Feel Good Design Naturally

One of the things that the last year has taught me – and I’m guessing plenty of others – is the importance of nature to wellbeing. And I don’t mean that in a fanciful, mystical sense but in the way that being confined to your own four walls deprived of the changing elements of nature can give you a sense of living in a void or time warp. It’s one of the reasons I would never consider living somewhere without seasons. And it’s something Biophilic designers have been alive to for some time.

Earthy tones, natural materials and lots of greenery make for a grounded but inspirational scheme at Etsy’s head office.

Biophilic is a term much bandied around but little understood in terms of how it translates to interior design. Our innate affinity for nature has long been recognised but this connection – and the importance of it in our everyday lives – is now underpinned by scientific research. It’s something that big businesses are catching on to with the realisation that considered biophilic design can have a measurable, positive impact in reducing stress, improving focus and increasing productivity. Tech giants Apple, Google and Amazon have all adopted a Biophilic approach in the design of their work places. Hospitals and care facilities have also recognised the restorative benefits biophilic design offers to their patients and residents.

But what does it mean for our own homes?

Modern life means we spend just 7% of our lives outdoors but by mimicking nature in every aspect of our homes, we can simulate the same beneficial effects evoked by nature. So what form might this take?

Colours reminiscent of our natural landscapes and seascapes have a calming effect.

Textile designer, Claire Gaudion became fascinated by the emotional impact of colour and texture in the home whilst growing up in Guernsey where the shifting colours of the landscape aligned with the changing light and the ebb of flow of tides, dramatically transforming this small island on a daily basis. When she started her own textiles business, she found she was already intuitively incorporating nature-inspired tones, patterns and materials into her designs and it was only some years down the line, she was gratified to discover the scientific research that supports the principles behind biophilic design.

Lagoon Crinkle Cotton Throw by Claire Gaudion

Colour is the most obvious of these elements and a powerful and accessible way to remind us of nature in our homes but it’s more complicated than simply picking a colour of the F&B paint chart. Claire advises you start by making a mental note of your emotional response to the colours that surround you, be guided by nature’s palette of complementary tones, the way in which they relate to each other, their proportions and notice how the changing light affects them.

Patterns too play a part in mimicking nature indoors and in Claire’s designs there are abstract representations of rippling water and swaying grasses within the weave of her fabric.

A pop of colour in the form of a simple jug brings this mantlepiece to life. Photograph by Becky Hirt.

As Claire explains, we are drawn to particular colours because of their chromatic intensity rather than their hue. Given the beneficial effects of nature’s palette on our wellbeing, it makes sense to mimic these in our interiors. Finding the colours that quite literally make you happy is an instinctive process. Colours in nature tend to be low to mid chroma and these will confer a sense of calm and relaxation. If you’re somebody that likes more vibrant colours, then use these in more sociable areas of your home to inject energy, combine them with more neutral hues to create a more balance scheme or as an accent colour to inspire you at your desk, for instance.

Moodboard with Jerbourg Rug and Coral Cushion swatch by Claire Gaudion

We experience our homes with all our senses so how things feel against our skin, sound like and even how they smell make a difference to whether a space succeeds in enhancing our wellbeing. If the sole factor driving the design of an interior scheme is how it looks, we are missing a trick or two.

We experience our living environment with all our senses so a variety of tactile surfaces is key. Photograph by Becky Hirt.

Materiality is arguably just as important for a feel-good home – quite literally in fact. Good biophilic design incorporates a variety of textures – from cool linen to warm wool, matt concrete to grainy wood – just as in nature – to create a sensory and tactile environment.

Interior Designer, Becky Hirt, explains that “materials such as wood, stone and cork can be better for our health than their synthetic equivalents. They create a general sense of wellbeing, and are often better for the environment. They have a timeless and classic quality that outlasts any passing trend and they age gracefully, looking all the better for showing the passage of time.”

Nature is constant but not static – think about it – it’s the reason we would always choose fresh flowers over fake if we could afford it – it’s about marking the changes. So as the seasons change and you transition your wardrobe, think about doing the same for your house – replace candles with flowers and cosy rugs with wafting linens.

Texture is introduced into this bathroom with the help of a natural loofah, woven planter and soft towel, contrasting with the smooth tiles and matt wall.

Interior designer, Becky Hirt is also a strong exponent of Biophilic Design and believes that creating a home that nurtures you is an extension of self care. “The process of creating a home that supports and nourishes you is about far more than compiling a check list of furniture, colours and materials”. (It’s a theory that Claire Gaudion, a former nurse, would endorse.)

Fortitude II by Kerry Hussain.

Alternatively a connection with nature can be made with an artwork in the form of landscape paintings or photographs – or even wallpaper for a stronger visual impact. Here Kerry Hussain’s beautifully evocative painting offers an ethereal reflection of nature, good balance of colour, drawing the eye and taking you to another world.

This artwork by Kerry Hussain, entitled Fortitude III, is one of a series intended as a form of visual meditation.

Becky believes strongly in the importance of ‘refuge’ spaces within our homes. to  provide a sense of calm and a place to recharge and rebalance. Ideally this refuge provides somewhere soft to rest your head and a good outlook for some perspective. Here this cosy nook houses a window seat in which to lounge and absorb the view, the different materials giving comfort and a contrast with the outside view.

And here, for what it’s worth, is my experience. Even outside of Covid I work from home – and though my default is our kitchen table, I often find myself picking up my laptop and moving my workplace around the house, following the sun as it changes position so that I always have natural light. It makes me happy.

Rhythmic Tides Indigo Rug with Cashmere Inlet Throw by Claire Gaudion

Not so much a trend as a quiet evolution, biophilic design has really come into its own during the last twelve months when lockdown has given all of us the time and opportunity to consider what we want and need from our living and working spaces. Like sustainability, it’s here to stay.

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For more info on Claire Gaudion and her services, including her colour course and details of how you can design your own rug, head over here.

Becky Hirt’s design and styling services can be found here, her instagram feed is definitely worth a follow.

Kerry Hussain’s mood-lifting and meditative artworks can be seen on her website here. She also offers art packages for interior designers, stylists and home stagers, designed to allow property professionals to build their own range of art based on individual project requirements.

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