Biophilic design and décor are among the hottest trends this year, with homeowners increasingly focusing on health and wellness in their homes. Biophilic design is derived from the biophilia hypothesis, which suggests that humans have an innate and primitive need to be connected to nature. As a design strategy, elements that occur naturally outdoors are brought inside or replicated.

What is biophilia?

In the 1960s, while studying evolutionary psychology, American psychologist Eric Fromm introduced the concept of biophilia, which explored the relationship between humans’ physical reliance on nature (i.e., for water, air, etc.) and the happiness that is derived subconsciously from accessing those benefits.

In the 1980s, American biologist Edward Wilson, best known for his ground-breaking work in biodiversity, put forth the biophilia hypothesis, which explored in greater detail the complexity and the strength of the human connection to natural surroundings. This connection strikes a balance between a primitive desire for protection from nature (i.e., from predators in the natural world) and the yearning to be immersed in the restorative aspects of nature.

Wilson proposed that, even indoors, humans will innately gravitate towards nature because of the safety and pleasure derived from the experience.

The relationship between the built environment and biophilic design reflects the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature in the biophilia hypothesis. The built environment creates a safe, albeit sterile, shelter from the world outside, while biophilic décor and design re-introduce the soothing elements from the outdoors in a measured but restorative way.

Biophilic design supports health and wellness at home

Post-pandemic, homeowners are leaning more towards prioritizing health and wellness at home, which is why this trend is gaining momentum.

“After many of us spent additional time at home and in more isolated environments over the past few years, there is a greater need for connection to the outside world. Beyond the beauty and calm nature can bring, it can help us feel integrated into our larger environments and ecosystems, providing great comfort,” says WELL and LEED accredited interior designer Sarah Barnard.

“Biophilic design can serve as an antidote for technological overwhelm and be a way to reconnect with our natural world,” says Barnard.

The physical and mental benefits of being immersed in nature are well-known, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, and contributing to an overall sense of well-being.

“More than ever, we are aware of what our needs are in our environment and are creating spaces that reduce stress and anxiety,” says color expert and consultant Amy Wax.

What inspires biophilic design?

At the base of biophilic design are plants, animals, soil, water, air, fire, and light, whether physically included in the home or replicated through design and décor choices, such as nature-inspired patterns, colors, textures, and materials.

For example, hard angles and straight lines are the construct of the built environment and typically aren’t seen outside. Curved lines and spirals are more prominent. Think of rolling hills, eggs, pebbles, seashells, flowers, raindrops, waves, and so on.

Fractal patterns (i.e., a simple pattern that repeats itself repeatedly) are found everywhere in nature and are often used in biophilic design. Examples of fractal patterns can be found in snowflakes, honeycombs, leaves, seeds, clouds, etc.

The theory behind fractal patterning is that its predictable repetition is reassuring to humans, tying into the comfort that nature supplies.

Similarly, integrating patterns and colors that are varied in texture and appearance is truer to nature, with sensory variability.

The presence of natural light is a major component of biophilic design. This can include incorporating the free flow of natural light into a space and the use of shadows, reflective, or filtered light, as would occur naturally outside.

The impact of biophilic design is heightened when it is made multi-sensory, adding a dimension of authenticity.

“Biophilic design can also involve more subtle connections to nature, like mimicking sensory experiences that we tend to consciously or subconsciously associate with nature. For example, dappled lighting, incorporating movement or patterning or shifts in lighting temperature and strength throughout the day to mimic sunlight,” says Barnard.

Two oppositional relationships in nature inspire biophilic design: calculated risk in the face of peril and prospecting (i.e., for food or opportunity), but with the safety of refuge. These relationships stretch back to our hunter-gather ancestors and their duplicitous relationship with the outdoors, which simultaneously offered their greatest comfort and most significant threats

Leveraging these relationships for biophilic design means balancing perceived opportunity and safety. The corresponding design and décor elements rely on psychological impact when a person experiences them.

Sustainable design vs. biophilic design

Seeking sustainable design options is also a growing trend, but homeowners should note that sustainable design differs from biophilic design.

Biophilic design focuses on enhancing humans’ physical and emotional connection with nature through specific design and décor elements. In contrast, sustainable design focuses on creating a built environment that reduces environmental footprint and energy consumption through building practices and materials that promote energy efficiency and renewable resources.

That said, materials used in sustainable design and biophilic design may crossover.

For example, bamboo flooring might be chosen as part of a biophilic design strategy. It might also appear in a home where the goal is sustainability because bamboo addresses both objectives.

Bamboo is a natural material that lends to the sensation of being outside. It is a renewable resource, so it will help reduce consumption and the overall carbon footprint of a home.

Another example is upgraded windows that are large and draw in natural light, one of the pillars of biophilic design. Their energy-efficient design makes them a sustainable choice, as they contribute to a tighter building envelope.

How can homeowners incorporate biophilic design in their homes?

For homeowners, incorporating biophilic design begins with a mindset and opting for décor and design choices that will combine to evoke the kind of calm experienced when immersed in nature.

“Evaluation is a key first step when approaching biophilic design. What is it about the environment that is currently creating a disconnect from nature? How can the space evolve towards a greater affinity towards the natural environment?” says Barnard.

“Some of the most straightforward patterns to begin with are visual connections with nature, and a material connection to nature, by incorporating simple additions or changes, like clearing out views of nature or including plant life, or selecting more natural materials,” says Barnard.

The indoor-outdoor connection is fused more effectively if the natural setting around the home is considered.

