Biophillic Design, Improving our Wellbeing at Home and at Work
Top Image Credit.HomeWorldDesign
Fresh air, daylight, natural materials and greenery. Who doesn’t find a walk in the countryside or a spot of gardening lifts their spirits? And, how many of us would love to bottle that feeling of warmth on your face while you are at the seaside listening to waves lapping on the shore?
Activities like these have enormous health benefits and are thought to aid illnesses such as depression. The World Health Organisation expects stress related illness, such as mental health disorders and cardio-vascular disease, to be the two largest contributors to disease by 2020; burn out has also just been characterised as a chronic disease. So, it comes as no surprise, given our fast-paced world, that interior and design trends are moving towards how we improve our health in our own homes and our offices.
Biophilic Design is about connecting with nature in our homes and offices to improve health and wellbeing, something I’ve been writing about for a while now in this series of blog posts. The Biophilia hypothesis, and as a scientist I do love a hypothesis, is based around a humans tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. It is a term popularized by American psychologist Edward. O. Wilson in the 1980’s, when he observed how increasing rates of urbanisation were leading to a disconnection with the natural world.
Incorporating nature into our homes and offices has been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self-reported rates of well-being. In fact, many large corporations are investing in the design principle believing it will increase productivity, cognitive function and engagement in the work place and potentially, also help retain talent.
Many of us are spending as much as 90% of our time indoors, either at work or at home, so incorporating elements of design that tie us to nature, within our room schemes, is important to our wellbeing at home, even if we can’t control our office environment.
So how do you go about improving your home to improve your wellbeing based on this principle?
I talked about some of the ways to do this here but essentially it comes down to a number of key factors.
Direct Experience of Nature
Light has an enormous impact on our wellbeing and scientific research into our circadian rhythm (biological clock) and how light affects it has made leaps and bounds in recent years. In short, circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in our environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm. If you have ever noticed how you feel more energised or drowsy at certain times of day, that’s your circadian rhythm. Jet lag? That is down to changes in your circadian rhythm.
Understanding what makes circadian rhythm tick may lead to treatments for sleep disorders, obesity, mental health disorders, jet lag, and other health problems. It can also improve ways for individuals to adjust to night time shift work.
Yet most of us give very little thought to light, unless it affects us directly, such as experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in winter or if we suffer from sleep problems.
But, do you smile on a sunny day?
Do you feel more stimulated, perhaps a bit wired, after a day under bright office lights or in a shopping centre?
Yes, that will be the effect of light on your mood.
Incorporating light, and ideally as much natural light as possible into your home is a great way to improve your mood and health, especially during winter. This will come down to your windows (how many, how big, south or north facing etc.), your window dressings (making sure as much light as possible comes through) but also using “natural light” light bulbs.
But, we also need to consider the flip side to natural light at certain times of day, particularly at night time and when you eat. Did you know light can affect your appetite? How quickly you eat and how much you consume? A dark candlelit room is better for eating less, than a brightly lit kitchen, for example.
Rooms that are too bright do not aid melatonin production for sleep, nor does the use of iPad screens at bedtime. In bedrooms, for example, black out blinds and curtains will aid sleep if light is a problem. Consider also having lower light levels in the evening, to start winding down for bed.
Bringing the outside in utilising plants is a very good way of having a direct relationship with the outdoors. In addition to looking beautiful in any room scheme, plants bring a whole host of health benefits (increase physical health, performance, and productivity and reduced stress) and air cleaning properties.
Some of us are lucky enough to have an open fire in the winter or wood burning stoves. Warmth, light, movement and colour are all pleasing and can help reduce stress and aid sleep. Ever felt drowsy in front of an open fire, cosy and relaxed? You will know exactly what I mean.
It may be as simple as the breeze through an open window on a summer day. That small trickle of cool air when it is too hot indoors. It aids comfort and productivity and a lot of thought goes into ventilation in a building for comfort.
Indirect Experience of Nature
Your View of the Outside World
What you see outside you window can also have an affect on your wellbeing. A beautifully tended garden or a brick wall? See what I mean. But if you don’t have great views of nature, because you live in a very urban environment, fake it! Images of nature in artwork, murals, wallpaper, photos or sculptures, all help to bring an element of a natural view into your home.
People prefer natural materials as they can be mentally stimulating. Natural materials are susceptible to the patina of time; this change invokes responses from people. I talk about the joy of finding vintage items in this post here but you do not have to be an avid thrift shopper to get the benefit of natural materials in your home as the high street is currently full of rattan, terrazzo, wood, stone, and ceramics, all of which will bring an element of nature into your home.
I’ve written about colour psychology a lot recently, in fact I have a whole blog section dedicated to it. We are seeing a movement in interiors towards natural colours, in some ways neutral colours, which evoke a sense of calm into our environments in our fast paced life. I have a lot of green in my home. Green is restful and calming. It carries association with sincerity, health, fertility and good luck. It is the colour of nature so an ideal colour to consider in your home, if you want to bring nature in. But, I have also written about how colour is very personal, so if green is not for you, nor are neutrals, look to nature around you to find inspiration.
You don’t need to make huge changes to feel some benefit through this design principle. For example, I have taken down my heavy winter curtains to let more light into my living room. I’ve also invested in plants and simple accessories such as beautifully coloured ceramics for the table and terrazzo candlesticks. I’ve always been an avid collector of vintage wooden furniture and long since argued that the patina of age helps make a room. But if you haven’t got this, a simple wooden chair in a room scheme would be a good start.
The Girl with The Green Sofa