Find Contractors & Dealers

Inside Out with Belgard: Science of Design with Mike Peterson

July 7, 2022

In Episode #02 of Inside Out with Belgard, Joe Raboine, Belgard’s Director of Residential Hardscapes, chats with Mike Peterson, Founder and President of the innovative marketing and brand firm Visionary Design Marketing and Co-founder of the Science in Design Summit. Mike brings a unique perspective into the world of outdoor living design with his experience as a keynote speaker and author focusing on the science of design. The discussion is centered around the idea of biophilia as well as the evolution of science-based design and how it impacts the outdoor living industry.

Joe and Mike both have an appreciation and passion for biophilic design and the effect it has on our communities, which brings a fascinating science-based perspective to their discussion, exploring a wide variety of topics, including:  

Mike Peterson
  • The origin and evolution of science-based design and research that proves the importance of the beauty of the natural world
  • Elements of biophilic design, including prospect, refuge, mode of mystery and fractal design
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the outdoor design industry and the growing desire for connection with nature
  • The current state of biophilic design and the effect it can have on the consumer
  • Best practices for professionals to leverage science during design consultations

To finish off the episode, Joe and Mike discuss their motivations in the industry and their desire to share the need for science-based design with all outdoor living experts.

Episode Takeaway: Mike shares an inspiring moment when he realized the connection between beauty, nature and design, and how outdoor living experts can directly improve the health of their clients through biophilic design.

To listen and subscribe to Belgard’s Inside Out Podcast, visit

View Full Transcript

Joe Raboine:
Welcome to Inside Out with Belgard, a podcast made for professionals by professionals who are passionate about outdoor living. I’m your host, Joe Raboine, Director of Residential Hardscapes at Belgard. I started my career as a hardscape contractor over 25 years ago. I’ve always loved creating spaces that both bring people together and connect them to the natural world. I’ve met some amazing people along the way who’ve impacted the industry and inspired me personally.

I’m honored to be joined by the Biophilic Design Expert Mike Peterson. He’s the Founder and President of the innovative marketing and brand firm Visionary Design Marketing.

Mike’s experience is rooted in years as a leading advertising executive at Hearst Magazines, including House Beautiful and Country Living, as well as a Publisher of Luxe Magazines. Mike’s experience in the home furnishings industry include President/CEO of LaBarge Furnishings and as Vice President of Corporate Marketing for furnishing and home brands. His impressive resume continues as he’s a keynote speaker, author and one of the exciting reason’s he’s here today – a health-based, “Science in Design” specialist.

Mike Peterson:
Well, thank you, Joe. Thanks for inviting me. And I’m looking forward to this. It’s an exciting subject and, and I think it’s a subject that’s a bit of a game changer for our industry, so I’m glad to be here.

Joe Raboine:
Awesome. You know what, it’s funny – I had the privilege of sitting in on one of your science and design summits last fall, virtually. But the thing that struck me and what was interesting to me is that a lot of the things that you and your team have gone over in that presentation and we’ve talked about subsequently are things that I’ve talked about for years as you know, as a designer and a specialist, I guess as a specialist of outdoor living.

And I didn’t realize there was actually a lot of science behind all that. I think I just struck a chord with you and it’s been great having conversations about this, I guess you’d say it’s a movement essentially, correct?

Mike Peterson:
Well, it’s a movement, it’s an awakening as much as anything. Science is now reminding us of our evolutionary inheritance, that we’re engaged in this incredible experience. It’s really an R & D experiment, that we are the sum, the aggregate, of millions of years of evolution. And we’re contributing to the next millions of years of evolution.

What we’re being reminded of now in this environment that we’re in with computers and technology assaulting us on a regular basis. We’re reminded that we were born, as a people, into nature and beauty and the need for them is still hardwired in us, in our brains, and coded in our DNA. We don’t have a choice. We have to be exposed. It’s not an elective. We need to be exposed to beauty and nature for health, for improved health. That’s what’s fun about this now.

