Natural Healing with Biomimicry

Jean Nayar

Five expert approaches to improving health and well-being through biomimicry and nature

If there’s truth to the adage that we’re all products of our environment, then it makes good sense to ensure the spaces we work in are as conducive to bringing out the best in us as possible. There’s a lot of buzz in design circles these days around the idea of biophilia—the notion that humans possess an instinctive tendency to seek out connections with nature and other forms of life. Described in 1973 by the German-born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm as “the passionate love of life and all that is alive,” and expanded on in 1984 by American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who proposed that the human proclivity to affiliate with nature and other forms of life is based, in part, on genetics, biophilia has become the foundation for a movement among proponents of sustainable design to incorporate aspects of nature into products and spaces to support a sense of well-being that’s vital to human health and productivity. There’s also a growing body of anecdotal and scientific research that validates the benefits generated by a proximity to nature—or elements that mimic it—and supports the trend toward nature-centric design. Read on for five expert design strategies that rely on nature or biomimicry to enhance our health and well-being in built environments.

Cultivate a green wall. Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses by bringing color and dimension to lobbies, atriums, and other communal spaces, they also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and other toxic gasses and replacing them with life-giving oxygen. As an alternative to green walls composed of grasses, succulents, and other plants, Joseph Zazzera, a certified biomimicry professional, LEED AP ID+C, provisional WELL AP, and co-owner of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Plant Solutions, suggests installing a low-maintenance green wall made of moss and lichens, which Buddhist monks began to cultivate a thousand years ago in temples or on stones and walls to turn their attention away from daily distractions and facilitate meditation. When their varying textures and chartreuse, olive, soft gray, and pale green hues are coalesced within a framed composition, maintained with a patented preservation process, and mounted on a wall, mosses and lichens also engage the eye like an abstract painting. “We think of these as biomimicry art pieces, connecting us to our human nature and innate love of living things,” says Zazzera. “Each one is like a shrine at the edge of the wilderness between our offices and our primeval nature.”

moss art

Living walls composed of an array of small plants not only delight the senses but also promote health and well-being by absorbing carbon-dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. Image credit: ©Plant Solutions

Consider the senses. Nature-inspired elements that we can see, hear, smell, or feel can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress. A work space that supports eye health, for example, should allow for depth of view beyond computer screen of at least 20 feet, but ideally 60-100+ feet, to allow eye muscles to completely relax and prevent prolonged ocular stress, according to Chris Garvin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, and managing partner with Terrapin Bright Green, a sustainability consulting and strategic planning firm. “If you have manual controls for window blinds, be sure to use them and not keep the blinds down out of forgetfulness,” Garvin says, who also advises incorporating the sound of running water in work spaces as well. “Trickling or gurgling water can contribute to concentration and stress reduction,” he explains. “A small desktop fountain can cost as little as $10.” To address the sense of touch, Garvin recommends incorporating a sense of “thermal variability,” in air flow or temperature “either through manual controls, operable windows, an oscillating small desktop fan, or material choices with different thermal qualities—including a mix of metal, wood, fabric and other material surfaces.”

woman looking through blinds

Nature-inspired elements can positively impact our physical and mental well-being and also reduce stress.

Echo Nature’s textures, forms, and patterns. From crystals and leaves to seashells and snowflakes, the naturally occurring forms in nature are built upon patterns that humans instinctively respond to in a positive way. The late designer Buckminster Fuller looked to these patterns as the ultimate source of inspiration in his whole-systems approach to problem solving. “Fuller was impressed with how efficient nature is in her use of materials,” says Elizabeth Thompson, executive director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. “As a result, none of his structures have right angles because nature doesn’t use them—natural forms are all based on the triangle and tetrahedron,” she adds. When surrounded by structures or elements based on such patterns, she explains, “you feel something that has a resonance with the natural world.” The use of biomorphic forms, or forms that mimic those in nature, has been found to reduce stress and increase visual preference, concurs Garvin. “This would also include the use of fractal ratios and other patterns that occur within nature,” he notes. The flooring options in Interface’s Human Nature™ collection of modular carpet tile, for example, trigger positive signals in the brain by bringing a sense of nature underfoot with both textures and patterns that emulate moss, sand, gravel, and other natural surfaces.

Human Nature

The flooring options in Interface’s Human Nature trigger positive signals in the brain by bringing a sense of nature underfoot with both textures and patterns that emulate moss, sand, gravel, and other natural surfaces.

Open a window on the world. As workspaces shrink to reduce carbon footprints and limit energy and real estate costs, designers, facility managers, and corporate decision-makers have found that introducing a view onto a natural setting can compensate for a perceived loss of space. As an example, Lindsay James, a certified biomimicry professional and vice president of restorative enterprise for Interface, points to furniture manufacturer Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan, where more traditional offices were exchanged for updated smaller-scale open workspaces, and an enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views. “An early post-occupancy survey revealed a negative response at first, as workers felt the space to be more crowded, but over time a family of wild turkeys moved in to the prairie and people began to check daily on the eggs as they were nurtured and hatched,” she explains. “After workers reconnected to the rhythm of life, positive responses went up dramatically in a subsequent survey as they found unexpected fulfillment in witnessing nature at a slow pace,” she adds. “As we see nature unfolding over the seasons, we are reminded on a daily basis of how the bigger picture can affect our world view and reinforce the feeling that we’re connected to all life on the planet.”

