The Feel Good Effect Of Nature
What if nature inspired décor in our homes could recreate the feel good effect of a positive experience out in nature?
The thing is, it can!
We might not be able to bring home the beach with the ocean attached or the hiking trail in the woods with the multitude of sensory experiences we enjoy while out there.
On the other hand, we can recreate that feeling of wellbeing at home through the right approach to interior design and décor.
In the commercial world this positive impact has been demonstrated in studies for offices, hospitals, and schools. There is a reason why more offices and schools include more natural materials, plants and especially natural light into their spaces lately (well, before the pandemic hit). Studies have shown that it improves productivity, health and performance. And that is good for the bottom line.
Let’s pause for a moment, close your eyes and take a deep breath…
Think of a place where you feel good. A place where your tensions melt away, you feel relaxed and feel positive energy nurturing your body.
Did you think of your office, the living room couch, or that stylish, good looking kitchen you just saw in a magazine?
When asked to think of a place where they would feel happy and relaxed, the majority of people in a study imagined themselves surrounded by nature or interacting with nature.
Why is that?
We put so much effort into separating our work and living spaces from the natural environments, yet we obviously yearn for nature, unwittingly.
This phenomenon is called Biophilia.
Biophilia – Love of Life (Bio-Life, Philia-Love)
For most of human history, something like 99.9%, people’s lives were closely aligned with nature and evolved in close association with the natural world. People had to be attuned to nature to survive. Only very recently have we started to disconnect our daily lives from nature (at least we have been trying very hard). But if we like it or not, nature is still in us.
Biophilia stands for the idea that we humans have an innate affinity with nature and living things, like a genetic inheritance, acquired through our evolution in the natural world, our incredibly long history of living in nature.
That is why nature makes us feel good and relaxed, we feel right at home. A place we “unknowingly” know very well.
Yet, as a technology oriented society that spends 90+% of our time indoors we have separated ourselves from nature and view her as a potential threat, something we need to dominate.
Sometimes we make room to ‘visit’ nature for a hike, weekend experience or vacation, preferably captured as a ‘social media moment’ away from our routine daily life.
Maybe you are a bit more engaged with her, you belong to a hiking group, are an avid gardener or even engaged in yearly cleanups in your community and other environmental causes. But do you know how to recreate that feel good right at home?
Despite our many efforts to dismiss the importance of nature in our daily lives, mounting evidence suggests that our inborn desire to connect with the natural world continues to be highly important for our health and wellbeing.
This idea was first described as Biophilia by the psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm in 1973. It was Edward O. Wilson who popularized the term with his book Biophilia in 1984.
A year later, in 1995, Wilson and Stephen R. Kellert published the book The Biophilia Hypothesis, a collection of different perspectives on the concept of biophilia by a group of esteemed scientists of our time.
With his body of work, Stephen R. Kellert carried the idea of biophilia forward into the built environment, our workspaces, homes, landscapes and communities.
He started to develop design principles and a list of design elements to harness the benefits of biophilia in the built environment and called it Biophilic Design.
He published the first iteration of his design elements and attributes in his contribution to the book Biophilic Design, The Theory, Science, and Practice of Bringing Buildings To Life. He flushed out how different elements, attributes and their varied combination can have specific impact on our wellbeing and performance.
Through a few iterations and the work of others, Kellert arrived on a more simplified set of principles and design elements. You can view his last iteration online at The Practice Of Biophilic Design and in his book Nature By Design.
Kellert is also knows as ‘The Godfather of Biophilic Design’.
What is Nature Inspired Décor?
What has this biophilia and biophilic design to do with a nature inspired décor?
I want to show you how to take the idea of biophilia and biophilic design and apply it to your home’s interior with nature inspired décor.
Nature inspired décor is really just another expression for biophilic design applying it to interior design and therefore relies on the same understanding that
- we humans have this genetic inheritance to affiliate with the natural world, acquired through our evolution and long history living in nature.
- our inherent inclination to affiliate with nature and all living things contributes to our health, fitness and wellbeing.
Biophilic Design is an evidence based approach, which means that the design elements suggested were chosen due to their demonstrated effect on our health and wellbeing. The fundamental goal of biophilic design is not a type of visual appeal or aesthetic but rather to create good living spaces for us. As such, it is gaining rapid popularity – and it is visually appealing nevertheless!
Biophilic Design is not a new style, it rather provides us with tools to harness the incredible power of nature to create homes that are healthier and happier. A home designed with biophilia in mind can have a very “anticipated” natural look with lots of wood and plants – or it can be anything else, like very sleek and contemporary without the obvious “nature look” elements and focusing on other biophilic design elements.
Just think about how complex the natural world you like to relax in is – close up views, distance views, a wide variety of colors and hues, smells, texture and sounds that change constantly.
You can check out a variety of biophilic design elements in my series of 4 blog posts starting here. These elements are based on Stephen Kellert’s research and proposed list of biophilic design elements and attributes.
