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How to bring nature inside to createmore user-focused interiors

Scott Hosie explains why natural floorcoverings can bring a wealth of benefits for all kinds of building and space uses.

FOR thousands of years, people have taken advantage of nature’s ingenuity to make their spaces more comfortable, more durable and more functional. Natural materials bear unique traits which can improve the way we feel in our indoor environments, helping designers create appealing, people-centred spaces.

And nothing is a more impactful and tactile canvas for these materials than the floor. Natural floorcoverings can bring a wealth of benefits for all kinds of building and space uses.

1 Health and wellness
Natural materials have long been linked to the promotion of good health and wellbeing for many different types of building users in several key ways:

• Indoor air quality

Natural materials can help to improve the air quality in a space by reducing the levels of airborne contaminants and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) indoors. These invisible chemicals are linked to an array of harmful health issues, from shortness of breath to dizziness and headaches, and more severe damage when subjected to lengthy exposure.

Alongside giving off low emissions, natural materials such as wool can actively absorb VOCs and other airborne contaminants such as fumes and cleaning chemicals, trapping them in their core for up to 30 years.

Many natural fibres are also known to be hydroscopic – stabilising the humidity levels within a space by actively absorbing moisture in damp conditions while releasing it when the air is dryer. This helps to combat the risk of mould and fungus, while also discouraging the breeding of dust mites.

Some plant-derived fibres have also shown to be hypoallergenic, thanks to the antimicrobial properties they exhibited during life – this reduces the likelihood of aggravating existing allergies for those inside.

• Caring for mental health
Connecting people to natural environments is known to help nurture mental wellbeing. Natural stimuli in the outdoors have influenced feelings and behaviours for millions of years, and our rapid transition to urbanisation, with the average person now spending 90% of their lives indoors, has disconnected people from these natural guides.

Reintroducing organic colours, textures and materials back into interiors, and improving all-around visibility of nature, can help to re-establish these essential links. For areas such as workplaces, including natural elements has been shown to improve general productivity. One study compared workplaces without natural elements to a ‘lean cage’, likening people to animals who become anxious when deprived of organic visual and touch points – highlighting that these natural connections aren’t just pleasant, but essential.

2 Natural aesthetics
Infusing nature into our interiors brings a unique element of life to the indoors.Wool, for example, is an extremely versatile canvas for any room, where designers can play with a wide spectrum of colours and patterns to define a space. From influencing a busy room with vibrant stripes to mellowing a quiet space with dusky tones – we can guide the actions and emotions of those inside a space with carefully chosen natural material designs.

Other natural fibres such as sisal and seagrass typically remain in the same earthy colour band, but their variety of weaves can equally influence an interior’s feel. Whether chunkier, simple styles for a quiet corner or more tightly wound directional fibres to encourage movement, there’s once again the opportunity for designers to steer behaviours in a room through material choice.

3 Innate resilience

It’s essential floorcoverings live up to the needs of various spaces and use-cases. The innate properties of many natural plant-fibre or animal-coat floorcoverings mean they can be versatile, hardwearing additions to occupied areas.Organic flooring materials such as wool are made-up of robust and elastic fibres, being naturally strong and resilient – often bouncing back much better than synthetic alternatives, retaining its plusher bounce underfoot. The natural oils which coat the fibres allow it to remain resistant to dirt and soil, repelling most oil-based containments – meaning frequent suction-only vacuuming is typically enough to keep it looking its best, without the need for time-intensive and potentially-costly cleaning processes and damaging harsh chemicals.Other plant fibres such as sisal allow for impressive strength and toughness. For hundreds of years, sisal has been spun into mariners’ rope, weathering the stresses and harsh conditions brought about by a life at sea – so when crafted into a carpet or rug, there’s no surprise it’s renowned for life-long durability. This makes it ideal for higher-traffic routes such as corridors or stairways.

More modern innovations such as Sisool, in which the comfort of wool and the hardiness of sisal are combined into a single hybrid material, mean there’s never the need to compromise on a flooring vision.In practice: Headlam Group’s Headquarters, TamworthAs the jewel in the crown of Europe’s leading distributor of floorcoverings, Headlam’s Tamworth headquarters house the company’s meeting and workspaces, innovation hub and product launch space. This demanding mix of use cases required a selection of floorcoverings to handle the heavy footfall and daily use, while introducing thoughtful, touches of nature into the project.

A mixture of wool and sisal rugs and carpets brought touches of the outdoors in, helping foster a forward thinking, engaging home for the group. Fusing the practical needs for resilience with considerate elements of design and wellness, natural floorcoverings help create spaces that cater for the holistic needs of those inside.

Scott Hosie is head of product, Crucial Trading

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