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  • Sharon Lomas

14 Patterns of Biophilic Design Pattern 2: Non-Visual Connection to nature

Non-Visual Connection to nature: A positive connection to nature using senses other than sight

connect to nature through sense of smell natural reed diffuser fern and fell

Designing interior spaces that support our wellbeing takes more than just designing for the eyes. Aesthetics are important of course, but we do have five senses after all. The most successful interiors are ones which create connections to all our senses.

This Biophilic Design pattern is all about connecting our other four senses to nature. So how do we do this? First consider how your senses connect to what is all around you when out in nature and how it make you feel:

1. Acoustics (Sound)– What sounds can you hear?, how do you feel when you hear them? Remember the sounds that sooth you, you might love the sound of water but if it makes you run for the toilet every half an hour it might be sensory overload for you.

2. Haptics (Touch) – Out in nature we are surrounded by texture, think about that pebble that begs to be touched because it’s so smooth or the moss covering of an old tree stump that invites you to touch it.

3. Olfactory (Smell) – Smell is an immensely powerful sense, one which can be evocative, stirring deep memories and emotions inside us. Smelling coconut for example might instantly transport you to memories of your favourite beach holiday. The smell of Sweet Peas instantly transports me to my grandparents garden.

4. Gustatory (Taste) – Blackberries or Bilberry picked on autumn walk can connect you to memories of the changing seasons. Fresh lemons will always remind me of Greece.

Using Non-Visual Elements of Nature in Design

green living room filled with plants large leafy plant positioned in corner of room

1. Acoustics - Sound

By their very nature, our indoor spaces create acoustic challenges. Right angles, walls, hard surfaces, technology, electrics, and the mixture of materials we have in the home can all impact our auditory comfort levels in that space.

So, before we even consider introducing sounds that can connect us to nature there are a few elements to consider. Try introducing objects to break up the reverberation time of noise around the home like:

• Undulating surfaces - textured wall hanging, rippled surfaces on furniture, textured tiles, moss walls

• Large leafy plants in corners of rooms to soften sounds that bounces between the two walls

• Partitions in open plan spaces to help soften sound – consider a set of open shelves filled with plants or a pocket door

• Electronics with the quiet mark. And if building new, open plan living/kitchen areas consider creating a separate Butlers kitchen/laundry to house noisy appliances

• Use fabric window treatments to reduce echo – but don’t forget to ensure that any fabrics don’t block light

Connect to nature through sound

• An indoor water feature (or outdoor one you can hear from inside) to recreate the gentle sound of a babbling stream – especially effective if you live on a busy road or noisy area

• Place leafy plants, like bamboo, near an open window to catch the breeze and create gentle rustling sounds

• Encouraging biodiversity outside to bring more birds to you garden, fling the windows open and listen. No outside space, try playing bird song indoors

• The crackle of a real fire (or sounds of)

• Perhaps the ultimate gadget (and top of my list this Christmas) is the intriguing new technology, Plantwave. A device that detects slight electrical changes in plants and turns them into music. Absolutely fascinating.

2. Haptic - Touch

To deepen your rich sensory experience of a space, textural variation and contrast will echo those experiences of being out in nature. Consider natural contrast in textures, such as soft moss that grows on against rock or the smooth feel of driftwood that has been repeatedly exposed to the elements.

mixed natural textures, haptic invitations wool, sheepskin, ceramic, stone, wood, banana leaf

This is the time to think about everything you touch as you journey through the space:

• Use contrasting, tactile materials on the items you touch all the time such as smooth wooden door handles and stair banister contrasting against metallic light switches

• Underfoot - moving from soft surfaces like rugs and carpet to harder surfaces with varying temperatures like floorboards, tiles, or stone. The undulations and different temperatures of flooring help mimic what we experience outside.

• Create “haptic invitation” by layering natural materials that just invite you touch them – wools, velvets, wood, stone, ceramic, metals

• Create “haptic intrigue” using textured wall coverings like silk or linen wallpapers or timber cladding

3. Olfactory - Smell

Not connecting ourselves and our habitable spaces to nature through smell is such a missed opportunity when it comes to designing a truly immersive interior. Everyone has their own unique sense of smell; we all favour some smells over others and our preferences are often deep rooted in our memories. Our sense of smell has the power to evoke places, people or experiences long forgotten until a single whiff transports us to another place in time.

Using fragrance to connect ourselves to the changing seasons can also be very impactful on how we feel in a space. Celebrating the seasons with fragrance helps us feel connected to nature and being mindful of the present moment in time.

natural essential oil candle candle in amber glass jar sat on gold tray made by fern and fell

amber glass reed diffuser made by fern and fell

• Open windows for real nature smells – especially just after its rained. (If you live in busy urban areas or cities check air quality with your local councils)

• Add scented flowering plants to your house plant collection – Lilies and Jasmine give off a strong scent. I place a pink lily plant in my hallway or on the landing so the smell permeates through the whole house. Cut flowers work well too, although not as long lasting as a plant.

• Plant scented herd boxed in window boxes to catch the breeze on a sunny day, wafting their aromatic fragrance in through an open window

• Candles and diffusers are on obvious choice but please only use brands who use 100% essential oils for fragrance.*

• Choose house plants that work hard to help detoxify the air such as Spider Plant, Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Areca Palm

*Full disclosure, I make candles and diffusers and these are the products I have shown examples of here. Other brands are also available.

4. Gustatory - Taste

During the summer months choose plants for your kitchen that not only look good but ones which you can eat.

herbs in hanging planters

herbs in hanging planters in kitchen

• Fresh herbs are such a quick and easy decor update. Display in window boxes or from hanging planters. They look, smell and taste fantastic.

• Edible plants – why not try growing trailing tomato plants indoors, you just need in a super sunny window and a hanging planter.

• Potted chili plants in the kitchen are colourful and decorative as well as edible

• Plant edible flowers like Nasturtiums or Marigolds on your patio, kitchen window or in your conservatory to bring a colourful (and tasty) top to any salad.

Remember this biophilic design pattern is all about connecting you to nature through your senses, so layer up those textures, think about sound, immerse yourself in fragrance and make your kitchen plants a feast for your your taste buds as well as your eyes.

Coming up next in this series I will be looking at pattern 3 - non-rhythmic sensory stimuli ( aka NRSS)


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