This week I taught my university interior design students about the English Medieval period and included slides of Anne Hathaway’s home (wife of The Bard, William Shakespeare). It is a timber-framed home with a thatched roof—as charming as the Tudor style can be. It is surrounded by a lush English garden—two, actually. One part of the garden is the kitchen herb garden and another part is the flower garden.
As tourists come to visit in the summers, the garden is as much an attraction
as the home itself. I often tell the students this represents the beginning of
our love affair with contemporary America’s No. 1 hobby: gardening.
Americans need nature more than ever. We have become a society of techno-slaves
fused at the hip to our computers, cell phones, pagers and our busy, demanding
lives. In order to survive and decompress, we turn to nature to get us out (momentarily)
of our self-dug holes of hard working existence.
Nature, whether it be our own private gardens, a dramatic ocean vista or a nature-motif
on a textile, has much to offer in helping us cope and giving us the renewal
and repose that makes life less pressured and harried.
Nature is a universal design element that has often been the focus of great interiors.
When you need some extra help in closing a sale, consider taking some cues from
the great outdoors. There are many selling points in nature-oriented presentations.
Here are a few good ideas for selling nature, naturally:
Nature cannot be improved upon. The majesty of a clear day, a breathtaking view
or the rich detail of a beautiful leaf is as good as it gets. Few man-made designs
can compete with any part of nature in serenity, majesty or perfection.
Nature is bigger than we are. It feels good at times not to be in control and
know that there is a power larger than life—the power that created the
earth, the universe, the solar system. We can feel secure in the knowledge that
even though our lives have meaning and purpose, we are just a tiny speck in a
macrocosm. We do not have to be all, do all, have all. We can be and let be.
This is a very healthy and sensible approach to life.
Nature was created for the human race. We are the only species on Earth that
has the ability to aesthetically appreciate nature. All other animals are here
for survival and procreation. We are here to feel joy, to lift our lives to a
higher plane and to lift other lives in the process. The beauty of nature is
an integral part of experiencing goodness in life.
No matter what happens politically, socially or economically, the majesty of
nature supercedes the rise and fall of nations. I often have said, as I weed
my flower gardens, “Long after I am gone, the orchard grass wins!” This
gives me perspective. All I can really do is improve my own Secret Garden and
the spaces over which I have control. Yet that improvement is temporary. It will
be beautiful for a time, but it is not permanent.
This attitude will help us not to take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes our
clients need to not take their interior design so seriously that they hyperventilate
over their orders. I have a dear friend who will sometimes say to the overanxious
client, “It’s only draperies!” This means that life is much
bigger than decorating and that we should relax and enjoy being a part of the
process. We are not the end result. We are only participants in a much bigger
scheme of things.
We cannot make nature better, but we can be the recipients of its grandeur and
beauty. This should have a calming and reassuring effect on our lives. To feel
the peace of nature is one of life’s greatest gifts. To recognize the miracles
in the large and the small creations is to feel a sense of gratitude and profound
serenity. If we can develop a sense of awe in the complete harmony of nature,
we can begin to foster harmony in our own lives.
NATURE BASED INTERIOR DESIGN
There are three ways to bring nature into the interior design. One is to frame
it as a view, the next is to bring it indoors, and the third is to take nature-inspired
fabrics to outdoor living spaces.
Framing the View—Upscale homes around the world often are placed at sites
where a majestic view is possible. A view of a nature scene is a precious commodity
because it means a location where there is valuable real estate with a vista
and no competing distractions such as neighboring buildings or homes. Because
of this, we often associate a great view with a vacation or get away home. More
and more we are seeing homes that are first homes, in addition to the already
large number of second or third homes, that have a view.
General rules for making an interior great when the view is the predominate focal
point include these:
Don’t try to compete with the view by selecting heavily patterned textiles
and wall coverings. The view needs to be front and center so that all attention
focuses on the drama framed by the picture window.
Rather, select window coverings, wall and floor materials, upholstered pieces
and artwork that complement the scene. This usually means neutral, earthy, simple
and often masculine furnishings.
At night, be certain there is a means of privacy. Large expanses of glass that
frame fabulous views become black and frightening voids at night. Where men rarely
seem concerned with empty blackness, women nearly always are concerned for their
personal safety. If your client is female, be certain to address this vital issue.
Protection against breaking and entering, theft, vandalism, physical or sexual
harm is of utmost importance. If you, as a window treatments professional, do
not provide nighttime privacy and a tort (harm against person or property) occurs,
then you may well be liable.
Consider glare control. Large picture windows often bring an excess of brightness,
meaning too much direct sunshine or too much lux (the amount of light), whether
direct or indirect. It also can bring a harshness that can render a space unlivable.
At the very least, consider window film, which can cut out nearly all the glare
and reduce the excessive heat gain as well.
Bring Nature Indoors—Another way to enjoy nature is to bring it indoors.
This might mean using living things such as plants, fish tanks and water fountains,
but an easier and more carefree source of nature’s inspiration is through
textiles and wall coverings with a nature motif. Two directions here are worth
considering: naturalistic and conventional.
In naturalistic design the nature elements are so realistic that they nearly
fool the eye with their photo-like representation. Realistic design includes
flora botanicals (plants), fauna (animals) or scenes from nature including what
we might find in someone’s back yard or garden. Naturalistic designs are
so real they seem to come to life. The size, scale, color and placement in the
composition, all combine to look real.
Conventional design includes motifs taken from nature, but changed either slightly
or dramatically. However, there is never a question that the source was nature.
This includes motifs where the size or scale is unrealistic, the colors are unnatural
(though usually trendy) or the placement in the composition is out of line with
what we might see in nature.
Many conventionally designed textiles and wall coverings are very good design,
and many others are not. It takes a great deal of discernment to select with
a timeless quality in mind—the result of which is fine design. The highest
quality of design will never fail to inspire, elevate and motivate the occupant
or viewer. This should be the goal of good conventional design.
One overriding advantage to bringing a nature motif indoors is that if the design
is great, the entire interior can be drenched in the fabric. Country French toile
fabrics have done this since the 1700s using a nature-based, mono-hued textile
for walls, ceilings, upholstered furniture and headboards, draperies of all types,
bedding, cushions, pillows and even lamp shades. This type of application has
survived through the centuries and still is revered today.
In interiors where “less is more,” a single application of a nature-motif
can suffice to bring a sense of appreciation for the great outdoors into the
interior. Even a pillow or two in a naturalistic or conventional design may be
enough to establish a theme.
Take Nature Outside—A third and fairly new direction is enjoying nature
in nature surrounded by designs from nature. This is the phenomenon of outdoor
living spaces—on a deck or patio, surrounded by a loggia, under a pergola
or inside a gazebo hide-away, for example. Special finishes that enhance a fabric’s
ability to repel soil and moisture can be applied before fabrication.
The indulgence of an outdoor living space is a perfect hand-in-glove fit for
our times. The investment in upscale furnishings gives a strong justification
for going outside and enjoying the renewing effect of nature in an intimate setting.
Use textiles for outside draperies, cushion covers, pillows, table linens and
even for small indulgences such as a floor cushion for the family pet. Beautiful
fabrics in a small but sumptuous setting will act as a magnet for family and
guests alike. Exterior living spaces provide a more relaxed and stress-reducing
environment where dining, visiting, light recreation and simply unwinding are
However you choose to sell the great outdoors, remember that nature makes everyone
a winner. Nature heals, renews, refreshes. It lightens our loads while it calms
the psyche and reinforces the spirit. Connecting to nature in any of these ways
will create satisfied and enthused customers. Happy trails!
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window
Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.