What Is Biophilic Design and How Can You Incorporate It? (2024)

Integrating nature into our living spaces makes us feel happier. Here's what to know about bringing biophilic design into your home.

We all like nature, even if we don’t necessarily think about it. We give flowers as gifts, have dog and cat friends, and tend to vacation in scenic places like the mountains and the beach. Intuitively, being in nature is calming and restorative for humans. That’s one reason for the buzz around biophilic design.

“It has taken off in the last few years, like almost nothing I’ve seen,” says Jim Mumford, owner of Good Earth Plant Company in San Diego. “I’ve seen these things kind of come and go, but this one is really sticking.”

And it makes sense. Our attraction to nature makes us sit and look at the waves, or stare at the night sky. So why not add nature-inspired elements into our homes?

Here’s what to know about biophilic design, with some advice from Mumford on how to incorporate it into your home.

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What Is Biophilic Design?

Biophilia describes our love of nature, innate connection to it and ultimate desire to emulate it. Biophilic design applies those concepts to our homes and other buildings through interior design, landscaping and architectural creations.

Biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson first popularized the term in his 1984 book Biophilia. The late Stephen R. Kellert, Ph.D., of Yale University is largely credited for bringing it into today’s mainstream architecture and design. The consulting group Terrapin Bright Green continues this work today.

Here are the three tenets of biophilic design:

  • Nature in the space: This includes adding features like plants, aquariums, fireplaces and outside views of greenery. If they include movement, all the better, Mumford says. “I’m still waiting for the project where get to make grasses blowing in the wind inside,” he says.
  • Natural analogues: Man-made elements that invoke a feeling of nature. These include using fabrics with patterns and earth tones, incorporating natural materials like bamboo and stone and furniture with curved designs.
  • Nature of the space: How a space affects our emotions. This is usually done through artful architectural emulations that suggest a natural landscape, like a wide-open savannah that invokes a feeling of refuge or mystery. “That’s harder for a homeowner to incorporate unless they’re talking to their architect early on, because it has do to with how you lay out your house and landscape,” says Mumford.

Where and When Is Biophilic Design Most Often Used?

Biophilic design first took off in commercial settings, but now it’s becoming popular in homes as well. It’s really gaining steam in office buildings, where Mumford says managers use it to entice people back from their home offices.

Hospitals are also increasingly embracing biophilic design. Studies have shown patients with a view of nature out their window recover more quickly, use less pain medication and complain less.

Mumford is also starting to see biophilic design incorporated more into retail. Stores are including elements like plants and living walls, with restaurants hanging plants from the ceiling.

Examples of Biophilc Design

Singapore has become famous as a biophilic city, with an abundance of green walls and roofs. The Jewel Changi Airport, with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and a hedge maze, offers one of the city’s most famous biophilic designs.

In Seattle, the retailer Amazon took the idea of a biophilic workspace to the max with its Amazon Spheres. The three glass domes, each 80 to 95 feet high, house 40,000 plants, employee lounge areas, meeting spaces and retail stores.

Then there’s the world’s greenest apartment complex, the Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy. It’s comprised of two forested skyscrapers with 2,000 tree species on their facades. Besides being biophilic, that project aims to promote plant and animal biodiversity, along with other environmental benefits.

How To Integrate Biophilic Design in Your Home

“People in their homes have been doing biophilic design all along, they just didn’t necessarily have a name for it,” says Mumford. “You pick wallpaper with flowers on it. You pick an earth tone paint for your dining room. You put a vase of flowers on the table.”

So you probably already have some biophilic elements in your home. The easiest way to add more? Get some houseplants, says Mumford.

“They change the whole atmosphere, bringing in oxygen and changing the feel of a space,” he says. “And the thrill of watching a new leaf come out, that’s pretty exciting for us plant nerds.”

Other elements of biophilic design to add to your home include:

  • Floral patterns and earth tones;
  • Natural materials like wood and wool;
  • A solar tube to bring in natural light through the ceiling;
  • A living wall or moss wall;
  • Water features like a small fountain or aquarium;
  • Fresh air;
  • A fireplace (or even just a YouTube of a crackling fire);
  • Paintings, photographs and other art depicting nature;
  • Organic shapes, like furniture with soft curves.

