Selecting nature as a theme for a room is a very broad order, for the faces of nature are many. Depending on the climate, the location and the season, the possibilities are seemingly endless. It may be safe to forecast that nature-inspired patterns will be available in fabrics, wall coverings and accessories for decades to come.
This is partially true because we have a keen awareness of the limitations of our resources and the pollution that is the result of modern living. Every day more people are becoming more informed of the real environmental dangers humans have created in past decades, and thus feel the increasing need and responsibility we have to protect our fragile home planet, Earth, for the sake of our own quality of life and for future generations.
Knowing this, we can look to nature as a venerable design source much to be admired, respected and cared for. As we enjoy its visual bounties, we find a never-ending supply of aesthetics. There is a look for everyone with nature as the giver and we as grateful recipients.
Nature inspires livability. The sand, dirt or sod beneath our feet; the color of earth, rocks, water and foliage around us; and the never-ending display of beautiful colors in the sunrise and sunset that are bookends to the loveliness of the day all combine to form a picture of livability.
Natural textures and colors are livable for two reasons:
1. We have seen them so much they are familiar and comfortable to us.
2. Most natural background elements exist as textures and neutralized colors—or the family of neutrals—so they demand little attention on their own.
This pattern of familiarity and neutrality form easy-to-live-with backgrounds for our floors, wall and window treatments and ceilings. From there, fabric and wall covering patterns and furnishings can be inspired from nature in a wide variety of ways. The following are a few directions for nature-inspired interiors.
One source of inspiration is the jungle—think of South America, Central America, Africa, the islands of the Caribbean or the South Seas. From the lush foliage of the tropics and the equator we find motifs such as palm fronds and palm trees, large scale leaves and an abundance of exotic plants from the rain forests. Beach scenes evoke peaceful images that reduce stress and give viewers a mini-vacation right in their own homes.
Still high on the list of popular jungle motifs are animal skin designs such as leopard, tiger and zebra. These will continue strong as long as we find natural jungle motifs appealing. However, the direction will move away from the skins toward more foliage in a next few years.
Splashes of brilliant color from tropical flowers or birds may form the entire color scheme in a room with neutrals or neutralized colors as its background. Flooring can be wood, stone or a neutral carpet, perhaps with a beach-mat type area rug or a rustic Oriental such as a coarse Tibetan rug.
Keep window treatments light in color and fabric. Sheers underlain with cellular shades or metal blinds, for example, or just white wood shutters or blinds make a great choice. Fabric window treatments that have a less-constructed look work well.
On the walls, keep in mind that light colors, even white painted wood walls, give the effect of a cottage in the jungle—white reflects heat and makes the interior look cooler. A clean background can be a great foil for the more colorful elements in furniture, valances, area rugs and accessories.
IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
It's not necessary to go far away to find awe-inspiring nature. Horticulture—flower gardens and green-only gardens, vegetable plots and vineyards—provide myriad sources for design motifs and entire rooms.
An interesting phenomenon in the United States is our unrelenting love affair with flowers, foliage, trellising vines, stripes (the staking, perhaps) and the unadulterated love affair we have with gardening. It is the undisputed No. 1 hobby or pastime in America.
Yet one thing we have learned from the provincial French interior and their use of toile fabrics: lavish is good! These rooms will freely use a lot of pattern—as wall coverings and borders; as companion or complementary fabric window treatments; as real, silk or dried flower arrangements; as patterns of tableware; and as botanicals or watercolor prints on the walls. We are crazy about Mother Nature's amazingly perfect invention, the flower.
However, a new, cutting-edge look in garden design is the flowerless garden. Proponents state, flatly and emphatically, that a garden without flowers can be, and likely is, more beautiful. For one, to not have to plant, stake, dead-head, cut back and haul off only to replant again is a huge boon to the busy person who also loves a garden. There are new varieties of shrubs, bushes and ground cover with leaves so colorful and interesting, they supplant flowers. Even the venerable Chelsea Flower Show in London, England, was noticeably flowerless, further vilifying flowers and replacing them with all-green gardens.
A precedent for this new attitude is found in the traditional Japanese garden. To have flowers was considered impudent and improper. Nature was perfect without it. Perhaps the contemporary greening of interiors also may be a justification. You decide.
THE BARE NECESSITIES
Nature also is a great example of paring back to the bare necessities. Many people feel the stress of living too many lives at once and have embraced the credo, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." This approach to our environment states that less clutter frees the mind of extraneous pressures. Less pattern and decoration leads to more open space, more appreciation of each form and texture, each color and nuance. Less stuff means less worry, less tension.
This attitude in interior design leads to a feeling of being in control of life, rather than life being in control of you. This trend is seen where more people are selecting fewer items but with greater discrimination. Each item of furnishing is thoughtfully, carefully purchased, and if the search takes a long time, it's all right as long as in the end the result is fabulous.
At the window, simplicity is best, but it must not be bland, boring, too common or banal. Rather, the look must have texture and interest, screen light while still allowing it to enter as an interesting play of light and shadow. Window and wall treatments and all furnishings must create textural harmony, they must give energy rather than taking it away through demanding color pattern or high upkeep. Spare furnishings fulfill a deep-seated need for beauty that just "is," without having to explain itself. No mental processing of complex color and pattern is necessary.
Feng shui concepts apply here. Focus on selections that enhance a feeling of well-being. Allow natural light in, but keep it diffused, thus inviting the energy or life force chi, pronounced "chee."
These clean interiors may focus on mid-century modern, via the international design venue. Another manifestation is a simplified version of Oriental (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) design—certainly a new and refreshing vogue. Or the interior may be a delicious collection of eclectic furnishings in which each item is superb design.
NATURE'S NEW PALETTE
Colors from nature have always been an inspiration. Today, however, the new color palette seems to be focusing on a richly neutralized selection. Consider and visualize these color names from the Waverly Rainforest collection: ivory, jute, sage, taupe, cocoa, ebony, straw, banana, coral and touches of bright green. And in Gramercy's Nature's Jubilation collection, we see nature's palette in tobacco, sage, linen, saddle, taupe, charcoal, navy and a deep green called windsor.
All these names evoke a bounty of color, but with overriding sophistication and subtlety, complemented with accents of bright and deep values.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.