In Wellbeing at home

Unlock the Secrets of Biophilic Design for Your Home (Beyond Plants and Sunshine)

As cities grow, we often find ourselves surrounded by concrete and cladding, drifting away from nature. Even for city dwellers like me, the craving for a connection with the natural world, known as biophilia, remains strong. In this blog post, I’ll explore some lesser-known elements of biophilic design that can boost our health, well-being, and productivity.

Biophilia: The Power of Nature in Design

Biophilic design isn’t just about adding more indoor plants or opening the curtains to let the sunshine in. It’s built on 14 unique patterns derived from neuroscience, endocrinology, and psychology. These patterns help create spaces that fulfil our need for a connection with nature. Biophilic design has been around for some time, but it’s often used in office and healthcare environments, where the well-being of employees or patients is paramount.

To save you the effort of reading the dry scientific literature on the topic, I’ve selected a few of these patterns and combined them into five sections below, explaining why they work and how you can implement them at home.

1. Visual Connections to Nature

The simplest way to experience biophilia is through visual connections with nature, something you probably already know. Studies show that just looking at greenery and natural landscapes can reduce stress, improve mood, boost concentration, and help us recover from mental fatigue. The best part? These benefits can start within just 5 to 20 minutes of exposure.

Natural views seem more effective than simulated ones, like wall murals or posters, highlighting our deep connection to the real thing. Interestingly, we are drawn to settings similar to savannahs (think The Lion King), with scattered trees, blooming plants, water features, and signs of life. 

However, biodiversity is key; it’s not about having more greenery for the sake of it, but having a variety. That’s why professionally designed gardens always aim to maximise biodiversity by planting a mixture of trees, shrubs, and other plants. Far beyond a plain manicured lawn.

Make the most of it

Arrange your furniture to take advantage of views of your garden, tree-lined street, a nearby park, or a calming water feature if you’re lucky! Create a bright and cosy corner with a comfortable reading chair by the window where you can bask in natural light and enjoy the scenery. You can also place wall mirrors strategically to enjoy these views from different points in the room.

Decor Tip: If the view isn’t great or you live in a flat, enhance your window views with planters filled with lush greenery or flowering plants. Think of the windows bursting with flowers you often see in Spain and Italy. Geraniums are a low-maintenance solution, even though they may not survive UK winters.

2. Non-Visual Sensory Nature Experiences

Nature’s benefits extend beyond sight to other senses: sound, touch, and smell.

– Natural sounds like birdsong and flowing water reduce stress and mental fatigue. Moderate levels of natural sounds can boost creativity.

– Natural fragrances can decrease anxiety and, sometimes, reduce the need for pain medication.

– The sensation of airflow and temperature variations on the skin evokes the dynamism of the natural world.

Multisensory experiences amplify the benefits of biophilic design. For example, seeing and hearing waves improves cognitive performance and mood more than just hearing them alone. Designing spaces that offer both visual and non-visual contact with nature is the goal.

Make the most of it

  • Include tactile elements such as soft, textured rugs or cushions with natural fabrics. These tactile sensations engage your sense of touch.
  • Play nature-inspired soundscapes. My favourites are Dan Gibson’s Solitudes, with dozens of themed albums that blend in calm music and real nature sounds.
  • Infuse your home with the scents of nature by using essential oil diffusers with fragrances like lavender, eucalyptus, or cedarwood. These natural scents can reduce stress and promote relaxation. Note: Avoid paraffin-based scented candles as they contain irritants. Opt for sustainably sourced natural alternatives, like some soy candles.

3. Fractal Geometries and Natural Patterns

This is where it gets a bit more interesting. Fractal geometries are patterns that repeat at different scales and are found everywhere in nature. Man-made fractals with similar complexity levels as those in nature can reduce stress. However, too much visual intricacy can have negative effects, and that’s the last thing we need.

According to studies, using a precise mathematical fractal range is necessary to maximise the benefits. I’m not going into the details because it’s migraine-inducing. The bottom line is to mimic the root-like patterns we often see in nature and even our own bodies (for example, the vein pattern in your arms).

Beyond fractals, it’s important to balance complexity and coherence, like the intricate yet harmonious structure of tree branches versus the visual monotony of a chequerboard pattern. It’s not about choosing one over the other one but about finding the sweet spot between nature-inspired patterns and man-made ones.

