Biophilic moodboards: building local identity in interiors

in biophilic moodboards

Interior design is far more than aesthetics.
A well-designed space can support the mental & physical wellbeing of its occupants and establish a profound sense of belonging.
This last point is what biophilic design calls material connection with nature and it’s the subject of this month’s episode of Biophilic Moodboards.

Biophilic design moodboard showing 3 examples of local identity: a home built inside a natural cave, solid stone sinks in a modern bathroom and a branch used as decor in a contemporary living room.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits (from top left): Ummo Estudio (via Archdaily) (opened in a new window/tab) (via Yellowtrace (opened in a new window/tab)) - Photo by David Vico, Igor Sirotov (opened in a new window/tab), Lorna de Santos (opened in a new window/tab). Moodboard by DforDesign

Local identity: a philosophy coming from afar

Creating material connection with nature means designing buildings & interiors that are contextual to their surroundings. Otherwise stated: spaces that are strongly connected with their local environment.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been the first to embrace the importance of local identity. He named his philosophy organic architecture, a term that refers to:

  • conceiving all parts of a building as harmonious components of a single whole
  • deeply integrating man-made architecture (and interiors) with their natural surroundings


"A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there."
Cit. Frank Lloyd Wright

The quintessential example of this philosophy is Wright’s masterpiece Fallingwater: a house that merges perfectly with its green surroundings. The waterfall is natural but it's incorporated in the design so well that it seems to originate from the home itself!

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (opened in a new window/tab)

The benefits of a strong local identity

The reason why local identity is mentioned as a biophilic design tool lies in human wellbeing as well as in the role of design as a discipline.

From a wellbeing perspective, natural textures and shapes can trigger numerous benefits such as stress reduction, increased concentration & creativity and a deepened sense of comfort. *

And if these natural materials are also local, they will create an even stronger bond between outdoor environment and interiors, allowing people to experience their surroundings on a much deeper level.

Contemporary living room with textured wood wall and an aquarium.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Igor Sirotov (opened in a new window/tab)
Contemporary corridor with stone-covered wall.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Makhno Studio (opened in a new window/tab)

From a wider perspective, incorporating local natural materials in a design makes for more authentic and deeper interiors.
For instance, a wood cladding can be made with locally salvaged wood or with any other wood, and the difference might not even be apparent to the eye.
But – when diving below the surface of aesthetics – a cladding made with local salvaged wood elevates the space to a whole new level.

Design choices like this give a space a distinctive identity, one that belongs to a specific geographical location.
And one could even argue that learning to design interiors & buildings with a strong local identity could teach us humans something about how to live gracefully on this planet.

Contemporary bedroom with wood panelling behind the bed.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Makhno Studio (opened in a new window/tab)

How to create local identity in interiors

Integrating the local environment in a design starts with the architecture.
Examples might be designing a home around an existing tree, extending a rocky wall inside a building or integrating the natural slope of the site in the project.

Contemporary home built around a tree.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Suite Arquitetos (opened in a new window/tab) - Photo by Riyaz Quraishi
Contemporary bedroom whose wall is the continuation of the rocky wall from outside.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Mir (opened in a new window/tab)

Prioritizing indoor-outdoor living spaces and designing around the outdoor view are other powerful ways of blending the natural surroundings in a design.
Thoughtful material selections and colour palettes can also establish a strong connection with the local natural environment. Think about a local stone used as a wall finish or a sandy palette for a coastal location.

Contemporary dining room with a big window looking into a garden.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Miniforms (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)
Contemporary sitting area in a restaurant with a colour and material palette that recalls the beachy surroundings.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Anne Claus Interiors (opened in a new window/tab)
Contemporary bathroom with a dazzling stone wall and a stone sink.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Ya.V_visual (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

Last but certainly not least is décor, a.k.a. the finishing touches that are layered on top of everything else.
Branches, rocks, shells, leaves will all bring the outdoors in. And by looking at them, the memories of a walk in the woods or a trip to the seaside will also emerge, making the space more personal and meaningful for its occupants.

Detail of a contemporary living room with a simple branch used as decor.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Lorna de Santos (opened in a new window/tab)

The same philosophy can also be applied beyond interiors and into urban design.
You know that feeling that modern cities tend to look all kind of the same? Well, an extensive use of local natural materials in urban areas would definitely help to give cities a more site-specific identity!

Block of flats made of wood timber with plants on each balcony.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Studio Abstract (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

Biophilic design and sustainability

A strong bond between buildings, interiors and the local environment explains the relationship between biophilic design and environmental sustainability.

One of the biggest threats that the natural world is facing is that – while urban areas grow bigger – nature has less and less space.
This is because – until now at least – we’ve considered nature and urban areas as two strictly different environments.
But what if they could coexist?
A biophilic approach that welcomes natural elements – including native plants – in the city, is beneficial for

  • humans - as it creates a nurturing living environment
  • nature - as it gives it more space to thrive

Embracing biophilic design in urban & interior design could therefore transform our concepts of city and home to the benefit of both humans and the planet!

And what better time than now?
The challenging times we’re living call for a deep reconsideration of what “normal” means in all areas of life, including the way we see architecture and interiors.
Our homes and cities can live in symbiosis with nature and – now more than ever – we have the occasion to make this happen.

We’re called to build a different world, and we have the occasion to build a better one, where humans and nature will thrive together, not against each other!

Detail of a green building in the middle of the city.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: WOHA Architects (opened in a new window/tab)

* Sources

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Don't be shy, let me know what you think!

On Karla Villarreal said:
I love your post and the wall in that awesome bathroom with the hanging mirror. Would love to do something like that? What material is this made from and how?
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Hi Karla, many thanks for your nice words! Gorgeous design, isn't it? That wall is most likely real stone! I can’t go much in detail wrt how it’s done because that would depend a lot on the site. But if you’d like to discuss your specific case, feel free to reach out via email! Silvia
On Peter Borovok said:
Hi, I think Biophilia is amazing in general and especially in design of living spaces. / apartments ! Do you know talented designer who can join a sustainable project first of its kind in the Middle East?
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Hi Peter! Indeed, it's such a fascinating approach to interior design!!! Coming to your question; do you need someone located in the Middle East? I am interior designer myself and I primarily work on e-design projects. But this may or may not be applicable to what you have in mind...feel free to write me an email so we can discuss more in detail! Silvia


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