Research and studies show that we do best in an environment that is complex, yet within an order, an environment that provides us with the right mix of stimuli for all our senses.
Biophilic design provides us with a toolbox of design features to recreate this variety of natural sensory input we yearn for at home and our workplace.
These strategies and features can be used and combined to create spaces with the right mix of complexity, order and stimuli for our wellbeing. We can even go further and use the approach to effectively achieve specific goals, like calm and relaxation in a bedroom, or productivity and creativity in a home office.
Sounds difficult? It’s not, but like anything else, to be able to do it right and harvest the benefits we have to understand the background and concept involved.
Most of our design and decorating choices are meant to visually express our desired personal style and to give our spaces and homes a unified and complete look.
In addition to that, biophilic design adds another dimension to interior design. It not only adds beauty through nature inspired elements it adds a human-centric focus to our design choices as well – the concern of our wellbeing in the indoor spaces we inhabit.
The effective practice of biophilic design depends on knowing and appreciating which feature and processes of the natural world have been especially relevant to our functioning and will offer the greatest benefit to us in today’s modern setting.
Nature inspired décor = biophilic design for your interior decorating projects
What Nature Inspired Décor Is Not
It’s Not Merely A Natural Look
A common approach to buildings and interior design today is to first separate both from nature and then add a few irrelevant but nice looking natural accents to it, like a few plants or wooden wall, to give it all a “natural look”.
Our encounters with nature are more complex and multifaceted experiences, involving all our senses. Just think about walking on the beach – the smell, the feel of the sand, the sound of the breaking waves, the many patterns – big and small ones in the sand, in the water, in the sky – the sparkle the sun creates on the water, the multitude of colors and hues everywhere, the far distance views, the close ups, the sudden excitement a bigger than expecting wave close to you creates, and on and on and on.
A few natural accents are not based on biophilic design principles, won’t recreate this deeper elaborate nature experience. It won’t provide us with the connection to nature that has an effect on our wellbeing over time. It will be ignored quickly or seen as a merely decorative object without much impact on our physical, mental or emotional health.
The challenge is what and how to incorporate to gain more than just a visual pleaser from our home interiors.
Nature-inspired décor gives you a toolbox to utilize biophilic design to create a home that functions as another component to a healthy lifestyle, besides whole food and fitness.
It’s Not Merely A Style Either
There is not one particular look to nature inspired interiors. It can rather give any style a grounding effect.
A design style refers to the overall look and appearance of your home interiors.
Nature-inspired design refers to recreating the positive impact of nature on our wellbeing – through obvious and not so obvious nature-inspired features.
Interior design styles are created based on a set of basic features, design techniques and elements of furniture, embellishments or the lack thereof, which create special harmony and can be identified as a particular expression of style.
Usually styles are born in a particular area or movement, they become trendy until they loose the favor of mainstream. Just think of the distinct characteristics of mid-century modern, traditional, modern farmhouse, minimalism or Scandinavian style, to name a few.
Nature-inspired décor does not merely focus on the look and appearance of your interior. It rather involves all our senses and focuses on a research based approach to combine design elements that, as a whole, recreate the positive effects nature has on our mind and body.
Nature-inspired décor can be used in all design styles. Key features of some current trendy styles fit very well with the biophilic design philosophy. It seems people instinctively rediscover the positive effect of nature inspired-décor. Just think of indoor plants, natural materials, warm colors and the comeback of kitchen gardens.
It’s Not All Plants Plants Plants Either!
Plants are just one of over 20 design elements that can be part of nature-inspired décor for your home. You can recreate the positive impact of nature without a single plant in your home. Who would have thought!
The 24 biophilic design features by Stephen R. Kellert
To practice biophilic design you apply a variation of design strategies to replicate the positive effect of nature in your home. Over the years, Stephen R. Kellert has refined his research to 24 design features (he calls them attributes).
He differentiates these features based on how you experience them:
- Direct experience of nature,
- Indirect experience of nature,
- Experience of space and place.
Each experience can be accomplished based on a variety of the 24 design features. To create a most impactful design it is advantageous to use a wide variety of these features covering each of the three types of experiences.
The beauty is that not all features have to be used and they can be combined in strategic ways based on your individual circumstances and design objectives.
Here is a list of interior design features, which I adjusted slightly from Stephen R. Kellert’s latest list of his biophilic design features:
Direct ExperienceOf Nature
- Natural Light
- Natural Ventilation
Indirect ExperienceOf Nature
- Images Of Nature
- Natural Materials
- Natural Colors
- Information Richness
- Natural Geometries
- Naturalistic Shapes And Forms
- Age, Change, And Patina Of Time
- Simulating Natural Light And Air
Experience OfSpace And Place
- Prospect and Refuge
- Order And Complexity
- Curiosity And Enticement
- Fear And Awe
- Attraction And Attachment
- Sense Of Place
The Wellbeing Effect Of Nature Inspired Décor
A wide variety of research shows that exposure to nature can have a significant impact on our physical, emotional and mental health, our performance and wellbeing. Together they create a compelling picture of the importance of exposure to nature for our wellbeing.
If you are like me, you might wonder why we need these studies to conclude that nature is good for us. Have we become so alienated from nature that we need scientific evidence that nature is good for us? Don’t we just know anyways?
But these studies have done more than just making the case that nature is somehow good for us. They show how different types of exposure to nature can have different types of beneficial effects to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Various healthcare studies have show that exposure to nature can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, relief pain, and contribute to healing and recovery from illness. Positive health benefits have been reported among kids as well. Exposure to nature is correlated with reductions in allergies, asthma, and, at times, symptoms of autism and attention deficit disorder.
Work related studies have shown that with an increased exposure to nature employees show enhanced health, improved morale and motivation, better performance with superior recruitment and retention.
Usually schools are designed to emphasize indoor learning that removes students from nature. Yet, studies have found that students in schools with incorporated biophilic design elements such as natural lighting, natural materials, indoor plants and exposure to the outside environment have higher test scores, improved attendance and motivation, better self-esteem and self-confidence, enhanced ability to cope with challenges and adversity, as well as higher critical-thinking, problem-solving, and creative abilities. WOW!!! Even the teachers showed better morale and performance and hade improved recruitment and retention.
These diverse studies show the huge impact biophilic design can have on our health and wellbeing.
What’s good for us in schools, workplaces and hospitals should have a similar impact at home. More than ever we learn, work and recuperate from illness in our homes besides many other activities. We even do all that under one roof, often even in the same spaces.
The trend of biophilic design in commercial buildings has grown tremendously over the last few years. Just a few percentage point of less sick days and more productivity can have huge financial benefits and cost savings in human resources since it is by far the biggest cost for many companies.
This trend is swapping over to our private quarters – more and more people are reconnecting to nature at home.
We have worked so hard to dominate and separate our daily lives from nature, yet we always had this urge to seek comfort and relaxation in nature, maybe without even realizing the irony.
The pandemic and being stuck at home probably has something to do with our reckoning and longing for the natural world and bringing natural elements indoors.
With more time spent at home doing many different things, focusing on the visual style of our interiors is not enough anymore. Many of us decided to make a change. Our own comfort, wellbeing, productivity and health have become a much bigger part of renovation and decorating choices.
The question is just how effective have we been without paying attention to biophilic design.
Leads To Less Toxins In Your Home
Once we immerse ourselves in the idea of biophilia and a nature-inspired décor in our home we become more aware of what’s actually in our furniture and decorative objects we buy and how they can affect the air quality and our health at home.
Looking for more natural interior decoration we inevitably learn about benefits of natural material and what to look for to avoid toxic ingredients and fumes that pollute our indoor air quality. After all that is a benefit companies selling natural products will highlight.
Once they highlight the avoidance of toxic chemicals in their natural products you will automatically become more curious about the topic, do some more of your own research. I bet you will become more discerning about the products you will let enter your home.
That brings me to another side effect of getting immersed into nature-inspired décor.
Leads To More Care For The Environment
Inviting nature-inspired décor into your home will tear down barriers we erected between our homes and nature. Reconnecting with nature at home might even awake a higher protective mindset for our environment and a more sustainable lifestyle.
Most sustainability discussions bother me, they mostly talk about what we, the people, have to do for the environment. It looks a lot like going backwards and sacrifice a modern lifestyle.
I strongly believe that any appeal for sustainability has to start with an effort to reconnect people with nature first and preferably through their homes.
We all care for things that are “close to home” so to speak!
Once we reconnected more consciously with nature and can appreciate how much she contributes to our wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle, how could we not want to protect her more!
Sustainability would suddenly come more natural to us (pun intended)!
Nature inspired décor looks at biophilic design features that can be applied to the interiors of your home to improve your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing at home.
Biophilic design focuses on the human experience in the build environment including residential, commercial buildings and even entire communities. Biophilic design is based on Biophilia, the human desire to connect with the natural world and living beings. This is the result of our long history living in nature and only very short period being separated from it due to technological progress and urbanization.
Our brains are still wired as creatures of nature, even if we might not consciously realize it due to the elimination of most natural elements in buildings and the reduction of nature as an ‘escape’ for weekends and vacations.
It seems times are changing and we see a trend in design to include natural elements and features. While this is a positive development, the practice of biophilic design goes further and provides tools to select nature based elements and their mixture to achieve wellness and health goals for the building occupants.
To be able to achieve these human-centric goals it is important to understand the concept of biophilic design and how to incorporate it with the regular interior design process.
Decorating with nature inspired features is a subject area in interior design we all should embrace, for our own good. It is a hot trend right now, and I think it is here to stay due to the sensibilities and priorities the COVID-19 pandemic has created for the foreseeable future.
Curious? Get my Started Guide To Nature Inspired Décor & Wellbeing..