the art ofBRINGING THE OUTSIDE IN

Have you ever heard of biophilia? According to biologist E. O. Wilson, it’s the innate and genetically determined affinity that human beings have with the natural world – and it’s the starting point for Sally Coulthard’s latest book, Biophilia: You + Nature + Home, A handbook for bringing the natural world into your life. Below are some extracts from her publication (along with some of Helen Bratby’s beautiful illustrations), all about integrating as many natural elements as possible into our living spaces.

What is Biophilia?

Most of us feel good in nature. If you ask people to imagine a place where they feel happy and relaxed, many describe a warm, sandy beach or woodland walk. Some might conjure up images of camping under the stars, picnicking by a stream or pottering in the garden. Others talk of feeling the sun on their back, listening to bird song or a magnificent, sweeping view. Whatever the nuances in description, we often talk about being in nature, looking at nature and interacting with nature. That’s what ‘biophilia’ is. It’s the simple, core truth that humans need a connection with nature to be content. It’s the idea that people – since the beginning of time – must feel linked to their natural environment, and the other living things in it, not only to survive but to thrive. It’s a fundamental part of who we are.

We need nature much more than nature needs us.

Understand biophilia and you realise why we are drawn to the seashore, to tell stories around a campfire or gaze in admiration at the stars. Understand biophilia and you grasp just how important it is to walk in the woods, breathe clean air and stare out beyond the horizon. Understand biophilia and suddenly all those jam jars of wildflowers, stolen armfuls of driftwood and carefully tended vegetable gardens make sense – we need nature much more than nature needs us.

The Biophilic Manifesto

There are three key threads that weave together to make a biophilic space…

1. Ensure that a space puts you in direct, physical contact with nature – whether it’s filling your house with flowers and plants, enjoying a real fire or making sure your office is awash with fresh air.

2. Embrace many different things in your living space that remind you of natural things – this could be patterns, colours, materials and textures.

3. Live in a way that connects to natural rhythms and outside spaces – this could be living in tune with the seasons, letting in more natural light and making the most of outdoor views.

Embrace many different things in your living space that remind you of natural things.

Craft + Biophilia

If we want to live in spaces that make some connection to the natural world there’s an important role for craft in this dialogue. Craftspeople have a deep understanding of the materials they work with. When craft is at its best it expresses something uniquely human and intimate about our lived experiences, as opposed to mass-manufactured products that rarely say anything meaningful. Craftspeople have to know their materials inside out to be able to ‘read’ them, work them efficiently and create something of beauty or use out of the raw. Craft has a role in biophilic design because artisans are often expert at celebrating natural forms, using natural materials efficiently and elegantly, or creating connections between natural objects and people.

If we can surround ourselves with objects, décor and designed spaces that celebrate craft – whether it’s willow weaving or stone sculpture, sheep’s wool felt orcarved wooden spoons – we are creating a direct link between nature’s raw materials and the human drive to make things from them.

Plants + Biophilia

There are dozens of ways you can decorate a space with living plants, depending on how much light and growing space they need…

1. Hang houseplants from the ceiling, using suspended canopies, hanging terrariums or macramé baskets.

2. Free up floor space with wall-mounted planters, plants on bookshelves, racks, floating ledges, planted caddies and living walls.

3. Make a grand statement on a floor with oversized planters and specimen plants, zinc pails, planted log baskets, wooden crates, troughs and florists’ buckets.

4. Create vignettes on a table or bench with plants grouped in ceramic vases, glass bottles and jars, trays, shallow bowls, crockery and miniature glasshouses.

5. Create an indoor window garden for plants with glazed shelves, window boxes and glass ball hanging terrariums.

All illustrations by Helen Bratby.