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biophilic moodboards: creating unexpected stimuli in interiors

in biophilic moodboards

Being immersed in nature is a rich experience that involves all senses. In particular, every natural environment is full of sounds, movements and smells. Many of them are not predictable and just happen. Think of birds chirping or branches swinging in the breeze.

In biophilic design terms, these unexpected movements, sounds and smells are called non-rhythmic sensory stimuli.

Non-rhythmic – because they don’t follow a predictable pattern. Sensory – because they involve our senses. And stimuli – because they attract our attention, diverting it from whatever it was concentrated on.

So, in this month’s episode of Biophilic Moodboards we’re looking into non-rhythmic sensory stimuli and their application to interior design.

Biophilic design moodboard explaining unexpected stimuli in interiors. Close-up view of a crackling fire. Curtains moving in the wind. Landscape with grass swinging.
Credits (from top left): Kalfire Fireplaces, Patrick Ponseele, Bas van den Eijkhof. Moodboard: anooi studio

the benefits of non-rhythmic sensory stimuli

Unexpected sensory stimulations like the ones that happen in nature act as a restorative break for the mind. They distract it for a moment, giving it a chance to get back to work more focused than before.

From a physical point of view, these stimulations catch the eye. And looking at a point at a distance helps to relax eye muscles – a particularly useful exercise when staring at a screen for long hours. * These positive distractions are therefore ideal for offices or spaces where people concentrate.

In nature, these unexpected stimulations are also a clear sign that the environment is alive. So, bringing them indoors will give life to the space, making it more compelling and ultimately healthier.

But how does biophilic design reproduce unexpected sensory stimulations indoor? Let’s see some examples…

View into a home from the outside, with plants swinging and interesting light reflections.
Credit: Teke Architects – Photo by Yercekim Architectural Photography

outdoor views

The easiest option is taking advantage of the sensory stimulations that happen outdoors. Yet one more reason to give importance to outdoor views!

Even if a window looks only at the sky (think skylights for example), there will be clouds moving and birds chirping while passing by. If the view is onto greenery instead, leaves and grass will move in the wind. Also, plants attract wildlife. And choosing species that attract bees or butterflies creates further occasions for unexpected movements & sounds – besides supporting local biodiversity. This is particularly precious when designing an outdoor view in the middle of a city, as it creates a little living artwork to look at.

White airy corridor with a round window looking into greenery on the back wall.
Credit: Three Birds Renovations
Contemporary living room with trees planted into the internal courtyard.
Credit: ONG&ONG Pte Ltd (via Archdaily) – Photo by Derek Swalwell

bringing the 4 elements indoors

Air, water and fire are another way to introduce natural random movements. A curtain that swings when the breeze gets stronger, a bubbling water feature, a crackling fire… just to name a few examples.

Additionally, incorporating the 4 elements in interiors is an excellent starting point for biophilic design, as it creates spaces that feel alive and connected to the natural world.

Contemporary living room with a crackling fireplace.
Credit: Kalfire Fireplaces (via Instagram)
Total-white kitchen with a built-in fish tank as room divider.
Credit: Ruben Muedra – Photo by Adrián Mora Maroto
Small aquarium with water plants on a coffee table.
Credit: Wayfair


Light and water can also create unexpected stimuli through reflections. Drawing shapes with sunlight creates an occasion for unexpected movements to occur. The effect will also vary during the day and with seasons, strengthening the interior’s connection with natural systems.

The same is true for water reflections. When a water feature reflects on a surface it creates random movements and sounds that will fill the space with life.

Leaf-shaped cuts in a wall draw with sunlight on interior surfaces.
Credit: Nishizawa Architects - Photo by Hiroyuki Oki
Sunlight reflection on a patio table.
Credit: Block 722
Water pond reflecting on the wall.
Credit: Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos - Photo by Miguel Angel Acevedo

sounds and smells

Varying sounds can be introduced in interiors in different ways. Naturally – think water and fire – or playing recordings of natural sounds.

Natural smells instead can be added with scented plants, flowers or essential oils. However, these are ever-present smells that will eventually fall unnoticed if people stay in the same space for a while. To bring the unexpected aspect back, one solution could be a scent diffuser that automatically activates at random intervals. Or even the fact of placing scented plants close to a window, thus letting the breeze carry their smell throughout the room.

Olive tree in a contemporary dining room.
Credit: McGee & Co (via Instagram)

All in all, unexpected sensory stimuli create engaging environments for us to live and work in. They add life and make interiors restorative for body & mind.

In other words, they contribute to the ultimate goal of biophilic design: transforming the time spent indoor into a deep wellbeing experience.

* Sources

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