I have created this Biophilic Desk Space guide to help you create an inspiring and restful space to work from home.
With all of us spending so much time working, home schooling and maybe even studying from our homes due to a global pandemic I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to put together this Biophilic desk space guide. Pandemic or not, in an ideal world we all crave a space at home where we can focus on work, get creative and even just sort out our life admin in a calming and inspiring environment.
We are all naturally prone to procrastination, even when we really enjoy something, we instinctively just want to put it off until tomorrow. I’ve probably checked my phone approximately 234 times while writing this paragraph alone. We are juggling so much at the moment; working from home, along with home schooling our children and battling with the housework, but I bet we’ve all been guilty of prioritising rearranging the spice drawer over tackling our inbox and then feeling frustrated when, as a result, we have to work into the evening to catch up.
With everything that we have going on already we’re certainly not going to want to crack on with that side hustle…God I hate that phrase – please forgive me…in a cluttered, dark and uncomfortable corner of our home are we?
For those of us not blessed with a spare room or a garden studio to create the WFH sanctuary of our dreams, do not loose hope. There are still some things that we can do to create a biophilic desk space where distractions are limited – and I am of course talking about the controllable ones, I’m afraid I can’t really help with the miniature human or wagging tail variety.
Turn Down the Visual Noise
Have you ever been lost in the car and found yourself having to turn down the music on the radio so that you could concentrate and see the street names better? It seems silly doesn’t it? How can loud music impair your ability to read? How we feel when we’re overwhelmed by audible noise is very similar to the way we feel when we’re surrounded by too much visual stimuli.
Visual noise divides our attention and reduces our ability to self-regulate. This is why I recommend decluttering your work spaces as an absolute fundamental to creating a calming and biophilic desk space.
Surround yourself with the tools that you need for the task in hand, along with few items that inspire you and put everything else away.
I appreciate that you may find this a bit more of a challenge if you’re working from your dining room table, or a corner of your kitchen, but if you invest in some storage boxes or baskets with lids that will completely conceal all of “the stuff‘, then you are less likely to get distracted by it.
If your space is temporary and constantly moving from whichever room happens to be available, then I strongly recommend getting a desk caddy, or a tray with your essential work items on it, so that you can bring it out when you need to get into work or home schooling mode and then pack away all of the non work paraphernalia into your box or basket temporarily until you’re done.
I realise that this may sound like a lot of faff, but the time that you invest into doing this will save you with wasting time getting distracted while you’re trying to work. The routine of doing it may also help to get you into the right headspace for the task in hand.
This SHIHO organiser tray from Woodchuck is made using recycled newspapers and wooden chips by local artisans in the Philippines. It’s stylishly tactile and will keep your notebooks contained so that they’re ready to go to work quicker than you can way Wabi Sabi.
For those with a little bit more space, this moveable Mini Bookie Desk Organiser from Heal’s doesn’t take up much room and is perfect for setting up all of your work bits and bobs so that they’re close to hand. Add a leafy desk plant and your favourite invigorating scented candle to spark your productivity.
For anyone playing musical desks, this bamboo laptop stand and accessories organiser from Fruugo is a great space saving solution and is a bargain at £40.95 so it won’t break the bank if you’re looking for something temporary.
I love anything multifunctional – we need the pieces in our home to be hard working as we don’t have a great deal of space. I came across this Woodrow Storage Stool by Umbra, it comes in three colour ways, each one features natural woodgrain which is a big bonus in biophilic design, but we’ll cover that later.
You can throw in any toys that are lying around, random discarded sock’s (please tell me it’s not just my house?), and anything else in the vicinity that threatens to kill your work buzz. Pop on a cushion and turn it into an extra stool when you need it or use it as a side table for your cup of coffee if you’re lacking in surface space.
Natural Shapes and Forms
Although we want to avoid all unnecessary visual noise in our work spaces, there are some visual complexities that can trigger much more positive responses in our brains.
