Natural Living: How Integrating Your Outdoor and Home Spaces Can Be Good for Your Health and the Planet

Living through a lockdown taught many that the connection to nature is central to our sense of well-being. Heather Hebert, Editor-at-Large of SPACES, spoke with five industry leaders on how homeowners and community members can utilize outdoor spaces, connect with nature, and care for the earth.

Residential Spaces Are Emphasizing the Benefits of Gathering Outdoors

Mike Lucas, the Principal Landscape Architect and Co-Founder of Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture specializes in designing residential areas with an emphasis on the connection between home and garden architecture and landscape.

Lucas views the spaces he creates as an opportunity for individuals to interact with nature. “It is important to get people outside or just to look through a window into the gardens or beyond,” says Lucas.

Mike Lucas
Mike Lucas, Co-Founder of Lucas & Lucas Landscape Architecture

Ultimately, Lucas finds people want to connect with nature but do so comfortably, close to a house or a structure. With larger properties, Lucas shares how he may place a swimming pool further away from the property, so individuals can get away from home for restoration. In smaller properties, he finds ways to blend yards into the greater landscape for a more stylized natural setting.

Bringing Food Into Residential Landscapes with Food-Forward Design

In many residential spaces, food gets tucked away behind fences, away from home, where it quickly becomes out of sight, out of mind. Christian Douglas, the Founder and Principal Designer of Christian Douglas Design Inc., works with his team on finding ways to bring food closer to the home.

One solution for smaller properties is sharing spaces. The gardens are intermingled with the primary recreation areas, like a pool or outdoor dining area, to increase the garden’s engagement and success. Another option for food-forward design is the garden’s proximity to the house, putting the garden right outside a door people walk through several times a day.

When Douglas works with clients, he also likes to help them bring diversity into their gardens, thinking outside the vegetable box. There are many fruits, berries, herbs, and tea species people can grow, even in small food plots.

Christian Douglas, the Founder of Christian Douglas Design Inc.

“[Food-forward design] is something we feel very excited about and see this as the future of landscape design,” says Douglas. “Particularly as we get into greater discussions with food security and increased prices of fossil fuels, and move away from a more conventional agricultural system into a localized food system.”

Connect Architects, Landscapers, Designers, and Contractors Early on in Projects

When clients want to develop a space that holistically comes together, Jeff Hadley, the VP of Hadley General Contractor, says it’s crucial to get all professional parties, from landscape architects to contractors, connected early on for the project.

“I always recommend clients find a team they trust and like working with,” says Hadley. “If everybody works collaboratively, it brings the project through the construction phase to the design phase into completion very smoothly.”

Jeff Hadley
Jeff Hadley, the VP of Hadley General Contractor

Hadley explains how having everyone on the same page early on can help the client find affordable ways to capitalize on bringing the outdoor feeling inside, whether through the home’s structure or the space’s interior design.

Maintenance and Caretaking for a More Sustainable Landscape

“It’s not enough to create beautiful properties for our clients,” says Todd Vena, Maintenance Operations Director at Mariani Landscape. “We must do everything we can to make the world a better place.”

Todd Vena
Todd Vena, Maintenance Operations Director at Mariani Landscape

How clients care for their landscapes plays a significant role in the sustainability of their space. A few ways Mariani Landscape helps clients create more sustainable landscapes through maintenance and caretaking are using electric mowers, trimmers, and fully robotic electronic auto mowers for zero- emissions lawn mowing. They’ve also made advances in their fertilization to require fewer applications and leaching of nutrients.

A Thriving Natural World Impacts Public Health

“A pretty dark but realistic statistic is that the average life expectancy of residents in north Chicago is 14 years less than that of Lake Forest residents,” shares Natalia Ospina, the Director of Health, Equity, and Nature at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods. “That’s within a five-mile radius. And this is not unique to Lake County. This happens everywhere across the United States.”

Natalia Ospina, the Director of Health, Equity, and Nature at Brushwood Center

Ospina explains there are necessary conditions for well-being, and one of those components is a thriving natural world. In metro cities, there aren’t always spaces for residents to fully immerse themselves in the outdoors. Nature at Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods partners with more than 70 community organizations to incentivize collaboration between healthcare and environmental sectors to improve health outcomes linked to environmental justice and access to nature.

Watch the full event below:

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Jessica Braun Gervais

Jessica Braun Gervais is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health, wellness, and fitness. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from Columbia College and has written content for various health and wellness institutions. Jessica Braun’s passion for wellness comes from her life as an elite athlete competing in Muay Thai kickboxing competitions across the country. In addition to sharing her expertise through writing, Jessica Braun also works as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. When she’s not writing or training, Jessica Braun enjoys reading historical fiction novels, discovering new coffee shops, and cuddling with her cattle dog, Brady.

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