Biophilic Design for Beginners: 17 Ways to Incorporate Biophilic Design into Your Home

At the beginning of the year, we predicted that biophilic design would be a 2021 interior design trend to look out for. Spoiler alert: biophilic design is one of the year’s biggest trends! But what is biophilic design exactly? Let’s take a closer look at biophilic design and how you can incorporate it into your home.

What is Biophilic Interior Design?

You may not be familiar with the term, but biophilic design is a concept in architecture and interior design that’s all about feeling more connected to nature and embracing the positive health and environmental benefits that come with that. It comes from the term biophilia, which means a love of nature and everything that is alive.

As an architecture and interior design approach, biophilic design is a relatively new concept—with much of today’s approach developed by Stephen Kellert in the 2000s. Kellert was a professor of social ecology at Yale and created a framework around how biophilia can be used in interior architecture to fill the human need for nature.

The core principles Kellert developed include direct and indirect experiences of nature in your home. Direct experiences include elements that offer tangible contact with natural elements—like celebrating natural light; being conscious of airflow, temperature, and humidity; and incorporating water, plants, and animals into your space. Indirect experiences of nature are more about representations of nature in your home. Examples of this can range from the more literal, like landscape paintings and the use of natural materials and colors, to the more abstract like the use of natural shapes and patterns in furniture and decor.

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How to Incorporate Biophilic Design into Your Home

It’s easier than you might think to apply these core principles of biophilic design in your home. If you want to increase your connectivity with nature in your own home, read on for 17 ways to incorporate biophilic design into your home! We’ll start with some tips that will help you bring some direct experiences of nature into your home, then help you explore some indirect experiences of nature in your space.

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1. Invite Natural, Layered Lighting

Make your home’s environment feel more natural through lighting that simulates nature. Start by assessing the natural light in your space and how you can use windows and skylights to optimize your home’s natural lighting. Arrange your space in a way that celebrates the different lighting throughout the day; perhaps you want your sofa to bask in the afternoon sunlight or for your breakfast nook to catch the morning light. Take some time to assess the light patterns in your home and plan your layout accordingly.

You’ll also want to keep layered lighting in mind—from overhead lighting and floor lamps to a variety of candles, sconces, and table lamps. Intentionally choosing lighting for your home will help you have more control of the lighting in your space and let you change lighting levels depending on your mood and the time of day. Rather than feeling artificial, this lets you change the lighting in your home in a way that mimics the way light changes in nature throughout the day.

You can also use reflective surfaces like glass tables and mirrors to bring more reflection of light into your space.

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2. Let in Some Fresh Air

Considering the way air moves in your space is a significant way to incorporate biophilic design into your home. In the simplest terms, this involves stimulating some airflow. The most natural way to do this is to simply crack a window and let in the natural breeze. (Bonus: depending on where you live, this will also invite sounds of nature inside!) For rooms without windows air flow or on days you don’t want to crack a window, you can use a fan for a subtle breeze. (We love the look of a vintage desk fan, but ceiling fans are also great!)

Temperature and humidity are other things to consider when it comes to the air in your home. How you approach this is up to your personal preferences (some people love humidity and hot temps, others don’t). But using humidifiers or diffusers are two ways to impact the air quality and your experience of it in your space.

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3. Incorporate Houseplants and Flowers

Ever wonder why people say that plants make them happy? This idea is straight out of the biophilic design playbook. If images of nature are beneficial, the real thing is even better. Meaning: the more plants, the merrier! This is a simple way to directly invite nature into your home! But there are some other benefits as well—certain houseplants help clean your air, and taking care of plants and taking the time and effort to nurture them can give you a sense of purpose (without the commitment-level of caring for an animal!). And, of course, you can’t beat a vase of fresh farmer’s market flowers!

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4. Play With Fire

Fire offers a direct experience of nature, and as such it is pleasing to the human eye—offering color warmth, and movement to your space. If you have a fireplace in your home, you have an easy way to incorporate some flames. Don’t have a fireplace but craving those cozy vibes? You can always install a gas fireplace into your home! But if a fireplace isn’t possible, lighting candles throughout the house—on your desk while you’re working, on the coffee table during movie nights, or at the dining table—is a simple but impactful way to spark some natural coziness in your space.

5. Bring in a Water Feature

Some people feel strong connections to water. If this is you, consider ways you could incorporate this element into your home. Two of the easiest ways to naturally incorporate water? The use of a water feature, like a tabletop fountain, or a saltwater aquarium. They not only literally bring water into your space, but they also bring in the sound of flowing water!

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6. Display Images of Nature

Don’t have a great view? Create one! Some studies have shown that images of nature can be emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Hanging landscape paintings or framing photographs from your own travels are a perfect way to bring images of nature into your space. Photos or artwork of places that hold special significance to you are an especially meaningful way to bring this idea to life.

If you don’t want to go quite so literal on the landscapes, you can try other nature-inspired art—like botanical prints or animal art.

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7. Incorporate Natural Materials

A super easy way to jump on the biophilic design bandwagon? Use natural materials in your decor and furniture, and even the finishes throughout your home. This can be really simple—a wood dining or coffee table, a jute rug, a stone side table. Live-edge and raw, unfinished woods will give you a more natural vibe than finished and manufactured wood—but both approaches will still bring visual texture and depth into your space. But don’t stop at wood; explore other natural materials like stone (think: granite, marble, concrete) as well as woven natural fibers like wool, jute, cotton.

Visual complexity and lack of uniformity, which are found in abundance in nature, makes environments more visually stimulating, versus the uniformity of man-made materials. This essentially gives your brain more to “chew on.”

