Design Tips for Blending the Indoors with the Outdoors

Many of our members design, construct and maintain both interior and exterior plantscapes. Connecting these two spaces can be a challenge.

The following tips may help you when working with architects and interior designers to ensure that the indoors blend successfully with the outdoors.

Provide a Transition Zone

An online webinar jointly hosted webinar by Therapeutic Horticulture Australia (THA) and the Australian Institute of Horticulture on ‘Therapeutic Design for Wellness and Mental Health’ was presented in May.

Tara Graham-Cochrane, Director of DesignWELL Landscape Architects, Woodville SA and President of THA, was one of the presenters.

Tara specialises in the design of healing and therapeutic landscapes for the healthcare, aged care, disability and education sectors across Australia. Tara took the participants for an informative (virtual) walk around The Grove Education Centre.

Together with students, educators and therapist, her practice developed an inclusive sensory nature play area to compliment the inclusive learning programs for the school’s young people with an intellectual disability.

Tara discussed the need to provide a transition zone from the indoors to the outdoors so that students could adjust to their change in surroundings gently. She said that this is especially the case for those students with autism, as an abrupt change in the setting can increase their stress levels, e.g. going from a dark room to a bright sunny day.

This transition zone could be a simple terraced area, patio or hallway that slowly reveals the exterior environment, e.g. through increased use of glass as you get closer to the outdoors.

You may like to use plants here that are soft to touch to ease this transition, e.g. Foxtail Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’), Maidenhair Ferns (Adiantum spp.). Also, consider the lighting of this area, i.e. avoid over-stimulation and allow for sensory adjustment.

Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myersii’ in the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis (Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz2016 (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Develop a theme

Michael Casey, Director of Evergreen Infrastructure and Interior Plantscape Association Management Committee member, says that his design team incorporated playful elements based on a nautical theme to facilitate the transition between the outdoor and indoor spaces when designing a new study hall at the Catholic Regional College in Sydenham, in Melbourne’s western suburbs.

Michael explained:

 “The layout of the building allows for people to enter through a decked entrance that resembled a jetty fitted out with nautical lights, and a green wall to create an enclosed entrance.

Entering the building, they are greeted by carpet tiles that mimic the bottom of the ocean as viewed from seafloor mapping, aquatic animals scattered around the room and a large 50 square metres green wall along the main wall of the building that mimics land.

Students are required to sign in at the study hall’s main counter, constructed to resemble a ship’s crow’s nest”.

The exterior of the Catholic Regional College’s Study Hall.(Image: Evergreen Infrastructure)

Repeat Patterns

Patterns repeated on furnishings, carpets, other flooring and even in the plants you select both inside and outside can help to connect these two spaces.

Don’t just choose any pattern! Well, you can if you want.

However, we in the interior plantscaping industry are mindful of the health and wellbeing benefits associated with our plants and access to nature in general. Therefore, I highly recommend that you consider biophilic design principles when selecting patterns to repeat.

Biomorphic forms and patterns are symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature1.  A space with good biomorphic forms and patterns feels interesting and comfortable, possibly captivating, contemplative or even absorptive.

One well-known example of a biomorphic form/pattern is the spiral. The spiral is found in animals (shells) and plants (Spiral Aloe). The spatial arrangement of spiral is linked to the Golden Mean (or Golden Section), a ratio of 1:1.618, that is also related to the Fibonacci sequence, whereby each number in the sequence is the sum of the two numbers that precede it.

And then there are fractals!

But this article is not supposed to be a lesson in mathematics, so let’s just leave this line of thought here. However, if you are anything like me and fascinated by how patterns are replicated in nature, you may like to read my blog “Who gives a flying fractal”

Aloe polyphylla (Spiral Aloe): Just one of many examples of the spiral pattern in nature (Image: Sam (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Share your tips for blending the indoors and outdoors

How have you blended the indoors and outdoors successfully in your project?

Share your stories and photos with Interior Plantscape Association’s Facebook page or tag IPA on LinkedIn

 @Interior Plantscape Association of Australia.

Further reading – ‘Planting from the inside out’

Learn more about Michael Casey’s school project and how his team blended the indoors with the outdoors in IPA’s article ‘Planting from the inside out’ in the October 2021 issue of Hort Journal Australia.

Written by

Gabrielle Stannus / Inwardout Studio

IPA Management Committee Member


  1. Terrapin Bright Green 2014, 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving health & well-being in the built environment, viewed 15 September 2021,
By | 2021-11-16T16:04:46+10:00 October 1st, 2021|