Scientists have found that free flowing shapes in nature such as the spirals seen in things such as shell formations are soothing to look at, and as opposed to encouraging cognitive activity, they actually offer you some much needed respite – making them the perfect accessory for a desk space.
It is recommended that people take regular ‘micro-breaks’ from their screens, lasting anywhere between 30 seconds to 5 minutes as often as every 10 minutes. This mini visual refreshment from your screen or task light can improve your ability to concentrate, reduce workplace stress, and even help you avoid common desk related injuries.
You can find many organic shapes like this used in pottery and ceramics – place a shell shaped vase, next to your screen, next to a pleasing symmetrically shaped succulent plant for extra brownie points, when you need to take a visual breather.
I’ve had this ceramic shell pot from Ferm Living on my wish list for the longest time. Maybe this blog post will give me the push that I need to finally splash out and treat myself.
Texture has been used in interior design for many years, it is a great way to add warmth to an otherwise minimal scheme or colour pallet, and can make a space feel so much more homely and inviting. A home without any texture just feels a bit flat and unloved.
Employers are finally starting to come around to this too and are adding biophilic principals to their office designs as they have seen it improve attendance and increase productivity. Hopefully the days of soulless, clinical work environments are soon to be a thing of the past.
Natural materials by their very makeup are incredibly textured and tactile as they haven’t been overly polished by processes or chemicals. Wooden floors are warm to the touch and when walked on bare foot, can really ground us. The grain in wood is not only extremely tactile but we find it calming to look at.
Your choice in desk and chair is obviously the best investment that you can make if you are lucky enough to have a designated area for your biophilic desk space.
I’m starting big with this dream desk from Made.com. It has it all; plenty of storage, natural wood grain, soft curves and is super stylish too. I think it would be a great investment for those of you that have the space for it.
Don’t panic, I’m would never leave out my bijou crew. While searching for small sized desks, I came across this absolute stunner in ply perfection from Urban Size. It’s a leaning desk so it’s half the size of a regular desk, but it still contains some storage that is not only practical but beautiful too – just look at the detail on those drawers.
If this is still too big for your compact space, you could use a shelf or make a custom sized desk like we did on our landing using left over decking wood and some bedside tables. You can read more about how we did this in a previous blog post about ‘Inspirational Small Spaces‘.
What better way to add a bit of texture and warmth but in your office chair. This little buchle number with black steel legs is the Keira Office Chair from Made.com, it will add all of the cosy vibes to your biophilic desk space so that you won’t ever want to leave.
Of course, if you’re lacking in space you can use a regular dining chair like we have but choose one with a supportive back so that it’s comfortable to sit on for longer periods of time and make sure that your monitor is at eye level. We just propped ours up on some books.
Views and Vistas
Biophilia tells us that spaces with a good visual connection to nature feel whole, they grab our attention and can be stimulating or calming. If you are lucky enough to have a nice view out of your window, consider where you’re placing your furniture. Try and avoid placing your desk opposite a wall and put it as close to the window as possible so that you can soak up all of the views and natural light – studies show that it can lead to improved cognitive functionality, prolong our attention span and result in faster stress recovery.
So what do we do in those rooms that are not blessed with a view out onto the garden or a herb planter on a balcony? Well, pictures and wall hangings of nature have also been shown to trigger the same positive responses as a real life view when used in hospital recovery rooms and classrooms.
Choose a print with natural patterns and imagery that you will associate with nature or a landscape that you find calming – it could be a forrest, a seascape or a spring meadow. I like to change mine regularly to mimic the seasonal changes that you would naturally see in the outdoors.
The easiest way to recreate the benefits of natural views when you don’t have any is with plants. Choose plants with laush green leaves, the curvier the better – cactuses might be cool to look at but anything with spikes and/or jagged, pointy leaves can subconsciously remind us of danger in the natural world and won’t conjure up images of that safe and peaceful sanctuary that we’re all trying to recreate in our homes.
