The power of nature: wood, wellness and productivity - Lifestyle NZ
The power of nature: wood, wellness and productivity

The power of nature: wood, wellness and productivity

Humans innately seek connections with the natural world – a concept discussed extensively in the field of biophilic design. However, research now indicates that simply using natural timber in interior spaces can have a significant effect on wellness, productivity and healing.

Words by Clare Chapman

Connection to the natural world is an important, yet often overlooked, need of a building’s occupants, whether that building is a home, a school, a hospital or a shopping mall. Extensive research has been conducted about the benefits of having strong connections with nature and the findings point strongly towards the use of natural materials in indoor spaces. 

A recent study, entitled ‘Wood and Wellness’, conducted by BRE Group, a global building science consultancy, found that wood, when used in interiors, evoked feelings of natural warmth and comfort that ‘have the effect of lowering blood pressure and heart rates, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing positive social interactions and improving corporate image’. The report states that natural wood is particularly ‘important for environments in which it is difficult to incorporate nature indoors, such as hospitals where strict health and safety guidelines may prevent the presence of plants.’

Does wood have a positive impact on human psychology and physiology?

“According to countless studies conducted over recent years, it is hard to deny the benefits of wood to human health and wellbeing,” ITI Timspec’s Jonathan Rugg says. 

An older study conducted in 1984 by Ulrich demonstrated benefits to patients recovering from gallbladder surgery in rooms with views to nature, with patients in those rooms recovering 8.5 per cent faster, requiring 22 per cent less medication and feeling less pain. 

When used in workplace interiors, wood has been found to increase productivity. Pictured is the timber fitout in the Fonterra building.
Timber is a beautiful natural product that allows for a strong, if subconscious, connection to the natural world when used indoors...

A 2012 study entitled ‘Behaviour changes in older persons caused by using wood products in assisted living’, concluded that wood products improve the quality of life of older people. The results found that regular use of wood products, including tables, chairs and tableware, significantly increased social interactions and harmonious relations, activity levels and mental energy.

In 2011, a study was conducted in Austria across the course of a year in which students were either taught in a classroom furnished with floors, ceilings, cupboards and wall panels of solid wood, or a classroom with linoleum floors, plasterboard walls and chipboard cupboards. Over the course of a year, the heart rates of those pupils in the timber classroom decreased significantly compared to those in the other room.

“The findings of these and many other studies represent a phenomenon that we need to consider carefully when designing buildings for both residential and commercial purposes,” Jonathan says. “There is powerful evidence to suggest the use of wood in interiors is a way to enhance people’s experience of a building, home or workplace, as well as increase productivity, reduce stress and improve wellness and health outcomes. 

“Timber is a beautiful natural product that allows for a strong, if subconscious, connection to the natural world when used indoors,” Jonathan says. “Not only has it been found to improve the rates and speed of recovery when used in hospital and care settings and productivity and wellness in commercial settings, the use of timber is known to evoke feelings of relaxation.

There is powerful evidence to suggest the use of wood in interiors is a way to enhance people’s experience of a building, home or workplace...
Here, wood is used in a ceiling feature in the Manukau Institute of Technology building, Auckland.

“This is a critical factor for medical clinics in particular. For example, we’ve recently completed an interior fit out for the Eye Institute in Auckland. In settings like this where people may be undergoing day surgeries or procedures, it’s important for them to walk into a space that promotes relaxation and lowers stress levels - something natural timber has been found to achieve,” Jonathan says. 

“By using natural timber with curvature and textures, people are helped to feel at ease in a soft environment akin to the natural world. It’s a significant shift from the stark whites and crisp clinical aesthetics of the past. More and more, building owners are looking at ways to improve elements of interiors that will promote long-term tenancies and productivity or improved medical outcomes.”

ITI Timspec recently completed a timber fitout for the Auckland Eye Institute where the interiors needed to evoke feelings of relaxation.

What are the best timbers for interior use?

Although ITI Timspec carry over 30 species of timber, there are certain ones that are specified more often for interior use. These include western red cedar, American white ash and Australian ash. 

Western Red Cedar

“Western red cedar is a very attractive timber, particularly popular for indoor use due to its textural finish, unique grains and distinctive colourways that move from light straw through to chocolate browns and subtle red tones,” Jonathan says.

Ideal uses: Panelling, battening and screening in residential settings.

American White Ash

Relatively uniform in colour from light to pale fawns and yellows, American ash has a consistent grain. “People love this timber because it has a ‘clean’ very contemporary aesthetic. It's also hardwood so it can be used in almost any interior application.”

Ideal uses: Retail and commercial fitouts, childcare centres, furniture, residential interiors.

European Beech

A hardwood, this is suitable for high impact or traffic areas. It has a striking grain and a colour range covering the spectrum from light to dark tones. 

Ideal uses: High traffic or impact areas.

Australian Ash

Australian Ash is an umbrella term used to describe a range of eucalypt hardwoods that offer a relatively even grain and light straw colouring with hues ranging from pinkish to light brown, Jonathan says. “Australian hardwoods are often favoured for interior use due to their ‘clean’ appearance.”

Ideal uses: Panelling, screening, decorative fins, furniture.

Find out more about timber for interior applications

Banner image: The timber ceiling of the Tsi Ming Buddhist Temple, Auckland.

Recommended reading