Bringing nature inside is a refreshing national trend. As spring comes into bloom, many of us are thinking about being outside more, and more people want to bring a bit of that nature—such as plants, view and sunshine—into the indoor spaces.
Why this new trend? Perhaps because lifestyles today have changed to the extent that as much as 90 percent of our time is spent indoors, and much of that away from natural light. Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a researcher with the University of California, San Diego, surveyed adults who wore wrist meters to register the amount of sunlight they received during the day. The study found that the majority was exposed to sunlight for less than one hour per day and some did not go outdoors at all during a 48-hour period.
Many companies with office employees have begun to recognize that this lack of sunlight has decreased productivity, accuracy, morale and has increased “sick days.”
A trend toward “daylighting” offices has helped employees become happier and more productive at work. In merchandising, daylighting has shown to dramatically increase sales of items under natural lighting, and so it is an investment that brings a high return for the remodeling dollars spent.
Natural sunlight is a giver of life and a key reason why physiologically we can feel healthy and happy. Consider this: A two-year study of five elementary schools conducted in Canada by the Alberta Department of Education tracked the health benefits in school children exposed to traditional electric lighting. The study found that exposure to natural full-spectrum light resulted in better attendance (3.5 fewer days absent a year). Students in naturally lighted rooms had better dental records (nine times less tooth decay). Students in naturally lighted rooms grew more. Libraries had significantly reduced noise levels, due to increased concentration levels among the children.
These studies might reveal why instinctively many customers are requesting larger windows and more discreet window treatments that bring into the interior that which we no longer spend much time basking in: natural light and the gardening or outdoor work that were commonly a part of life just a generation or two ago. Today we spend much time looking at computer screens and eating food grown and prepared by someone else. Sadly, as a culture, we have disconnected ourselves from nature’s light and vibrant, living beauty.
Daylighting techniques, which optimize the use of natural light to illuminate interiors, is becoming increasingly popular not only for its ability to dramatically transform a room, but also for its natural healing powers. The power of light to rejuvenate the body and mind, treating everything from lethargy to winter blahs to clinical depression, has been suspected for thousands of years, but only recently have scientific studies revealed evidence of the correlation.
One of the largest studies on the use of light to treat clinical depression was published in 1992 in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Dr. Kripke administered light treatment to 25 depressed hospitalized patients who were exposed to natural white light and found they were significantly less depressed than those in artificial light.
Large window openings allow this critical light to penetrate an interior. And where the light is tempered by overhangs, solariums or entrances, they invite the viewer to move in and out of the interior to soak up some of the sunlight, then to return to the darker comfort and luxury of the interior space. This balance of natural lighting and interior furnishings has paved the way to creating outdoor living spaces on porches, decks, near pools, under pergolas or in lanais and in screened porches. And where this kind of exterior addition is cost or space prohibitive, the scenes outdoors can become an integral part of the interior design scheme.
Where natural colors and natural elements are selected for interior furnishings, there is no competition with the exterior that has been invited inside. We will explore natural elements more next month in D&WC in the April “Design Perspectives.”
THE VIEW FROM INSIDE
Various forms of nature that are visible from the interior are often quality landscape plans including mature trees and groomed shrubs. These represent a value to homeowners in both urban and suburban settings. Many homeowners perceive planned nature next to the house as having positive emotional effects regardless of the upkeep it may require. Interestingly, residents of different types of neighborhoods may define nature differently. For residents on large suburban lots, mature trees may represent nature. Residents with home lots with large setbacks often prefer open, naturalistic public spaces with mature trees and a curvilinear road system. These residents also tend to be well educated, with a higher income and more homogenous or less diverse than urban dwellers.
For residents on small urban lots where more ethnic diversity and a variety of income levels are found, shrubs and small gardens—sometimes in planters or containers—may represent nature. Additionally, residents with small lots on a grid road system tend to have small ornamental types of vegetation.
In any size settings, trees typically are seen to present some maintenance burdens, yet they still are highly valued by residents.
In very warm climates, nature visible from indoors might include a swimming pool or spa/hot tub and a limited amount of low-upkeep landscape elements. Likewise, water elements outdoors such as ponds, waterfalls, fountains and water walls are other ways to seek nature in a confined and private area.
MAKING THE EVALUATION
Asking the right questions will enable the window treatments professional to evaluate the value a homeowner places on the view. These might include:
1. Tell me how you feel about the view from this room?
2. How much do you enjoy the natural lighting in this space?
3. Does the natural light ever seem to bright, or does the window allow too much warmth into the interior?
4. Do you wish to enjoy the vista of your landscaping all year or seasonally?
5. Should the exterior view become a part of the interior design or furnishings elements?
6. Do you want the landscaping or view to become a focal point in this room?
7. Would motorization be helpful in utilizing window treatments to control heat, glare and to maintain privacy when needed?
8. Is the access (doors) to the outside area often used?
In the responses to this line of querying customers will reveal the parameters of the window treatments to be specified. Taking notes then summarizing back to customers what their priorities are will be of great help in making selections that will meet all their needs.
TREATING THE WINDOW WITH A VIEW
Many times clients who prize the view will not want any treatment at all. In this case, selecting window film as the treatment is a viable and sensible option. Window film helps preserve the color brilliance of fabric drapes and upholstery, furniture, works of art, rugs and wood floors. Ultra-violet radiation is the major contributor to the fading of precious furnishings. A top-quality window film can block 99.9 percent of the harmful rays while maintaining the integrity of the windows.
Shades and blinds that can be hand-operated or motorized to roll or stack into a slender and unnoticeable space has great relevance in homes where the view is paramount. Where windows are large and difficult to access, not only is motorization imperative, it also decreases upkeep and maintenance problems.
There are times when the view needs to be softened, which is where the creative designer or decorator can utilize charming fabrics and attractive styling to fashion top treatments and draperies that provide acoustical insulation as well as visual and psychological comfort during the nighttime. Side panel draperies also can frame a view, with techniques that vary from contrasting to complementing the landscaping to subtle and unnoticeable draperies. Vertical louvers also can be effective in this way. Though not as soft, they can be equally as handsome by becoming a part of the architecture.
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.