Decorating with natural materials is becoming an important call to action in design. More than ever, people are keen on how furniture and decor are made and how design impacts the environment. So it’s no surprise that a new focus on Biophilic Design is one of the top 2021 interior design trends.
From woven natural materials like jute, sisal, and rattan to organic textures, such as driftwood, cowhide, and polished stone, designers and their clients are seeking out natural materials in interior design more and more. And we’re in full support and here for it!
Here, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide (and a primer!) on different types of natural materials and how they can bring texture and an organic touch to your spaces.
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What are natural materials?
These are organic materials found in nature. Unlike manmade materials, like plastic and resin, natural materials come from different environments around the world. Some commonly found in homes include brick, stone, glass, tiles, wood, cork, bamboo, natural fibers, you name it.
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Are natural materials popular?
The organic and natural materials trend has been going strong for a few years. But it has gained even more popularity in the past year, especially since we were confined to our homes and many people craved nature and brought it indoors in the form of natural material home furnishings. Also, many people started looking for more ways to do good by the world and the environment while staying indoors. All to say, it’s a design movement that’s here to stay!
Learn more about how to decorate with natural materials!
What design styles use natural materials?
Natural materials are used across all styles in a variety of different ways. But here are a few where styles where it’s more common:
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Boho & Eclectic Style:
These ‘earthier’ styles sometimes also have a ‘tropical’ vibe, but they’re always grounded by lots of natural materials, ranging from raw woods and rattan to woven wall hangings and chunky wool rugs. They’re then layered with pops of bright patterns, geometrics, and plenty of vibrant accents.
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Natural materials and nature motifs are a throughline in this beachy style. After all, where else would you find driftwood if not the coastal beach home? These spaces are rooted in wood and woven elements, including bleached wood, lots of rattan, cane, and jute and seagrass for rugs. Expect to also find sprinklings of seashells and coral throughout.
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Farmhouse and Modern Farmhouse:
And speaking of natural and unfinished wood, they’re also often found in rustic-style rooms and farmhouse interiors. It’s what gives these spaces their signature old-timey barn vibe.
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While Mid-Century style spaces are often associated with modernity, natural wood is a central—and the most common—material used in Mid-Century furniture. These pieces celebrate the beauty of natural wood grain, often in warm stains or light finishes. Let’s face it: Can you imagine a mid-century living room without a natural wood credenza or coffee table? Neither can we.
Do natural materials improve your mood?
The short answer: Yes! The long answer: It’s complicated. The truth is there’s no secret formula to interiors that inspire positivity and lift our moods. Some studies have shown that being in nature has a positive affect on people’s moods, and the same results can occur by being in an environment surrounded by natural materials. But it’s uncertain if this is because of the positive associations our brains have with the natural world or if there’s something more in the textures, patterns and organic imperfections of natural materials that stimulate our brains more and result in more positive, happy feelings.
With that in mind, natural materials alone don’t seem to drastically impact our mood, but depending on how it’s used in a space, it can evoke a wide range of feelings—from calming and relaxed to inspired and motivated. Although we know one thing is for certain—“plants make people happy!”
Are natural materials more sustainable?
Another complicated question, but the short answer is, yes! Much of what is not sustainable today is made from oil, which is a finite resource that uses massive amounts of energy. A prime example of an oil-made item is plastic, which takes thousands of years to decompose so they live in landfills that are harmful to the environment as long they are disposed of.
By contrast, natural materials come from natural sources. So they’re biodegradable and renewable resources over time. It can get complicated with materials, such as wood, that are often treated with chemical sealants or dyes. But more and more, people are doing their homework to research what things are made from and if they’re sustainably sourced. And that’s an important part of living sustainably with natural materials.
Here, a roundup of the most popular natural materials in home decor and how to work them into your home!
From sisal to rattan to bamboo, these fibrous natural materials are often woven into furniture and decor that lend a light, textural look and an organic touch.
Seagrass is a flowing plant that grows underwater in marine environments. What’s great about seagrass is that it’s durable, stain-resistant, and still soft on the feet—even more than sisal. So it’s a great option for rugs and other furnishings in kids’ rooms or bedrooms. They’re sometimes even used for wallpaper. Seagrass also has an earthiness to it, which makes it a popular material in both coastal and boho-style homes.
Native to Southern Mexico, sisal comes from a flowering plant that yields a stiff fiber that is used to make rope and weavings. It’s a natural material that’s mostly used in rugs for its durability and resistance to the elements. Because of its light natural hue, they blend seamlessly with boho, rustic, and coastal style spaces. Its strength makes it ideal for busy homes and high-traffic areas like the kitchen, family room, and entry.
Another strong and durable fiber, jute has both strength and a bit of shine. It’s popular in home decor, from curtains to chair coverings to area rugs, and is often used in rustic and boho spaces. Jute has longevity also. Even though it’s not the softest rug, it’s the most used style of natural-fiber rug given that it stands up to wear and foot traffic.
Shopping for a natural fiber rug? Read our guide to natural fiber rugs first!
Native to Africa, raffia is often used for basket weaving because it’s strong, malleable, and holds dye beautifully well. Raffia has a soft organic look to it that makes it easy to mix in spaces. You’ll find plenty of decorative accents made from raffia in boho and eclectic interiors, ranging from wall art to table bases and nightstands.