Plants such as Pothos, otherwise known as Devils Ivy are quick growing and easy to look after. They thrive in most light conditions and require little watering so they’re perfect for a desk space and can be climbed up the wall, or hung from a shelf to create the feeling of being surrounded by foliage and greenery.
I love how they’ve been used Pothos here as a screen to zone this biophilic desk space using a hanging rail.
Framing real leaves or seasonal flowers is another great option if you’re lacking in usable surface area and have no natural views in your work space.
You probably won’t be that surprised to read that sunlight is a fundamental element of biophilic design, helping indoor spaces to mimic the outdoors. This is another reason why in an ideal world we would position our desks next to a window or under a skylight so that the natural light can flood in, but as we’ve already said, this is not always possible in an average sized home.
So what can we do to mimic the dynamics of natural light, make our artificial lighting more realistic and trigger the desired responses in our brains? Luckily there are now some alternatives for those of us that are working in spaces that are lacking in natural daylight.
Philips Hue have created light bars that you can attach to the back of your computer monitor to back light your work station. It can create natural looking indirect light in a cool blue hue to mimic natural daylight or warm orange hues to mimic dusk. You can easily adjust the strength with an app on your mobile phone and even set a timer so that they change automatically during the day inline with the light outside, triggering our circadian rhythm so that we feel energised and focused or relaxed and ready to wind down depending on what you need in that particular moment.
I’ve used them in our home to back light plants which creates a beautiful dynamic light with movement and shadows through the leaves – similar to how it would look in the outdoors. You can read more about the biophilic lighting design we created for our dark dining room, which struggles with barely any natural light due to being in the centre of the house.
And, as I always want to include an option for the nomadic desk dweller, I have found this beautiful Carry Lamp from Menu Space. It’s an LED portable lamp with multiple uses – hurrah! With a sleek, tactile handle and a dimmable warm orb of light, the lamp is useful almost anywhere; even on the go, as it is cordless and comes with a USB charger. Move it from your office to your bedside table, or even your evening picnic in the garden. It comes in various finishes to match any interior. They really have thought of everything.
Colour and Behaviour
Now, this is a whole blog post in itself and if you would like to learn more about colour psychology, and the natural colours predicted to be huge in 2021, you can read more about it in my blog post here.
The concept of colour and how it makes us feel has become a hot topic in marketing, art, design, and even healthcare, and the theory of biophila takes a much more intuitive approach to colour.
Looking at nature as an example, common sense would have us believe that the way colour is used in the natural world would of course conjure up similar feelings and emotions in our day to day living. A classic example of this would be vivid, bright reds or the combination of contrasting yellow and black when seen on an insect, would be a warning of danger or poison so you would probably want to steer clear of using these in together in your home.
When choosing the colour for your home office, think about places in nature where you feel calm and inspired, whether that is on a coastal walk or in a forrest and try to mimic that feeling by using similar colours that trigger those responses in your biophilic desk space.
You don’t need to paint the whole room either, in fact using a block of that colour in your desk space can be a great way of zoning it as a separate space in a large open plan room.
I love how they have painted the wall, desk and shelving in this deep calming dark green to make it feel like one unified space. They’ve cleverly used this punchy, invigorating orange in this children’s bedroom to create a contrast with the green that will help to inspire and trigger creativity.
Consider the intensity of the colour you’re using too, as you can see here in this biophilic desk space, they have also used green, but it’s a much more muted tone. Blue and medium greens have been shown to enhance creative performance and viewing dark to medium greens are proven to lower the heart rate, improve blood pressure, and alleviate stress. Green in particular is a trigger for motivation, enthusiasm and productivity which makes it a great choice for a home office or desk space.
Renters, do not panic, I’ve found these wall decals on Etsy – they come in various colours and would be a great way to temporarily zone your work space in a colour that works for you.
