Au Naturale

Au Naturale

  • Camilla McLaughlin
  • 12/16/21

Reprinted with permission from

Rather than simply the latest trend, biophilia’s natural elements are becoming essential in home design.

Biophilic design might seem like the latest wrinkle in wellness, but the concept of bringing nature into buildings to enhance wellbeing is not new. Although social psychologist Eric Fromm first coined the phrase “biophilia” to describe humans’ essential biological connection with nature, the concept wasn’t popularized until the 1980s when biologist Edward O. Wilson took up the mantle. Biophilic design introduces natural elements, organic forms, light and water into the built environment. Research shows integrating natural elements increases productivity, enhances creativity and improves mental health.

“The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature, and design features that showcase natural elements in a residential or commercial space can provide the reinforcement to nature that many of us are searching for,” says Sarah Lograsso, director of marketing and product design for Dutch Quality Stone, an Ohio-based manufacturer of stone veneer products. 

Initially, offices and hospitals were targets for the inclusion of biophilic elements. Then, residential design took up the mantle, adding greenery and hues tied to nature to interiors. Since then, the concept has evolved to include extensive windows for natural lighting and disappearing walls for seamless connections to outdoor venues.

“Biophilic design is a practice that incorporates natural elements into the built environment, utilizing materiality, views, and sensory experiences to blur the boundary between indoors and outdoors. This practice has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, psychological wellbeing, and improve mood and stress levels,” explains Greg Malin, CEO and founder of Troon Pacific, a San Francisco-based luxury home creator. 

Troon Pacific integrates biophilic design through the use of natural, textured materials such as wood and stone; visual and auditory links with nature, air, water, and light; and biomimicry through materials and fixtures inspired by naturally occurring patterns such as water ripples. “From the earliest stages of concept and architectural design, we optimize the openness of floor plans, maximize views and connections between spaces, and defy formal divisions of indoor and outdoor space,” Malin says.

“Light is especially important,” notes Lograsso. “Research suggests that incorporating more sunlight can help with everything from reducing overall stress levels to encouraging healthier sleep patterns.”

Blurring the Boundaries

“We design our homes to maximize natural light, creating spaciousness and breathability across large open floorplates, inviting natural light to permeate through skylights, large-scale windows, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors,” adds Malin. ”Large openings, abundant daylight, and full-height sliding glass doors are essential in creating visual and physical connections to nature, and blurring the boundary between interior and exterior spaces.”

Simply Good Design

Even architects who are not considered biophilic designers incorporate these elements in their plans, and connections with the natural world are simply considered good design. “Healthier home interiors start outside at the structure’s envelope and continue into the home’s layout, functionality, and design details,” says John Guilliams, Partner + Director of Design at KGA Studio Architects. “Home design should work in harmony with the day’s rhythms while creating comfort. Natural light, temperature, and noise control are just as important to a home as the roof or foundation. Windows make the most impact on all of these elements, both in form and function. The size, placement, and type of windows and shades bring in the good stuff – natural light, while keeping out the bad – street and neighborhood noise.”

“Biophilia is not just about house plants and living walls. It’s about understanding how your subconscious communicates with the natural world. We seek to create exceptional living spaces that communicate through the same effortless and intuitive human language,” says Tyler Jones, CEO and Founder of Blue Heron, a Las Vegas design-led development firm that continuously pushes the boundaries between inside and outside, notably incorporating water as an element. When visiting any of their award-winning homes, one occasionally has to double check to see if they are inside or out. Inside Vegas Modern, a recent design, one is surrounded by natural elements, including the sound of trickling water. Water encircles the great room on three sides and exterior landscaping bleeds into the interior. Every room offers outdoor access and stunning views of the city and mountains.

I think it’s always been there, it’s just been expanded on lately,” Linda Kozloski, creative director at LendLease Chicago, says of her company’s commitment to biophilic design. All of their offices around the world incorporate green walls; plants are built into seating stations. Their residential communities such as Southbank and Cascade Park in Chicago pay more than a token nod to nature. Some, such as Clippership Wharf in East Boston, Massachusetts, revive and create new natural habitats. With the construction of new salt marsh terraces and the resulting wetlands habitat, this mixed-use community also fashions new ways to interact with the shoreline. 


Biophilia is central to the LendLease commitment to sustainability. Their vision expands the concept beyond saving energy and water to social sustainability. “We want to create a place where people feel good and they feel well and they’re able to get outside and get fresh air,” says Kozloski. “Our buildings have places and many spaces where people can go outside.” So, you’re not only bringing the outdoors inside, but you also have outdoor spaces directly connected to the interior. And, she says, when you step outside, the sounds that you hear are much different than when you are inside. Inside you are looking out, but once you’re able to take that one step outside, you can hear the birds and you can hear the crickets or you know, in our case, the cicadas."

Ties to Nature

In the last year, consumer research from Houzz and others reflects increased interest in anything related to nature for their homes, whether it’s real or artificial. From stone to wood to green and blue hues, notes to the natural world are peppered through interiors today with a range of materials from wood, natural stone, linen and silk to those that emulate the real thing. And, surprisingly, these imitators bring a very similar impact on health and wellness as the actual materials.

“Multiple independent studies have revealed that faux greening and even to a lesser degree photos of nature provide the same biophilic benefits as living foliage all the way from rates of wellbeing to decreased recovery times in medical settings. This makes faux a great solution when the environment isn’t hospitable for real plants or water, lighting and ongoing maintenance costs are a limiting factor in the design,” says Jackie Wiener, with Upscapers.

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