There’s a new buzz word in interior town, and I’m not talking about table scapes. Nope. I’m talking about Biophilia.
So what is Biophilia?
Biophilia is not a new concept, far from it. Popularised by American biologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980’s, it’s a principal that has actually been around for many years now. It suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
While we were in the process of designing the look and feel of our home we knew that we wanted a strong connection to the outdoors and that we would incorporate natural materials throughout. We would tend to gravitate towards natural colours such as blues and greens without thinking too much into it.
We would often feel stumped when someone would ask us to describe our style? Erm…Swedish Sauna meets Center Parcs with a pinch of Shoreditch Coffee shop? Is that a thing? We weren’t sure what the thread was that tied everything together…I mean, obviously wood featured heavily but how did that connect to our forest green snug for example or our dark blue kids bedroom? There was a lot of talk about consistency in interior design and finding your niche.
There are so many houses that I absolutely love on Instagram that have a very distinctive look and colour palette throughout but that didn’t seem to apply to us. We didn’t mind of course. We love our home, we chose and created our designs out of instinct and stuck to what we loved regardless of current fads or trends.
Fast forward about a year and a half later and a couple of people had used our home as examples of biophilia in interior design, so I started reading up about it in more detail. There were little bits and bobs that we already knew, we’d read that using wood in interiors had been shown to lower stress levels and blood pressure, we’d heard about house plants improving the quality of the air that we breath and that using natural materials in classrooms had been shown to significantly improve creativity, productivity and learning. What’s not to love, right?
While researching biophilia, I came accross an alarming study that claimed we spend 90% of our lives indoors. If that’s true, then why wouldn’t we want to design some of natures magic back into our homes? Here are five simple things that we have incorporated into our home that follow the principals of Biophilia without even realising it…proof, I guess, that that desire to connect with nature is perhaps naturally ingrained in all of us.
Use natural materials
You knew this one was coming. So obviously we’ve kind of gone for it with this one. We’ve completely wrapped our kitchen, family room and garden in red cedar cladding. The entire downstairs floor and bedrooms have the same oak flooring and you’re never more than 5 feet away from some form of plywood in our house. We realise that this may be a little excessive for most peoples taste but there are some small things that you can do to incorporate natural materials, textures and a touch of biophilia into your home.
We clad the wall in our bedroom behind our bed with reclaimed wood, you can read about how we did this in a previous blog post here, you don’t need to clad an entire room though if you’re renting or if it’s just not your cup of tea, you could use a headboard or bed frame made out of timber instead. Wooden bed frames and home accessories have been shown to benefit your health even while you are asleep.
Sleeping in a solid wooden bed not only reduces blood pressure and anxiety but also improves a person’s emotional state and relaxation levels. There is a lot more research going into off-gassing from synthetic or veneer furniture and the chemicals that artificial materials can give off – another reason to go eu natural.
Think about investing in well built furniture made from solid wood. We bought a chunky reclaimed wooden ‘Toaster’ table‘ for our dining room from the Loaf sale a few years back. One of the ultimate goals of following biophilia and biophilic design methods is to make our homes a sanctuary away from the daily hustle and bustle, a space that we come back to, to relax, to help us connect with our loved ones, to remind us who we are and what is really important in life, and what better place to come together and relax than around the table?
There is huge trend in rattan home accessories at the moment that shows no sign of going anywhere, choose a chair or side table that can easily transition from outdoors to indoors, or if that’s too much of an investment there are some really affordable rattan lamp shades or plant pots that can help you achieve some much need biophilia on a budget.
Make the most out of natural daylight
This is a no brainer. Natural light is featured heavily in the principals of biophilia, it will help you to feel more energised by day and sleep better at night.
We incorporated as many skylights and windows that we could afford. Maximising as much natural light as possible in a small London terrace with no side windows was a non negotiable on our list of things we wanted to achieve post build.
You should try to point furniture towards the outdoors where possible or place a chair or desk next to a window so that you get that visual connection to nature – another key principal of biophilia. If you don’t have the most desirable of views then place a window box full of plants or herbs in the window as a visual and / or scented focal point instead.
While planning our extension we added bifold doors the entire width of the back of the house to make the most out of the view to the garden, our family room and kitchen have three large sky lights maximising as much natural daylight as possible. The change that this has made to our home and I suspect our general health is huge.
