We feel better when we’re surrounded by nature. A walk in the woods or on the beach helps us to feel calm and peaceful or invigorated and ignites our creative spark.
What if there was a way to bring nature indoors to receive these health benefits in the comfort of our own home?
Biophilic design helps to do just that. It provides a set of principles we can follow to design living and working spaces that help connect us with the natural world and enhance our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
More than simply maximizing natural lighting and filling your room with greenery—although indoor planting is one example of biophilic interior design—biophilic design strategies can help us connect with nature and natural elements in a number of obvious and not-so-obvious ways.
If you’re wondering how to incorporate biophilic design strategies into your home and can’t wait to get started, skip to the bottom of the article for some simple and effective ways to bring nature indoors.
Alternatively, read on as we explore the biophilic design concept in greater detail.
Exploring Biophilic Design Examples & Ideas
1. What Is Biophilic Design?
To define biophilic design, we need to start with the word biophilia, which is simply a fancy term for “the love of nature”. It comes from the ancient Greek “bio”, meaning life, and “philia”, meaning love or fondness.
The term was first used by psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and later by biologist Edward O. Wilson, who believed in a biological basis for humankind’s positive feelings toward the natural world.
In other words, the idea of biophilia is that we are innately drawn to nature. It’s in our DNA.
You only have to look at babies and young children to see this natural fascination for living things in action. Although we never really grow out of it, our busy, urban lives and technological distractions often mean limited time spent outdoors, a loss which can take its toll on our health and well-being.
Biophilic Design Definition
So, what is the concept of biophilic design? And what is the difference between biophilia and biophilic design?
In a nutshell, it’s about designing living and working environments with our intrinsic love of nature in mind. It’s about finding ways to purposefully create a connection between people and nature when designing buildings (biophilic architecture) and interiors (biophilic interior design).
Underpinning the biophilic design concept is the (substantiated) belief that connection with the natural world benefits our health and well-being.
Let’s look at the biophilic design benefits in more detail.
2. The Benefits Of Biophilic Design
With our busy modern lives—not to mention all the tech and screen time they revolve around—it’s not unusual to feel cut off from the natural world, especially in urban areas.
It’s estimated that the average person spends 90% of their time indoors (that goes for Brits, Europeans, and North Americans).
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, an avid gardener, or perhaps own a dog that needs lots of walks, this probably doesn’t apply to you. Still, it’s a surprising statistic.
While everyone should be encouraged to get outside for some vitamin D, fresh air, and time spent in nature (also referred to as “Vitamin N” by Richard Louv’s book of the same name), what is the alternative if we’re stuck indoors for any reason?
Well, instead of going out to nature, we can bring nature into our homes and offices for better physical and mental health.
This can be done in both obvious and subtle ways. We’ll look at some simple biophilic design ideas later, but first, what are 3 benefits of biophilic design?
Better Physical Health
Applying biophilic design principles to our living and working environments can improve both our physical and mental health.
Given the amount of time we spend indoors, creating healthy interiors is important.
Maximizing natural light can help balance our circadian rhythms, ventilating with fresh air makes for a healthier indoor environment, and using natural materials to decorate our homes means fewer toxins and VOCs that contribute to indoor air pollution.
When implemented in hospitals, the use of biophilic design has been shown to speed up recovery times.
Therapeutic Benefits For Greater Well-being
Of course, mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. By forging connections with nature and the natural world, biophilic design has been shown to reduce stress levels and contribute to a greater sense of well-being.
There are many ways to facilitate this connection and boost our mental health.
Animals, for instance, are known to have a positive impact on mental health, with therapy animals being brought into health and educational settings.
You don’t have to own a pet to take advantage of these health benefits, either. Encouraging wildlife to your window with bird feeders or window boxes filled with pollinator-attracting plants is another way to get closer to the creatures we share our environment with.
Plants, too, can boost our mood and views of natural landscapes outside the window can uplift and inspire.
More Productive and Creative Working Environments
There’s a reason (or rather several) why employers are embracing biophilic office design. Studies have shown that introducing biophilic design principles into working environments can boost cognitive performance, increase worker satisfaction, and reduce stress.
It can mean less absenteeism, greater productivity, and better retention of employees—a win-win for employers and employees alike.
3. Patterns Of Biophilic Design
In 2014, Terrapin Bright Green (a sustainability consulting firm) published “The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment”.
The report has guided architects and designers on how to incorporate biophilic design into their practice. The 14 principles, known as patterns, are divided into three categories: “Nature In The Space”, “Natural Analogues”, and “Nature Of The Space”.
What are the three pillars of biophilic design?
