When it comes to home decor, bringing the outdoors inside isn't a new concept. Think low-maintenance succulent plants placed artfully on bookshelves and bare windows that brighten a room.
Now folks are taking the trend a step further by updating their homes with more permanent organic elements, like wood countertops with a natural finish, cork flooring and eco-friendly wallpaper made from natural fibers, such as sisal or sea grass.
Local designers believe these rustic features can enliven an interior space or create a soothing environment that benefits mental and physical health.
"Having those natural elements calms people down," says Amanda Connolly, an interior designer and partner at Shotgun Design Group. "It makes people happier, adds a little oxygen to the space and keeps the air clean."
Home improvement projects featuring natural resources already are a nationwide trend, she says. And although many of her New Orleans clients still favor an achromatic look, they're now embracing materials with interesting textures and earthy tones.
"I think there are ways to mix those natural elements in with the whites and grays, to keep it from being too sterile of an environment," Connolly says. Built-in natural home fixtures can include unpainted wood cabinets or a kitchen island constructed of smooth cypress.
Quartz countertops are especially popular, Connolly says, partially because they're available in such a wide range of finishes, "from a polished finish to even a more leathered or sueded finish."
Blake Erskin, her partner at Shotgun Design Group, says clients are leaning toward wood features with warm or ashy tones, rather than wood with the glow of a "bright, yellowed gold." He cites gray-ish woods like cypress and warm oak woods as examples.
Connolly says textured grass cloth wallpapers, especially those in bold patterns, are on trend, along with exposed brick floors, backsplashes and other fixtures.
"If there's a brick wall or a brick fireplace, people will want to feature those elements," she says. "But if you don't have those elements in your home, we can build them in."
Susan Currie, an interior designer and owner of Susan Currie Design, says cork flooring (an often-overlooked option) is enjoying a surge in popularity for a few different reasons. The cork in cork floors is sustainably extracted from evergreen oak trees native to southwest Europe and northwest Africa.
"It's a sustainable product because they actually take the bark from the tree," Currie says. "They don't cut the tree down to make the cork flooring." Cork floors also can be made from recycled wine bottle corks.
Besides being eco-friendly, cork flooring is softer than ceramic or porcelain tile and stone floors, so it provides gentle padding for feet. It also creates a nice transition between rooms, she adds.
"Let's say you have hardwood floors in your family room and it adjoins to the kitchen," she says. "Maybe you don't want that hard transition in the color of the floor, from a wood finish that may be a medium to a dark tone, to your kitchen with a light floor. You can find a cork product that might blend nicely with your hardwood floors. It's a nice alternative for a transition where you want to have that open-concept look, but you don't want to see that division in the flooring."
The intricate details of built-in pieces also can add to the earthy elements of a home. For example, Currie says some homeowners prefer wood countertops or islands with an oiled finish, rather than a synthetic finish.
"The beauty of an oiled finish is, as the counter's being used, it might get little cut marks or dents or dings, but you can re-oil it and ... make it feel new again," she says. Those subtle imperfections also add character.
Currie points out that natural resources, rather than synthetic materials, are better for people with asthma or allergies.
"Synthetic products may have off-gassing that can cause problems with people who are sensitive to materials that add chemicals into the environment," she explains.
Although earthy built-in home elements have lots of appeal, adding them to a space can be a complex and costly undertaking. Dabito, a designer, photographer and blogger for Old Brand New creative studio, suggests a few ways you can dip your toes into the trend.
"I'll use a jute rug and layer it with another natural finish rug, but with a different texture or pattern," he says. "Handmade ceramics add a tactile quality to a space. Someone took their time to make it with their hands."
Macrame, a textile created using a knotting technique, is an organic option for wall decor, as is a carefully placed collection of shallow woven bowls. Dabito also uses furniture constructed with summery wicker, rattan and teak wood and employs different patterns, prints and "puffs of color" to turn up the volume in a space with more sedate natural features.