Walking It Off with Jennifer Walsh

By Faran Krentcil

5 min read

Jen Walsh Walk With Walsh

Are you buying new furniture or rearranging your bedroom? Talk to Jennifer Walsh first.

She’s an expert in naturally-centered design and the host of Biophilic Solutions, a podcast series where she talks to everyone from designer Mara Hoffman to our friends at the Rodale Institute about organic blankets, natural light, and how to do better for our planet and our Pinterest goals.

Jennifer also runs Walk With Walsh, a program that encourages community and connection through Central Park strolls—a program she began after leading CEOs on nature hikes and realizing we can do our best work (literally) on foot.

Here’s what Jennifer wants you to know about bringing nature indoors, talking to your plants, and the best party song for eco geeks. (It’s this one, obviously.)



Easy question first: What’s biophilic design?
It’s the principle that our spaces are living organisms, and being in them can make us well or unwell. Bringing elements of the outside world indoors will always heighten our feelings of happiness and awareness, because nature does that. But also, how do we sit and move through our spaces? How do our homes sound and smell? And how can we make sure that the benefits nature has on our bodies and brains can carry with us into our homes and offices.

True or false: You got obsessed with biophilic design because of… mascara?
I mean, yeah! So back in the ‘90s, I founded a retail chain called Beauty Bar. I loved makeup, but I hated shopping in a department store. It was so chaotic and loud, with harsh lighting and strong smells, and so much going on. I wanted to create this calm, serene, cool space where people could discover beauty on their own terms. I didn’t know what I was looking for was ‘biophilic design,’ but that’s what it was.

How did biophilia play into your success as a boss?
I knew that when we had natural sunlight and therapeutic nature soundscapes, employees were happier to come to work—I certainly was!—but I also discovered that people spent more time in the store when it had biophilic elements. That’s the first time I realized how the natural world could inspire us to feel better literally all the time.

Why do you think you made that connection so quickly?
Because I’m obsessed?! [Laughing.] No, okay, so I have a twin sister who is profoundly disabled. Because of her, I've always been very highly aware of spaces and places that make us well or unwell. She was definitely a catalyst to help my understanding of neurodivergent people, and how we need better spaces for calm and serenity to help the brain get centered after a lot of stimuli. And the data shows that those calm, serene spaces are usually connected to nature… When we spend all of our time indoors, we actually experience something called “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

Like Attention Deficit Disorder?
In some ways, it’s not dissimilar. It comes from a scientist Richard Louv and his book Last Child in the Woods. He’s been studying the relationship between brain development and nature for the past 30 to 40 years, and he talks about how humanity had a “great migration” indoors during the Industrial Revolution. The reason we’ve got to correct that is because studies show being in nature can lead to better health, but also more empathy for others. There are statistics that no matter the socioeconomics, a neighborhood has less crime if there are more trees. Right now, the average person spends 93% of their lives indoors. How can we possibly love and protect nature if we don’t even see it? 



That feels really overwhelming!

So how do we embrace biophilic design even if we can’t blow up our whole lives?
People are always like, “Buy a plant.” And buying a plant is great. But be honest—do you even know the name of your plant? We can’t connect to something if we don’t know anything about it. So if you’re going to buy a plant—again, yes, great—learn what species it is. Where did it originally come from? Does it have any cultural significance? What other plants and animals lived near it? Same with looking out the window. “I see birds.” Cool—do you know what they’re called? Find out! 

How about when it’s time to redesign our space?
A very basic way is to ask yourself, “Where does the best light come from in this room?” and design your seating around that light. Ask yourself, “Where do I feel myself thriving?” and see if there are elements, like textures or colors, that you can replicate in your own home… Sound is also a big part of setting up your space, especially in a city, where loud sirens or construction can honestly feel like “micro traumas” on the body. For that, I recommend using a soundscape of waves at night or local birdsong during the day.

Why birdsong?
It’s really good for your brain. There are studies being done in classrooms where children do better on tests when bird noises are played in the background. It's an innately important experience for us to feel more regulated in our nervous system. Same with giving yourself just 40 seconds of nature exposure to relax your prefrontal cortex in your brain, either by looking out the window or feeling wood and stone under your feet. You can build these little micro-breaks with biophilia into your daily life. And it’s not expensive! 

Want to tell us your favorite fact about an animal?
There’s a family of foxes that lives near me in New Jersey. You can tell when the mama fox is teaching her babies to hunt, because all of a sudden, everything outside goes silent. There are no birds or squirrel noises because they’ve all run away. It’s so cool to me, because it just shows if you take out your earbuds every once in a while and listen to nature, you’ll be connected to the world around you in a fascinating way.