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  • Sharon Lomas

Biophilia: A Natural Retreat, Pearpod

pearpod cocoon like woven willow pods for wellbeing

Nature offers many opportunities to seek refuge, be it the protection of a woodland canopy from the worst of the rain or beating midday sunshine, a cave to take shelter from the wind. Even finding a safe spot sat against a tree or rock can provide a feeling of security, a shelter giving respite and the opportunity to look out.

There are many occasions in life that we all need to take a moment of recuperation, catch our breath and survey what lies ahead or is right in front of us. In biophilic design the prospect/refuge theory claims that we have an inborn desire for prospect to observe our surroundings from a safe and secure spot. A space that creates a refuge to rest, recuperate and regroup. For our ancestors being able to assess the landscapes, easily spot threats and opportunities, seek the best water and food sources meant the difference between life and death. Just because our modern lives do not (for many of us) employ this innate skill in this way, it does not mean that deep down we do not still feel it in our subconscious.

Consider your home, your workspace, and any communal/social spaces you may frequent – are you always drawn to the booth on the back wall of the bar/restaurant/cafe so you can check out the whole room? Do you sleep better with your bed positioned against the wall with a view of your bedroom door? Is your workspace open plan, do you always feel as if someone might sneak up behind you? Often, we seek prospect and refuge subconsciously, but as an intentional design consideration it can help support your overall feeling of wellbeing in a space.

Many of us will think of our entire home as a refuge from the outside world, but we can combine several patterns of biophilic design to enhance the feeling of safety and security by creating secluded spots, nooks, and positions with long views/vantage points inside our homes. We might favour seating positioned to take in a long view, we can use high backed chairs, create reading nooks or make sheltered spaces with partitions or curtains.

I discovered Pearpod when their team reached out to share their beautiful product range with me so I might share it with my clients. I instantly fell in love, so much so that I now have a Pearpod pinned to my dream lake house Pinterest board. I can envisage just how incredible this will look surrounded by plants in the indoor garden of my future home.

Pearpod is a female-led, purpose driven e-commerce brand, designing and handcrafting cocoon chairs from sustainable materials, with ethical practices. Pearpod ticks so many biophilic and small business hero boxes for me:

• Handmade using traditional skills and celebrating traditional craft

• Organic shape and texture

• Made with natural materials

• Support women in business

• Encourage rest and respite

• Driven by ethical and sustainable values

fixed leg pearpod seat

hanging pearpod seat

Pearpod might just be the most biophilic product you could put in your home. It delivers a number of biophilic design patterns all in one product : prospect, refuge, biomorphic forms, non-visual connection to nature, material connection to nature and if you choose the hanging pod over the fixed leg option you can add in the thrill of a little risk/peril too.

So, I invited Ellen Mulcrone, founder of Pearpod to share her business story with us here on the journal. I urge you to also read Ellen’s personal story over on the Pearpod website which is refreshingly honest and inspirational. Over to you Ellen...

Pearpod Ellen Mulcrone
Pearpod founder, Ellen Mulcrone

Pearpod’s story, written by the founder, Ellen Mulcrone

My story:

Pearpod grew from a personal desire to find solace and a place to rest.

I wanted to design a nook that could straddle the world of introversion and extroversion.

Architecturally, I have always felt that our extroverted parts are designed for, but not our introverted. It feels like we are involuntarily funnelled into big, loud, social behaviour through endlessly open-planned design. Personally I don’t find that there is the infrastructure within our urban environments to support the quieter, more contemplative aspects of our being. We lack cosy corners, quiet booths, soft nests.

Mother and baby enjoying time together in the hanging pearpod

I wanted to design a space that nodded to the value of quiet, slow, solo time. A space that could be installed anywhere and still provide you with a feeling of being sheltered and protected. I wanted to blur the lines between the extrovert and introvert and for both ways of being to harmoniously coexist in public and private space.

pearpod weave in action

The first pod I made I hand-bent the steel and learnt enough basketry to weave the willow around the frame. It was then only when I exhibited the piece at our final degree show that I realised I had successfully realised my intention for the work - to create a pocket of rest within an environment of chaos. (The private degree show was the perfect test for this!)

