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Most of us feel good in nature, so it's no surprise that spending more time indoors tends to have the reverse effect.
Research shows that a disconnect with the natural world can be detrimental to our physical, mental and emotional health, so what can we do to remedy this when getting outside isn't an option? Recognising our affinity with nature, a concept known as biophilia, and designing our homes accordingly, is a great place to start.
"Biophilia is a scientific term, the best way to explain it is by thinking about how you feel when you go to the beach or for a bush walk, perhaps a picnic in the park," explains Suzie Barnett, general manager of Sydney-based ‘living infrastructure' company Junglefy, and Chair of the Biophilic Design Initiative. "You probably feel lighter, calmer and happy." This makes sense, says Barnett, because we've evolved in nature so we're hard-wired to be connected to it.
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By extension, biophilic design involves bringing nature into our built environment and communities. "The benefits of biophilic design have been linked to an extraordinary number of positive health improvements, physically, psychologically and socially both short and long-term," says Barnett, adding that creating a biophilic home doesn't need to be expensive or complex. "In my opinion it is not a nice-to-have or the latest design trend, it is in fact something so functional and essential to our wellbeing that we can't afford not to include it into our homes."
The power of plants
While you might already own a pot plant or two, the real benefits come from taking a "more is more" approach to indoor greenery.
"One of the easiest and most basic ways to introduce biophilic design into our homes is by introducing plants and lots of them," says Barnett.
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Short on floorspace? Plants can be hanging, wall-mounted, or displayed as a table centrepiece. Fresh, clean air goes hand-in-hand with a healthy home, so introduce varieties proven to enhance air quality - according to a NASA study, aloe, spider plant, chrysanthemum, bamboo palm and peace lily are among the best at removing toxins and pollutants from the air.
Let the light in
It's not only plants that thrive in natural light - we evolved to spend most of our time outside, and nowadays most of us aren't getting the quality or quantity we need.
"Natural light is another really important biophilic element," says Barnett. "Homes that are flooded with natural light through big windows and skylights make us feel calm and happy, because when we're out in nature, it's light and bright."
Research has shown that people exposed to plenty of daytime light sleep better at night, so brighten up your home and avoid artificial options wherever possible in the daylight hours by drawing back the curtains, removing clutter, and making use of mirrors and light colours.
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A natural palette
Visual references in wallpaper and printed fabrics can be used to evoke nature, says Barnett.
You can also create a sensory-rich experience with natural materials and textures such as linen, seagrass, clay, hemp, bamboo and wood -have shown that the presence of wood in home design, whether it's flooring or furniture, can have a stress-reducing effect through both sight and touch. Other additions affect us through smell and sound - Barnett says burning a candle that evokes the freshness of a rainforest can allow our senses to experience biophilia.
No birdsong outside? A nature sounds app can help to drown out manmade noise with a crackling fire or gently lapping waves.
Room with a view
"Research has proven that people with even a view out to nature can shift from sympathetic nervous activity (fight or flight) to parasympathetic activity (tend and befriend)," says Barnett.
If your home doesn't have a lush outlook, introduce artwork or photographs that portray natural landscapes, whether it be a sparkling beach or rugged mountain range. If you're working from home, set your screensaver to a sweeping savanna -show even brief exposure to natural views (both real and depicted) can have a restorative effect on mental fatigue.
Barnett emphasises that biophilic design is about repeated, connected and sustained engagement with nature, rather than token gestures like a lone plant in the corner or a natural material used here and there. "Think about designing for your senses of touch, smell, sight and hearing," she says. "Do this and you will be well on your way to creating a biophilic home that enables you to live a happier, healthier life."
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