The term biophilia has been defined in many ways, but essentially it’s an affinity or love for all things living. Humans have been living in and evolved with nature for as long as we’ve been here. Being surrounded by nature is quite literally in our DNA. We are wired to respond positively to natural environments.
When we find ourselves in nature, we automatically feel more relaxed. Did you know that touching wood for 90 seconds lowers the release of stress hormones in our body? Biophilic design can affect the human body in other fundamental ways. It helps regulate how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It can keep inflammation levels down and lower blood pressure. It can even affect your sleep cycle.
Western architecture was introduced to biophilia in the 1980s, but the concept is far from new. For more than 2,000 years, Asian cultures have valued striking an equilibrium with the surrounding environment and cherished the healing potential of nature-inspired design.
It’s only in the past few years that the principles of biophilia have made their way into the realm of home décor and interior design. At this point, you may be thinking, “I’ll buy a few more house plants and plant flowers in my back garden – job done!” While that would be a good start, it’s not so simple.
Environmental psychology research suggests that physical spaces are the most beneficial for us when they echo the scale and tone of the natural environment. How can we bring the majestic beauty of Mother Nature indoors? Here are a few biophilic design principles you can employ in your approach to home décor.
Natural light that is. We tend to depend on artificial light in enclosed spaces or during those dim, grey winter months. The task here would be to maximize the amount of sunlight coming through your windows. Be sure to clear away anything that might prevent natural light from coming in, both inside and outside your window. Throw open your blinds and curtains, give the windows a good cleaning, remove any furniture, decorations, or plants that could obstruct the natural light from shining through and entering your space. A simple change in layout might be all it takes to employ this biophilic design principle.
Now consider what’s outside your windows. How green is it out there? Are you looking at a busy street full of passing cars? Studies suggest that close proximity to plants slows our breathing and makes us feel more relaxed. But viewing greenery from a distance actually lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. You can’t control what’s outside all the windows in your home, but in spaces where you can, you might do well by reordering the placement of things like sheds or lawn furniture if what’s behind them is a view of a forest or rolling hills.
Being around wood is good for your health. Treated wood is okay, but natural untreated wood is better. In a TED Talk from 2021, renowned architect Matthias Olt references a scientific study where participants performed written tests in furniture settings with white plastic and wooden surfaces. Organizers found that taking tests in rooms constructed with a moderate balance of wooden surfaces dramatically reduced participants’ cortisol levels to 38 percent – making them calmer and more alert. Wooden surfaces affect our mood, motivation, stress levels, and even fear. In the same study, Olt said they found that heart rates dropped significantly when the participants touched wood while they took the test. This is a biophilic design principle that you can easily incorporate in your home—and gives new meaning to the phrase “knock on wood.”
Ever notice how so many modern office buildings have water fountains or shallow pools of water flanking the main entrance? It’s no accident. It’s a sign that the architect who designed the structure was interested in utilizing another key biophilic design principle: proximity to water. Research into green spaces has shown that the presence of water prompts greater improvements in one’s mood and sense of self-esteem than in green spaces without the presence of water. Using this biophilia principle in your home will depend on several factors, including space availability and budget. If a decorative pool or “water sheet” is out of the question, then maybe a small water fountain, indoors or out, could be more feasible.
Biophilia is more than a design paradigm; it’s a philosophy. It can be considered a celebration of the natural world and its innate connection. Making the conscious decision to employ just a few of its principles can dramatically enhance the way we feel and perform in our lives. Incorporating nature into our interior design approaches can improve our physical health in real, measurable ways and help us develop an overall sense of wellbeing.
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