Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

Yesterday was Nature Photography Day, and I celebrated this by posting some images of nature that I took on my break in Devon at the end of last month.  But it got me thinking – how nature inspires so much of what we have in our homes, from fabrics and wallpaper, to rugs and paint colours.  As well as marble, stone, wood and grass finishes on flooring, furniture, wall coverings and accessories.  And artists often reproduce what they see in nature in their work.  Look around your home and I’m sure you’ll find many items inspired by nature.

And if your home doesn’t contain many nature-inspired items, then it really should!  Having this connection to nature has been scientifically proven to be a vital element of creating a design that nurtures our wellbeing.  It is known as biophilic design, and is one of the elements of interior design that we use in our design process.

So let’s have a look at some of the product designers who look to nature to inspire their creations:

Tania Johnson takes much inspiration from nature to create her beautiful rugs.  For example, in her Waterlines rug she has captured a brief moment in time as swirling patterns of light dance on water.

Rug inspired by the swirling patterns of light dancing on water

Clarissa Hulse creates her stunning range of fabrics and home furnishings with designs that are based on her nature photography, which is just as likely to originate from a tropical rainforest as it is to feature leaves from a local London park. Grasses, seed heads, ferns and trailing vines feature heavily in the modern, silhouetted designs, often printed onto natural fabrics such as silk and linen.

Full length curtains make a room appear taller

The otherworldly wallpapers created by Badgers of Bohemia are inspired by the world around us: from verdant landscapes with lush green mosses, to capturing the magical, ethereal nature of clouds and light.  And in doing this they hope that they will inspire and cultivate a connection to the natural world and what we can do together to help protect the beautiful flora and fauna of this planet. 

Farrow & Ball released a new paint collection a few years ago called Colour by Nature, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum, with colours ranging from Ash Grey (the colour of Flint), to Emerald Green (the colour of the Beauty Spot on the wing of a Teal Duck) and Dutch Orange (the colour of the Common Marigold).

Our connection to nature, and inspirations from nature, also occur in the shape of things, from the compound curve, ubiquitous among living things, particularly plants, to circles and hexagons.  And the spiral is also associated with growth, and found in elements such as spiral staircases, or a spiral rug.  In Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful, she explains that “Organic forms bring the fluidity of the living world back into our space…  Organic forms taper, flare or coil at the ends.”

Hopefully this knowledge will steer you to think look twice at the products you choose to bring into your home, and to try to incorporate that connection to nature that is so good for our health and wellbeing.

“A Porsche will always look like a Porsche. My grandfather took these shapes from nature, so the head lamps of the 911 maybe look a little like the eyes of a frog, but it comes from nature, and the best shapes are from nature, so why change?”
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche   



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Tomorrow is Earth Day – the day when the world focuses on driving meaningful action for our planet.  I can remember a few years ago my husband’s Swedish family were visiting and wanted to take part in Earth Hour as a symbol of their commitment to the planet.  At the time, my mother lived in Zimbabwe, but was visiting me here in the UK.  At 8:30 we turned out all the lights and continued cooking our Swedish waffles by candlelight.  My mother commented how she was so sick and tired of having no lights as she lived with frequent power cuts in Zimbabwe, so to her, having electricity was something of a luxury!

So, whilst living with just candles for lighting is all wonderful for a short period of time, how can we design our interiors to be sustainable on an on-going basis?  Here are five ways that you can bring sustainability into your home:

1. Design for energy efficiency

Energy consumption is one of the major contributors to climate change.  Whether you’re refurbishing an existing building, or creating a new building, think about what you can do to improve your building’s energy efficiency by reducing the amount of energy and water needed.  Add window treatments that enable you to control the building’s temperature by opening and shutting them as needed.  Choose floor finishes that are cosier for cold climates (wooden floors, carpets), and cool for hot climates (tiles).  Ensure that your lighting scheme is energy efficient.  And finally look at installing home automation to enable heating and lighting systems to be controlled remotely.

2. Design for healthy environments

These days, humans are increasingly spending up to 90% of our lives indoors and there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing that how we design our indoor spaces, has a direct impact on us psychologically and physically, and therefore on our overall health, happiness and well-being.  It’s important to think of the bigger cost, aside from monetary value, when you purchase interiors products.

