Laura Birns is well-known for her evocative and playful color palettes; award-winning, eco-friendly interior designs; unique furniture collections; and innovative use of sustainable materials. Her commitment to the environment drives her overall design concepts as well as her incorporation of renewable, inert and recycled materials.
Birns began allowing nature to inspire her color palette in the 1970s, when she was a painter. Her inspiration deepened exponentially when she purchased a book of black-and-white photography of botanical plants. While it seems a contradiction to say that black-and-white photographs of magnified leaves and trees inspired color, Birns explains it this way: The photographs made her look beyond the obvious (the green hue of a leaf) to what was underneath (the texture, shape and elements of a leaf). This deeper, more microscopic look at plants caused Birns to see all of nature differently: to really look at its structure, its bones – to find its genetic color code.
The trick for Birns is bringing nature's details indoors and balancing them within the confines of the space she's working on.
When designers and artists turn to nature for color and design inspiration, Birns urges them to look beyond the solidity of natural forms. Take a tree, for example. It's easy to see the obvious details: black trunk, brown branches, green leaves. However, a closer inspection reveals that the color of the tree's ridged bark is really a mottled pattern of blacks, browns, rusts and reds. The leaves and stems are not just green, but many shades of green, with flecks of pink, purple, yellow and orange. And there's movement and sound. The limbs of the tree dance and click as the wind whistles through the leaves.
"If you always think in terms of black and white, that's what you'll get," says Birns. "If you look at a burnt forest and see only the char of black, gray and brown, you'll be depressed, not inspired. But if you look more closely, you'll see the soft, chartreuse fringe of new growth emerging from between the blackened stumps. You'll be inspired and awed by nature's power of renewal."