Joe Raboine:
We’re coming at it from the outdoor perspective, right? Our contractors and designers are designing spaces that are already outside so they have maybe a little bit of an advantage in that regard, but you really come from that interior design and home furnishings background.

What’s fascinating is kind of that convergence that’s starting to happen between the two spaces and how they are connected, right? I mean, when you’re looking from the inside of a house, for example, how does what you’re seeing from the inside affecting the person that’s in there?

Mike Peterson:
The thing we have to remember is that being inside a home is unnatural. A hundred thousand years ago, we were not inside a home. So, we spend 95% of our time now inside a building of some type. And what we’re learning is the fundamental need to bring the outside inside. And that’s pretty much the basis for biophilic design, you know, nature-based design.

One of the elements of that is we need to connect the outside with the inside. There’s a design element inside of biophilic design called prospect and refuge. And it dates back to where and how we lived a hundred thousand years ago. We were living in a cave or some kind of a shelter. We were taking refuge, and we were safe and secure, but we always wanted to look out the front of our dwelling and look at the prospect of opportunity and maybe awe or wonder.

So, the idea of prospect and refuge sitting on your window seat, sipping a cup of coffee and looking outside at the landscaping and nature, it’s a fundamental need for us. And that’s a part of the reason we’re connected, and why I think there’s really such a, a wonderful opportunity for Belgard to help provide that view that we need to have from inside the home.

Joe Raboine:
No, that’s great. I appreciate that. I got a question, so how did this come about? I mean you have spearheaded this movement, and this team you’ve assembled with speakers from around the world who are experts in this. What is it about this that connected with you and really caused you to really go after this and spread this message essentially?

Mike Peterson:
Well, that’s a good question. And it was a game changing experience for me.

In 2015, I was still publisher of Luxe Magazine, and I was having lunch with an architect in Denver, his name is Don Ruggles. Don sat there and started talking about beauty and how beauty in nature improved health. For the first 15 minutes it was going right over my head, and then all of a sudden, the small light went on and the more he talked, the brighter the light got. I’m realizing that, “Wait a minute, beauty and nature and design, essentially that creates beauty, have an ability to improve health, yet in our industries, none of us are getting credit for improving the health of the consumer.”

And so, it just stuck with me. I started the study. Don went ahead and wrote a book called Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture: Timeless Patterns & Their Impact on Our Well-Being, which propelled me into the subject matter, and I began lecturing on it. It has just become a force.

The whole concept of science, fact, documentation of the fact that architects and designers improve health is a game changer for our industry. And I’m hoping you’re hearing, and your audience is hearing the excitement and the passion because it’s not just creating a pretty space. You’re improving the health and lives of your clients.

Joe Raboine:
That’s awesome. It’s funny that for years I was a contractor and designer and talking about beauty in this idea – that things that are beautiful are almost universally beautiful to people. I always wondered what it was about spaces or designs that caused that.

I think we can all look at a beautifully designed space or a painting and there’s something about that, that computes with us, that we connect with. And I think after listening to you and your team and the science behind that, it completely backs up why that is.

We’re drawn to things that are designs in nature. I know we’ll talk a little more about the fractal designs and those types of things maybe later, but for our listeners, understanding this and understanding the ability that they have to design spaces, that aren’t just beautiful, but also are improving that person’s and that family’s everyday health and wellbeing.

And there’s been a shift in the last couple years in outdoor living of what the drivers are and why people want these spaces. Today, the main driver is that people are purchasing these spaces to really improve their everyday health and wellbeing. And if you think about that versus designing a space that is really used occasionally as an entertainment space, which is still a huge part of an outdoor living space, but if it’s a space that you’re using every day, your thought about how that space is designed is completely different.

This just takes it an additional several steps because there’s a reason behind why people are drawn to these outdoor spaces and why they don’t just want them, but they really need them to function better. And the data and science that’s starting to unlock that I think is fascinating.