Public Health England attribute between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Indoor air pollution is over three times worse than outdoor air pollution, due to the number of air pollution particles trapped inside!  Indoor air pollution is largely caused by the invisible off-gassing of toxic emissions from products (furniture, carpets, paint, wallpaper, adhesives, etc).  So look for materials with low emissions of VOC (volatile organic compounds) and other air pollutants.  It’s also important that the air in a room can regularly circulate and remain fresh. Plants also act as natural air filters.

Biophilic design (designing a connection to nature) in our spaces has been proven to reduce the production of stress hormones, improve feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity, as well as lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness.  Exposure to natural light is another beneficial aspect for both physical and psychological health.

It’s also important to consider the acoustics in a space and ensure there are enough materials that will absorb sound vibrations.

3. Design for waste reduction

The mentality of discarding products as soon as they go out of style and replacing them with those that are currently trendy is no longer justifiable.  Instead of discarding ‘’old-fashioned’’ objects while they are still functional, try to come up with creative ways to give them a new life.

Go through what you already have and repair or upcycle it before you buy something new.  Can a sofa be reupholstered?  Can furniture be painted, or sanded and refinished?  “Shop your house” to see if you can move items between rooms for a new look.

If you need to source additional items, start by looking in second-hand stores or flea markets.  Vintage pieces add a historic presence to a space that new objects cannot, giving a home warmth and complexity.

Alternatively, try to look for items made from recycled waste or, for pieces that can be renewed/recycled at the end of their life cycle.  When waste becomes the raw material for new products, a circular loop of manufacturing is formed, effectively minimizing or even eliminating waste all together.

4. Design for low environmental impact

If you need to buy new items, make it conscious.  Always ask yourself what has been sacrificed to get this product cheaply?

Do your research and find out what materials have been used and what is their environmental impact?  Is the wood FSC certified and comes from renewable bio-diverse forests?  Have they been extracted in an environmentally responsible way?  Where is it produced and how are the producers treated?  Has child labour been used?  Is the cotton organic, or are farmers being forced to work with toxic chemicals to produce their cotton more cheaply?  What manufacturing methods are used?  How long will the item last?  And finally, is the item repairable?  Be sure to check the certifications too.

Today our understanding of the natural environment has changed dramatically, and many companies are starting to implement processes that look after the environment – from resource management to the products they make and the way they make them.  Sustainability also considers the way companies manage their workshops and surroundings as well as how they look after their employees.

5. Design for longevity and flexibility

Consider the lifespan of any material you plan to use, especially for those elements that experience a lot of wear and tear (such as flooring).  Easy maintenance is an important part of designing for longevity; when spaces are hard to maintain, regular changes are inevitable and result in more resource consumption and waste creation.  Creating flexible spaces that can be easily adapted to fit the changing needs of people who are using them means there is no need to demolish and renovate it in its entirety.

Try to create timeless spaces by choosing quality over quantity, classics over trendy, and simplicity/functionality over embellishments.  Timeless, well-made pieces will last a long time, and can be recycled for future generations.  Less is definitely more!

“The best way to reduce any environmental impact is not to recycle more, but to produce and dispose of less.” 

Robert Lilienfeld and William Rathje, Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are

As the world embraces taking responsibility for the environment, interior design is finally starting to become more environmentally conscious.  And our homes are becoming safer places for us to live in!  And as a designer I try to make it my business to know which companies are striving to produce sustainably, and to work with those companies. 

Contact me if you would like help creating a more sustainable, safer home for you and your family.

The 21st March was the spring equinox – the day each year where day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet.  And it is this relationship between light and dark which also marks International Colour Day, because without light, there is no colour.

As Karen Haller says, colour “is around us all the time and influences everything we do – though we are barely aware that this is happening. In fact, we are only around 20 per cent conscious of the colour decisions that we make, though we are making them all the time: about what we wear, what we eat, what we buy, how we relax, right down to how we take our morning cup of coffee.”  The ability to see colour literally guides us through our lives, helping us in our decision-making processes.

As Swiss painter Johannes Itten says, “Colour is life; for a world without colours appears to us as dead.”

Image: David Hockney, “Garden,” 2015. Photo by Richard Schmidt

And in her book Joyful, Ingrid Fetell Lee observes that “the liveliest places and objects all have one thing in common: bright, vivid colour.”  Across every culture in the world, bright colours are universally understood to be associated with joy.

Image: Nicola Holden

These days we’re also very aware of the importance of incorporating biophilia – our innate connection to nature, into our homes.  Colour is everywhere in nature, from sunrise to sunset, in the flowers, birds and insects.  Colour here is a sign of the richness of our surroundings.