“There should also be an effort to build a symbiotic connection to nature that works with the natural environment instead of pushing against it. If living in a desert zone, that may mean working with architecture that can naturally combat more extreme temperatures through its design and incorporating drought-tolerant landscaping instead of water features or more greenery,” says Barnard.

Barnard says, “It may also mean doing more research to ensure the responsible sourcing of materials or working more with local artisans to minimize the impacts of transporting goods. The most successful biophilic designs will take a holistic approach to help create a kind of reciprocity with the natural surroundings.”

Homeowners should also look at how the various concepts of biophilic design translate into specific décor choices.


The easiest and most obvious way to bring the outdoors in is to include plants at home. This can be as simple as placing potted plants in rooms to add greenery. Or if a homeowner has space and is more ambitious, a living wall will accomplish this on a larger scale.

Plants add color and texture and offer health benefits by cleaning the air.

Water features

Indoor water fountains support the multi-sensory experience of biophilic design. Not only is the sight of running water pleasant, but the sound is also calming. A tabletop water fountain is a good choice, or make a bolder statement with a full-sized water wall.

Also popular are koi ponds or a built-in aquarium with various fish.

Choose natural materials

Choosing natural materials in home décor will help evoke nature’s calm. Opt for wood, leather, rattan, wicker, jute, organic cotton, cork, or bamboo.

These materials are versatile, and there are many options for furniture, flooring, accents, counters, and more.

Mimic nature’s patterns and lines

A home’s physical design can easily incorporate the linear philosophy of biophilic design, such as having arched doorways instead of hard, right angles.

Fractal patterns in artwork and accents are an effective way to infuse nature. Stacked, textured wood tiles, a honeycomb-shaped wall mosaic, a rippled accent wall that uses a wave pattern, textured columns, and animal prints are all great ideas.

Translucent, water-themed light fixtures that look like raindrops are effective too.

The role of color

The popularity of biophilic design is evident in the paint color trends over the last few years, with green being a dominant color. Green is the most obvious nature-inspired color, and it can be used as the base color for the walls or as an accent color. Green cabinetry is a popular choice at the moment to create a wow factor in the kitchen or bathroom while hinting at a natural influence.

Green is “cleansing. It’s refreshing. It makes us feel we have a fresh start,” says Wax

Additionally, earth tones have expanded from the traditional soil and stone colors (i.e., the browns, beiges, and greys) to include more of the natural world, with blues, whites, oranges, reds, and corals.

The expansion of the earth tone palette is likely a reaction to homeowners seeking respite at home and a better understanding of how color choices help that goal.

Nature-inspired color choices are inherently calming, and “we’re much more aware of how we feel around colors than we used to be before,” says Wax.

When deciding on colors, rather than selecting a specific shade, homeowners should think of something in nature that most appeals to them, like the ocean, a sunset, clouds moving through the sky, or a starry night. Work backward to consider colors that replicate those natural events and build the palette out from there.

“Building palettes from local natural surroundings can help bridge the gap between our interior and exterior spaces and may create a more authentic connection to our natural surroundings,” says Barnard.
Remember, nature is dynamic, and updating décor accordingly can help enrich the experience.

“Seasonal considerations are also valuable, as the colors of our natural environments will shift from season to season. Incorporating color elements that can advance and recede as the exterior view changes can help create a link to natural rhythms, as can swapping out items like throw blankets and pillow covers to align with seasonal shifts,” says Barnard.

Introducing light and air

An absolute must when it comes to biophilic design is the abundant presence of natural light. A light that flows freely mimics the outdoors, so having multiple exposure points is ideal. This helps the light move naturally throughout the space throughout the day, which is how it would occur outdoors.

Windows also are excellent tools to foster indoor/outdoor connection. For a true biophilic experience, have little or no window treatments so that the view and the light are unobscured.

Windows also frame the view outdoors, which fulfills another essential element of biophilic design.

Windows aren’t the only way to usher light into a home. Skylights offer variety in the direction and distribution of light; sliding glass doors allow the option to remove barriers between indoors/outdoors and extend living space.

Having windows that open to allow the breeze to flow through is an important consideration, as introducing fresh air to the indoor environment is another important aspect of biophilic design.

Balancing the risk/peril and prospect/refuge dynamic

Support the prospect/refuge principle of biophilic design with wide sightlines, which can be accomplished with an open-concept floorplan.

Remember, to create a sense of safety, the idea of refuge must be presented simultaneously. Design-wise, this could mean having a lower ceiling in one room or a moveable divider that doesn’t impede sightlines.

Or curved walls work well to balance this relationship out in an open concept, with the added benefit of provoking curiosity about what lies around the bend.

Another idea for prospect/refuge can be as simple as having a built-in window seat, which lets the viewer gaze outdoors through the window, but be aware of an enclosed space around them.

For the risk/peril relationship, a balcony offers a calculated risk to take in the vistas. Clear railings or a shade structure can add to feeling secure.

A stone fireplace with a grate or a gas fireplace with a sheer covering introduces the danger of fire but counters with a barrier of protection.

A glass floor on an upper level is another idea.

Including fragrance for an authentic outdoor experience

The strongest sense in eliciting an emotional response is smell, so introducing natural fragrances into the home can strengthen the indoor/outdoor connection.

Place a spring of eucalyptus on top of the showerhead in the bathroom. The steam from the shower will release a pleasant, earthy scent.

A bundle of freshly chopped cedar wood placed next to the fireplace or simply as a table accent is aromatic.

Essential oil diffusers or gently scented candles can also be effective, particularly with lavender, vanilla, rosemary, or an orange blend.

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