If you’re building a home, consider designing in elements like:

  • Large windows, to let in natural light and scenery;
  • Built-in planters;
  • A built-in waterfall or other water feature;
  • Big trees on the patio or even indoors;
  • A living roof;
  • Organic architectural shapes like arched entryways and curvy countertops.

“And at the end of the day, remember we are nature,” says Mumford. “We just happen to separate ourselves out from it so we’re comfortable, but we’re animals like the rest of them.”

About the Expert

Jim Mumford is the owner of Good Earth Plant Company, which he founded in 1977. A passionate advocate for biophilic design, he’s dedicated to creating and innovating sustainable, nature-centric built environments using plants, moss and natural materials. These promote wellness, environmental consciousness and natural beauty.

What Is Biophilic Design and How Can You Incorporate It? (2024)


How do you incorporate biophilic design? ›

Here are a few ways to do it:
  1. Add plants: Incorporating potted plants or hanging greenery can add a natural element to your bedroom. ...
  2. Use natural materials: Choose natural materials for your bedding, curtains, and other textiles. ...
  3. Let in natural light: If possible, maximize the natural light in your bedroom.
Feb 15, 2023

What is a biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design is an approach to architecture that seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature. Biophilic designed buildings incorporate things like natural lighting and ventilation, natural landscape features and other elements for creating a more productive and healthy built environment for people.

What is biophilic design and can it really make you happier and healthier? ›

It's defined as the human instinct and impulse to connect with nature and other forms of life. When it comes to interiors, biophilic design incorporates natural elements as much as possible, including adding indoor plants, incorporating water features, and framing the view of nature.

What is biophilia and why is it important? ›

Biophilic design has been found to support cognitive function, physical health, and psychological well-being. Biophilia is defined as the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living beings.

What are 3 benefits of biophilic design? ›

Incorporating direct or indirect elements of nature into the built environment have been demonstrated through research to reduce stress, blood pressure levels and heart rates, whilst increasing productivity, creativity and self reported rates of well-being.

What is the use of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important.

What does biophilic mean? ›

: a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature : a desire or tendency to commune with nature.

How does biophilic design help the environment? ›

The sustainability aspect of biophilic design is crucial for living buildings and environments. Providing green spaces, water features, abundant plants and natural materials creates a host of benefits, including helping to reduce a development's carbon footprint and regulating the temperature of buildings.

How does biophilic design affect people? ›

Biophilia can boost our immune systems, support mental and emotional health, create social connections and aid physical recovery. In fact, bringing in aspects of biophilic design can also help reduce anxiety, improve cognitive performance and make for a better night's sleep.

What are the main elements of biophilic design? ›

The Six Principles of Biophilic Design
  • Environmental Features.
  • Natural Shapes and Forms.
  • Natural Patterns and Processes.
  • Light and Space.
  • Place-Based Relationships.
  • Evolved Human-Nature Relationships.
  • Learn More About the Biophilic Design.
Aug 19, 2022

What are the 5 senses of biophilic design? ›

Biophilic design comprises the 5 senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing.

What are the advantages of biophilic experiences? ›

Biophilic experiences can reduce stress, improve cognitive function, and enhance mood and creativity. These and other outcomes can increase health and wellbeing, as well as productivity.

What are the disadvantages of biophilic design? ›

If not properly maintained, natural elements can become unsightly or even hazardous. Allergies: For some employees, exposure to natural elements such as plants or flowers can trigger allergies or other health issues. Space limitations: Biophilic design may not be practical for all workspaces.

Is biophilic design expensive? ›

Biophilia is increasingly recognised as an important element in building design for creating spaces that support health and wellbeing. Luckily, biophilic design does not require extensive or expensive interventions to have an impact.

What can biophilic design include? ›

Major biophilic design parameters that Svigals + Partners included in this project are animal feeders, wetlands, courtyards, natural shapes and patterns, natural materials, transitional spaces, images of nature, natural colors, and use of natural light.

What are the applications of biophilic design? ›

Application of Biophilic Design in Modern Architecture

Biophilic design elements in architecture are the incorporation of natural experiences into living settings - for instance, using water, plants, ventilation, light, etc., to create a direct interaction with the natural elements.

What are the main points of biophilic design? ›

This can include a sense of safety and protection, a balance of variety with regularity, fostering curiosity and exploration and engendering a sense of accomplishment and mastery over our environment. Our attachment and attraction to nature can also be tapped into through biophilic design.

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