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8. Embrace Earth Tones

Using a neutral or earth-tone palette in your home is a subtle way to bring some nature into your space. Consider colors commonly found in nature, like subdued tones of brown, green, and blue. These earth tones have soothing vibes and act as neutrals throughout your space, while still feeling bold and saturated. Incorporate these hues into your home through decor, furnishings, and finishes like flooring and paint colors. In contrast, use brighter colors sparingly so your home has a soothing balance!

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9. Play with Organic Shapes

Organic shapes are those with soft curves, abstract forms, and asymmetrical shapes. Essentially, they’re the types of lines you would expect to find in the natural world. They bring a beautiful imperfection into your space. You can bring these organic shapes into your home through furniture, decor, architectural details, and even the layout of your space.

Move away from shapes you wouldn’t find in nature. (AKA, no sharp corners, straight lines, or perfect symmetry!) Mid-Century Modern is a great style to use as a foundation for bringing organic shapes into your home, as it’s a design style that celebrates organic forms. You could also opt for its little sister Organic Modernism, which offers a more earthy approach to a modern aesthetic.

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10. Try Out Mismatched Furniture

Just as you won’t find perfectly straight lines in nature, you likely won’t find two identical shapes. You can translate this idea of variance to your home by skipping matchy-matchy furniture. Rather than going for a full living or dining room set, try styling your space with different accent chairs, mismatched dining chairs, or mismatched nightstands. Doing this adds variance and intrigue to your space—plus gives it an individual look that’s totally unique to you.

This idea of variance and mismatched furniture is a staple of bohemian design. This is one of the many reasons why people often find this design style to feel more “earthy” or in-touch with nature.

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11. Vary Your Heights and Scale

We just mentioned that, in nature, perfectly straight lines and symmetry rarely exist. And the same goes for height. In nature, you’ll see trees and plants in different shapes and sizes, living side-by-side. An abstract way to translate this idea into your home is to vary the height of your decor when styling your space.

Having items of similar size, shape, and scale will feel contrived and man-made—whereas variation mimics the randomness of nature and is visually appealing. On the console pictured above, the vases and bowls are different sizes, shapes, and fullness (as are the plants in the vases). It creates an easy balance that’s pleasing to the eye.

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12. Bring in Some Textural Richness

Nature is full of texture—both visual and tactile. So a fun way to try on biophilic design is through bringing a variety of textures into your space. Having varying textures and materials—like different woven upholstery, plus smooth and rough materials next to each other—will bring visual richness to your space. And this is not to be confused with busyness! It’s not about bringing more stuff into your space, but rather about considering the texture of what you do bring in and how that texture plays with other pieces in your space. This also ties in with the idea of the vast complexity and textural richness of ecosystems in nature!

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13. Opt for Materials That Have a Patina

In nature, things age and change, so use items in your home that will, too. Decorating your home with materials that age and develop a patina help signal our brains that time has passed and things are changing. Some of our favorite materials that develop a beautiful patina are copper, brass, marble, and leather. Both copper and brass can be kept shiny—but there’s something comforting about a brass bed or a copper tea kettle that is well-loved and shows signs of use and aging. Marble tabletops tend to change hues and smoothness over time. And leather sofas and chairs develop a rich patina over time, darkening and developing scuffs and scratches from everyday use that only add to the beauty of the material.

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14. Integrate Natural Patterns

We love a good patterned wallpaper or rug. But have you thought about the repetitive patterns that naturally occur in nature? Honeycombs, rippling waves, and the patterns found on a plant leaf or animal hides are some of the most beautiful natural patterns out there. Take inspiration from these naturally occurring patterns and incorporate them into your home—whether that’s through a honeycomb wall shelf, a glass wall that has a wavy pattern in it, baskets with scalloped edges, or even a good ol’ animal print blanket.

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15. Carve Out a Cozy Nook

Having a place for “refuge” is known to enhance our well being in a space, giving us a sense of safety. (This is where our human evolution diverges from the wildness of nature.) Alcoves, nooks, and cozy corners are comfortable and help us feel safe and nurtured. So, carve out a designated place like this in your home and use it for reading, meditation, phone calls with loved ones, or simply unwinding after a long day.

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16. Emphasize the View

Just as having cozy nooks gives us a sense of safety, creating a space that emphasizes horizons and spaciousness is also a great biophilic design technique. Designing a room in a way that emphasizes the view outside gives us a sense of surveying our surroundings. There’s something primal about looking for movement and sources of danger—but there’s also a beautiful simplicity in just taking in the views of nature. We love the idea of bringing this to life by setting up a window nook, balcony, or porch where you can kick back and enjoy the views.

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17. Create Easy Traffic Flow

The ability to easily move through a space increases our feelings of security in a place. So, making sure you have clear walkways in your home is important! When arranging a room, ensure your pathways are uncluttered, there’s enough space between furniture, and there’s a clear sense of entrances and exits. Essentially, moving throughout your space should be comfortable and easy. This is also a key tenet of Feng Shui; unblocked entrances create energy flow in your home, and clear passageways keep that good energy flowing throughout your home.

What Are the Benefits of Biophilic Design?

As humans, we crave a connection with nature. And a strong connection improves our well-being. That’s why biophilic design has risen in popularity. Using environmental psychology as a launching point, architects and designers are embracing biophilic design to increase that connection, especially in urban areas where access to nature is more limited. Here are some of the benefits people say biophilic design brought them!

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved mental health
  • Cleaner air
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Feeling more creative

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