Biophilia

Biophilia is something that gets me really excited!  It is all about our well-being after all and not only that, it is exactly how I like to design and is core to the style and choices that I make!  

Anyone who loves nature will know all about this subject even if you have never heard the term before.  The Oxford English dictionary defines the word as:

Noun – (according to a theory of the biologist E. O. Wilson) an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world.  

OK got it!  So, it’s all about plants? Presence of plants is so beneficial, but it is about so much more than that.  Us human beings are programmed to be in, and part of, the natural world and for us to be in an environment where we are devoid of that, creates an unhealthy discord within us and can detrimentally affect us as a form of ‘stress’.  Our ancestors would have been much closer to Nature than we are today, but the evolution of our brains have been conditioned to live within a green environment, so it makes sense that this still plays a very important part of modern life.  In fact, some would say, that trying to be closer to Nature within our own homes is more important today as we potentially experience so little of it in the busy, concrete worlds of our everyday life. 

There have been many studies on the subject and the benefits of being close to Nature works wonders on our mental health by reducing stress, anxiety and depression, better concentration by affecting mental restoration and improving our general mood. There are a couple of entertaining studies that show that introduction of indoor plants into the workplace resulted in a marked reduction in sick leave and views of Nature through a window for hospital patients greatly improved their rate of recovery.  It makes sense that the more we incorporate Nature or natural elements within our homes, the happier and less stressed we would be.

So how do we incorporate natural elements within the home? All of the elements that I will discuss below have literally been around for years!  Wood is a great biophilic element within interior design.  It was once a living thing and the texture and calming quality that it has is second to none.  This goes for painted wood as well as waxed or untreated. Consider flooring and furnishing items or decorative accessories that can give you what you need from this important element. Of course, with planting and ‘greenery’, this can be a double-win as many plants have air-purifying qualities, such as the humble spider plant, snake plant (Mother-in-law’s tongue!) or one of my favourites, the Philodendron.  The indoor jasmine, for example, has an essence that has great sleeping qualities.  If you have spaces that look out onto green areas outside, consider making the windows as large as possible to really soak in all the benefits from this vista. 

Larger access to the outside brings me onto air as another biophilic element.  We have talked about air quality with plants, but ventilation and filtration systems are highly beneficial to our homes. In recent years, more often seen in hotels, these types of systems are now making their way into the residential market and best incorporated, although not exclusively, into new builds.  Failing this, get as much fresh air into your home as you can – you will still reap the benefits.

Finishes such as natural stone, cork, bamboo, rattan or basketry (personal favourite) are all fantastic natural products that add to the calming and soothing effect in your home.  You can find these in kitchen counter tops, furnishings, and decorative products. Furthermore, most of these products have great sustainability credentials (naturally aligned with biophilia) – see my blog on sustainability.  

Colours have a great affinity with the natural world.  Blues and greens particularly, and for obvious reasons.  But what about that beautiful pink that reminds you of baked clay, the red/brown of glossy chestnuts, the glorious golds of the fields of wheat and rape across the fields throughout the year?  Natural colours or colours that remind you of nature will be more restful and pleasing within the 

Designing for our Four-legged Friends!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know where I would be without my wonderful dog, Border Collie, Domino.  Even if I was unsure how much I loved him (which I wasn’t be the way!), a doggy health-scare recently proved it to me in spades.  We introduce them into our home as pets and before very long at all, they turn our lives upside down, worm their way into our hearts and very firmly become an intrinsic part of the family!  It is only right, therefore, that I should include them in designing for an interior.  

A dog’s bed is a great start.  For one client that I had, the dog’s bed was always close to the rear exit to the property.  When we redesigned her downstairs area, we made the back door into a kind of walk-through boot room.  Plywood was used to create a run of built-in cupboards with the dog’s bed in the middle of this, with seating for humans on either side of it and coat hooks above.  It was perfect and everyone was delighted, especially their dog!  I have also seen where the bed was incorporated into the kitchen island.  Under the stairs, also, is the perfect hideaway for your pet.  Mine certainly likes to be in a small space that is cosy and enclosed. In fact, any dead space within your living area/ kitchen is a great spot for your pet to lay their head.  It very much depends on their habits and where they like to sleep.  I have seen built-in understairs kennels, raised wooden beds with upholstered downy bed fillings in a quality fabric of your choice.  You can get doggy Chesterfields, memory foam doggy armchairs, and even a dog bed made out of an old whiskey barrel – perfect to complement an industrial look.  

Their feeding area is the next consideration.  When designing a kitchen with pets, it is very easy to incorporate this into the kitchen cabinetry.  Depending on the style of the kitchen, you could have an area underneath a tall larder, or provide a cosy nook at the end of a row of cabinets.  A kitchen island or peninsula, yet again, provides a perfect raised area for bed and bowls if necessary.  Cut outs for the bowls could be created to keep spills to a minimum.  Providing the perfect area for your pooch not only gives them a wonderful space of their own, but can keep the flow between spaces uncluttered from all of the toys, bones and doggy what-not!

Pet paraphernalia can be as out of control as the kids’ toys, if you are not careful, and again there are a range of options to contain these potential trip hazards.  Much the same as for the kids, there are toy boxes for dogs, drawers within existing units, bespoke pieces of furniture, and wonderful low-slung baskets to choose from.  Personally, a bespoke piece with the bed, bowls, and toys in one place would be the most ideal, if I could only find the space!

Sustainability

This is the buzz word of the moment and has never been as important as it is now.  But how does this apply to interior design and should clients and designers be that bothered by it?!  Of course, we all know the answer to that already, but can we really make a difference and how do we even start?

