How to connect with nature in a city apartment

Article 10 - inner city apartment

While high-density living has always been part of Australian city life, we have recently witnessed a particularly sharp upturn in the construction of high-rise residential buildings.

This means more and more people are living in apartments that are not necessarily directly connected to the natural world. As a result, it’s not uncommon for many Australians to miss out on the benefits that come with well-balanced interiors that are nature connected.

Unsurprisingly, it is believed that people living in advanced industrialised nations spend 90 per cent of their lives indoors—a notable reason why it’s important to incorporate aspects of nature into your home.

These methods of bringing nature into an apartment—led by the use of wood-inspired interiors—represent some of the most popular options for bringing an 'organic' feel to city living.

Bringing wood inside

'Biophilia' refers to the idea that humans are naturally drawn to, and refreshed by, elements of nature. By employing a nature connected design, predominantly through the use of wood, this need can be satisfied in a city home.

Wooden furniture and ornaments are perhaps the most convenient and affordable way of incorporating the rich, warm tones of wood into an indoor living space. Popular timbers used for furniture in Australia include—for both their look and their durability—walnut, silvertop ash, Western Australian sheoak, blackbutt, blackwood, myrtle and red cedar. These timbers, of course, should always be sustainably sourced and certified.

Alternatively, you might consider making wood prominent in an apartment through a more structural way, with the use of raw wood for beams, joints, posts, lintels or partitions.

Another thing to consider when employing wood indoors—particularly if you have scope to use wood for ceiling features, floorboards and other major points of design—is style and shape. 'Biomorphism' is the modelling of design elements according to natural patterns, emphasising 'flowing' or 'soft' shapes and designs. In these ways, wood can mimic the effect of spending time in nature.

Environmental benefits of wood

When you choose to bring wood inside, you’re not only helping people feel more comfortable in your home, you’re also helping tackle climate change. Many people don’t realise that up to 50 per cent of the dry weight of wood is carbon, extracted from the atmosphere and stored for life by a growing tree. Plus, wood also has lower embodied energy, that’s the energy used to produce it and transport it to your home than most other materials.

So, by connecting with nature with renewable, sustainably sourced wood, you’re also helping to protect the natural environment of our planet. And that’s a good feeling all of its own.

The joy of plants

The greenery of plants can revitalise a city apartment, particularly when complemented by wooden forms. Best of all, there are plenty of innovative ways to utilise plants in your home.

For example, if you have the space, a 'vertical garden' is a hugely striking interior design feature. This is a concept where a selection of plants is placed across, up and down a single wall using a trellis or some other supporting device.

Alternatively, you could consider framing doorways with long-stemmed plants, not to mention strategically placing smaller ones on shelves and other appropriate surfaces.

Of course, the other question is what type of plant to opt for: for low maintenance you could choose the peace lily, or for resilience, the rubber plant. If you need a plant to cope with humidity in a kitchen or bathroom, consider the fern family. A diverse range of species can create a true 'jungle' look in a city apartment setting.

Consider all the senses

A sense of nature-brought-indoors doesn’t have to be just for the visual factor: smell and touch are also important players. With appropriate plant selection, you can create pleasant aromas in your home—or you can simply leave out a bowl of rosemary, spray some essential oils around, or use a stovetop to simmer potpourri.

Your sense of touch can also contribute to the natural world brought inside. Why not place pebbles, shells or pieces of tree bark as ornaments around your home? Doing this will foster a tactile sense of nature as you pick them up, and perhaps trigger the happy memory of when they were collected.

Join with community

In a high-density apartment block, it is possible that many like-minded residents are interested in creating a sense of nature in their spaces as well. If there is a common area in your building—ideally on a rooftop, but a common indoor area could also work well—this presents an opportunity for green-fingered residents to band together and create a tranquil idyll in the city. Take the opportunity to install plants, wooden outdoor furniture and even water features around the place, or even unite to create a communal vegetable garden.

Photo: Gardiner Architects