What does it mean to design a space? How do we create places that enhance the human experience? Renowned design firm AvroKO tells Haven what the latest trends are in design and how to build spaces for life, and living.

SINGAPORE (Feb 7): From working long hours in the office, to binge-watching Netflix at home, research has shown almost 90% of our time is spent indoors – in our homes, offices, or cars. With so much time spent under fluorescent lights instead of the sun, it is no longer enough to have a mere roof over our heads. As we increasingly live, work, eat and play indoors, it is little wonder that thoughtful, deliberate and conscientious interior design has become integral to designing our indoor spaces. Design trends are moving towards a more mindful direction, and the industry is seeing a rise in design that mimics nature. According to New York-based, award-winning design firm AvroKO, connecting with nature and imitating the natural world is very much on trend today.

In an interview with Haven, AvroKO founding partner William Harris says he has observed a real interest in biophilia and biophilic design, which refers to a love of nature. “I think it’s a direct response to the state of our current affairs – the anxiety and stress in our current cultures,” he says. “The way society is going, [there is] a lack of connection to nature, which is a very primal necessity to destress and be calm. So you’re seeing lots of designers who are taking their cues from the natural world, whether it is the structures that reference life- forms, or the use of natural materials that have a real tactile quality to them, an earthiness that feels calm and grounded.”

Harris, who was in Singapore recently, says the biophilic design philosophy is perfectly aligned to the rising prominence of the sustainability movement. “I think it’s really timely – both a renewed interest in the way nature makes you feel and are connected to you, and also protecting nature; for example, being mindful of the carbon footprint by sourcing materials locally.” The conscientious effort to create sustainable spaces has not made the work of a design firm any easier, but it is a challenge the industry has embraced, Harris says. “I think designers inherently love a challenge; it sparks creativity and engagement, but it absolutely presents new restrictions as well,” he adds.

“It is the new normal, and over time it will be more fluid. Design will catch up to cater to those needs, there will be a springing up of companies which will make sustainable design easier. Eventually, it will be a fundamental part of design, and not just a novelty, as it kind of is right now.”

Similarly, while there is an urge to connect back to nature, there is a lot of digital exhaustion in today’s world and that is reflected in design as well. “Especially with a lot of the younger set, who were born into the digital world, there is a renewed interest and return to all things analogue. You’re seeing a spike in record sales and printed books for the first time in a decade, you’re seeing very soulful, handcrafted experiences coming up.”

The third big trend, on a micro and more aesthetic level, is in an explosion of colour in design. “Big, bold statements for very young, bold audience – the millennial pink defined the late 2000s and now, we’re seeing more monochromatic, peaceful but still colourful palettes,” Harris says.

However, what Harris feels is the most crucial element is hospitable design. “As hospitality experts, we are being asked to inject hospitable thinking into a lot of adjacent industries as well, beyond a restaurant, bar or hotel. It’s taking all the best parts of what hospitality is, and asking how those principles work in a retail space, or in an urban residence,” he says.

Some rules are paramount, for starters, making people feel safe and comfortable in whatever space they’re in. “Design that sacrifices the feeling of safety and security for a guest is probably not the right way to go. So it’s thinking from a human-centric point of view over an architect- or builder-centric view, which [sometimes shows] in buildings that are marvels in design and architecture, but the interior spaces have odd planes, or feel like they’re attacking you.”

As such, transferring the ideas of hospitable design means prioritising comfort and liveability in the spaces being built, for example, in the home. “One thing we’re introducing is ergonomic furniture where, for example, kitchen counters can be raised and customised for the person using it. Human beings are not all the same size, so why should our furniture be?” Harris says. He recalls his roommate in New York who was six-foot, nine-inches tall, for whom everything was far too low or short. Harris used kitchen counters to prepare food, but the roommate used the top of the refrigerator instead. “Imagine how difficult life must be for him,” says Harris.

“In the end, hospitable design is really just about making people feel welcomed, being generous and just creating positive experiences for people,” he adds.