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Strategies for Uniting Built and Natural Environments


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the country’s leading governmental infrastructure initiative. They correctly assert that:

“Decisions about how and where we build our communities have significant impacts on the natural environment and on human health. Cities, regions, states, and the private sector need information about the environmental effects of their land use and transportation decisions to mitigate growth related environmental impacts and to improve community quality of life and human health.”

This philosophy doesn't just apply to building developers and urban planners. As interior designers, we too have a professional responsibility to find ways to best unite built and natural environments – for our clients, and for Mother Nature herself.

Some of my favorite practical interior design strategies for integrating built and natural environments include:

Following Nature’s Lead: Interiors should be designed with humans in mind. It is a Biophilic Design principle that people feel most comfortable in spaces that follow nature’s lead rather than monochromatic bubbles. Our common desire for hardwood floors is a subconscious human yearning for replication of the forest floor. Hence, the ground should be darkest, like a path, mid-range eye-level colors should be neutral, and the ceiling should be light like the sky.

Using Renewable Materials: It goes without saying that using renewable materials in your interior design is beneficial for the environment. But did you know that building materials that have been harvested from the earth are also extremely durable and cost effective? Cork and granite are two of my favorite renewable materials to work with. Cork, which is made from the bark of cork trees, is very springy and resistant to damage. Granite is the hardest and most dense natural stone which helps maintain luster and resist staining.

Furnishing Thoughtfully: Furniture made from natural materials like rattan, wicker, and hemp channel the outdoor world and are easy on the environment. Another eco-friendly idea is to purchase vintage furniture which lends itself to a beautiful, eclectic feel.

Layering in Greenery: Indoor plants are a fantastic representation of Feng Shui wood energy – instantly bringing interiors to life while simultaneously purifying the air we breathe. Consider clustering small plants in groups at staggered levels to give a sense of natural depth and balance.

Prioritizing Natural Colors: Once your home is filled with renewable materials, natural fabrics, and greenery, it’s important to ensure a natural color palette is used for the remainder of the space. Neutral colors with subtle variations work a charm and allow greater flexibility for accent colors later down the track. Remember, Mother Nature never goes out of style!

Implementing Considered Lighting Design: Sunlight is a crucial, and all too often forgotten, component of natural design. It’s also my favorite energetic disinfectant. In addition to letting the light shine in whenever possible, consider natural fiber window treatments, soft/warm light bulbs, unobtrusive fixtures, and recessed lighting.

By viewing the outdoors as an extension of the home, you too can find design inspiration in the natural world and bring that powerful, organic inspiration indoors.

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Julie Schuster Design Studio

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