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‘Biophilic decor:’ Ways to bring the feel of nature indoors

October 22, 2019

The term “biophilia,” an affinity for the living world, was coined back in the 1980s by American biologist and author E.O. Wilson. Humans have an instinctive drive to connect with nature, he said, and the more they connect, the happier they are. That’s why a walk in the woods or a sit on a quiet beach can feel so good.

In homes, people might try to bring the outside in with a potted tree, some herbs on the window sill, perhaps floral wallpaper or landscape art.

Biophilic decor harnesses man’s love for the outdoors

Some other creative ideas from innovative designers today include:

“When I first started reading about biophilic design and how we needed to be flooding our homes with gorgeous natural views, daylight and plants I thought, ‘Well that’s dandy, but how about people in homes and work spaces that just don’t have access to these things?’” said Phoebe Oldrey, who runs Smart Style Interiors in Tunbridge Wells, England.

“How do I, as an interior designer, give them the benefits of biophilic design? The answer came in the choice of materials we use in our designs, and natural materials is the way to go.”

(Above and below) in biophilic design, natural materials is the way to go

In one home, she designed floating maple cabinetry inlaid with a pattern of swallows in flight. In a dining/kitchen space with doors opening onto a leafy outdoor area, she placed a large light fixture composed of colorful glass bubbles; it’s as though a cluster of errant balloons drifted in from the backyard. And in a weekend cottage, she placed a ceiling fixture made of woven sticks over the bed, evoking a cozy bird’s nest.

Lighting is a great way to bring a biophilic element into a room.

If one likes the idea of that stick fixture, check out Serena & Lily’s Vero pendant made of wispy woven rattan twigs. All Modern has the Organique chandelier, a freeform ‘nest’ of rubbed bronze. Arteriors Home has the Tilda fixture made of whitewashed wood sticks, and the Wichita floor lamp crafted of downed teak tree trunks.

Brooklyn’s Nea Studio has found a formula for treating green marine algae so it becomes firm yet malleable. Designer Nina Edwards Anker handcrafts the algae into light shades that cast a warm glow. Anker has also created a solar chandelier made from shells and photovoltaic modules; hang the fixture in a window and it becomes a solar clock, turning on at dusk. Passing breezes make it a wind chime, too.

New technologies give lighting that’s more reflective of outdoor light. Ketra offers an LED system that can be tuned so the room lighting moves from warm candlelight to a wintry Arctic sky. Nanoleaf’s light panels interlock; affix them to a wall, then operate them remotely to cycle through arrays like “sunrise” and “Northern Lights.”

If one is renovating or building, think about adding cutouts beyond the traditional windows and sliding doors — horizontal lighting like skylights, for instance.

Soy-based candles with scents of wood, grass and desert sand complement the overall look.

Bo Sundius of Bunch Design in Los Angeles said the firm always thinks about how sun and light moving across rooms can be used to connect interiors to the outdoors.

In one converted garage project, long clerestory windows were placed high on the walls of a small living room. Afternoon light streams through a west-facing skylight, and a stepped ceiling creates more interesting light plays. “The house sits in the middle of a dense residential neighborhood,” said Sundius, “yet it feels airy and open.”

This fall, Farrow & Ball debuted Colour by Nature, a collection done in collaboration with London’s Natural History Museum. Rare books, including an early color guide used by Charles Darwin, provided inspiration. There’s an orange-tinged white inspired by the breast feathers of an owl; a green evinces the emerald hue of a mallard’s neck.

Behr Paint’s 2020 color of the year is a soothing green called Back to Nature; complementary colors include Light Drizzle, Secret Meadow, Dragonfly and Bluebird.

Murals can showcase nature dramatically; they work well in family rooms, hallways or bedrooms. For something unusual, consider Flavor Paper’s Saguaro Sessions collection. The studio’s founder, Jon Sherman, and photographer Boone Speed were inspired by a trip to Saguaro National Park to make wallpapers that showcase macro photography of gemstones and minerals, with the crystalline structures creating unique patterns in extreme close-up.

Use wood cabinet as an accent

Roche Bobois’ Bois Paradis collection from Maison Lacroix features wood cabinets and screens, and upholstered seating, printed with a woodland scene. On the casegoods and tables, the pattern is in silhouette, giving them an air of mystery.

Miami-based design house Plant the Future is known for biophilic installations like “living” plant murals on building exteriors. They also clad the walls of a Florida client’s dining room in a blanket of soft green moss, and created a 3-D mural out of mushrooms for a client in Spain. They sell preserved moss circles and hearts to hang on the wall, moss letters, and a lush, cursive “I love you.”

And to bring the outdoors in via scent, Otherland has soy-based candles with scents of smoke, wood fires, grass and desert sand.


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