon, for such an informative and insightful read. I'm off to water my houseplants. 😃
To find out more about Sharon's biophilic design services head to her website at: https://www.astoryofhome.com/design-service where you'll also find her inspirational home stories blog series.
You can follow Sharon on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/a_story_of_home/