How to create interiors that don't just look good?
Designing spaces that engage all 5 senses is at the heart of biophilic design.
In the jargon, this is called “Non-visual connection with nature”, and we’re exploring it in today’s episode of Biophilic Moodboards.
Biophilic design & the 5 senses
Interior design is often associated with “how things look” (a tendency that became even more intense with the rise of social media).
But the discussion around the 5 senses is actually even broader.
In the digital era – where many activities pass through a screen – sight is by far the sense we use the most in our daily lives, to the detriment of the other 4.
But – when experiencing an interior first-hand – sight is just one part of the game.
If and how the other senses are stimulated is also going to influence how we feel in that space – a lot.
An uncomfortable sofa, a disturbing noise, a bad odour…these are all examples of non-visual features that largely affect our perception of a space.
On the flip side, a thoughtful design that incorporates positive non-visual features can make us feel better in a space, creating a richer and more engaging experience.
So let’s look at how to incorporate the 4 other senses in biophilic interiors…
Touch is the most ancestral of our senses. It’s the first that humans develop and – as kids – we touch things to discover and understand the world around us.
Even as adults, we touch things all the time, but we tend to give less relevance to what we feel.
Rich and pleasant natural textures (or reproductions of natural textures) can create a deep tactile experience, one that will make us stop and consciously appreciate the surface we’re touching.
The impact of noises on human wellbeing is immense. Studies* have also shown that exposure to nature sounds reduces stress and helps concentration.
In interior design, it’s the surroundings that dictate the characteristic noises of a space. It’s clear that a home built in the middle of a forest will largely differ from one that looks onto a busy city street!
But still…nature sounds can be introduced indoors with flowing water, a crackling fire or even recordings of natural sounds.
Another strategy – that goes beyond design – is training ourselves to pay attention to the natural sounds that occur around us.
For instance, rain and wind are something we experience no matter where we live. But how often do we stop and listen to the sound of rain?
Smells have the incredible power of bringing back memories of the past. They can be relaxing or energizing and studies* have even shown that certain natural smells influence healing processes.
From a wellbeing perspective, it’s preferable to choose naturally produced scents, like fragrant plants & flowers or essential oils. This has to do with the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) released by candles, incense, deodorizing sprays etc. These substances are not healthy for us to breathe – when not even harmful – but they’re likely to accumulate in the air. Because who wants to open the windows in a room that smells great?
What does taste have to do with interior design? Is there even a way to include it in the design of interiors?
Taste is the fundamental sense when it comes to eating and drinking, so it naturally belongs to kitchen and dining areas.
Taste goes hand-in-hand with smell and sight.
Think at how many times seeing or smelling inviting food is enough to get your mouth watering!
This connection among different senses makes it possible to indirectly involve taste in the design of a biophilic interior.
Growing a herb garden in the kitchen is an example (that will provide fresh cooking ingredients as a plus). Or – why not – even using food as décor!
Interiors that mix the 5 senses feel naturally more interesting and engaging. And a thoughtful sensory design can truly improve how we feel in a space!
- Alvarsson J., Wiens S. & Nilsson M. (2010). Stress Recovery during Exposure to Nature Sound and Environmental Noise. (opened in a new window/tab) International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7 (3), 1036-1046.
- Jahncke H., Hygge S., Halin N., Green A.M. & Dimberg K. (2011). Open-Plan Office Noise: Cognitive Performance and Restoration. (opened in a new window/tab) Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 373-382.
- Kim J.T., Ren C.J., Fielding G.A., Pitti A., Kasumi T., Wajda M., Lebovits A. & Bekker A. (2007). Treatment with Lavender Aromatherapy in the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit Reduces Opioid Requirements of Morbidly Obese Patients Undergoing Laparoscopic Adjustable Gastric Banding. (opened in a new window/tab) Obesity Surgery, 17 (7), 920-925.
- The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design is a framework conceptualized by Terrapin Bright Green