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biophilic moodboards: fractals in nature

in biophilic moodboards

One of biophilic design’s preferred ways to introduce patterns takes inspiration from fractals in nature.

But what are fractals? Fractals are patterns created by indefinitely repeating one single shape in different sizes (which is why they’re said to be self-repeating patterns). Examples of fractals in nature are everywhere: from leaf veins and pinecones, to tree branches that split into smaller ones, to snowflakes and shells.

But let’s explore how fractals apply to interior design in this episode of Biophilic Moodboards!

Biophilic design moodboard showing examples of fractals in nature and interiors: a leaf pattern and a wallpaper reproducing it, the spiral shape of a pinecone and a spiral staircase.
Credits (from top left): Now Edizioni, Taylor Kopel, Wheeler Kearns Architects (via Houzz). Moodboard: anooi studio

fractals and wellbeing

The reason why fractals are so fascinating is that they are both complex and simple; they give a sense of order but mesmerize at the same time because one cannot find a beginning or an end.

Even more, studies * have highlighted that the ordered complexity of fractals in nature has the power to reduce stress. Avoiding any mathematical detail, it turns out that the proportion between the parts of a fractal is also at the base of human sight. When looking at complex images, our pupils scan the big picture first and then concentrate on increasingly smaller details. And these details are not randomly smaller, but they follow – surprise surprise – a fractal ratio! It has been observed that birds also use the same technique to scan what they see below them when flying, and that’s why their sight is so efficient!

Back to the wellbeing effects of fractals… Since they match the way our sight works, fractals don’t strain the eyes, which in turn gives us an overall sense of relaxation.

Fractals can also be tricky though: when too busy (namely high-dimensional), they have been shown to be overwhelming and stressful. So moderation is a key factor whenever working with fractals.

fractals in interior design

Fractals are ultimately the repetition of one single shape. And repetition has always been used in interior design as a way to give order to the space and lead the eye in a certain direction.

So let’s explore some ways to introduce fractals in interiors!

natural fractals

The texture of natural materials is often fractal – think about wood graining. So here is yet another good reason to choose natural materials in interiors!

In particular, biophilic design suggests keeping natural materials in their original state as much as possible. In the case of wood, this means embracing the graining and – why not – making it become the design feature!

Black and white interior with a wooden staircase with marked wood graining.
Credit: OB Architecture (via Houzz). Photo by Martin Gardner.

reproducing natural fractals

Reproducing natural textures and shapes is another biophilic design strategy – that takes the name of natural analogues.

This applies to fractals too. And indeed, there exist plenty of interior design products that reproduce natural fractal patterns, from wallpapers to artworks and lamps!

Grey wallpaper reproducing intricate branches and leaves as an example of the use of natural fractals in interiors.
Credit: Albero by Graham & Brown
Bedroom with a wallpaper reproducing the natural fractal of branches with leaves, that drape from the top.
Credit: Amour by Glamora
Glass mosaic pattern reproducing a nautilus fractal pattern.
Credit: Nautilus by Mutaforma
Wall lamp reproducing natural fractals.
Credit: Mitya Markov (via Behance)
Floor lamp with round top reproducing the fractal pattern of branches.
Credit: Coral by Pallucco

man-made fractals

Fractal patterns can also be man-made out of precise geometric shapes, and these can be used in interiors as well. Only caution: staying away from patterns that feel too busy.

Minimal coffee table with a fractal pattern cut on the metal top.
View from the side of a minimal coffee table with a fractal pattern laser cut on the metal base.
Credits: Enrico Zanolla

fractal interior design

Let’s finish off with a gallery of interiors that have taken inspiration from natural fractals!

Living room with a 3D artwork on the wall that recalls natural fractals.
Detail of the 3D artwork recalling natural fractals.
Credits: Sarah Barnard Design (via Houzz)
Grey wallpaper with brown branches.
Credit: Grace cloud by Graham & Brown
Grey wallpaper representing the veins of a leaf in giant scale.
Credit: Concrete dry lead by Now Edizioni
Dining room with a branch wallpaper on the wall.
Credit: Abstact Branch 03 by Acte Deco

Fractals are yet another tool to make interiors stimulating and engaging. And choosing natural fractals will also help to reconnect people with the natural world!

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