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Nature and Nurture: Interview with Fiona Watkins, Interior Designer

February 17, 2021

Recently, the SONA team has had the pleasure of working with BIID accredited interior designer Fiona Watkins on two projects in Cheshire. Our managing director Nicola Fulstow spoke to Fiona about wellness, technology and her love of biophilic design.

Where does your love of nature come from?

I grew up in New Zealand and was always outside…mainly at the beach exploring. My house had a big garden with native trees and shrubs, and even its own (modest) glow worm cave! My mother used to make and fire her own pottery using different clays. She was always experimenting with pigments and glazes.

My father had a business making furniture from native woods and then had a company specialising in natural cork products. I’m sure I’ve inherited a care and love of the natural world from them.

How does nature feature in your work and designs?

I’m definitely drawn to natural materials and fabrics. Furniture made from sustainable wood and marble, fabrics made from natural fibres (especially textural flax and linens), and flooring made from wool, sisal, wood or stone all feature in our schemes.

I love fluid fabrics that move with the breeze, as well as printed botanical wallpapers, veined marble and timber grained floors. These add texture and movement, and we always try to introduce air-improving plants into rooms. Greenery just seems to go with everything!

Some of the best and most iconic designs have stemmed from a designer’s curiosity, and exploration of the natural world. I love Hans Wenger and his incredible dining chairs – from my all-time favourite CH24 Wishbone chair to the Shell, Peacock and Elbow chairs. These are all inspired by nature. They were created with simple wood and woven textiles that reinforce his organic outlook.

Then there is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater House. The architecture and cantilever mimicking the crest of the waterfall over which it hangs and its cave-like interior make residents feel comforted and cocooned.

What activities, environments or moments give you the most inspiration?

I am definitely the happiest when I’m at the beach – I just love the smell of the sea air. This for me is inspiration. I think clearly and feel more energised!

 

Visiting design shows is definitely inspiring but I truly love mentoring young designers. Their view of design is fresh, unique and bold.  I don’t feel there is much original design; a lot of it is restructured and reimagined. Personally, I think there are few true ‘design pioneers’ today.

Do you think that the pandemic has made more people connect to the simplicity of nature again?

Definitely, especially during the first lockdown. The weather was great and so many people started to explore their local countryside and environments. I think a lot of people were reminded of how beautiful the world around us is. It certainly made me grateful to have such lovely walks from my doorstep, and with less traffic and urban noise, the natural world benefitted.  Did you notice how much louder the birdsong seemed?  I think it renewed everyone’s love of the natural world.

Have you found any health or wellbeing benefits of incorporating aspects of nature into your designs?

Absolutely. It is well documented that our environment influences our health, productivity, and intellectual and emotional wellbeing. Incorporating nature into our homes can provide a huge range of sustained benefits, both physical and psychological. Currently, life is very stressful for many people so it’s even more important to connect with nature to increase health and happiness. You can do this by incorporating biophilic design into your home.

How would you describe biophilic design to someone new to the term?

Biophilic design is simply explained as design that reconnects us to the natural environment.  Modern life means we are spending more time indoors, losing our connection with the natural world. Biophilic design seeks to replace this by introducing natural elements into our interiors – maximising natural light, adding plants and water features and using more natural material: wood, stone, marble, bamboo, rattan and wool.

Technology is often seen to be at odds with nature within a home, but these days every home has aspects of technology.  Is it possible to have both a home that feels grounded in nature, but with the latest technology?

Technology enhances our homes and has a huge benefit to our daily lives but it needs to be balanced. Using natural materials with technology will enhance this – take lighting, for example. Lighting is a key element of biophilic design. That’s because our circadian rhythms respond primarily to light and darkness.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. They can influence sleep patterns, wakefulness, hormones, body temperature and digestion. It’s easy to understand why it’s vital to achieve the right light in your home.

Maximising natural light is one principle of biophilic interior design but equally important is creating a lighting system that can change throughout the day to link people to the outdoor environment. Not forgetting of course that we are multi-sensory, so sound, perhaps a water feature, or sounds of nature and the outdoors can also be incorporated using technology.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, our studio is working on several listed properties and extensions, a new build eco project, two whole house refurbishments, and a few home offices of course! We have just started work on a beautiful turreted historic Victorian villa.

What do you see for the future of interior design and architecture post-pandemic?

I think interior design and architecture will continue to flourish as they have in the past year. People have realised the importance of their homes and environments for their wellbeing, and this will continue.

Biophilic architecture has been enriching workplaces and retail spaces for some time. Forward-thinking employers, such as Amazon and Apple, have been quick to champion biophilic design principles: adding trees, living walls and greenhouse domes. With more of us working from home and embracing this, I think the world of interior design and architecture will thrive.

 

We would just like to say a huge thank you to Fiona for taking part in this interview. You can visit her website here. Or if you have a project and you need some advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.