By Elina Grigoriou

Reproduced with kind permission of Wood For Good.

The science behind biophilic design shows us that different design features, materials and methods can evoke certain feelings, with a direct impact on an individual’s experience of wellbeing in different spaces.

Elina Grigoriou .Image credit: Wood For Good

Elina Grigoriou .Image credit: Wood For Good

But why does this happen and how can we apply this to our work in the built environment today?

To help answer this question, earlier this summer we ran a series of events focusing on the impact that design materials have on our health and wellbeing through biophilic design.

The talks gave a fascinating insight into the science of biophilic design and we wanted to learn more. So, this month we caught up with one of our speakers, Elina Grigoriou, interior designer, sustainability and wellbeing expert and co-founder of Grigoriou Interiors, to find out more about her work, her philosophy and how she designs sustainable spaces that enhance wellbeing.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and the work you do?

“I am an interior designer and I run a design and sustainability consultancy based in London since 2009. Our work and services are aimed at the interior fitout and refurbishment of buildings, mostly commercial but we work with selected residential clients too.

“My team and I are integrating design and sustainability skills to create and help other teams develop truly sustainable spaces. We create sustainability strategies, facilitate design and wellbeing workshops, work with manufacturers and institutions to create standards, benchmark environmental, value and wellbeing performance, design spaces which support occupant and organisational flourishing. We also love sharing knowledge and introducing the latest and most innovative ideas in products and practices to clients and other industry teams.”

 What inspired your interest in this area?

“I’ve always been purpose driven and have an inner drive to serve. I was piqued by interiors in my teens and then steadily honed this direction over the years. I graduated with a BA(Hons) in Interior Design and then immersed myself in the industry.

“Once I started working and seeing the design approaches I was encouraged to adopt as ‘good design’ it became apparent that change and purpose were both needed in this sector to ensure it was serving wider human values and the earth.”

 What does wellbeing look like for you?

“First of all, wellbeing is something we each choose, and it is not something that can be given to us. It is a state of being in which we feel our best and more alive. It describes the way our body, our mind and our emotions are. It is when our body feels balanced, light, pain-free, strong, flexible, and energetic. When our mind feels agile, reason can be used, analytical thought is clear and structured, and memory can be accessed. Moreover, our emotions can be clearly distinguished, we can engage openly with the world around us, exchange emotional states and have an open heart where love is not a transaction.

“Wellbeing is a choice that we make, to live in a condition as described above. This state of being is supported by the physical world, people’s actions, and situations around us. If the world around us is impacting us, then we can use our resilience to maintain a balanced state of being until we are level again. If we do not have resilience, then our health suffers and we experience negative health, in all the parts of our self; emotional, cognitive, and physical. The longer we are in a state of wellbeing the more our resilience is topped up.”

What role can wood, and other natural materials play in this kind of design approach?

“Natural materials remind us of our own position in nature, they can reconnect us to who and what we are. Some people are ready and already seek out the re-connection, others need time to accept this idea; that they are not separate to the frogs, ice caps, bees, and stars in the universe for example. Wood and other such generally unprocessed natural materials, are both representations and real-life connections to one’s innate humanity.

“A direct effect from seeing a sharp shape for example, is to protect ourselves or at least go into higher alert. This is an example of how we are already hard-wired to react in a specific way to sharp and angular things. This natural reaction as an effect is what we call biophilia. Another effect is the reaction to being immersed in greenery and water; our self-reported levels of happiness are higher when we are in such natural environments, more so than in man-made built-up areas.”

What advice would you give to other designers who want to start incorporating design for wellbeing?

“My advice would be to start looking in detail at human nature, understand how humans are structured, and then how we are affected by the our environment physically, cognitively, and emotionally.

“Reading and observing how people react to space and situations, allows a designer to know how to create settings that will meet occupants’ needs and understand what will support and enable their flourishing. The best place to start observing such links is simply with oneself. If we are not able to understand and support our own state of wellbeing, then how could we do this for others?”

“It is not a case of ‘fixing it’, or where only once we are ‘perfect’ can we know enough to support others. We are all a work in progress, some more than others but this is a journey we never can or should wish to ‘finish and complete’. Also, thinking that this work, whether for ourselves or clients, can be done in a flash and move on is not true; it is a journey of life and one we are also looking to enable and support for our clients and/or occupants.”

If you had the power to change one thing about every building space, what would you change?

“Lighting. We can have the most expensive and well researched design and finishes but with bad lighting it is all wasted. Craft and engineer the best illumination in a space and it all looks and feels beautiful and amazing.”

Elina Grigoriou is a London-based interior designer, sustainability and wellbeing expert and the co-founder of Grigoriou Interiors, one of the UK’s most forward-thinking design and sustainability studios. Elina is passionate about designing beautiful interiors that ensure the wellbeing of people and the environment, while driving corporate and individual growth. With 20 years’ experience in the global commercial interior design sector, Elina’s extensive knowledge of human-centric design is complemented by an eye for aesthetics and in-depth sustainability know-how. Elina works at the heart of the latest industry developments and initiatives regarding sustainability, Net Zero, Circular Design and Economy, partnering with national and global institutions to drive and support collaborative approaches for systemic change.

In 2017, Elina was awarded Honorary Membership to the RICS in recognition of her dedication and work promoting sustainability in the property sector.  Significant industry contributions include the development and on-going support of the RICS SKA rating system since 2008, which includes good practice guidance for sustainable interiors, and the 2014 WGBC report ‘Health Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices’.

In 2019, her book ‘Wellbeing in Interiors, Philosophy, Design & Value in Practice’ was published by RIBA and is available through all major and local bookshops.