The entire downstairs was dark and cramped before with only a view out of the kitchen directly to our neighbours fence and brick wall and a bathroom stuck on the back of the house with a tiny frosted window out to the back garden. The back of the house was dark and there was no visual connection to the garden what so ever.
When we moved the bathroom upstairs we removed the pointless side window with a view into (again) the neighbours brick wall and replaced it with two skylights. Now, although painted in a a rich dark inky blue -Farrow and Ball ‘Drainpipe’ in case you were wondering…it is one of the sunniest rooms in the house and you get a wonderful view out to the stars at night while you’re in the bath.
If you do have smaller windows, try and keep them clear of obstructions such as heavy curtains or blinds in the day. Let as much natural light flood the space as possible. Strategically hang large mirrors or place objects with reflective surfaces around the room to help bounce light around a space.
I love crittall style mirrors, we have used one in our dining room to give the illusion of there being a window where there are non and to try and steal some of that precious light from the kitchen to bounce it around where it is so very much needed. I am currently planning to get another large crittall style mirror for the wall that currently houses the hanging baskets as I think it will give the room a feel of being surrounded by windows, a little like being in an orangery.
My plan also includes adding some much needed greenery. I’m itching to get started once this period of social isolation is over. There’s nothing like being stuck at home to make you come up with solutions to the little things that have been niggling you around the house is there? Which brings us beautifully into our next point in biophilia…
Add greenery – lots of greenery
It’s fair to say that we are now a nation that is obsessed with plants. I think back to the 90’s and 00’s when it was all about the fake (and they were absolutely fake and not faux back then) plants and flowers. I’m not sure when exactly real plants became fashionable and to be honest using the term fashionable in the context of plants feels a bit wrong doesn’t it? How could real plants ever not have been considered fashionable? I think we are all more aware than ever about the healing properties and health benefits of having plants in the home, even if biophilia was not on your radar until now.
In fact, there are many health benefits to being near plants. Studies by NASA prove certain plants help keep the air in your house cleaner and increase oxygen levels. More general studies have shown that plants help us to:
- Have fewer headaches and coughs and feel less tired
- Have fewer allergy symptoms
- Recover faster from the common cold
- Feel less stressed
- Be more productive and creative if you work from home
Well I don’t know about you but I’m sold. Try adding plants at all levels from the ground up; pot plants or planters on the ground, plants on shelving at eye level and plants hanging from the ceiling. This will give you the feeling of being immersed in nature.
If you search the word ‘biophilia’ on Pinterest you will be inundated with green living walls. To create the feeling of being surrounded by plants we made this plant hanging rail out of copper piping, it was so super cheap and easy to make that we decided to continue it around the entire garden too as a way to bring greenery to eye level and keep the space flexible.
They say that caring for plants lowers blood pressure but plants can be fussy sods so being able to move them around easily is a bit of a game changer.
Here’s how we made it.
For some examples of low maintenance, easy to care for house plants visit this blog post.
Natures soothing colour palette
I’d love to tell you that we researched biophilia and colour psychology before carefully considering the colour palette for our home but that would be a bare faced lie. You see we’re not massively considered people when it comes to decorating. We choose what we love and when it comes to the colours in our home we just went with our hearts.
When we were choosing the colour of our kitchen cabinets I really wanted a pail Scandi colour but Ross pushed for the dark blue which I now absolutely love and he was completely right (we’ll give him that one, it doesn’t happen often).
Is it a coincidence that Ross also wants to be by the sea at any given opportunity and loves being near water, or was he influenced by something he’d seen in a magazine or on Instagram? Who knows, but while reading a blog post recently by Mad about the House featuring Oliver Heath who is a hugely influential Interior Designer focused on improving health & well being through Biophilic Design, I came across the following sentence; ‘blue reminds us of the sky and the sea so it’s a relaxing colour, greens are invigorating and yellow is for the sun, ripe crops and it’s a warming colour.’
Blue ✓ Green ✓Yellow ✓
We really went for it in Finn’s room. Like a lot of parents, we had a baby that refused to sleep and we were desperate. We pulled out all the stops in here; dark blue walls to symbolise night time, wooden bed frame in the shape of a house made of ply to symbolise being home and safe, pops of sunshine yellow (Finn’s choice) – we gave him the moon and the stars for goodness sake. Did it help? I hear you tired parents cry. Do you know what? I think it did.
