Biophilia: The new decoration trend that brings life to your decoration and improves your health

Biophilia is a buzzword that casually falls into conversations about interiors.

he name is of Greek origin and translates to “the love of life or living beings”. In terms of design, biophilia is a systematic approach to creating interiors that interact with the natural world.

It is divided into three basic categories. The first is “Nature in Space”. It means bringing natural elements – plants, flowing air, water, changing light – inside.

The physical and mental health benefits are countless. Even more famously, certain plants are excellent for purifying the air.

There is also good, solid science to show that a visual connection to nature lowers blood pressure and heart rate.

The second category of biophilic design is called “natural analogues”. Things that remind us of nature, but are not actually alive, are also good for us. These include natural materials such as wood and stone, but also images of nature. A palm print wallpaper, for example, has some of the benefits of real plants.

The third category examines schemas related to the “nature of space”. This one is a little harder to understand. It includes the incorporation of dark, quiet rooms that remind us, on some ancestral level, of the safety of a cave.

Under this heading, the last point (and my favorite) concerns risk and peril. It’s about giving an experience of risk or danger while ultimately knowing you’re safe.

It is certainly difficult to translate for domestic interiors. One of the best examples is the Tiger mural by Italian wallpaper company Instabilelab, showing a life-size tiger prowling in a subtle foliage pattern. It makes you feel like prey.

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Biophilic wallcovering with predatory tiger from Instabilelab

Biophilic wallcovering with predatory tiger from Instabilelab

On a purely visual level, biophilic design and sustainable design have a lot in common. Both prioritize nature, but their reasons for doing so are different.

Biophilia aims to benefit the people who inhabit a building; sustainable design intends to benefit the world. Faux flowers and foliage, for example, can be part of a biophilic design scheme. They may or may not be durable. That said, there’s no reason the two approaches shouldn’t work together.

According to research by Bord Gáis Energy, 89% of Irish homeowners say that making their home more sustainable is important to them.

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Morvah Ceiling Hanging Planter by Tom Raffield


Morvah Ceiling Hanging Planter by Tom Raffield

Morvah Ceiling Hanging Planter by Tom Raffield

The search led to an online series, Imagine a better way, hosted by Darren Kennedy and including an episode with Peter Dowdall, a Cork-based landscaper. Dowdall is a passionate plant advocate.

“Houseplants are the best air purifiers money can buy,” he says. “There’s no more sustainable way to regulate your space. And now that the climate is becoming such a serious concern, plants also offer the answer to that.

“Consider covering the exterior of your home with a living wall. This will keep the building cooler, reduce the amount of water entering the building, and mitigate flooding.”

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Gardener Peter Dowdall.  Photo: John Allen


Gardener Peter Dowdall. Photo: John Allen

Gardener Peter Dowdall. Photo: John Allen

Until recently, installing a green wall was a colossal undertaking, both in terms of installation and cost. Starter packs are now available.

“There are many DIY solutions out there, but the easiest way to start is with a Plant Box living wall system,” says Dowdall. The smallest kit (€119 from The Irish Gardener) includes three tubs (each 60cm x 20cm) with an integrated watering system. A 10 dip system will set you back $299.

“What you plant there depends on how much sun you get. They work for everything from succulents to salad leaves, depending on how your wall looks. I have strawberries in mine.

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Balcony with Living Wall by The Irish Gardener


Balcony with Living Wall by The Irish Gardener

Balcony with Living Wall by The Irish Gardener

Planting for wildlife – bees and pollinating insects – has significant environmental benefits. “If you want to attract wildlife, go for simple plants,” adds Dowdall.

“For example, if you are planting dahlias, go for landraces. Those with layers of ruffled petals are difficult for bees to access.

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Marks & Spencer Palm Duvet Set


Marks & Spencer Palm Bed Set

Marks & Spencer Palm Bed Set

Likewise, plant hybrids developed for flower color and a taller stem are often sterile to bees and insects. If in doubt, check with your garden centre. Dowdall also points out that planting for nature can be as neat as you want it to be.

“Everyone is aware of rewilding, but not everyone wants that unkempt look. You can still have a show garden. You just have to choose the right plants. Rewilding is not the same as neglect.

Dervla Farrell, online color consultant at Colourtrend, suggests people who are already planting for wildlife in their outdoor spaces or on their balconies use paint colors to help attract birds and bees. Colourtrend’s Weather Collection (from €32.50 a litre) is designed to suit the Irish climate.

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Hattie Lloyd Home Bee Bloom Wallpaper


Hattie Lloyd Home Bee Bloom Wallpaper

Hattie Lloyd Home Bee Bloom Wallpaper

Farrell suggests planting calendula and buddleia, also known as butterfly bush, in planters painted Foxmount, Furze Lane or Pink Chocolate because butterflies are known to be attracted to yellows, pinks and reds.

“You can also opt for these colors as a bold choice for an exterior door, but make sure you have some of their favorite plants nearby so they don’t feel mistreated!”

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Lime Lace Gold Marrakesh Hammered Planter


Lime Lace Gold Marrakesh Hammered Planter

Lime Lace Gold Marrakesh Hammered Planter

Birds have excellent color vision. A 2017 survey published by researchers from the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Hull in England indicated that silver and green feeders were more popular among garden birds than red and yellow ones.

In contrast, people preferred red, yellow, blue and green feeders. The researchers concluded that green feeders can be both marketable and attractive to foraging birds.

Designist’s excellent birdhouse ($59) comes in slate, green and terracotta. It was designed by Finnish bird enthusiasts Mika and Julie Tolvanen based on a years-long study of the feeding habits of birds.

Then there are the neighbors to consider. “Irish people prefer neutral colors in their outdoor spaces,” says Farrell. “We tend to look at what others have locally and take that into account. They want to respect the neighbors.

Her favorite shade is Mucky Swan, a greige she describes as “the perfect neutral,” and Newgrange: “It’s an earthy plum color with a richness that’s somewhere between a neutral and a pop.”

Plant for nature without letting nature run wild and use color to attract birds, bees and butterflies, without offending neighbors. At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act.

A 15-minute color consultation with Dervla Farrell is free; a 30 minute session costs €50 with €25 redeemable as an online paint voucher, see colourtrend.ie. Bord Gáis Energy: Imagine A Better Way is available on YouTube. See also theirishgardener.com, webb.ie and shop.designist.ie.