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Biophilic: The Living Space

Updated: Apr 17

Tips to bring the beauty of the outdoors into your home.

Here at Growing in Process my favorite painting inspiration comes from the outdoors, so I was thrilled when I discovered a modern design philosophy that's all about bringing the lush outdoors into my living space.

Biophilia literally means a love for life (from the Latin roots bio “life” and philia “love for”). The term was first coined in the 1970s by a psychoanalyst who hypothesized that humans have a biological affinity for nature due to our dependence on its resources. It references that familiar feeling of peace we experience post-hike.

The concept of biophilia has evolved over time, and the term now encompasses a philosophy that centers the natural world in designed spaces. While biophilic design can also refer to large-scale human spaces like city parks, the term has also gained momentum as a way of conceptualizing interiors and decor. Think houseplants meets maximalism.

But Biophilia is more than a school of thought--it has been found to increase physical health, cognitive function, and psychological well-being. So how do you bring the beauty and benefits of biophilic design into your home?

Tip #1 - Incorporate living elements.

Ok so at it's most basic, biophilic design really is as simple as incorporating more houseplants. However, think about expanding your definition of what "living" means. In her lecture "Learning the Grammar of Animacy: Subject and Object," Robin Wall Kimmerer, author and indigenous scholar, asks us to examine our limited definitions of subject and object in relation to nature. For example, rather than using the pronoun "it" to refer to a rock, she suggests we instead use "ki" (from the Anishinaabe word “aki,” meaning earthly being). This encourages us to be in dialogue with the natural world rather than to view land as an exploitable natural resource.

Think about what this means for you and your space. Try incorporating stones, dried grasses, and even flowing water to boost the life in your home.

Tip #2 - Think sustainably.

Implementing biophilic design principals doesn't need to cost you anything, and in fact reusing items you already have on hand can be a great way to care for the environment. Multiply your existing houseplants by creating cuttings and reuse old glassware to display cuttings where they will catch the light. Purchase second hand if possible, and if you do need to buy new, try to find it locally. Biophilic design also favors natural materials which are inherently more sustainable, so use these types of materials in your spaces whenever possible.

Tip #3 - Create a foraging ritual & display.

If you're anything like me you can't help but come home from a hike with your pockets full of acorns, rocks and twigs. It's important to always forage in reciprocity; I suggest creating a simple ritual around the taking of anything from a nature space. For example, my children and I always ask the forest "hey forest, is it OKAY with you if I take this [acorn] home?" It may sound silly, but in asking this question we also take the time to listen for an answer. Sometimes the answer in my heart is "no, a squirrel needs that acorn!"

Consider designating a special place for the treasures that do make it home to be displayed with the reverence they deserve. I like to arrange these items in a wooden bowl at the center of my art studio table. There's a reason I picked them up, right? Maybe they still have something to teach me.

Tip #4 - Consider all your senses.

Creating a biophilic environment isn't just about what you see--its also about what you feel. Part of what makes hiking so wonderful is tapping into all that it has to offer on a sensory level. Bring this into your home environment by keeping windows open whenever possible. Also, don't be afraid to use technology to enhance your experience from an auditory perspective--I love asking google to play the sounds of the forest. Birdsong on a smart speaker may not be as good as the real thing, but it definitely beats the news!

Tip #5 - Use colors and forms found in nature.

If one cannot be in direct contact with nature, indirect contact will also suffice. Biophilic principles suggest that when it isn't possible to have an actual field of grass in your living room, that featuring the colors, forms, and textures of that field will still produce similar benefits. For example use forms like curves, which are much more plentifully found in nature than straight lines, to evoke a calming effect.

Want a contemporary statement piece that is rooted in the colors, textures, and shapes of local nature to help bring your room design together? Consider collecting from my latest series of original abstract paintings, which were created in conversation with the woods.

Biophilic design offers a useful framework for designing wild and beautiful indoor spaces. I hope you've enjoyed learning about it as much as I have. Follow along on Instagram @growing_in_process for more design ideas and to watch the new summer collection take shape! Tag me with your biophilic space--I'd love to see it!


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