7 Biophilic Design Ideas You Can Recreate on a Budget

From plant-filled New York City shoebox-apartments to sprawling junglelike South Asian properties, biophilic design has become one of the most popular global interior design trends in recent years. Between 2019 and 2021, Pinterest Business recorded a 100% increase in the search for “biophilic design bedroom.” The term biophilia—defined as “an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world”—first appeared in a 1984 book by biologist E.O. Wilson, titled after the term. Yet almost four decades later, the practical design applications of this philosophy is at a fever pitch.

Research shows that biophilic design is more than an aesthetic choice—it can impact productivity and well-being. A study by global flooring company Interface found that people spent 11% more time in biophilic-inspired hotel lobbies as compared to less nature-forward lobbies. Green building consulting firm Paladino & Company also estimated a 5% increase in student test scores and a 15% reduction in absenteeism when schools in Washington State switched to a biophilic design approach.

While COVID-19 played a role in a resurgence of all things natural and an appreciation for bringing the outdoors in, the desire for biophilic design and the want to incorporate flora into the interiors is emphasized by experts like the Plant Kween and plant stylist Hilton Carter, who is publishing his fourth book, Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness, this month.

In a way people are seeking to create a home that is “like a living, breathing ecosystem,” Nick Cutsumpas, author of Plant Coach: The Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Plants and the Planet, points out. To help with this, Cutsumpas [known as Farmer Nick] advises clients to find their “greenprint,” or a way to map the interiors in a way that optimizes plant growth by flagging spots where the natural light hits, or minimizing drafts that could prevent plants from thriving.

A designer and self-described DIY’er, California-based Jessica Preteroti brings this creative spirit to all of her biophilia-inspired design choices. She says that “just because we build a box in nature to protect ourselves from the elements, doesn’t mean that that box shouldn’t feel as alive as the environment surrounding its walls. Through biophilic design, your home breathes life into you, just as you bring life to it. That connection with nature grounds you—it’s comforting and cozy—yet it’s magical and whimsical, all at the same time,” she says. “It makes home my favorite place to be.”

Adding plants to your space is a great first step, but there’s much more to biophilia than just greenery—natural shapes, soft tones, and green building material choices are all ways to honor mother nature while reaping your own benefits from a closeness to the natural world. And, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Carter says DIY and biophilia are perfect partners because they both privilege recycling and repurposing materials or plants. It just takes a bit of creativity: “A great way to bring in biophilic design on a budget is to create a living wall and place cuttings from the plants you currently have, from your friends or family, or by foraging, as propagations,” Carter says.

Here, seven biophilic design inspirations to revive your space and add a refreshing aesthetic through simple DIY projects and plant nurturing practices that won’t cost you too much green.

1. Double plant real estate with mirrors

The design firm Studio Seikaly incorporates natural materials and shapes, like this Tomas Graeff mirror, wherever possible.

The design firm Studio Seikaly incorporates natural materials and shapes, like this Tomas Graeff mirror, wherever possible.

Photo: Genesis Bonilla

“The floors in the house are original terrazzo flooring from the ’30s, so we wanted to juxtapose the hard floor with as many natural materials as possible and these mirrors were the perfect way to accomplish that,” says Tatiana Seikaly, founder and head designer of the Miami-based firm Studio Seikaly. She filled the Art Deco home with perfectly-placed plants and wavy, wooden-framed mirrors, custom-made by Tomas Graeff. The mirrors bring a much needed fluid element to the home, tying all the biophilic elements together. What’s more, if your budget only allows for a few plants, intentionally placing mirrors near each one can visually amplify the amount of greenery in the space.

2. Choose low-fuss, fast-growing plants

Plant parenting may look simple on social media but finding and caring for even a small collection can be both expensive and overwhelming. When it’s time to get serious about improving your green thumb, Delaware-based small business owner Durrell Eastland, also known as @theblackplantman, recommends getting your hands on a Ficus Audrey, which are less expensive than the viral fiddle-leaf fig, and take less work. Eastland’s biggest tip? Research your plants to find the best care solutions that reflect your lifestyle. “I’ve been obsessed with [the genus] Ficus ever since I started collecting plants which is why my Ficus collection is as extensive as it is now,” he says. “Over the years I’ve learned everything that I could about Ficus.” This includes knowing that Ficus Audrey’s curl their leaves when they need more water and that it’s best to keep your plants in one place, instead of adding the stress of frequent movement—a tip Eastland says works for all plants.

3. Supplement a sparse room with plants

Nick Cutsumpas, author of Plant Coach: The Beginner's Guide to Caring for Plants and the Planet, doubles up on flora by having both real plants and a framed piece of art surrounding the bed.

Placing a plant, or a curated collection of plants, in a corner can lend a jungle feel to any room and save you from spending on expensive furniture. Take the time to study your home’s greenprint and go from there: Choosing the ideal location for a plant can be almost as hard as finding the right placement for your first tattoo. Cutsumpas says, “If done well, your plants will appear as if they are growing out of the space like they would in their natural, native environments.” Look to empty corners and pad them with large-foliage plants like bird-of-paradise and Monstera deliciosa. Swapping the real deal for faux plants is also an option for anyone worried about maintaining a bundle of plants.

