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Biophilic Design: How to Naturally Improve Your Health and Well-Being at Home


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What is biophilic design? You may have heard of the term before, but you're not quite sure what it means.


Biophilic design is a type of interior design that focuses on bringing nature into the home. This can be done through the use of plants, natural materials, and colors, as well as by incorporating elements of nature into the design of the home itself.

The term "biophilic interior design" is relatively new, but the concept has been around for centuries. Biophilic design is based on the idea that humans have an innate need to connect with nature.


There is a growing body of research that shows how biophilic design can improve our health and well-being. Most often this research is done in commercial settings such as hospitals where patients health can be easily monitored.


But the same research can be applied within the home to cultivate an environment that can improve well-being and even help prevent illnesses. In this article, we will:

  • explain what biophilic design is

  • explore the benefits of biophilic design

  • and give some examples of how you can implement it in your own home décor and design


What is Biophilic Design?

The concept of biophilic design is based on the idea that we can create environments that support this natural human need to connect with nature. By connecting with nature, we aren't merely bringing the outside in, but we immerse ourselves in a state of being that allows us to feel more grounded and more connected to other living things.


Biophilia is a term coined by E.O. Wilson, who was an American biologist, in his book Biophilia (1984). Wilson argued that humans have an innate need to connect with nature and other forms of life. Biophilia has since been used in a number of different ways, but generally it refers to the human-nature connection.

When we connect to things that are larger than ourselves, we can create a sense of belonging. By harnessing the connection we feel toward nature, biophilic design has the expressed interest in deepening that connection, which will promote our physiological, psychological and cognitive well-being.


Benefits of Biophilic Design


There are a number of ways in which biophilic design can improve our health and well-being. One way is by reducing stress levels. Studies have shown that exposure to nature can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and blood pressure, while also increasing positive moods and feelings of relaxation.


In one study, office workers were given the opportunity to work in a "green" office with plants and natural light, or a traditional office without these features. The workers in the green office reported lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as less fatigue and more energy.

Another way biophilic design can improve our health is by improving cognitive function. One study found that students who had views of nature from their classroom performed better on tests than those who didn't. Another study found that patients in hospitals with views of nature had shorter hospital stays and required less pain medication than those without.


One reason is that it can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can free up mental resources that would otherwise be focused on managing these emotions. Another reason is that nature can provide a sense of calm and relaxation, which can improve focus and concentration.


By transferring these findings from commercial settings to within our homes, we can achieve these positive and healing attributes of biophilic design in our daily lives. By incorporating elements of nature into our homes, we can create a space that is not only more visually appealing, but also has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

Achieving Flow in the Home


Directed attention is energy intensive, meaning it takes a lot of energy out of us. This includes anything that takes a lot of brain or physical power to execute the task.

By having strong and/or routine connections with nature it provides opportunities for mental restoration. This can allow our brains to take a break from other high-cognitive functions we need to do, and rest. By doing this, our capacity for performing difficult tasks becomes greater.


When we feel like we are performing tasks at a higher state of efficiency, we have what positive psychology calls flow.


Flow is a mental state of peak performance, fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Being in a state of flow can have you feeling so immersed in a blend of happiness, striving, and succeeding that time seems to fade away.


By incorporating biophilic elements into the design of our homes, we can more readily tap into this state of flow. This human-nature connection is essential for our mental and physical health, and can be constructed through biophilic home design.



Examples of Biophilic Design in the Home


There are a number of different ways to incorporate biophilic design into your home. The one that may come to mind first is houseplants. And here at Inspired Design Inc, we sure do love houseplants. (I have over 40 of them currently in my house!)

But Biophilic design is much more than just adding more plants within the home.


According to Terrapin's extensive research efforts outlined in their published paper titled, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment there are patterns, or forms of biophilia, that can be used to create this human-nature connection in the built environment.


The patterns can be classified into one of three categories:

  1. Nature in the Space

  2. Natural Analogues

  3. Nature of the Space

Below I'll be discussing these 14 patterns in depth with examples of how to incorporate it into home design as well as the effect it has on the person within the space.

Nature in the Space


Nature in the Space is the most literal of the biophilic design elements. These are direct presences of nature in the space that can be physical and ephemeral.


One of the most obvious ways to bring nature into your space is by adding living elements such as plant life.


But you can also incorporate other natural elements such as water, air, sounds, scents and even light. The more direct connections with these natural elements, and the more diversified, the greater the impact it has on giving a biophilic connection.


Visual Connections with Nature encompass things that you can see and touch. Physical life beings, such as plants, that create a direct connection to nature.

That's why at Inspired Design, we always try to incorporate as many plants into our projects as possible. Not only do they add a pop of color and life to the space, but they also help improve air quality.


Color itself can lend an opportunity to further the connection to the outside natural world. As I've mentioned in the Color Psychology article, color can have a large impact on your emotional well-being, too.


Non-Visual Connections include our other senses like sounds and scents. Keeping windows open to hear a bird sing its song or playing nature sounds on Pandora is a great way to bring in more nature.


Natural scents can be incorporated into the home environment by using essential oils in diffusers.


Often, I suggest to use bright, lively scents like orange and mint throughout the workday and switch to lavender to mark the end of the day as a olfactory-driven cue to wind down for the day.


Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli is a bit of an ephemeral connection, but I most commonly see it as the connection to watching an other living being's movement. Think of tree branches swaying in the wind, or a squirrel climbing up the tree...movement that can't be anticipated or known.


Through scientific studies, it's been shown that adjusting your eyes to these non-rhythmic movements in nature for just twenty seconds every twenty minutes can improve cognitive function and promote better flow.


One way I often suggest to my clients to utilize this is to shift their work desk from facing a wall to facing a window. Being able to glance up from our screens regularly and have the non-rhythmic movements to focus on can have a great impact on their daily lives.


Thermal & Airflow Variability is not as often found inside our homes, especially if we live in an environment that is either too cold or too hot.


However, whenever it is feasible to do so, opening windows to allow for sensing natural airflow and temperature changes is a direct connection with nature. Homes that are designed with passive cooling systems in mind can be both energy efficient and help us connect with nature even more.


Presence of Water can be found when we experience water through seeing, hearing or touching water. Not everyone will have an opportunity to have a pool with a fountain in their backyard, but what about a small water feature within the home?


Besides being a connection to the water element, even a small water fountain can increase humidity levels (Thermal and Airflow Variability) and produce sounds that are non-rhythmic. As you can see, water features can tick a lot of boxes when looking for ways to use biophilic design elements in the home.


Dynamic and Diffuse Light utilizes the range of intensities of light (and shadow) that change over time. Being in a space that casts light and shadows that change as the sun moves, grounds us in the many moments of now that comprise a single day. It shows the passage of time.


Connection with Natural Systems is taking this connection with time one step further. It's our connection to natural processes that occur, especially seasonally that are characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.


We tend to fall into our own rhythms seasonally by what we do, what we wear, what we eat, and the more connected we feel to these big systematic shifts, the better and more whole we feel.


Large windows that let in light and access to viewing trees that change with the seasons is one of the most simple biophilic design ideas. Planting a tree that changes color outside of that window will connect you seasonally to nature. And creating an opportunity to let interesting shadows be cast across the space can help with incorporating nature fully.