Biophilic Design: Staying Connected with Nature Inside Your Home

Mar 17, 2022 8:30:00 AM

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors. Whether you relate to this statistic or feel compelled to set yourself apart from it, you can see how it may have contributed to one of the most sought-after interior décor and home renovation trends for 2022: biophilic design.

House plants sitting atop a live edge countertop below a  large window.

With so many people spending so much time inside buildings — and specifically spending a lot more time in their homes since the pandemic arrived — it’s not surprising that people are looking for ways to bring the natural world into their primary living environments. 

This is precisely what biophilic design is all about. 

Let’s explore the ins and outs of this enduringly fresh approach to home building, renovation, and décor

What is Biophilic Design?

To understand biophilic design, you must first get to know the philosophy behind it: biophilia. Coined in the early 1980s by esteemed biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson, the concept known as biophilia means that humans have an innate, biological affinity for the natural world.

Simply put, biophilia is the idea that humans possess an intrinsic desire to affiliate with other life forms and the outdoor environment: We humans love nature, and our drive to interact with it is essentially codified in our DNA.  

Even as we’re spending more time indoors than ever before, humans still have an instinctual urge to be in touch with — and reassured by — nature; it’s grounding and relaxing, alleviates stress and anxiety, and helps improve focus, concentration, and motivation. 

Biophilic design takes the innate human need to connect with the natural world and translates it to our built environment. Specifically, it seeks to infuse our homes, offices, and communities with natural elements, creating a sense of harmony and flow between our indoor spaces and the landscapes that surrounds them. 

6 Principles of Biophilic Design

At first glance, it may seem like biophilic design is simply an offshoot of sustainable design and the green living movement. While they’re certainly interrelated concepts, they actually approach the relationship between humans and the natural world from opposite sides:

  • Sustainable design is concerned with how people affect nature
  • Biophilic design is concerned with how nature affects people

The foundational concept behind biophilic design is that our built environment is as critical to our health and productivity as it is to our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. To put it another way: Building, interior, and landscape design can support human health, or they can be detrimental to it. 

Biophilic design aims to support human health through six defining principles of human-nature connection within our built environment:

1. Environmental features

The inclusion of live plants — both inside and throughout outdoor living spaces — is the simplest way to facilitate a direct visual connection with nature in your built environment. Really, any sensory connection with nature (be it a warming fire in the fireplace, a gentle breeze coming through an open window, or smooth stone flooring underfoot) offers direct connections that help engage all your senses.  

2. Natural shapes and forms

From the simple horizon line of a vast open sky to the dense design complexity within a single leaf, we humans are attuned to nature’s endlessly diverse shapes and forms. Biophilic design seeks to incorporate natural shapes and forms in everything from architecture and landscaping to interior décor.   

3. Natural patterns and processes

Spending time outdoors in the natural world is a restorative, multi-sensory experience that awakens virtually all your perceptions at once: sight, sound, smell, and touch. Biophilic design provides opportunities to connect to the richness of your sensory system in and around the built environment.

4. Light and space

Biophilic design embraces open-aired spaces with an abundance of natural light. A large window that frames a green view floods a room with daylight and fosters connection and flow between interior and outdoor spaces; skylights, seasonally open windows, and minimally dressed windows are part of the strategy, too.

A master bath featuring a clawfoot soaker tub below a large picture window. Two natural wood vanities flank the ends of the tub with a design that connects to the outdoor arboreal view. Two angled oval framed mirrors hover above with sconces on either side. Walls and flooring of Carrera marble complete the elegant and nature inspired design.

5. Place-based relationships

Biophilic design sees built environments as spaces that are both rooted in — and an extension of — their natural surroundings. Design elements focus on building connections to local ecology and prominent geographical landscapes like mountains, deserts, grasslands, forests, estuaries, rivers, or coastal zones.

6. Evolved human-nature relationships

It was renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead who said: The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system. 

All the elements of biophilic design come together to transform basic built environments into nature-connected areas of refuge that can facilitate a deeper sense of safety, centeredness, relaxation, and restoration. 

Bringing Biophilic Design Home

You don’t have to renovate your entire space or build a new house from scratch to create connections with nature inside your built environment; there are many simple ways to bring biophilic design into your home. To get started, you can:

  • Cultivate more plants in your home and outdoor living spaces
  • Keep windows open for fresh airflow in mild weather 
  • Minimize window treatments / maximize natural light
  • Experiment with dynamic and diffuse light patterns 
  • Arrange seating toward windows or nature-inspired art
  • Choose natural colors, furnishings, finishes, and textiles

Remember, all elements of biophilic design fall into one of three general categories:

  • Direct experience of nature
  • Indirect experience of nature
  • Experience of space and place

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