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Back to Nature

Words by Rosie Cattrell.

In conversation with Marianna Popejoy, expert in the art of connecting the places we call home with the natural world that we are all drawn to.

Specialising in biophilic design, Interior Designer Marianna Popejoy brings us into her realm, in which the home and the natural world go hand in hand. Having worked on numerous projects, from outdoor bathrooms and garden layouts to jungle-inspired interiors, Marianna’s work and own personal home have been featured globally by Architectural Digest, Livingetc and Apartment Therapy, not to mention her own contributions to various interior magazines on the subject of biophilia within the home.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, and how you first came across the idea of biophilia.

I stumbled across the word ‘biophilia’ in a somewhat haphazard way, almost by accident really, after being asked by various journalists if they could feature our home as they felt that it was a great example of biophilic design. ‘Why yes, of course!’, I would reply, while frantically typing it into a search engine. The more I learned about the concept, the more I recognised how many of the core principles of biophilia we had incorporated into the design of our home without even realising it – proof that the desire to connect the spaces we live in to nature really is an intrinsic part of being human. Although I may have stumbled upon the word ‘biophilia’ by accident, going out into nature is where I go to find solace and calm when life starts to get a bit too hectic, so it was always our intention, in every stage of planning the design of our home, to have that clear connection to nature and the natural environment. And so, this very happy accident has led me into a career where I get to design people’s indoor and outdoor spaces in line with the very same biophilic principles that I’ve always been so subconsciously drawn to.

Tell me exactly what it means to you to be a biophilic designer.

Since being a little girl, I’ve always been obsessed with interior design. I’ve tried to bring my own ideas and creativity to every space that I’ve been lucky enough to call my own, whether that be an item of furniture or a full room, with varying degrees of success, it has to be said. I understood from a young age that the design of a room, good or bad, could have an impact on the way that you felt within the space.

I think the mistakes that I made during those experimental years, such as the dark red hallway that lasted a full two weeks during my twenties, made me realise that your home environment had the power to make you feel safe, or in this case, the very opposite. Fast forward a good few years, and I now have the privilege of helping other people transform their spaces into sanctuaries, away from the hustle and bustle of modern-day living, where they can feel nourished and supported from the minute they step through the door.

Briefly take me through a few of the main biophilic principles when it comes to the home.

The word biophilia focuses on humankind’s innate desire to have that biological connection with the natural world. Stephen Kellert, a professor of social ecology who helped pioneer the theory of ‘biophilia’, believed that the use of nature in our home environment should be approached from the view of an ecosystem, with many layers and great complexity. There are six core principles to focus on, with over 70 ‘belief systems’ within that to consider.

Of course, it’s not always going to be possible to incorporate everything into the space that you have. We’re not all fortunate enough to live overlooking wide open green spaces, and we can’t just repaint our entire home forest green when we live in a rental property, but there should still be small elements that we can take away to improve our quality of life, sleep better, improve our mental and physical health, work more efficiently and enrich our lives and relationships.

From colour psychology to boost your productivity, to natural materials that aid a good night’s sleep, and views and vistas out to nature that have been proven to speed up recovery times when used in hospitals, all the way through to tips on choosing houseplants that can help promote a healthy indoor climate and even reduce the allergens that contribute to complaints such as irritated eyes, headaches, sore throats and tiredness. Pairing all of that with a recent and somewhat alarming study claiming that we spend approximately 90 percent of our lives indoors, why wouldn’t we want to include some of these healing principles into the homes that we spend so much of our time in?

What kind of effect can living by some of these biophilic principles have on someone?

There’s no denying that interior design has seen a huge shift since the global pandemic. The ripple effects and implications of that collective trauma will be felt for many years to come, and it will no doubt impact us in ways that we probably haven’t even realised yet. Me and my family felt so lucky to have implemented so many of the principles of biophilic design into our home before the global lockdowns. Our four walls never felt restrictive to us, they felt protective and I realise that this is partly down to the fact that we were incredibly privileged to have good health and be part of a loving family unit, but I also believe that the strong connections to nature that we had in place made us feel held at a time when everything else was so unpredictable and volatile. It was during this time that I launched myself wholeheartedly into writing my book At Home with Nature, to help others make those all-important connections to the natural environment within their homes in order to boost both their physical and mental wellbeing. Having a well-designed home can be life changing. Clever storage solutions have saved marriages, and intuitive lighting can not only lift your spirits but help you find your sanity. I say these things with tongue pressed firmly in cheek, while also sitting here in a room bathed in a calming green hue, my feet nicely grounded on a natural wooden floor, so I feel comfortable enough to declare them as one hundred percent true.

Tell me about one of your favourite projects to date.

This would have to be an outdoor bathroom in Royal Tunbridge Wells. When product inventor and interior stylist Sofie Hepworth approached me to design an outdoor bathroom to sit alongside the indoor wetroom and pink concrete bathtub she had commissioned, I quite literally jumped at the chance. It’s not very often that someone approaches you with a concept like this, so when the opportunity comes along you have to do everything within your power to make it happen. The deadline was tight and I needed to source and plant mature tropical plants in November (no mean feat) as Sofie had a product shoot booked in for the following month which means that it didn’t just need to be ready, it needed to be photoshoot ready. We made it happen and the result is absolutely breathtaking, with the plants still thriving today.

What advice would you give to someone who might be looking to take their first step in making some biophilic changes to their home and lifestyle?

Research has shown that when you walk barefoot on grass, the level of endorphins in your body actually increases and your blood pressure comes down. A similar feeling can be achieved with natural textures such as wood or stone. A Canadian study showed that wood, when used in interiors, was perceived by a majority of subjects as more ‘warm’, ‘inviting’, ‘homey’, and ‘relaxing’ than all other tested materials.

Bringing wooden elements into the home in the form of a dining or coffee table is an achievable and effective way of introducing the tactile benefits of being in contact with wood without having to commit to the permanency of a new floor and the beauty is that you can take them with you when you move. Buying vintage pieces from your local area on pre-loved sites will not only get you more bang for your buck, but will add a sense of unique character to a space too, not to mention being kinder to the environment in the process.

Tell me a bit about what readers can expect from your book, At Home with Nature.

The theory of biophilia is an in-depth and well-researched subject, and contrary to what people might have you believe in various blogs and magazine features, there is a lot more to it than just filling your home to the rafters with houseplants. Whilst there’s a significant amount of scientific evidence to back it up and some headline-worthy statistics that will stop you in your tracks, it can feel a bit like an information overload at times. So, I created At Home with Nature as an easy-to-follow guide to help people navigate the seemingly complicated biophilic design principles and the belief systems within them. I’ve divided them up into 12 easy to digest chapters that people can continue to refer back to and apply to their homes and lifestyle as they grow and evolve. It’s packed full of simple and inexpensive examples to build those invaluable connections to nature within the home and transform your space into a nurturing environment that can calm or stimulate you, depending on what you need from that space in that particular moment.


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