Haworth headquarters

Haworth’s renovated headquarters in Holland, Michigan exchanged more traditional offices for updated smaller-scale open workspaces. An enclosed garage was removed and replaced with prairie grasses and an atrium to provide access to daylight and views. Image credit: Haworth

Follow the light. “Daylight, with a sky view and exposure to natural diurnal patterns, supports concentration during the day and helps maintain healthy circadian rhythms,” says Garvin. “When quality daylight isn’t possible, one strategy is task-ambient electric circadian lighting design with biologically-correct LED light bulbs for task lamps.”

For more ideas on biophilic design visit or

Posted in Category Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Pantone Color of the Year: Serenity/Rose Quartz

Gretchen Wagner

It’s always daunting to start a new year, but Pantone’s color selections are a reminder of the softness that comes with new beginnings and to be gentle with ourselves during this new transition and our first trips back to the office post-holiday vacation.

This year is truly memorable as far as “Colors of the Year” go because Pantone has selected not one, but two colors to represent the color trend for the year. Serenity is an opally blue (minus the iridescence) has a naturally breezy essence that renders it both muted and saturated while Rose Quartz is on the paler side of pink with a sugary sweet touch. Together they create an effortless palette that is a reminiscent of more mindful times.

Pantone color palette

Pair blush tones with pale cool neutrals in the form steel gray & iron blue and accompany with patinaed or matte finish copper tones for a touch of authenticity.

For me personally, the palette takes me back to my spring semester abroad in Provence (anyone else having similar sentiments out there?). A special moment in life where creativity reigned supreme and my only woes were whether or not I could muster the courage to order my chocolate croissant in French from the local patisserie. Rose scented macaroons, dried lavender bundles hanging in the markets of Arles, chunky limestone homes and the rosy peak of Roussillon across the Luberon Valley at sunrise. Honestly, could you imagine a more restful paradise?

Soft blush tones have been trickling into the commercial interior design community for a few years now in the form of upholstery and high luster rose gold finishes, so it’s time to start thinking about its more permanent home. Pastel colors are transitioning into the realm of neutrals while we continue to emphasize highly saturated and neon color accents. Pair blush tones with pale cool neutrals in the form steel gray & iron blue and accompany with patinaed or matte finish copper tones for a touch of authenticity. Picture floor to ceiling glass with natural light flooding in across bleached wood floors, an upholstered felt blush mid-century modern sofa decorated in slubby oversized knits and chunky hand woven tapestries. YUM!

The human mind craves real experiences – so create a serene oasis that is more about the tactile world than the digital one.

Interface color palette

Incorporate the Pantone Colors of the Year into your next project using these Interface carpet tile products: 1) SH901: Capri 2) PO801: Marseille 3) NF401: Linen 4) EM551: Oldtown 5) On Line: Cloud 6) Platform: Pearl Gray 7) FLOR Reverb: Glacier 8) UR302: Ash 9) On Board: Eucalyptus

In the bustle of our modern lives and with all the stresses and hurriedness that accompanies them, it is important to surround yourself with objects that carry thoughtful intentions. Whether it’s variable shades of blue, hand sculpted ceramics (bonus points for sourcing locally) or a well-worn and mended chambray shirt, this year’s palette is about the “less is more” philosophy and returning to a peaceful state of mind. Or a summer abroad in France, same thing.

Until next year my color loving friends, au revoir!

Posted in Category Design Inspirations, Products & Services | Leave a comment

My Boutique Tour of NYC

Sarah Pelham

After a day of combing through BDNY for the latest boutique hospitality trends, I took off to the streets of New York to see some fabulous spaces in person. Even though you can see these properties online, I find you get a much better feeling for the spaces when you see them yourself. My mission? To check out the new Park Hyatt, The Quin and 1 Hotel Central Park.

Park Hyatt New York
With elegant finishes and a ballroom with views of Central Park, this property offers stunning state-of-the-art rooms with sophistication and elegance. Designed by world-renowned, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc, Park Hyatt New York delivers style and sophistication in every detail with beautifully articulated spaces that are functional and fashionable.

Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt New York

The Quin
A quintessential luxury boutique hotel, The Quin debuted on November 11th, 2013, and is located at the intersection of art, music and fashion near Central Park, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Fifth Avenue couture. The Quin offers a melding of modern luxury with its rich artistic heritage. The building was constructed at the peak of the Arts and Crafts movement. Renowned architecture and interior design firm, Perkins Eastman, transposed the site into a contemporary masterpiece. With a rotating collection of art, each stay is a different visual experience. It looks like a fabulous boutique experience and I want to stay there!