Image: Nicola Holden

So if colour really is such a powerful force of positivity and optimism, why don’t we use more of it in our homes?  Fetell Lee suggests that this is due to ‘chromophobia’ – a fear of colour.  It seems we automatically default to beige or grey rather than risk making the wrong choice about colour, and then having to live with it.

Image: Nicola Holden

As colour psychologist Haller says, “Colour is an increasingly important topic of consideration for neuroscientists, biologists, physicists, philosophers and psychologists; and research is continually expanding our knowledge of how we take colour in and how we emotionally respond to it.”  And at a time like this, when so many of us are feeling increased levels of anxiety due to the Covid pandemic, surrounding ourselves with colours that instil feelings of positivity and joy is now more important than ever.  It is time to put our own wellbeing at the forefront of how we design our homes, and to create spaces that nurture the feelings and behaviours that we want for ourselves and our families.

Colour is one of the elements that helps us to emotionally connect with our spaces.  It makes our homes feel alive.  After all, what are our homes, if not designed for us as human beings?  As an interior designer, I use colour to influence and impact the experience of home that people have in a positive way.  Using the right colour, or combination of colours, will have a positive impact on the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of the people who work, live and move through the spaces that I create.

Image: Fiona Walker-Arnott

If you suspect that you are suffering from chromophobia and have no idea what colours to choose, please get in touch and I would be happy to offer a colour consultation. Contact us to book your consultation with Nicola Holden Designs.

The past year has given us all plenty of time to reflect and recalibrate, and now more than ever, we are placing a greater emphasis on our own well-being.  Wellness may start from within, yet the spaces around us play a vital supporting role.  Being forced to stay indoors for much of the past year, when our interior spaces are all we’ve had to keep us safe, has shown us that our homes have a profound influence on our daily joy and wellness.  When our homes feel calm, uplifting, and stimulating, it makes it easier to feel this way as we move through the routines of everyday life.  The subtleties of interior design can have huge impacts on our mental health, often in ways we don’t fully understand.  Having a space that supports us emotionally enables us to continue to lead a successful life in challenging times.

So what is it about a space that makes us feel comfortable?  According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our most fundamental needs is for shelter.  However, beyond that we also seek solace, beauty, and a sense of belonging.  And many of our responses to the design of spaces are unconscious – hard-wired into us as human beings.  For example, when children are asked to draw a home, they commonly draw houses with steeply pitched roofs, symbolising shelter and security, even when they themselves live in flats.  We all need our homes to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world, as though we are, at some level, still warding off ancestral fears of attacks by a predator.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Within our homes, we also intuitively respond to different types of interior space.  Here we need a combination of small, intimate rooms and as well as more open-plan areas.  In biophilic design these concepts are known as prospect and refuge.  Small rooms provide us with refuge, giving us a sense of safety, retreat and withdrawal.  We all need zones where we can do the things that are important to us.  On the other hand, open-plan spaces give us a sense of freedom and connection.  And having a view to a garden space, however small, helps us to feel connected with the outside world, and to create a sense of possibility beyond the space we’re actually in.

Biophilic design brings our innate biological connection with nature into our spaces.  I’m sure that most people are well aware of the benefits of houseplants and plenty of daylight, but there are less obvious aspects of biophilia that can help us to feel more connected to nature. Using organic materials, colours, shapes and patterns helps us to feel more grounded in our environment.  After all, memories of home are often associated with the things in it, which you can touch and smell, rather than the building itself. 

Which brings me onto another important consideration to ensure our homes bring us happiness, and that is to make them personal to us.  We need to stir our senses and bring more awareness to what feels good and brings us joy.  Collections are a way to reflect your own taste and personality more intimately than anything else, whether it be art, shells found on far-flung beaches, or antique crockery.  These items add sensorial richness to a space and help to elicit the deep, emotional responses that give rise to the feeling of joy.  If our surroundings lack energy, abundance and harmony, then no matter how beautiful our homes might be, they will not make us feel truly alive. 

Colour is another important factor in how our interior spaces make us feel.  There is nowhere that colour doesn’t exist.  We are constantly influenced by it, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to when we go to bed at night.  Although we see colour with our eyes, each different wavelength of coloured light stimulates a distinct part of our physical being, evoking a specific physiological response, which in turn produces a psychological reaction.