When you consider that designers go from house to house regularly refreshing, renewing and redesigning houses, the potential for waste is astronomical.  Twenty years ago, even as recent as 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have thought twice about ripping out a fairly decent kitchen which has years left in it, throwing it on the skip, and never looking back.  However, today with all that we know about our planet, the limited resources that she has to offer, and the fact that our society is just about fed up with the ‘throw away’ attitude of the past, we can no longer carry on as we have done.  Time for change is right here, right now.

Sustainability in interiors is not about never throwing anything away or never updating your interiors, it is about minimising your impact on the planet as you do this.  Sustainability is about finding a way for life to go on but in a more planet-friendly way, and having the awareness to make informed choices about the products and finishes we choose.  Once your eyes have been opened to the problem and you are given options, why would you not choose the more eco-friendly one?

Scenario:  I remember when one of my clients was all set to throw away her old kitchen to make way for the new one.  I gently reminded her that even though it was no longer for her, someone else would be so glad of it.  I informed her of the various companies who would happily take it and re-sell to someone that would love it and she was delighted.  With just a little thought it was a win-win!  

How else can we make better choices when looking at finishes for our interiors?  When sourcing for interiors right at the top of my agenda is not only to find materials and finishes my clients will love but that they are as sustainable as possible.  I tend to favour suppliers and makers who have a considered sustainability policy: it may be that their mission is to minimise waste; it could be that they have a plan to remove plastics from their organisation so that they are 100% recyclable; some suppliers I use are small businesses using traditional crafts that entail using less energy, vegetable dyes and low or no-chemical processes.  I try to choose timber products from FSC certified sources; British-made products are preferred but often, if not, I try to ensure that they are fairtrade or ethically produced.  

Most importantly in our fight for sustainability, is to train our mindsets to buy better quality so it will last longer!  In luxury interiors this is something that all designers are familiar with but the old adage is so true – you get what you pay for.  If you want something to last you years then, yes, you will need to pay a little more for it, but the planet is worth it, isn’t she?  Instead of stretching your budget so thinly that you have to make compromises on the quality of the products that you buy, make the compromise about the number of items that you buy.  That conscious decision to do just this will mean you will be safe in the knowledge that those items will last you so much longer, have been ethically sourced, and are all the more beautiful for it!  Buy the rest later on down the line, when the funds dictate.  Buy right, buy once!

A great resource for further information is my favourite directory on the subject in Kate Watson-Smyth’s award-winning website: https://www.madaboutthehouse.com/do-less-harm/

Trend Vs Classic? Let’s Debate!

When considering a home makeover of any kind, do you go for a revamp using the latest trends and design around the colour of the year? Or do you go for the hottest, latest thing seen in a glossy magazine that everyone is talking about?  But there again, maybe you ignore all that and go for a more classic look that doesn’t shake the foundations too much?

These are questions that most home owners will ask themselves when wanting to refresh their home.  Interiors are very much the same as fashion – a perpetual cycle of what is trending at the time, which then goes out of fashion, only to be the very latest thing within the next decade or two.  If you wait long enough, it all comes around again.  However, some themes or looks simply never go out of fashion like your little black dress, or your tweed hacking jacket, or your go-to navy blazer.  These are very firmly considered true classics.  They have been around forever and never seem to date.  

With interiors, it is exactly the same.  If we just look at the last 10-15 years, for example, we all remember minimalism that was a complete turnaround from the reaction to the zany bright colours and patterns that came before that.  It was refreshingly new, a totally pared-back look, with clean lines, complete absence of clutter, and muted, cool colours.  Minimalism then seemed to morph steadily into the Scandi style – still very popular – with cool colours, clutter still at a minimum, adding that much-needed texture in furry or bobbly throws, pale woods in the furnishings, and simple but comfortable, fuss free furniture designs.  This trend then developed further into the resurrection of the mid-century modern look, a style that goes with most other elements from the traditional classic to the minimal and modern, making it the perfect bridge between the two.  

There are other ways of handling trends, and it can come down to how you piece a scheme together.  For example, use of natural materials is now, very much, in the forefront of people’s tastes since the pandemic – yes, it is a trend but it is not necessarily a massive game changer.  We have been using wooden floors for a long time, but a few years ago we started laying our floors sometimes on a diagonal across the entrance to a room when we became obsessed with everything chevron.  We all still love chevron though, so does that mean it is in or out?  I wonder, can you see where I am going with this?  

Trends are a great indicator as to where we are as a society and can provide a refreshing new vein of thought.  However, don’t get wrapped up in whether you are in vogue or not.  It really doesn’t matter because what is actually more important for you and your home is to have what you feel most comfortable with.  If you really don’t want to be sitting in a dark living room with jade green ceilings and walls, then you will not thrive in that environment – it is not for you!   A bright aqua is our most recent colour of the year.  Whilst personally I love it in a swimsuit, I would not want it in my house!  But, there again, you might!  We can all feel differently about individual colours or finishes.  That is what makes us unique, which is why we should not be dictated to on what is the latest trend to follow. Any top designer worth their salt will tell you that you are the most important element to a design: what you like; what is familiar to you; what you embrace; what you hate.  

Whether you end up following a trend or going classic, the most successful interiors, I believe, are where you have a mix of styles to create a more layered look, as if it has been procured over time.  Architectural elements that suit the property, rather than following a trend, are more successful and will last you longer. A mix of patterns that you like and that complement each other beautifully, that give you joy, is a much better strategy than being led into a design that everyone is talking about but you have no affinity with.  Spend your time working out what you like and get a designer to help you put that into a beautiful scheme that you adore.  This will be a wonderful, meaningful process that will stand the test of time and will create a wonderful space for you to enjoy for years to come – forget trends, go with your own style and what makes you, you!