The business benefits of biophilia

In the second of our two-part series on biophilia, we examine how this human-centric design philosophy is producing some of world’s most attractive hospitality spaces and the business benefits it can bring. Read part one here – What is biophilic design?

Hagen Espresso Bar, Marylebone, London | Photo credit: Courtesy of Hagen



The benefits of biophilic spaces for building users are clear, but how can these translate into a commercial advantage for hospitality businesses?
 
London-based boutique espresso bar Hagen has embraced human-centric store design from its inception. After opening its first location three years ago, the business has expanded to six sites across the UK capital, with each store catering to a growing trend for community-centric retail.
 
“Globally, the high street is going through a transition and more people want to shop local,” says Hagen founder Tim Schroeder. “We believe in delivering great coffee, but we also want to tell a story with our store design,” he adds.
 
To achieve this, Schroeder took a leaf from his native Danish culture by weaving the concept of hygge, or ‘togetherness’ into the fabric of every store.
 
“Most coffee shops are designed to maximise sales per square foot with fridges and menus prominently displayed to entice spending. We don’t have these on view because we want guests to feel as though they’re walking into a living room,” Schroeder explains.
 
“We want to encourage interaction between customers and our team by having people facing each other. It’s really about creating a customer journey where the coffee and preparation is the focus”, he adds.
 
To this end, Hagen’s venues are designed with conviviality at their core, with seating often arranged around a central bar area to showcase coffee preparation and its small but carefully curated food menu.
 
Hagen bars deploy warm, colourful interiors, with the use of repurposed materials and soft surfaces, which goes against the grain of conventional Scandinavian minimalism, which is often associated with hard edges and clean whites. In doing so, Hagen’s stores distil the essence of Denmark’s longstanding culture of sustainability to create spaces that are both attractive and commercially successful, without the need for conventional displays or advertising.
 
“We’ve based our approach on design that maximises connection and the coming together of others, yet this approach still allows us to compete in an industry with a focus on increasing sales per square foot.” he says.
 
Across the Atlantic, New York-based Devoción is also reaping the rewards of biophilic design. Founded by Colombian-born Steven Sutton in 2006, plants, natural light and open, wellventilated spaces form a central part of the business’ brand identity.
 

“Our stores are full of great energy, lots of light and beauty"

– Steven Sutton, CEO, Devoción

 
“Our mission is to bring our clients as close as possible to the coffee origin through our unmatched freshness and café spaces,” says Sutton, who is CEO of the four-site business.
 
“Particularly in winter, guests enjoy working and hanging out in a space that brings the outside in with greenery and lots of light,” he adds.
 
Devoción’s spaces are certainly enticing, a factor Sutton says has enabled his business to stand out from the crowd. “Our design has certainly helped us get the media attention we have over the years as we were among the first to incorporate biophilia in a café in New York City,” he says.
 
The business benefits of biophilic store design outlined by Hagen and Devoción are echoed by Oliver Heath, who agrees human-centric spaces can become powerful business propositions to increase dwell time and brand engagement in a range of hospitality settings.
 
“Studies that have shown that hotel guests want to reserve rooms with garden views and are prepared to pay 23% more than with traditional rooms,” says Oliver Heath, global expert on biophilic design.
 
“Separate studies have revealed that guests are prepared to pay an 18% premium for rooms that have a view onto water. Hotel guests spend 36% more time in biophilic hotel lobbies than conventional lobbies. They’re also going to be spending money on drinks and food without necessarily having a room to stay in,” Heath adds.

Parkroyal Collection, Pickering, Singapore | Photo credit: Patrick Bingham Hall



With biophilic spaces attracting significant extra revenues for hotels, the potential benefits for coffee shops and hospitality businesses are clear. In addition to raising spend willingness and average ticket, biophilic design can also benefit business through increased staff productivity, an essential quality for hospitality businesses grappling with severe staff shortages in many markets, where competition for the best talent is fierce.
 
“Evidence shows that compared to those office workers with the worst views, those with the best views looking out of windows performed 10 to 25% better on mental recall and functioning,” says Heath.

For hospitality staff juggling long shifts and emotionally involved customer interactions, the benefits of a calming workplace environment are obvious. That sentiment is echoed by Devoción’s Sutton, who notes the positive impact of biophilia on store staff.
 
“Our stores are full of great energy, lots of light and beauty. Our culture is warm and full of good energy – this always helps with the well-being of our staff, which in turn helps performance,” he says.

Covid-19 has caused extraordinary disruption to hospitality businesses, but it has also generated opportunities for businesses to move more trade outside. World Coffee Portal (WCP) research shows a big increase in the number of coffee shops introducing outdoor seating areas, which have been boosted by relaxed planning rules in cities such as London and New York.
 
Complementing this market development, biophilic designs present the opportunity to create holistic spaces that encourage alfresco dining, thus improving ventilation and air flow, another crucial factor in improving wellbeing for all building users. Studies have shown that CO2 reaching 1,000 parts per million in indoor spaces can impede cognition to akin to consuming to two pints of beer.
 

"We want to encourage interaction between customers"

– Tim Schroeder. Founder, Hagen

 
Demonstrating that biophilic design principles are already in mainstream demand, in the UK a WCP survey of more than 50,000 UK coffee shop consumers found that 58% wanted to see expanded outdoor seating in coffee shops, with 54% calling for improved in-store ventilation.
 

A more hospitable world

 
With Covid-19 recalibrating our attitudes to work and leisure, the last 18 months has seen renewed focus on wellness, with lockdowns and increased time indoors further piquing our appreciation for the natural world.
 
Even before the great interruption of the pandemic, a quiet green revolution was budding. Major metropolises, including Milan, Madrid, Edinburgh, and Seattle, seized the opportunity for change after Covid-19 by implementing ‘15-minute city’ models, where essential amenities are easily reached by walking or bicycle.

In 2021, Singapore announced the Tengah Project, a 700-hectare ‘forest town’ residential development built on former brownfield land designed to enhance residents’ health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, breath-taking designs such as London’s Sky Garden, Apple’s Cupertino campus and Park Royal Collection hotels in Singapore are challenging the urban status quo with biophilic design.
 
For businesses of all kinds, but particularly those in the hospitality industry, biophilic design presents an opportunity to increase dwell time, attain greater brand recognition and increase customer satisfaction – with the added prestige that comes with operating a beautiful and unique venue. The grass is always greener on the other side goes the age-old adage, but with biophilic design, our indoor and urban spaces needn’t send us heading for the hills any longer.
 
Clearly, there will always be a market for hospitality spaces designed to facilitate quick seamless transactions where savouring the moment is not necessarily desirable. Nevertheless, as Mahatma Ghandi famously mused, “there is more to life than increasing its speed”.
 
That’s why, for hospitality operators seeking their very own slice of heaven on Earth, and a savvy way to stand out from the crowd, the future should emphatically be biophilic.
 

This article was first published in Issue 9 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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