Seek Refuge – “A place for withdrawal, from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity, in which the individual is protected from behind and overhead.”
Moving out of the new extension and into the snug at the front of the house, we decided to go dark and cosy with the colours that we chose in here, as we saw this room as a bit of a hideaway. We chose a forest green for the walls where the connection to nature – well, it’s in the name isn’t it? We thought we’d gone massively off piste with the yellow sofa though. I’d never considered the association with the sun, it seems obvious now that you say it. Myself and Ross have often commented that this is the item in our home that probably makes us smile the most.
I rest my case your honour.
Make strong connections to the outdoors
Years ago I worked for a health insurance company and it was as much of a hoot as it sounds. They were way ahead of the curve though when it came to looking after their employees health and wellbeing. They would send us on sleep seminars, treat us to lunch time yoga sessions and they were banging the drum about bringing the outdoors in way back in 1999 when I first started there as an office junior.
They weren’t daft either, as a recent study found those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15% rise in productivity over a three-month period, in comparison to those working with no greenery or natural elements within their immediate environment – who wouldn’t want to emulate a little piece of that productivity in their own home?
We’ve been working on blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors in our downstairs living space since we all sat around the table with our wonderful architect back in 2014. He presented us with the idea of an entirely wooden clad space that stopped us in our tracks and made our jaws drop. We’d presented him with a lot of wooden clad walls and cabins in our inspo boards but we had not considered anything like this.
There were a lot of idea’s in that initial meeting that we had to cast aside or compromise on due to our limited budget but that one idea really stuck and we were going to do whatever we could to make sure that we made it happen.
You can’t do much more to unify a space than wrap it all up in the same wonderfully tactile material which just happens to be our favourite; wood. We continued the copper pipe hanging rail as mentioned around the entire garden space too, which as well as mirroring the family room enables us to hang plants at eye level and utilise all available space for more planting.
I’ve spoken before about using garden materials inside our home too, we made our TV cabinet and banister using quartered up red cedar fence posts and you can read more about that in a previous post here.
We also used some wire fence trellis to make a useful pan hanger for our kitchen. As well as being a useful place to store kitchen accessories, it also enables you to grow plants that can climb up it, just like they would in a garden space. We’ve grown ivy up ours which I’m encouraging to gradually start climbing around the entire kitchen and our walk-through into the dining room. It’s taken just over a year and it’s climbing beautifully.
I’ve used Devils Ivy a lot around our home, we have seven of them and counting as I am constantly growing more from the cuttings. They grow like crazy, are really hardy and have super air purifying powers. They remove indoor pollutants such as formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene – keeping the surroundings fresh. What’s not to love?
Here’s how we made our hanging grid way back when:
Evoke the senses
I’m going to finish with this one as it’s definitely something that we can all achieve with minimal cost. It’s all about those non visual connections to nature; sound, smell, touch. Still equally important according to the principals of Biophilia. You may find that you do a lot of these things instinctively already.
As well as red cedar being beautifully tactile, we had the most wonderful little Biophilic Brucey bonus to the senses when we started misting our plants. You only need the tiniest bit of water spray and the entire room smells like an alpine forrest. It’s literally like a breath of fresh air.
If you don’t fancy going to the extreme of cladding walls there are some amazing botanical mists and nature inspired candles made with essential oils. Join do some incredible therapeutic scents; ‘Hedgerow’, ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Low Tide’ being among my absolute favorites. All 100% natural and scented with essential oils using recyclable materials. I’ve met the owner Jen at a candle making workshop and she’s an absolute gem too.
Something that is even more achievable than that though, and completely free, is to open your windows every day. Whatever the weather. Fresh air will help you feel more alert and focussed.
Another little tidbit of wisdom from an article I red in the Telegraph was that although millions of homes are fitted with sash windows, few people use them correctly to cool rooms. The mechanics of airflow require the windows to be opened with an equal gap at the top and bottom. This allows cooler air to flow into a room through the lower opening and push out warmer air through the top. Mind blown.
I’ve been correctly opening our windows for a few months now and although it remains to be seen if this has affected my daily productivity… I’m yet to start writing that novel, but I can now open a window properly so I guess that’s progress. I’m converted.
I’d love to hear how you’ve incorporated Biophilic design into your home or workspace, whether that be by accident or by consideration and if it’s made a difference to your health and wellbeing. I know it’s definitely made a difference for us and that in itself makes me very happy indeed.