Biophilia in home design brings the great outdoors inside


Biophilia, the human instinct to connect with the natural world, inspires poetry, far-flung travels, eco-conscious life choices and even interior design.

Using plants and animals as decorative touches in the home fulfills this instinct by bringing nature indoors, creating a sense of well-being in personal spaces.

“There are many benefits to biophilic home design,” said Sarah Barnard, a WELL- and LEED-accredited interiors expert with an eponymous design studio.

“At the most basic level, nature is beautiful,” she said. “Being by the ocean or deep among the trees reliably inspires a sense of awe, peace and wonder. Biophilic design offers an opportunity to bring a piece of that magic into our homes.”

Only natural

The natural world serves as a constant muse for Sarah Barnard Design projects and is used to foster a sense of well-being at home, an important component of Ms. Barnard’s work.

“Nature is present in any step of my design process,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to nature and find a clear relationship between my well-being and the time I’m spending outdoors.

“That correlation is at the core of most of my designs – the inherent beauty of nature as a source of visual inspiration, from palettes to materials to patterns, and the positive feelings we experience when spending time in it,” she said.

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of spending time in nature – from reducing stress and anxiety to lowering blood pressure to increasing production of the happiness molecule dopamine. Forest bathing, forest schools and eco-retreats have all capitalized on the feel-good side effects.

Bringing that feeling indoors is next.

“It makes sense to take advantage of those benefits in home design, both to enjoy our surroundings’ beauty and feel peace, calm and connection,” Ms. Barnard said.

The benefits reach outside of the home as well, helping eco-dwellers think beyond their own walls.

“In building a relationship with nature in our homes, we can begin making more thoughtful decisions about protecting our natural world, whether through sustainable design choices or our daily habits,” Ms. Barnard said.

In one recent Sarah Barnard Design project, “West Coast Wellness,” subtle nods to nature and environmentally friendly elements can be found in all corners of the home.

The materials used throughout the space are both healthy, with low or no VOCs and eco-conscious, with a significant amount of research going into every product to ensure it was the right choice.

“We designed the home to feel like a retreat, each room inspiring a unique sense of calm that best suited the room’s function,” Ms. Barnard said.

“There are nature-inspired motifs throughout, in the lighting, tile with organic patterning and swaths of wood and stone to visually connect with the surrounding landscape,” she said.

Earthly design

Connecting the immediate outdoors with the interiors of the home is a great place to start a biophilia-centric home.

“I love to explore the residence’s natural surroundings and use that as a starting point for pulling palettes, textures and themes,” Ms. Barnard said. “If a client has a particularly striking natural view, I’m often inclined to design the space around that.”

“In one past project where a client had a stunning ocean view, I used low-profile furniture, pulling sandy shades directly from what could be seen out the window,” she said. “The room ends up feeling like an extension of the view, integrating the home with nature nearby.”

Looking to the local flora and fauna is another way to pull textures, pattern and colors into a space – anything from using natural wood and stone to a light that calls to mind the leaves of a gingko tree in the yard.

According to Ms. Barnard, sculptural lighting is a favorite way to add doses of life to décor. These can be literal translations of flowers or animals, or can simply evoke the feeling of being oceanside, such as the ceiling fixture used in the “West Coast Wellness” home.

“Mixing décor that directly reflects nature with something more subtle or indirect can help create balance without it feeling overly themed,” Ms. Barnard said.

In the “West Coast Wellness” home, a pollinator-inspired bathroom uses shades of honey and hexagonal shapes to give the feeling of a beehive, while the only literal bees are inlaid in gold on the floor tiles.

To keep things modern and luxe, Ms. Barnard recommends focusing on one major element in each room and investing in the highest-quality materials and craftsmanship.

Plus, what could be more luxe than a home that connects well-being inside and out?

“When spending a lot of time at home, it’s easy to begin feeling disconnected from our surroundings,” Ms. Barnard said. “Biophilic design can help inspire those feelings of connection.

There is comfort in feeling like a part of our greater natural world, and it also can serve as a reminder to cherish it,” she said.

For more on biophilia and sustainability in design and architecture, read “To the manor reborn,” in the fall 2021 issue of Luxury Portfolio magazine.