Dupray Bloom Air Purifier is the perfect example of biophilic design that functions as decor and a wellness tool.

Zeroing on a location in smaller rooms, like the home office, pick up smaller plants for the desk or to place on the windowsills. Both design moves invite a connection between indoor and outdoor while giving sun-hungry plants, such a succulents, exactly what they need. When potting and placing plants you can even combine functionality and the beauty of your greenery with special planters like the Dupray Bloom Air Purifier, which doubles as a large-sized pot and looks perfect as decor with the red-tipped Chinese evergreen.

4. Build a biophilic wall unit

“Obviously, plants play a big part in this, but there is so much more to biophilic design,” says DIY’er Melanie Boyden, based in Brighton, UK. Her homemade shelving unit adapted from IKEA Billy bookcases introduces natural, curved lines and the perfect shade of green into her airy living room. “Furniture often has straight lines and can sometimes feel uninviting and cold. Curves help soften the space, making it feel more connected to nature and creating a cozier feel to a room,” Boyden says. Using medium-density fibreboard, Boyden attached carefully measured circle-cut pieces to each bookcase, primed, and painted each one with Valspar Thames Fog (V144-5), a deep green that compliments all the verdant hues in her plants. Although it was time-consuming, the DIY allowed Boyden to fully customize the built-in to complement her already biophilic home. “Using natural materials like wood, brick, and stone, along with curving shapes, helps to make your home feel more grounded and imperfect like nature,” Boyden says. “The patterns of materials like wood and marble reflect the irregularity of the outside world and help to soften all the straight lines of interior design.”

5. Design a living wall

“Once you run out of floor and shelf space, there’s only one way to go…up!” says plant-enthusiast, and Plant Blerd founder Kamili Bell Hill. When she ran into this overflow problem, she designed a living wall full of plants diverse in size, color, and species. To make your own, Hill recommends using a blend of self-watering pots for the high, unreachable plants, floating shelves for the rest, and plant rings to keep everything together. This lawyer turned Black People with Plants founder is passionate about creating the most organic feel with her plant curation. Hill says, “Hang the self-watering pots at the top of the wall for large trailing plants to really get the indoor jungle vibe. Then stagger the plant rings and shelves at different heights, for an organic feel and fill in the shelf so that it looks lush.” To make the most of your budget, choose cascading, easy-to-propagate plants like golden pothos.

6. Design as you propagate

Plant stylist Hilton Carter, author of  Living Wild: How to Plant Style Your Home and Cultivate Happiness, shows that propagation is not only a way to grow your plant collection, it is an easy, and budget-friendly way to build a living wall.
Photo: Hilton Carter/©CICO Books 2023

Instead of cluttering a countertop with water jars to propagate, the process of cutting from a plant to grow another one, use this natural step as a chance to up your design. “You don’t always need to buy new plants when you want to add green to your space, ” Cutsumpas says. “Although it will take longer, taking cuttings and propagating plants is an easy and free way to expand your botanical collection.” The easiest plants to propagate include African violets, pothos, and philodendrons, all available at most plant stores. To propagate: Cut a leaf or stem from a healthy plant and place it into a small container of water.

Wall-mounted planters with test tubes can make a great living wall addition and fill out an empty space. Take a note from Carter, who designed “cove cradles” to make a living wall from plant cuttings. Carter used small test-tube-like vases and carrying shelves and he recommends repurposing any kind of recyclable vessel like glass sparking water bottles. This budget-friendly DIY lets you create a biophilic work of art.

7. Lean into natural materials

Not everyone is as thrift-lucky as Preteroti, who found this vintage Barcelona chair while rummaging through a Palm Springs secondhand shop—but anyone can take her repurposing advice to bring a biophilic twist into all sorts of thrift flip projects. For Preteroti’s chair-fixing DIY, she chose manilla rope and used a series of loops around the chair frame finished with sailors knots to create the base for the chair cushions. To add support, she wove the rope on both the seat and back from right to left and back to front, a method called twill weaving.

Not ready to take on a project this big? Sarah and Jonathan Prins, a Michigan-based couple who run a photography business and call themselves The Renovation Couple, made a DIY rattan light with a large rattan candle holder from TJMaxx and a pendant light kit. “We wanted a unique look that fit the space and we knew we could create it by combining the materials ourselves,” Sarah says. Using materials like rattan, a naturally renewable palm plant, or jute, a thick natural fiber, can really elevate your biophilic design. In Citizenry’s Spring 2023 Trend Report, textile designer Caris Fawcett predicted a growth in the popularity of these natural materials. “Incorporating a room with something as simple as a jute rug can ground a space by emulating the textures and tones seen in nature,” Fawcett says. “Oftentimes, jutes can be used as a layering piece and a vessel for additional texture pieces—combining well with browns, terra-cottas, olives, and other warm neutral colors.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

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