Make the most of it

I admit it’s difficult to implement this biophilic design principle at home because of the precise fractal iterations required. The best solution is to choose furniture and decor items with fractal patterns, like branching tree motifs, leafy patterns, or natural textures like wood grain and stone. Choose wallpapers, textiles or artwork that incorporate these designs to some extent.

4. Environmental Spaciousness and Exploration

We continue with lesser-known patterns. Biophilic design includes spaciousness and “visual permeability” to satisfy our needs for both open views (called prospect in science) and hidden views (mystery). This takes us back to our preference for Hakuna matata-type landscapes.

Prospect offers open views that allow observation without feeling exposed, like a cat stalking you from the top of a cupboard. Long sight lines and unobstructed views offer a heightened sense of safety and encourage exploration.

Mystery comes from partially obscured views that invite deeper investigation while still allowing for exploration. This taps into human curiosity. Effective mystery relies on depth or hints, not just blocking the view.

Prospect and mystery can coexist seamlessly, like a forest edge offering both a long view and a screened path inviting exploration. In interior settings, transparency through multiple spaces can satisfy the need for prospect, and partial views around corners or walls create mystery.

Make the most of it

  • Create a sense of prospect by maintaining open sightlines in your home. Open-plan setups achieve this. Avoid cluttering spaces with too much furniture and, if possible, use designs that encourage an open flow (rounded wall or furniture corners, etc.).
  • Create mystery by placing room dividers, folding screens, or shelving units that partially obscure views. These divide spaces in a room, adding a touch of curiosity.

5. Presence of Water

I remember my chemistry book in high school had a chapter titled “Water: The Marvellous Substance”. Not surprisingly, water is a universal biophilic experience that transcends cultures and geographical boundaries. Most people find calm and mental restoration in the presence of clean, nature-like water bodies like ponds.

To maximise the biophilic effect, water features should engage multiple senses — sight, sound, and touch. This particularly applies to garden and urban design. Dynamic, naturally fluctuating water has a more profound restorative impact than stagnant water. Linking to my previous point, the concept of prospect over water aligns with our evolutionary history.

Access to water features, regardless of their size, can enhance mental focus, reduce anxiety, and speed up the healing process. The benefits extend to hearing water in adjacent spaces or sensing its proximity through materials and even humidity.

Make the most of it

In an ideal world, you could introduce water features like fountains, small ponds, or even small water sculptures in your garden. In reality, it’s more practical to add water-themed artwork indoors, such as serene beach, lake or river scenes. You can boost the effect by playing water-inspired sounds or music, as discussed earlier.

Decor Tip: To evoke the dynamic qualities of water, incorporate furniture with soft, fluid shapes, or choose materials like glass and polished stone that reflect light and create a shiny effect.

What the Future Holds

Biophilic design is a powerful tool for enhancing mood, reducing stress, boosting creativity, speeding up healing, and promoting overall well-being. These benefits are rooted in various neurological and physiological mechanisms that respond to biophilic elements.

Even though the patterns discussed are backed by science, we need more research to understand the optimal duration, frequency, and combinations of biophilic experiences. More studies could also clarify the potential attenuation effects from repeated exposure, as we don’t know how long the beneficial effects last for.

These patterns serve as inspiration rather than strict rules. Even modest doses of nature in interior and urban spaces can promote a deep reconnection with our innate love of nature. The current research highlights the pathways to creating spaces that harmonise with our psychological and physiological needs, helping us create environments that nurture our well-being and enhance our quality of life.

Biophilic Design is Here to Stay

Biophilic design is not just a trend of stacking plants on shelves; it’s a science-backed approach that holds the key to creating healthier, happier, and more productive living and working spaces. By infusing nature into our homes, we can bridge the gap between our urban lives and our connection to the natural world.

So, let’s embrace biophilic design to enhance our lives and the world. And why not go further? Imagine your home as a living entity that connects you to nature, where every room brings you one step closer to your inner Simba.

References: Terrapin Bright Green, Frontiers in Psychology, MDPI – Buildings, Journal of Biophilic Design.

All the images in this blog post are AI-generated.

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    Juan Sandiego

    I’m a Home Renovation & Well-being Coach with a passion for design and the science of happiness. I help homeowners and movers create their ideal home and lifestyle so they can live happy and stress-free. Want to try it? Book your free session today.

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