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how to bring biophilic design into retail spaces

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Biophilic design can be applied to any space: restaurants, gyms, all rooms in a home…and retail interiors too.

In fact, retail spaces are a type of interior whose design is now the furthest from a biophilic standard. So let’s explore…

retail spaces and the sense of place

When entering a store, can you tell in which part of the world you are? Most of the time the answer is no. Retail spaces usually look the same across the globe and have no connection to the history, ecology, and identity of the geographic area they’re in.

This is partly due to the “chain effect”: stores belonging to a chain will reproduce the style of the brand no matter where the store is located. But even stores that are not part of a chain often conform to a similar retail design standard, with very few place-specific examples. As a result, retail spaces often share a standardized and impersonal design that’s the furthest it could be from biophilic design.

First and foremost, incorporating biophilic design into retail spaces could create a genuine sense of place, adding clues that connect to specific local identities. Merging local identity and company branding is a novel approach that would alone be a massive change when compared to how retail design works right now!

Interior of a store with period brick walls and modern pink stick hanging from the ceiling as a way to represent branding.
Credit: IDEO Arquitectura

post-pandemic considerations

Given the current standard in retail design, introducing biophilic design into stores implies rethinking them completely. And this point in history might be just the perfect one…

The pandemic has moved all sorts of shopping online, so the question becomes: will physical retail spaces still exist in the future? An interesting field of research suggests they will exist but partially change their function. What’s mostly missing in an online shopping experience is the opportunity to touch and feel a product before purchasing it. A gap that future retail spaces should aim at filling.

This gives reasons to expect a shift from store to showroom, from shopping to feeling. In this scenario, retail spaces will have no checkout, no exposed piles of the same sweater in different sizes, nobody asking what else you’d like to buy. People would then visit a store to get what can’t be experienced through a screen and then finalize any purchase online. It’s a pretty extreme view, that will probably be applicable to different degrees according to the industry. Still, this suggests that the experiential side of retail spaces will become more and more important. And biophilic design can make this experience comfortable and compelling.

Interior of a store with rough stone surfaces recalling local ecology.
Credit: Aesop

natural elements

Rich natural textures and shapes, sensory elements, water features…these are just a few examples of biophilic features that could be implemented into retail spaces.

Another important point has to do with natural lighting and ventilation, two aspects that are often not prioritized when designing retail spaces, but that could certainly make these interiors healthier and more pleasant to be in. In fact, design considerations for retail spaces are commonly focused on the client’s perspective, failing to consider that salespersons spend long hours inside stores. For them, features like access to outdoor views, airflow variations, and dynamic and diffuse lighting would make a huge difference!

Detail of a store counter with wood finish, flowers on the top and bricks on the back wall.
Credit: Motus
Wooden clothes hangers mounted on the ceiling with organic shape.
Credit: Urban Product
Store with pampa grass used as partitions.
Credit: Storey Studio – Photo by Pete Hawk


As a complement to real natural elements, nature-mimicking solutions are also an option. This means including nature-inspired patterns/shapes and looking into nature’s structures and hierarchies for inspiration.

Close-up of a counter with the shape of waves.
Credit: Yagyug Douguten
Store with leaf-shaped decorations hanging from the ceiling.
Credit: Roito – Photo: Daisuke Shima
Store interior with flowers hanging from the ceiling and a tall giraffe floor lamp.
Credit: Nour El Refai

experiencing the space

One of the main objectives of biophilic design has to do with the experience of a space.

Retail spaces lend themselves well to a design centered on a sense of exploration, a design that guides visitors through a compelling journey around the space – mystery in biophilic design terms. Also, stores are the ideal interior to experiment with apparent risk features, adding to the emotional involvement of visitors.

Store with plant-filled arched creating a path in the open space.
Credit: Storey Studio – Photo by Guillermo Cano
Dark store with jewels exposed into baubles being the only lit elements in the space.
Credit: Jouin Manku
Store with hollow and plant filled columns creating a sense of mystery in the space.
Credit: Ranu Abdulrahim

All in all, retail spaces are likely to go through a deep rethinking as a consequence of the pandemic. So why not take this opportunity to craft spaces that enhance occupants’ experience and respect our planet at the same time? The chance is there and it’s on us to take it!

find more biophilic retail inspiration in anooi visual library →

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