Architecture, the late, great Dame Zaha Hadid said, is really about well-being. “I think that people want to feel good in a space.” The Iraqi-British designer could well have been talking about our lockdown lives. We’re spending so much time within our four walls these days that our living space has had engender a sense of comfort, to salve and soothe, even as it transmutes from home to office to recreation area.
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have drastically changed the way we think about our home environment, says Hasan Roomi, co-founder of H2R Design, a Dubai-based commercial interior design firm. “We need to breathe, to have an abundance of space.”
Cue the return of biophilia. If that sparks images of high-school biology herbariums, you aren’t far wrong: the ancient Greek word means ‘the love of living things’. German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first used the term in the seventies to describe our inherent tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. It has since been co-opted by architects and interior designers to create natural oases within the built environment.
From plant walls and botanical wallpaper to natural hues in airy spaces, this indoor-outdoor connection is at the heart of interiors during the pandemic, says Sahar Fikree, founder and creative director at OCD Spaces, a Dubai-based interior decorating and home styling firm.
“When the lockdown was imposed in the UAE, individuals and families alike found themselves suddenly in closer proximity to each other and their internal surroundings. With each day that we couldn’t step out, we started to miss and appreciate the fresh air, the sound of nature, the warm sun, even the urban sound of our city, reminiscent of life and livelihood and connection to each other,” she says. “Being outside boots both our mental and physical health. So, it should come as no surprise that if we cannot step out, then why not bring the exterior inside? This concept of spatial integration has existed for centuries and is widely documented in the built works of notable modernists from the early twentieth century such as Frank Lloyd Wright, the Eameses, Le Corbusier, and my personal favourites, the architects of the Case Study Houses.”
She says it’s easy enough to create indoor/outdoor spaces that flow into each other. “Both spaces need to be an extension of each other,” she says.
Best of all, biophilia comes with significant health benefits. “Simply adding green plants to our interiors has been a breath of fresh air during the lockdown,” agrees Antara Roy, a freelance interior designer practising in the UAE. “Our bodies know that keeping nature close brings us health benefits and is essential for human wellbeing.”
Top tips to play around with indoor and outdoor spaces
Size doesn’t matter when it comes to creating an outdoor space in your home. The most important thing to find a solution that fits your personal needs, that responds to the way you choose to dine, relax and entertain (post-corona!), says Fikree.
Even if you live in a tiny box, such as a studio apartment, do not underestimate the power of just opening your windows, and letting in fresh light and air, says Roomi. “Depend on your senses of smell to lighten the mood of the space. Plants are also an easy, cost-conscious way to add outdoor elements to your home. Seeing plants grow helps increase endorphins in your body."
Fikree says to think about house plants in hanging baskets or create a feature wall with nature-themed wallpaper. If you live in a larger apartment and have a balcony, choose furniture appropriate to the activity you use the space for. “Whether it’s lounge seating, or poufs around a low coffee table, surround the space with a variety of plants of different heights, colours and types in beautiful pots,”
Villas with gardens offer more freedom to play around with space. “You could have nice sunken seating pool around the pool,” says Roy. “Think about ambient lighting and maybe a waterfall – they will form a kind of sanctuary providing peace and serenity within the confines of your own space. The more your house is designed cleverly the less you will feel the need to go out during unprecedented times.”
Regardless of their size, gardens can easily be zoned off for different sorts of activities. Fikree offers age-appropriate options: a kids’ corner with a sandpit play area or even a mini-water park, or a pizza bar with a high table for teenagers, a Bali-themed deck with sun loungers for the adults.
While you want the indoor and outdoor spaces to flow into each other, remember to create specific areas for sleep, work and relaxation, no matter how small your space, Roomi says. That way, you can easily demarcate your work and home lives, so you maximise your productivity during working hours and don’t end up working all day – defeating the very purpose of your makeover.