Written by Bea Taylor
April 22 marks Earth Day. And, seeing as we’re all stuck at home anyway, it seems like the perfect time to appreciate how Mother Nature has influenced design.
Every day should be Earth Day, really. But seeing as we have too much to think about and do (woe is us), we’ll have to settle for dedicating one special day to the planet we live on.
Climate change and sustainability have been a consistent presence in the day-to-day for some time now. The growing awareness around nature has influenced fashion, food, travel and even our small daily habits, so it was only a matter of time before it made its way into the interior game.
Yes, it has a bit to do with interior decorating, but that’s really only the beginning. Our approach to design, production and technology have all been swayed, sometimes unconsciously, by Mother’s green thumb. Here’s how.
Biophilia describes our innate connection to nature. It explains why we’re captivated by the crashing of waves and by the crackling of fire, and why our creativity is enhanced when we’re surrounded by greenery.
Biophilic design, therefore, is a concept used in building and interiors to increase our connection to nature. The most obvious way to do this is through plants and greenery, but it can also be achieved through the use of forms, patterns and shapes found in the natural world and through materials in their most unrefined state (unpolished concrete and stone, rough-hewn timber, for example).
Biophilic design has shown to help reduce stress and improve creativity, productivity and well-being. So, it’s not a huge surprise that we’re all now living in indoor jungles.
Green interiors (literally)
Of course, it would be remiss to talk about how nature has influenced our interiors without actually talking about the verdant-coloured elephant in the room. Green is interior design’s new haute hue. From furniture, to accessories, to wall colour it’s everywhere, and in every tone.
Dulux’s 2020 colour forecast highlights this growing obsession with nature through their ‘Cultivate’ palette. Filled with tonal greens, earthy browns and pops of yellow, this palette encourages a sense of relaxation and association with the beauty of New Zealand landscapes.
Green, as an in-between colour, has a curiosity and contradiction; it can be relaxing, fresh and soft, but also wild, unpredictable and bright. It can evoke soothing beauty and energising spirit. Ultimately, it brings the outdoors in, which is a true luxury in this time.
Nature hasn’t just influenced how we decorate our interiors. We’re now also starting to consider how our decorating is impacting it.
In an answer to throwaway consumerism, slow design enters the scene – a practice that looks at a product’s origin and how it’s made, as well as its environmental burden.
Helping to slow down the rapid cycle of buying and throwing away, slow design asks consumers to consider pieces that are well-made, sustainably created and have less of an impact than those from click-to-order mass production.
Adaptability is one of the key principles of slow design, after all, a piece that can be modified to meet future needs instead of being replaced means there will be one less object in a landfill.
What slow design really calls for is patience in the decorating process. To take a step back and consider what you’re buying, what your space needs and to resist the urge to fill your home with things straight away. Trust me, it will be way more satisfying.
In a similar vein, we need to look at what our products are made of, not just how they are made.
Current favourites in the decorating scene — bamboo and rattan — come with the advantage of not only being a delight visually but also for having sustainable production. They’re joined by new-comer cork (another low-energy, low-waste produced material) and recycled, reclaimed and salvaged woods as the preferred materials for building and decorating.
To consider a material as ‘sustainable’ is to look at its entire life cycle, from extraction, production, transportation and processing. There are a few ways you can be sure your materials are eco-friendly, for example, if a wood product has an FSC label, you can use the wood knowing it has been harvested sustainably.
In Danish designer Seetal Solanki’s recent book on eco-friendly materials, Why Materials Matter, she identifies 34 alternatives to unsustainable industries such as plastic and leather. One of the materials she discusses is, surprisingly, coconut water. There’s a farming facility based in South India that creates a leather-like material from the bacteria naturally derived from coconut water. This material is totally biodegradable, water-resistant and vegan.
Brb, just off to water my indoor plants.