“Nature In The Space” refers to direct, tangible connections with nature such as animals, plants, water features, natural light, and views to natural landscapes
“Natural Analogues” is about incorporating non-living representations of nature, for example, using natural materials, and opting for nature-inspired colors, natural shapes, and natural patterns.
“Nature Of The Space ” is concerned with the design of spatial natural elements. The approach is inspired by the types of spaces found in natural environments and how we relate to them. Two of the patterns listed here are “Prospect” (an example of this is having extensive views out over natural landscapes) and “Refuge” (think cozy nook for retreating into).
The report details each individual pattern and provides suggestions on how they can be used to create biophilic living, room, and working environments.
4. Biophilic Architecture Examples
What is biophilic architecture?
Biophilic buildings are designed to facilitate a greater connection with the natural world. There are many ways this can be achieved and biophilic design can be applied to the whole design of a building, both exteriors and interiors and the relationship between the two.
So, what is an example of biophilic design when implemented on a large scale. In other words, what is biophilic design in architecture?
Let’s take a look at some well-known biophilic architecture examples from around the world.
Examples Of Biophilic Design In Architecture
One of the best places to go for biophilic architecture is Singapore.
Other famous biophilic buildings around the world include The Spheres, Amazon’s biophilic workspace in Seattle. It’s home to over 40,000 plants, 25,000 of them in one giant living wall.
In Milan, The Vertical Forest is an award-winning biophilic architecture design featuring two residential towers planted with 800 trees and 20,000 other plants.
The Pasona Urban Farm in Tokyo takes biophilic office design to the next level. In addition to its green facades and rooftop gardens, you’ll find urban food farming inside the building, with fruit, vegetables, and even rice being harvested for use in the cafeteria.
Employees benefit not only from being surrounded by plants, but by being able to have them for lunch, too. From an employer standpoint, concerned with productivity and employee satisfaction (and thus employment retention), the argument for biophilic architecture is a solid one.
Examples Of Biophilic Interior Design
There are so many stunning examples of biophilic interiors out there, it’s hard to choose our favorites.
Perhaps a good place to start is the home of a biophilic designer like Oliver Heath, whose stunning, sustainable home features salvaged wood clad walls, wooden floors, a rustic wood stove, plenty of natural lighting, and an abundance of plants hung at different heights.
The Treehouse Hotel in London has incorporated lots of natural elements into its playful interior. It features a rooftop garden, cozy rooms, a plant-filled restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the city, and natural wood everywhere (of course).
In Unanderra, Australia, Pepper Tree Passive House offers a unique Airbnb experience. Built around a fifty-year-old pepper tree, the eco house’s interior features recycled bricks that absorb heat from the sun and walls clad with untreated timber sheets.
Inspired by some of these designs?
Let’s look at some simple ways you can harness certain elements of biophilic design to create your own biophilic design interior.
5. Easy Ways To Create A Biophilic Home
1. Create An Indoor Jungle
Never underestimate the power of plants.
Choose plants that delight the senses with their architectural foliage (such as Monstera, palms, and snake plants), color (e.g., begonias and calatheas), and scent (citrus plants and scented pelargoniums).
Add some hanging and trailing plants for an instant jungle vibe and keep it natural with ceramic pots, woven baskets, and macrame hangers.
You can go a step further and grow edible plants to harvest for the kitchen. Most herbs like basil and oregano are easy enough to grow on a windowsill, and you can branch out into cherry tomatoes and chili peppers if you have a little more space.
Go wild with your selections, and you’ll have an oxygen-filled oasis in no time.
Worried you haven’t got green fingers?
Start small with one or two plants and gradually build up your collection. Choose plants that are easy to care for— plenty of houseplants are low-maintenance and quite forgiving of neglect!
Remember to check the toxicity of houseplants before bringing them into homes with pets and young children.
2. Maximize Natural Light
Flooding our homes with natural light has multiple benefits. It can help balance our circadian rhythms, improve sleep, and boost our mood and productivity.
As well as minimal window dressings that maximize the amount of natural lighting in a room, you can use mirrors and light colors to reflect natural light and make a space brighter.
If you live in a street-lit area, draw the curtains after dark, to prevent artificial light from coming in and use soft, ambient lighting to prepare the body for sleep. This is especially important in biophilic bedroom design.
When arranging your space, think about where natural light comes in at different times of the day. If you work at home, placing your desk in a window not only provides more natural light but gives you a constant view to the outside, too.
3. Open Windows And Doors
Letting fresh air circulate around our homes has obvious benefits for our physical health, enhances productivity, and helps us sleep better.
