Elements from and inspired by nature are a big hit this year. Stone, foliage, grasses, natural mats, soil textures, earth-inspired tile, wood—especially wood—have a host of advantages as key players in today’s interior design. Here are a few ways to convince someone who is interested in an elemental nature theme that the rewards will be numerous:
• Natural elements require low to no upkeep. Many natural materials are porous, yet impermeable. That means that although they have relief (a surface that has some highs and lows and variables in its texture), they essentially—particularly when treated—will not absorb water, oil, dirt or grime. These carriers of soiling will lie on the surface and be cleaned away with little effort. The porous quality means that small amounts of dust or dirt will get into the surface, but won’t be absorbed into it.
Hence, an important feature to those with busy lifestyles, many natural materials don’t show dirt or soiling. Instead, these materials mask soiling. This allows the user or homeowner to clean when its convenient to the occupant rather than to feel the product is making demands of them. The occupant is no “slave to the interior” with nature’s materials; they wait for you rather than demand your attention.
When upkeep is necessary, usually mild detergent and water in a damp cloth is all that is required. If anything else, it would be a little drying with a towel, although most products will air-dry without a trace of product. Sometimes just water and the damp cloth without the detergent, is ample. Detergent or soap is needed where grime or oily soiling lies on the surface and needs to be broken down chemically. Light dusting or vacuuming on a routine basis is generally sufficient to keep natural materials looking their best.
• Elements from nature always look incredibly handsome. They are handsome from year to year, through several potential redecorating projects. Styles may change; furnishings may change; but these natural elements may stay handsome regardless of how the style is changed.
This timeless quality is a big bonus to those who want to decorate once. These types of clients like to look at furnishing items as a long-haul investment and expect the window and wall treatments and furniture to last for a long time. For some, it may be a lifetime. This is not to suggest that such a client won’t change his or her mind down the road, and surely the client will have the option to do so. It is, however, assuring and comforting to select products that will be as beautiful some years hence as they are when new. This gives satisfaction for the immediate purchase and confidence in the tomorrows of customers’ lives.
One reason why there is a staying power in elements from nature is that they are undemanding to the eye and the grain, vein, texture and subtleties of shade and shadow keep them interesting. They are long-lived to the eye. They have staying power.
• Nature’s materials do not wear out prematurely. They are sturdy and practical and can withstand sun, cleaning and repeated use. Where the materials are from nature, such as stone, bamboo and wood, they are nearly impervious to environmental effects. Products that are take-offs from nature and look as real as nature through advanced engineering, have qualities such as being fade-proof, sunlight resistant and nonabsorbent of air-borne impurities. Some natural products, such as grass cloth, will likewise serve well for decades if not abused or purposely harmed.
The fact that less cleaning is required for natural materials also contributes to their longevity. Cleaning can result in wear-and-tear on products; so less cleaning means less abrasion, drying out from soaps and chemicals and vulnerability to greater drying or soiling.
• Natural textures are an inspiration for manufactured materials. There are some who contend that natural elements can be improved on through high-tech manufacturing. It’s hard to argue this point. Where window treatments can look like linen or bamboo yet perform like polyester, we have a win-win proposition.
Engineered products have the added advantage of coloration. For example, the Hunter Douglas Skyline Gliding Window Panels seen in the photograph are available in 187 SKU’s or color selections. Also notice that this natural-style product is featured in a city or urban dwelling. Rustic interiors usually come first to mind when designing with elements of nature, but they can be a pleasing part of a modern-styled interior, too, giving a humane quality to a modern style that has been accused of being unfriendly and harsh.
• Natural elements are stage-setters. Background elements that do not insist on being center-stage are perfect choices for Elemental Nature interiors. These products—wood, stone, brick, grass texture—all are happy to be the stage-setters for a selected thematic interior. For example, few clients would not like to escape the daily rigors of living to get away to a mountain cabin. Why not bring that cabin to their interiors as a retreat or escape whenever they desire? A mountain cabin theme has been flawlessly created in our other photo. The quietude of split-logs as a wall material has no equal—it literally feels insulated from the buffetings, noise and demands of the world.
Likewise, a stage set with natural materials can be a perfect background for many different themes where peace, contentment, sophistication and handsome visual qualities are paramount.
FROM NATURE WITHOUT TIME CONSTRAINTS
A philosophy first embraced by Americans in the early 1960s that encompasses rules for using nature’s materials for timeless beauty was the Japanese concept of Shibusa. This is a method of using nature’s materials, textures and colors in ways and ratios that nature uses them. The resulting shibui (adjective) interior was one where richness of material was equaled by superb design.
These rules can be implemented by savvy design professionals today with results just as enchanting as those that date back 50 to more than 1,000 years ago. They still work! Here are some of the ideas behind Shibusa.
• There is no color matching in nature. Rather, there are thousands of shades of colors from stone, to bark, to water to soil. Yet colors blend and coordinate in subtle and startling effective ways.
• There is no repetitive pattern in nature. Every stone and the lichens on each stone are different from every other stone or lichen. Leaves, seemingly identical, each has its own uniqueness. No two trees or bushes or mountains are the same. This means the interest stays high.
• Texture (and pattern) are everywhere, but often subtly manifested. Texture is pattern that is far less restricted and certainly less predictable. Yet these textures and patterns do not show from afar off. Rather they beg a viewer to look closely, to discover.
• Natural materials appear to be completely random or arbitrary, yet the opposite is true, they are all created under a higher order of nature, which is often difficult for the finite human mind to wrap itself around. The complexity of texture and pattern in nature challenges the most talented design professional whose charge it is to copy or to create materials inspired by nature. The challenge is real and the results are often rewarding because of the intense study that has made the manufacturer completely familiar with the source of inspiration.
• Lighter colors are above and darker colors are beneath. This gives a sense of security and grounded qualities that give the occupant a feeling of safety and security and predictability.
• Most colors are mid-tones—not too light, not too dark. This blending gives peaceful comfort to an interior. Touches of charcoal and touches of lighter beiges are the extent of the lows and highs of value. Thus, there is no high contrast or starkness in color schemes. This makes the interior easy to live in.
• Although natural textures, patterns and subtlety in color are high priority, these schemes must not become dull, boring or unexpressive. There is depth to pattern; there are elements of complexity that keep the viewer engaged.
• Although dullness is revered in nature, there are always small area of bright colors and tiny flecks of sparkle. These two details give the interior a sense of excitement amid the peace.
PEACE AND CONTENTMENT
Any way you choose to use Elemental Nature in your interiors will enhance the peace and contentment of the customer if it is executed with good judgment and careful planning. Too much of any material can be overwhelming.
Also, remember that the kind of material should align carefully with the theme in texture and level of rustiness or refinement. Make the selections conducive with the overall interior scheme and focus on the material’s inherent ability to enhance the furnishings as handsome
Karla 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.