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Is Green the Best Colour for Biophilic Design?

September 21, 2020 4 min read

Biophilic Design - Colour

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

Biophilic Design - Colours

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.” 

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.”

Biophilic Design - Colour

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 hue 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. 

 Biophilic Design - Colour

The way that light changes throughout the day and the seasons in natural environments creates an array of tonal colour harmonies. And nature displays a predominance of lower chroma colour - 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. This may sound rather generalised for a subject as complex as colour. And indeed, there is a wide spectrum of chromatic variation for any one hue, from fresher pale tints, to softer colours with grey undertones, to darker shades, all of which have a role to play. Differing tonal groups of colours are believed to impact our emotional and behavioural responses in differing ways and may also affect our circadian rhythms, for example, darker shadowy shades may influence our internal body clocks by being suggestive of dusky evening light.

Colour psychology research has demonstrated that people tend to have a preference for colours that sit within a particular area of the chromatic spectrum, be this tints, tones or shades, or a neighbouring group of colours on this chromatic scale. This considered, the fewer people a space is being designed for allows for a more personalised, tailored palette. Whereas for spaces being designed for use by larger groups of people, a wider, more universal appeal is required, which may suggest a more balanced, lower chroma scheme, one that which mimics the natural world. 

If you’d like to learn more about colour, colour psychology and colour use in Biophilic design, take a look at our online colour course. Follow us on Instagram for our Biophilic colour inspiration and harmonious colour palettes. 


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