Opening the windows, even just a little, also reduces the boundary between indoors and outdoor, letting in sounds like birds singing and the wind.
If you have patio doors, make sure they are fully open on warm days to welcome in the sun, fresh air, and sights and sounds of nature.
4. Maximize Views To Nature
If you’re lucky enough to have a gorgeous view, consider how to make the most of it in your biophilic design living room or office.
You can place a sofa or comfortable chair in a prime window-gazing position. If you work at home, having your desk by the window means you can take regular screen breaks whilst gazing off into the distance.
5. Choose Raw Wood Furniture
Filling your home with natural materials like wood, bamboo, ceramic, stone, and marble is another easy way to bring nature into your home.
Opt for natural wooden furniture over particle board, plastic, or metal. Minimally-processed pieces that show the wood’s grain, natural features, and live edges add warmth to a room and pair well with soft furnishings made from natural materials and fabrics.
6. Fill Your Home With Natural Fabrics & Materials
On that note, there are many wonderful natural fabrics for accents, decor, and upholstery to choose from, including organic cotton, hemp, jute, linen, ethical wool, rattan, and other woven natural materials.
Aim for a variety of nature-inspired colors, textures and natural patterns to create a sensory-rich experience as described by the “Complexity & Order” pattern in Terrapin Bright Green’s report.
7. Use Natural Flooring And Rugs
As with furniture, opting for floor coverings made from natural materials like bamboo, cork, or wood is a simple way to bring natural materials into the home.
For a more instant, low-cost solution, add some natural fabric rugs. Again, opting for a variety of patterns and textures helps to create a multi-sensory experience, akin to that found in the natural world.
8. Decorate With Natural Objects
As well as curating a house full of plants, consider using natural objects for decor. Stones, shells, dried grasses, pebbles, or pine cones, either bought or (responsibly) collected from your favorite wild places, help fuel your connection with the natural world and beautify your space at the same time.
Creating a seasonal shelf or table to display your nature finds is a fun activity to do with kids, and educational too. Explore the natural patterns found on shells, leaves, and flowers, and it may even lead to some nature-inspired artwork for your walls.
Natural woven baskets are an easy and functional addition to the home. Whether you use them for holding laundry or collecting toys, they add an instant natural vibe to your home interior.
Green walls, also known as living walls, blend the best of both worlds: plants and decor.
9. Natural Shapes
Like most of us, your home probably consists of a lot of straight lines. While distinctly modern, hard edges and geometric shapes are contrary to the soft, asymmetrical natural patterns in the environment.
Consider adding some different shapes in the form of circular and organically-shaped tables, stools, mirrors, and wall decor. Curved corner cabinets can counter sharp angles, as can large round pots and tall plants.
Hanging and trailing plants can also help to break up straight lines. Hang planters at a different heights to help bring visual complexity to a room.
10. Maximize The Use Of Outdoor Space
Incoprorating natural features indoors is one thing, but it’s still not as powerful as the natural environments from which they’re inspired. Whether it’s a balcony, patio, or garden, think about how to make the most of your outside space.
Can you use it for alfresco dining? An outdoor office or living room? How about a wildlife-attracting garden?
Designing for multiple uses is ideal, to maximize the time you spend outside.
No outdoor space?
Windows boxes can be planted with scented plants such as lavender and lemon balm so that the aromas drift indoors when the window is open. Or choose nectar plants to attract and feed bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Bird feeders attached to windows are a simple way to get up close with wild creatures and help us feel more connected to the natural world.
6. Biophilic Design & Sustainability
Biophilic design and sustainability are intrinsically linked. For starters, many of the materials chosen for biophilic design (natural, renewable, and minimally processed) are more environmentally friendly than their synthetic counterparts.
Beyond material considerations, biophilic design can also encourage a greater responsibility towards the natural environment by fostering a greater connection to nature.
In “The Practice of Biophilic Design”, Stephen R. Kellert and Elizabeth F. Calabrese write:
“Biophilic design promotes positive interactions between people and nature that encourage an expanded sense of relationship and responsibility for the human and natural communities.”
Therefore, biophilic design has an important role to play in designing sustainable built environments for the future.
Closing Thoughts On Biophilic Design Meaning & Methods
Whether using biophilic design in the workplace or at home, there are many direct and indirect ways to bring natural elements into our spaces to help us feel calmer, happier, more creative, and more productive.
Following biophilic design principles can help us create healthier (think: fresh air and natural lighting) and more sustainable interiors (using eco-friendly materials).
It’s also hoped that a greater connection to the natural environment will help foster a greater sense of responsibility for the world outside our window.