But there is more to colour than merely hue (the attribute of colour which enables us to classify it as red, blue, etc).  Our colour personalities echo the patterns and natural order of the seasons, and so it is important to choose colours that match your own tonal family – spring, summer, autumn or winter.  Surrounding yourself with colours at odds with your own natural pattern is, in the long run, stressful.

And finally, there is lighting, which not only interacts with the colours we choose, but also influences our circadian rhythms and the way we feel.  As well as bright light for carrying out tasks, we need darkness and cosiness to help us relax at the end of the day.  Clever combinations of lighting which include ceiling lights, table and task lamps, as well as flickering candles, allow us to mimic the changes in natural light as the sun moves through the sky over the course of the day.  This enables our bodies to harmonise with our environment.

While the impact of our interiors on our wellbeing may ultimately be a deeply personal thing, it is worth considering how these fundamental principles of interior design have the capacity to affect how you feel, rather than paying too much attention to what you think you like.  How we design our homes is as fundamental to our happiness and well-being as nutrition, sleep and exercise.

Contact us to book your free 30-minute consultation call with Nicola Holden Designs.

So, 2021 is here!  After a lovely Christmas with my family in Ireland (following a period in quarantine in a portacabin on my sister’s farm, and a negative Covid test), it was back to London and the New Year with a bump. 

So here we are, in yet another lockdown.  How are you all doing?  I definitely have my moments!  Towards the end of last year  The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen published a report on Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19.   In producing this report, The Happiness Research Institute concluded that “It does not take big data and a team of happiness researchers to understand that the pandemic has undermined our wellbeing.”

Their report ended with a list of key activities to focus on to increase your wellbeing throughout the remainder of this pandemic.  I thought I’d share these with you, as well as ways to create a home environment that supports these activities.

SPEND MORE TIME OUTSIDE

Spending even just 15 minutes per day outside was associated with the largest positive impact on life satisfaction.  And for regular readers of my blog, this should be no surprise given how often I stress the importance of having a connection to nature on our mental and emotional health.  A previous blog post that I wrote outlined how to introduce this connection to nature, otherwise known as biophilic design, into your home.  You can read that post here.

ENGAGE IN ARTS AND CRAFTS OR DIY PROJECTS

The happiness report suggests that “Knitting, painting, baking, gardening, and renovating are all useful activities to try out during lockdown”.  I have certainly engaged in a lot of different DIY projects in my own home throughout lockdown, and it is very satisfying to look back and see what I have accomplished.  But not all of us are designed to do DIY (which I’m very grateful for, otherwise I might be out of a job!). 

I inlaid these Turkish tiles I bought 8 years ago into the top of a chest of drawers.

I’ve been thinking about this though, and remembered a quote by David Hume, who said that “Anticipation of pleasure is, in itself, a very considerable pleasure”.  Research has found that we enjoy an experience more when we wait for it, probably because we create detailed mental simulations filled with rich sensations and exciting possibilities.  Ingrid Fetell Lee says that “Anticipation lets us bring our future joy into the present, and the longer we plan ahead, the more time we have to enjoy it.”  So why not use this time during lockdown to start planning a future renovation of your home.  Renovations are always much less stressful if everything is decided up front, and I’m here to help you every step of the way!

MEDITATE

Meditation practices, such as mindfulness, teach us to be present in the moment and meet challenges with openness, acceptance, and curiosity.  I have to admit that this is one thing I am not very good at!  Possibly because I don’t have anything purple in my house – the colour which is psychologically associated with contemplation and the search for higher truth.  But if meditation is your thing, then carving out a quiet space where you can practice this, and incorporating some purple, be it lilac, violet, aubergine lavender, mauve, or whatever shade takes your fancy, will help you to get in the zone.

STAY FIT

This recommendation definitely goes without saying.  We all know that keeping fit is good for our health and wellbeing!  So, if you’re trying to carve out a space in your home for exercise, then red is a good colour to use in this space.  Red lies at the opposite end of the visible colour spectrum to purple, and having the longest wavelength, it is the colour that makes us pay attention.  Red affects us physically, raising our heart rate.  It is the colour associated with energy, excitement, physical strength and stamina, so is the perfect colour to get your fitness training off on the right foot!

Image: bestgymequipment.co.uk

The other recommendations from the Happiness Research Institute are to lend a helping hand to friends and family, and to keep in touch with those close to you.  If you would like to read the full report you can access it here.

Creating a home that makes these positive choices easy, natural and enjoyable is not frivolous.  It is fundamental to our health and happiness, and therefore to our wellbeing!  Get in touch if you need help creating your own personal sanctuary.