If nature makes us feel good, what are the implications for how we should construct and decorate our spaces? It’s an area of design that’s still in its infancy – we’re only just beginning to understand the physiological and psychological effects that natural materials can have. What’s emerging, however, is that although design can be subjective, most people respond well to materials that have a strong connection with nature.
Take wood, for example. It’s an extraordinary material. It’s forgiving to work with, immensely strong, renewable and infinitely beautiful. Trees give us shade and protection, support other plants and creatures, and clean the air. Once felled, timber provides the basis for so many facets of human culture – from building homes to expressive sculptures, warm fires to wooden spoons.
Recent research has shown that wood – when we use it as a material in our homes and other buildings – can have a measurable effect on human wellbeing. A number of international studies has shown that interiors rich in timber (whether it’s furniture, cladding or flooring) actually lower blood pressure and have a notable stress-reducing effect. Researchers have also found that people working in rooms with lots of wooden furniture and surfaces experience less tension and fatigue than other colleagues. Anecdotal evidence also suggests similar benefits of other natural materials, such as wool and bamboo.
Quite why this is, we don’t know. But it does seem that humans respond in a different way to materials that are close to their natural state than materials which are highly artificial. Living spaces that incorporate lots of natural materials give us a direct connection to the outside – whether it’s the touchable texture of a scrubbed pine tabletop or the soft, luxurious feel of a lamb’s wool blanket. With this in mind, what kinds of materials work well in a biophilic interior? There’s no one formula for creating a material connection with nature, but there are some underlying principles that can point you in the right direction: