“I love limes.” Who would've guessed that such a simple phrase from the 2020 Architectural Digest tour of actress Dakota Johnson’s mansion would have caused a new obsession with a naturalistic lifestyle? In particular, the famous minimalist kitchen where her infamous fruits were displayed is what led to thousands of TikTok videos praising her design choices.
Yet unlike many other celebrity homes, the internet wasn't going crazy over a luxury brick pizza oven or some questionably sourced rare stone counters. Rather the room was just...green. Granted, it was a beautiful emerald shade and the house itself is worth over $3.55 million, but the obsession came from the fact that the home itself felt like a return to the natural.
As proven through trends such as #cottagecore and #greenacademia, people seem to have an inherent desire to connect with nature. This is why so many gain happiness through little acts of hanging up vine garlands or housing a succulent on their desk. More than just a human quirk, this is a phenomenon known as biophilia: the hypothesis that humans' stress levels decrease near nature, as a result of our desire for balanced environments.
From an evolutionary perspective, green is associated with flourishing landscapes and food sources. Simply having the color in view tells the brain that you're in a promising domain. Taking it a step further and incorporating living vegetation in the home results in some unexpected but delightful side effects.
According to research published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, indoor plants succeed in improving moods because they release microbes that aid in the production of serotonin. Something as simple as a bouquet of flowers upon your counter, chemically and psychologically makes people happier.
Johnson's home may not have been as elaborate as J. Balvin's 200+ shoe collection or a $38 million mansion with Paleolithic treasures, though it's still hailed as a mid–century modern marvel due to its abundance of natural lighting and an array of indoor plants.
Similarly, celebrity house tours such as Emma Chamberlain's and Zendaya's share common features of floor–to–ceiling windows and greenery that make viewers feel as though they entering into a greenhouse. It's through these architectural obsessions that the question must be raised—if we adore greenery so much, why don't we incorporate it into homes ourselves?
Natural light, plants, and nature as a whole should not be a luxury exclusive to high–income populations. These are aspects of biomes that humans are a part of and prior to urbanization, they were a part of our environments. Yet in the United States where over 80% of the population lives in urban spaces, and often rent as opposed to own, the majority of Americans are unable to provide this natural component to their lives.
Even attempts to brighten up metropolitan communities—like installing city gardens and parks—often create more harm than good. "Green gentrification" is a term used to describe how the implementation of green spaces often increases surrounding housing costs, displacing local residents. Alternatively, green spaces can also lack support and funding by local organizations and governments, so they turn into places known for high–crime rates.
Philadelphia unfortunately serves as a case study for this trend. In 1992, self–declared environmental steward and local architect John Randolph created a plan to impose a park along the Schuylkill River, complete with walking and biking paths. It was to be a place for families to enjoy various outdoor and water activities. Funders such as Pew Charitable Trusts, the William Penn Foundation, PECO Energy Company, and several banks justified the project as a $1 billion future revenue source for the city. Yet a study by the Pennsylvania Economy League said this would increase all property in a 2–mile radius by 5%, inevitably pushing out the very people its creators promised to help.
The surrounding area would become known as "Graduate Hospital," and over the past several years, the housing cost increased by 1,120% and turned the area from a predominantly Black community to a largely white one.
As much as everyone dreams to live in a Dakota Johnson style–home filled with citrus, keeping that connection to nature, urbanization and unfair living conditions have made flora–filled fantasies extremely unattainable for most. Even when it turned out the actress was in fact allergic to limes, what has become an undeniable truth is that nature is inaccessible for the large majority of the United States population that lives in urban areas.
Local governments and architects need to start prioritizing green spaces with their extensive benefits, but on a small scale, there are still ways to incorporate plants into your own space. The yogurt container you were about to throw away can prove to be the perfect home for a young seedling. About to discard your celery or lettuce? Consider reviving the vegetable by planting the stalks. Through every minimal measure we get closer to achieving our own architectural oasis.