Earthy tones can help to make us feel grounded, and this sandy, terracotta tone would help to create a really warm and inviting environment so that you feel encouraged to want to sit down and focus on the task ahead.
Sound can so easily affect our mood can’t it? Too much of it. Not enough of it. I think we as people really vary on the levels and amount of sound that we are comfortable with which can make shared office spaces a little tricky to manage.
Some people need complete silence to concentrate on a detailed task and others prefer to have some background noise. I literally can not write a word if there is a conversation happening in the background, or even a song playing with lyrics in it as I get so distracted by them. Thank God for the invention of noise cancelling headphones, hey?
Unsurprisingly though, most of us find sounds from nature soothing to listen to. There are some great soundscapes from nature available on all music streaming sites now, whether birdsong is your jam or the sound of rain fall gets you going, you can find something that will drown out CBeebies or noisy flat mates, so that you can get into the zone.
How can we soundproof our rooms and prevent outside noise if we live near a busy road or stop the sounds of our own voices travelling through the walls when we’re someone that needs to talk on video calls all day long and we’re slowly driving the people we live with mad?
The good news is that there are options available that wont break the bank. Absorbent materials like cork are great for absorbing noise. It’s not expensive, it can add some much needed texture to a bare room, and you can pin images that inspire you to it too so it’s multifunctional. Muted music to my ears. You could cover an entire corner in it to create a feature and help to zone the space too. Win. Win. Win.
I found this cork acoustic roll from B&Q at only £29 a roll, it’s super simple to put up, while creating a stylish focal point too.
Plant walls are another great solutions as they will not only absorb sound but absorb the toxins from the air that we breath too – not to mention bring in that visual biophilic connection to the outside world too. The downside is that they do require some maintenance and space which means that they may not be for everyone. You can read about some simple ways to create green walls in a previous blog post that I wrote here.
Wooden slat walls are a trend that is showing no sign of going anywhere. If you’re ready to make more of an investment and you are looking for more of a permanent change to your biophilic desk space then they are a fantastic way to add natural materials and texture to a room. It can help to zone an open plan living space and there are lots of companies selling panelling with added acoustic felt to the back of the panels for extra sound absorption, like these ones from Nature Wall.
Finally for the fun bit – the desk bling. Once you have decluttered, and biophilified (I made that word up) your desk space, you are ready to place a few decorative pieces around your work space that are purely there to enjoy and create an environment that you look forward to spending time in. AND each one contains extra biophilic points of course.
Where else do you start but the office mug…no I’m not talking about Colin from accounts, but this dreamy Sepia cup with wooden saucer combo from Kinto to enjoy my daily tipple in…which at the moment is a lemon and ginger turmeric tea, in case you were wondering.
I’ve had this guy on my Christmas list but it sadly sold out. It’s currently back in stock, so hurry while stocks last.
Also from Kinto, these vases are the perfect way to bring in some seasonal flowers for those of us that don’t have a view out to nature or any outdoor space to get your hands dirty in. You can throw in a spring or summer bulb, and even propagate you avocado seeds in them. Nurturing plants can give us such pleasure and seeing them grow and flourish in front of our eyes while we work may be just the natural boost that we need in-between those dry admin tasks.
And last but not least these desk tidies will not only give you somewhere to place all of your odds and ends, but they are also kind to the planet too. They’re made in London from sustainably-sourced wood and are the perfect way to bring in some natural wood grain if the desk that you have is made from synthetic materials.
They’re from Wearth and are available in various sizes.
Don’t forget to light your favourite invigorating wax melt or scented candle, it’s a great routine to get you into the right headspace ready to tackle that to do list.
I hope that you found this guide on how to create a biophilic desk space useful and that you were able to takeaway a couple of achievable tips to help you bring a little bit of nature’s magic into your desk space.
For more advice on how to introduce biophilic design principles into your home or workspace, you can read Marianna’s new book ‘At Home with Nature‘.