People curled up inside and fed back that they felt unusually calm amidst the hectic nature of a busy art exhibition. This led to a small flurry of orders and a more serious consideration of making this something that I do.

willow used for weaving pearpod

celebrating tradition craft, willow weaving

Yes, the pod was made from all natural, sustainable materials: recyclable steel and willow that was grown on the Somerset Levels. It actually never occurred to me at this point to use anything other than natural materials. It was only when I then started researching other similar products that I realised quite how rare this method of fabrication was. Most others were manufactured overseas using cheap labour and/or with nasty synthetic materials.

What started as a one-off piece led to over 7 years of work as an artist and maker, creating spaces for exhibitions, cafes, schools, refugee camps, parks. Willow was one of the main materials used but I also explore other repurposed, sustainable and recycled materials such as old slate roof tiles, block of old wood that I cut into veneer strips, waste clothing that I wove with.

family time in the pearpod

For many years Pearpod was a one-woman show. I single-handedly designed and built sculptural, cocoon-like spaces for people. This always sat alongside travelling, volunteering, long solo-hikes, cycle trips across Spain. It was a great balance and, up to a point, nourishing.

It was during lockdown that everything shifted. My whole life got turned upside down in fact, which you can read more about on my website. Almost everything that had been stable and familiar was pulled out from beneath my feet and I was forced to evaluate every inch of my life. I left Bristol, retreated to a cabin, stopped work, and just listened. This was probably the first time in my adult life that I completely stopped.

Ellen Mulcrone sat in a Pearpod

It was during this period of deep pause that I truly understood what excited me about Pearpod, and much to my surprise, it wasn’t the making. It was all about serving and supporting. I was lit up by the idea of creating space for people to really decompress and be able to be totally their true, honest self. This led to a total metamorphosis of Pearpod, with a focus on creating space throughout the business.

At the point I stripped everything back and put my crystalised values at the heart of the business, which were, and are:

• Empowering women

• Celebrating traditional craft

• Encouraging authentic, restful living

• Creating space for people to be

• Working sustainably and ethically

This has meant a move away from custom-built, bespoke pieces and the introduction of a product range of ethical, sustainable cocoons using entirely natural and repurposed materials. They are a little more contemporary and work both indoors and outdoors, as hanging or free-standing pieces.

half woven Pearpod

Through this process I have also created space for myself. I have stepped away from the making, which has allowed me to give much more to the running of the business, and as a result provide work for other weavers. Slowly but surely our team of female basketmakers is growing.

On top of this, from the infinite lessons I have learnt through Pearpod, I have stepped into the role of coaching, to continue to serve and support and create space. In this sense, I create a container for other women to develop their own entrepreneurial ideas. We look at ethical, holistic methods to take the first steps into building a business, from branding, marketing, sales and systems to mindset and wellbeing.

So now the purpose of creating space runs through it all. We create space for customers by providing them a delicious woven cocoon to curl up in. I create a space for female basket-makers to receive money from their skills in this traditional craft. I have created space for myself in order to manage the business more effectively. I create space for other women to holistically follow their own entrepreneurial path.

Pearpod woven willow chair detail

Next we are looking to develop relationships with interior designers who have a focus on biophilic design, wellness and sustainable practices. We are looking to introduce our woven pods to workspaces, hotels, retreat centres, schools and even prisons. Everyone can benefit from a cocoon-like place to curl up inside and take five.

This will allow a larger group of female basket-makers to join Pearpod, empowering more women through traditional craft and providing more clients with a place to breathe out and drop back into the heart.

Free standing fixed leg Pearpod

Thank you so much to Ellen for sharing her business story with us, I hope you found this an interesting tale and feel inspired to create a cosy retreat in your home.

You can find out more about Pearpod HERE or follow their Instagram adventures HERE

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