Scrolling through instagram for images tagged #Biophilicdesign you will find an array of beautiful interiors, and nearly all of these designed around a neutral and green colour scheme. The predominance of green and woody neutrals is, of course, due mostly to the wonderful greenery and planting incorporated in these interiors. As Biophilic Design is centred around enhancing our human-nature connections for the good of our health and happiness, greenery and planting surely plays a significant role.
But Biophilic design is not just about greenery and plants. Biophilic Design is guided by research-led principles and includes a range of direct and indirect recommendations for bringing nature and natural references into interiors, rather than being defined by a specific look or style. Colour is such an important and emotional aspect of interiors, and so prevalent and evocative in nature, its role in Biophilic design shouldn’t be overlooked.
“When we see colours in the natural world, we can be subconsciously moved feel a certain way. Our visual and emotional senses are simultaneously connected and simulated by the spectrum of colours we are exposed to.” Jessica Duggan, command+i
Colour is recognised for its powerful role in Biophilic-designed interiors for its ability to significantly affect our mood and experience of a space. In his book, The Practice of Biophilic Design, one of the leading thinkers in Biophilc design, Stephen Kellert describes the power colour can have: “Color’s inherent appeal can be so strong that even the most hardened individual finds it difficult to remain indifferent to a colourful rainbow, beautiful flower, or spectacular sunset.”
Colour palette by Claire Gaudion, background sea photo by Dmitry Polonskiy, Shutterstock
So which colours should be considered for Biophilic designed spaces? Which colours do you feel mimic nature and remind you of the natural world?
The most dominant colours in nature can be grouped by landscape, for example, the sea, the sky, earthy colours, and of course, plants. There is certainly an abundance of greens, but also blues and earthly neutrals in nature. Brighter colours are found in nature too – think of beautiful blooms, birds and butterflies - but we see these in proportionately smaller amounts. These stronger, more vibrant hues tend to be more attention-grabbing in nature; they are there with a purpose, to attract pollinators, warn about toxicity or danger... Humans, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems to react more strongly to more intense high chroma colours.
Stephen Kellert also adds a note of caution with regard to bright colours and colours being misused or inappropriately applied, and recommends a considered approach “that generally favors blues, greens, and other earth tones.”
Colour palette by Claire Gaudion, background morland photo by DrimaFilm, Shutterstock
One of the key elements of Biophilic colour is balance - how colours are combined and the proportionate use of colour to mimic the natural world. If you play around with the proportions of the colours in these colour palettes, you will find you can create quite different effects. Another key consideration, which directly relates to Kellert’s recommendations, is chromatic intensity - how bright and saturated colours are.
Working with colour within Biophilic design is all about our human-nature relationship and so the consideration of colour psychology plays a significant part, and from a psychological perspective, chroma is also highly significant. Our emotional reaction to colour is actually more about our response to chromatic intensity, than the colour itself. Strong, bright saturated colours tend to be more invigorating and energising. This may be on a scale from gently uplifting through to over-stimulating especially when used for coverage of larger areas such as walls or flooring.
The way that light changes throughout the day and the seasons in natural environments creates an array of tonal colour harmonies. And, (particularly in this part of the world) nature displays a predominance of lower chroma colours - through a spectrum of tints, tones and shades. Lower chroma colours have a tendency to be more universally relaxing and calming, and perhaps therefore more suited to everyday living spaces.
There is a wide spectrum of chromatic variation for any one hue, from fresher pale tints, to softer colours with grey undertones, to darker richer shades. Colour psychology research (specifically the work of Angela Wright) has demonstrated that different personalities tend to have a preference for specific groups of colours. These colour groups broadly sit within a particular area of the chromatic spectrum, be this tints, tones or shades and have either warm or cool undertones.
Colours in nature are always perfectly combined. The natural light will effect how we see these colours, perhaps brighter some days than others. If you are looking to nature for colour inspiration in your home, the key to using colour effectively is to think about how different tones and shades, and specific combinations of colours, make you feel and behave. Colour is such an emotive element of design and nature offers many suggestions for the perfect colour scheme.
Follow us on Instagram for our Biophilic colour inspiration and harmonious colour palettes.
References and further reading:
Dr. Stephen Kellert for Human Spaces blog: Nature by Design: the Practice of Biophilic Design, 2015.
Terrapin Bright Green: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design– improving health & well-being in the build environment, 2014.
Human Spaces: The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace.
Interface: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.
Oliver Heath for Human Spaces blog: Ecological Valence Theory and the Use of Color.
Karen Haller, The Little Book of Colour, 2019
Angela Wright, The Beginner's Guide To Colour Psychology, 1998.