The Nature of Design

Integrating natural and outdoors-inspired elements like houseplants, therapeutic lighting, and cold-plunge tubs into homes can enhance wellness efforts.
Sallie Lord chief designer of Carmel-based GreyHunt Interiors designed the meditation room.
Photo courtesy GreyHunt Interiors

Wellness is not a design trend; it’s a way of life that has become integral to design. Creating comfortable, calm, and relaxing living spaces is becoming more and more desirable to homeowners, and the degree to which wellness elements are applied varies by room.

A portrait of Sallie Lord chief designer of Carmel-based GreyHunt Interiors.
Sallie Lord, chief designer with GreyHunt Interiors.

“Whether it is a reading room, a workout space, or a home office, we demand more of our home today than ever,” says Sallie Lord, chief designer at GreyHunt Interiors. “The feel of a room depends upon what happens in it. Each room needs to do positive things for our mental health.”

The term “biophilic” might be unfamiliar, but its concept of immersive wellness is not. Simply stated, biophilic design represents connectivity to nature. Though the term was coined recently, biophilic design has been used in architecture for millennia, with evidence of courtyards and pleasure gardens strewn across the ruins of the ancient world.

Green Rooms

Demetrius Robinson of At Home With Savvy created a tranquil reading room accented with potted plants.
Photo courtesy At Home With Savvy

At the annual Kitchen & Bath Industry Show held earlier this year in Las Vegas, the color green dominated in a vast range of shades including eucalyptus, army, Kelly, sea, emerald, light, forest, pine, olive, tea, lime, grass, Paris, imperial, and Veronese. And no, we’re not talking about the avocado green of the ’70s. To some, green represents the heart chakra and symbolizes opening up, receiving, and abundance.

At KBIS, green was seen on every appliance imaginable, on walls, and on the outsides of tubs and sinks, countertops, and cabinetry. Plants also contributed to the verdant palette.

Nature Versus Nurture

Plants are the most obvious way to bring nature indoors. Living, breathing flora is responsible for oxygen exchange and can bring an immediate sense of calm to any room.

Demetrius Robinson of At Home With Savvy specializes in living walls as art.
Photo courtesy NatureSpire

Demetrius Robinson, principal interior designer with At Home With Savvy, utilizes houseplants wherever possible in his clients’ homes. “Plants are important to me as a designer and a human. Finding ways to bring the outdoors in—whether branches, small objects from nature, or a natural element—adds to overall wellness,” he says.

Robinson sets his clients up for success with houseplants by thoughtfully considering and selecting species that align with their lifestyles. Fussy, high maintenance varieties may be ideal for some homeowners, but others may prefer low-maintenance plants that thrive on less attention (enter: succulents). Naturspire in Carmel goes further by creating living walls that look like art installations in homes or offices. A living wall provides energy to a stagnant space.

The primary challenge for many homeowners is capitalizing on natural light. This is not only a factor for plants but also for humans.

Let There be Light Therapy

Our natural biological processes, or circadian rhythms, align with the colors of the sun throughout the day. At dawn, we experience the golden hour. Throughout the day, light becomes more blue, which energizes us. The amber light in the evening facilitates a natural release of melatonin, which signals an approaching bedtime.

Carmel architectural designer Adam Gibson conceptualizes kitchens and bathrooms with lighting considerations and sustainable materials in mind.
Photo courtesy Adam Gibson Design

To emulate these effects indoors, lighting systems and lightbulbs that match the sun’s natural color temperatures now exist. Through carefully chosen fixtures or apps connected to smart lights, we can replicate changes throughout the day, keeping our bodies in sync with natural light rhythms.

Architectural designer Adam Gibson of Adam Gibson Design leverages natural light as much as possible in his design projects. Gibson recommends installing south-facing windows, and if a room requires additional light, he often brings in tubular skylights, which filter UV radiation and are cheaper, easier to install, more energy efficient, and more weatherproof than conventional skylights.

Trigger the Glimmers

Glimmers are moments in a day when we feel joy, happiness, peace, or gratitude. Surrounding yourself with items that trigger glimmers is a fun way to bring joy into a space. This isn’t far from the “love it or leave it” concept professional organizer Marie Kondo applies to her KonMari method of tidying and decluttering homes. The use of objects that make us feel good is something to pay attention to when decorating.

Healthy Design

Carmel architectural designer Adam Gibson conceptualizes kitchens and bathrooms with lighting considerations and sustainable materials in mind.
Photo courtesy Adam Gibson Design

Another way to incorporate wellness in design is to use natural products and materials that do not off-gas, or release harmful chemicals into the air. “Many people are unaware that their flooring, cabinets, and furniture contain volatile organic compounds. I strongly recommend installing healthy products that contain no carcinogens, which most homeowners don’t realize they may already be living with,” advocates Gibson, who is a healthy home expert and a master kitchen and bath designer. “Wellness that is unseen includes constant fresh air exchanges throughout the home, including adequate cooking ventilation and make-up air.”

Inspiration Via Immersion

During a presentation at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, certified kitchen and bath designer Elle H-Millard spoke of the benefits of biophilic design, describing how immersive experiences—being surrounded by natural elements that engage us through sight, touch, and sound—release endorphins.

The above bathroom by designer Elle H-Millard channels nature-inspired serenity with its steam shower and botanical print backdrop.
Photo courtesy Elle H-Millard

“There’s mystery and wonder associated with nature,” says H-Millard, who created biophilic performance art while earning her MFA. “This connectivity to beauty in nature can be incorporated into design to give us all the feels. It is not a coincidence that many people have their best ideas while in the shower—as creative thoughts are inspired by elements from nature.”

H-Millard points to bathroom fixtures such as waterfall faucets, rain-simulating showerheads, and steam showers as features that evoke a feeling of calm. She suggests seeking inspiration in the Japandi approach, which is a minimalist mix of Japanese and Scandinavian design utilizing greenery, natural materials, and neutral colors.

“Emulating an environment within the home that induces the sympathetic nervous system to trip into a state of relaxation [creates] a haven away from work and the stresses of life,” says H-Millard. “Surrounding ourselves with objects that are joy-producing and that minimize distractions from our busy lives is a huge victory for anyone.”

Hot or Cold?

While the phrase “to bathe yourself in luxury” is merely a saying, no one can deny how lavish the simple joy of a long, hot bath or a dip in the pool can feel.

A PolarSpa cold-plunge tub is shown.
Photo courtesy PolarSpa

Cold water immersion therapy has been trending for a while, and fortunately, there is a lot of equipment on the market for a range of incomes. Benefits from cold immersion include expediting muscle recovery, reducing muscle soreness, improving circulation, and increasing overall mental well-being.

Immersing oneself in hot water for therapeutic purposes dates back thousands of years, with evidence of hot bath rituals existing in ancient China, Egypt, India, Japan, Greece, and elsewhere. The Romans also partook, coining the phrase “sanus per aquam,” which translates to “health through water.” Hot baths are proven to relieve stress and muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. Submerging yourself in a hot bath in the evening may also improve sleep.

The Ultimate Decorating Tip

The bottom line is that whatever makes you feel healthy and happy in your home is paramount.