The Quin

1 Hotels – Central Park
1 Hotels offers a unique experience to guests. You’ll find open spaces bathed in natural light, food made with the freshest organic ingredients and recycled or reclaimed wood and materials throughout the property. 1 Hotels has an eco-friendly platform that is similar to our own thoughts and visions at Interface Hospitality. 1 Hotels states, “Most ideas start from an observation. Ours was a simple one: the world around us is beautiful and we want to do our best to keep it that way.” They are focused on minimizing their environmental footprint and they support organizations that care about sustainability, the environment and local communities.

1 Hotel

1 Hotels – Central Park

Following nature’s model, 1 Hotels is vested in the belief that we find nature intertwined into everything we touch, see, smell and taste. They have worked hard to bring the outside in with natural light, living plants and fresh scents. Like in nature, everything at 1 Hotels works together and introduces a new way to experience luxury living. The use of natural textures, building materials from nature and an abundance of natural light grants a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor spaces.

My time visiting boutique hotels while attending BDNY was filled with visual variety and experiences to feed my artistic spirit. I encourage everyone to embark on a New York boutique experience.

Posted in Category Design Inspirations, Hospitality Design | Leave a comment

A Ray of Hope – Ray C. Anderson Foundation Global Design Challenge


How would Mother Nature design a company? When posed by Interface founder Ray Anderson in 1994, that question became part of the radical conversation that would reshape the company he founded. In 2016, this kind of radical thinking will guide criteria for the first-ever Ray of Hope prize in recognition of inspired biomimicry-based solutions.

“Don’t look at images of Nature,” encouraged Janine Benyus, founder of the Biomimicry Institute and a member of Interface’s Eco Dream Team. “Look at her organizing principles.”

NF400 NF401 Felt

How would Mother Nature design a carpet tile?

Back in 1994, founder Ray Anderson had his “epiphany”—a sea change that would reinvent Interface, then in its 21st year. At that time, biomimicry was not yet the phenomenon it is today, but its underlying principle—looking to Nature’s design systems to solve problems—was intuitive and embraced by Ray. He challenged the company to become sustainable, but no one could know how a carpet company might accomplish it. After all, we were so dependent on petroleum for energy and inputs that we might as well have been an extension of the oil industry. The spark for change lay in the simple question—How would Mother Nature design a carpet tile?—and the results are compelling: 50 percent of Interface materials are from bio-based or recycled sources.

By establishing the $100,000 annual Ray of Hope prize, the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, in association with the Biomimicry Institute, will recognize students, designers or other visionaries who are developing market-ready, scalable, biomimicry-inspired solutions. The prize complements the Global Design Challenge, also sponsored by the Foundation and the Biomimicry Institute, which launched in 2015. The first two years of the Challenge are focused on solutions to improve global food security, and will progress every two years through other global challenges.

Biomimicry Global Design Challenge

#Thinkoutside to fix our food system.

Both the Challenge and the Ray of Hope prize are designed to drive great ideas out of the lab and into the market where they can make the biggest impact.

As Ray would say, “So right, and so smart.

Posted in Category Biomimicry, Culture & Play, Sustainability | Leave a comment

What’s Trending in Boutique Design?

Sarah Pelham

A boutique is any small, exclusive business offering customized service, especially one that sells fashionable items specializing in one aspect of a larger industry. BDNY is the time for boutique hotels to find the coolest, hippest design elements to enhance guest experiences. Each year I look forward to grabbing coffee and a bagel, putting on my comfortable boots and setting out to take in the show as well as touring the city. Boutique design and New York City are the perfect match. As you walk through the city, you’re surrounded by boutique hotels, shops and restaurants, giving you a chance to experience a few days of boutique life.

True to its name, BDNY booths showcased specialty design in hospitality. The booths are all similar in size, making the show a manageable event to tackle and find the latest, interesting, “one off” items to make hotel properties unique. The 2015 HD Expo themes of gold/bronze finishes, tactile, textural surfaces and natural, organic form continued at BDNY. I also found nature inspired freeform light fixtures, natural interlocking wood wall systems and specialty furniture items.


Sarah found many tactile, textural surfaces on display at BDNY 2015.

Flooring throughout the show was very organic, transforming from one pattern/shape to another. There were fabrics that demonstrated a deconstruction form between positive and negative surfaces. Luxurious velvets, natural hides, felts and woven textiles were abundant. These textiles connect natural fibers with high end luxury.


Just a sampling of the luxurious velvet, natural hides, felts and woven textiles at the show.

In the market for a bright, special accent piece? It could easily be found at BDNY. Crystal pendants, handcrafted inlaid gold mosaics, intricate cast bronze lamps, interlocking bronze wall panels, and elegant jacquard fabric were found throughout the show. The classic hounds tooth pattern was a popular geometric that popped up in furniture and fabrics. In wallcovering systems and flooring, the rectangular plank format was abundant.


In the market for a bright, special accent piece? Here’s a sampling of what was spotted at BDNY.

Next up? I took my adventure to the streets to check out some of New York’s celebrated boutique hotels. Stay tuned to see what I found.

Posted in Category Design Inspirations, Hospitality Design | Leave a comment