One of several natural materials that are popular in boho and coastal interiors, rattan is made from a strong fibrous plant similar to bamboo but is a bit more flexible. rattan is loved for its bold texture, organic form, and breezy, laid-back appeal. It’s widely used for furnishings big and small—from woven chairs and headboards to trays and pendant lights. Want more? Explore easy rattan decorating ideas.
Fun fact: Bamboo is the fastest growing grass plant in the world! It’s an elegant natural fiber that’s used in everything from furniture to flooring to tableware because it’s extremely durable (it’s scratch-resistant) and long-lasting. Bamboo furnishings and decor are also lightweight and have a beautiful natural hue, which makes it a favorite material for contemporary and minimalist style spaces.
A favorite material for coastal and tropical homes, cane is an ideal material for outdoor furniture, specifically chairs and sofas, given its soft, moisture-resistant, and sweat-wicking properties. Woven cane furniture provides ventilation and since the material itself doesn’t retain body heat, cane pieces have a cooling effect that’s perfect for indoor-outdoor spaces. Cane is a trendy material that’s on the rise, so you’ll find it used in a wide range of interiors, from rustic rooms to modern homes these days.
Find more stylish tips for designing with cane furniture.
One of the world’s most precious natural materials, wood of every type is a foundational element in interiors of any style, providing touches of texture, color, and warmth.
Unfinished or Live-Edge Woods:
These types of woods are usually left raw and untreated or unfinished on purpose. It preserves the wood’s organic look and feel, which artists and designers love to use to craft table tops, side stools, benches, and other large furniture pieces. Unfinished and live-edge wood decor is bold, textured, and sculptural, so they’re popular materials you’ll find in contemporary, industrial, and rustic spaces.
The truth about burlwood is that it can be any type of wood. What makes it burl wood is the knot in the wood—the more twisted and bigger the knot, the bigger the burl, which creates textural patterns and rich natural-wood colors. Its dense texture, durability, and spill-resistant nature makes it a quality wood for furniture. Burlwood was popular during the Art Deco period, then went away. It made a comeback in the ’60s and ’70s and has been a staple material in furniture since. Burlwood pieces are statements in any home, so one or two pieces will go a long way to inject flair and a bold look.
A coastal home staple, driftwood is simply wood that had been salvaged after being washed out to sea, in a river or a lake. Driftwood has an aged rustic look that comes from it having been weathered by sand and water. It’s usually preserved and dried before it’s transformed into furnishings, such as side tables, consoles, benches, stools, and other accent pieces. Some people also like driftwood in its natural jagged form and use it as a decorative piece.
Read This Next: How to Mix Different Wood Tones in a Space.
Soft, durable, and luxurious, it’s always a good idea to invest in leather and hide decor—be it a hide rug or a set of leather dining chairs. It’s a material that stands up to the test of time.
In terms of natural materials, it doesn’t get more luxe than genuine leather. Crafted from a layer of hide, leather is a durable upholstery material often used for dining chairs, stools, sofas, and headboards. Leather ages slowly but beautifully. Over time it will have a lived-in look, get softer, and remain stain-resistant for a long time with proper care. Whether you’re using sleek leathers in a contemporary room or darker leather in a rustic or traditional space, leather is always a timeless and luxe material.
Cowhide is the natural unbleached skin and hair of a cow, so every hide is different and unique. It’s a luxurious material for a rug, and the organic shape of a cowhide makes it a beautiful accent in any style home, especially rustic, mid-century, and glam interiors. But the best thing about cowhide is that it’s easy to maintain (just a little shake and some light vacuum) and is also long-lasting.
Made from the underside of animal skin, suede has a soft and fuzzy texture. It’s a great material for upholstered furniture but it will need to be specially treated to protect from spills and moisture. It’s not the best material to use in a home with small children. In modern or rustic style homes, suede makes for a soft yet durable choice for furnishings.
Get more design ideas for decorating with leather!
The hide of a sheep or a pelt with the fur attached, sheepskin comes in all sizes and is popular accents in boho and rustic-style homes. They’re great as small fluffy throw rugs in a kids’ room or guest rooms, and they can also be draped over benches, sofas, and beds to add a touch of soft texture. Just be sure to keep them clean and dry and away from spill-prone areas in the home.
A naturally elegant material, stone of any kind instantly elevates interiors. Whether it’s a marble table, granite tiles, or even ceramics, stone decor offers sleek style, no matter your space.
A natural stone formed in limestone mineral spring deposits, travertine has a striking and luminous look. It’s durable and weather-resistant, making it a popular choice for outdoor patios and kitchens. Indoors, it’s a statement stone that’s often used for tiles, flooring, and backsplashes, but you’ll also find gorgeous dining tables with travertine stone tops. If you’re a fan of contemporary and minimalist spaces, travertine will blend seamlessly into equally sleek spaces.
With its beautiful veining, varying colors, and smooth touch, it’s easy to see why marble has been loved and used for centuries. A natural stone that has to be mined, there are many variations of marble but they all share a rich, luxurious look. It’s commonly used in everything from tiles and sculptures to entire building facades. But when it comes to marble furniture, it needs a little TLC given that it can chip and stain easily. Nonetheless, marble furniture is an essential element in contemporary, traditional, and modern spaces—whether it’s small nesting rounds or a marble-top dining table.
Made from clay heated at high temperatures, ceramic accents are versatile and long-lasting home essentials that can be used in any style space, contemporary or rustic or modern. Ceramic can come in many different shapes, textures and sizes, but it’s most widely used in decorative accents and home accessories, such as bowls, vases, candleholders, and tableware, for finishing touches.