Mike Peterson:
It’s interesting because there’s a very famous neuroscientist by the name of Harry Mallgrave from University of Pennsylvania, and he says that beauty and nature, like art, are a neurological activity. Now, how often do we think of beauty and nature as a neurological activity? He says it’s an urge for, and feeling of pleasure, and it’s associated with awe and wonder. And again, the spaces and designs that you create are taking us back to something that is fundamental in our minds and bodies.

We need nature and beauty. We don’t have a choice. We must be surrounded by beauty and nature for improved health.

Joe Raboine:
No, absolutely. I think that COVID really threw a light on the need for that because today as things start to have opened back up, we’re all under an incredible amount of stress. I think what’s fascinating about this research to me too, is that it really digs into the idea that the more that we are disconnected from nature, the more our stress levels go up. I mean, we spend billions of dollars just in the U.S. alone on mental health and dealing with all kinds of different issues. I think what’s fascinating is when you see that correlation of time spent indoors in boxes that are, as you said, are “unnatural,” it directly correlates to increased stress level and all kinds of other issues.

One of the things that’s exciting for me, and how we can improve this and help society, is that our industry is outside. I mean, we’re already out there. So, if we can spread the message about what this can do, and then really truly think about how to incorporate some of these principles into these designs, we’ll end up with much better spaces, and healthier spaces, that as you said, they’re not just beautiful – they’re actually helping someone. They’re accomplishing something not in a superficial way.

Mike Peterson:
I think you’re right to look at what has happened over the last couple of years. And it’s almost like putting an exclamation point on the subject. The subject though started, roughly around the mid 1980s. And one of the first stories that is told is that there’s a hospital right outside of Philadelphia. The doctors were noticing that some of the patients were recovering from surgery faster than others, and they couldn’t quite figure out why. So, they hired an architect out of Texas A&M, who now heads up medicine in Sweden, and he determined that some patients had a view out the window of a brick wall while other patients had a view out the window of a tree landscape. Those who had the view of the tree landscape, their average recovery time was one full day less than the others.

When you start to see that kind of documentation, the world of medicine has known this now for 30 or 40 years, but it’s only now just getting to the world of architecture and design and it’s frankly about time. So, that’s where it started.

Joe Raboine:
Yeah, that’s amazing. I know just looking back, one of the things that struck me in the summit. You’re talking about I believe stress levels within like 10 or 15 minutes of being outside drop 60%, and we release serotonin even from looking at a natural environment, right? You don’t even have to be in there, it automatically helps us to calm down, which it’s one thing we talk about a lot. We were talking about it more from a superficial way with design where, when you’re designing an outdoor space, for example, people can’t always be out there if it’s raining or if it’s winter, they’re not able to use this space, but even just designing a space that’s designed to be viewed from the inside can be beneficial, correct?

Mike Peterson:
Yeah, absolutely. And you were talking about stress levels being reduced. I just mentioned the Philadelphia hospital, but roughly at the same time, there was an experiment going on in Japan. The experiment was that the medical industry was sending patients out into the forests in Japan, just to see what would happen if they spent time in the forest. And you’re absolutely right. The average heart rate reduced by, I think, it was six beats per minute. The amount of cortisol was down 12%. It’s called Shinrin-yoku. That’s the Japanese version of forest bathing.

The experiment was so successful, it is now a medicine. It’s no longer an activity. It is now a medicine that doctors prescribe for their patients. So, imagine this, you go to a doctor and you’re not feeling well, and he says, “Okay, I want you to go spend an hour a day for the next two weeks in the forest,” instead of giving you a bottle of Xanax. Now how about that? Returning to nature to improve our health.

Joe Raboine:
Yeah. That’s amazing. Or for our industry, you could say you could be sitting out on your patio being immersed in that.

Mike Peterson:
Exactly the same. Exactly the same.

Joe Raboine:
A few years ago, we were actually moving into a new office, and we were talking to the design firm and actually tried to incorporate elements of biophilic design to help bring some of those benefits to our employees and create a better work environment.

And since then, as we kind of talk more about this and learn more about it, this is actually one of the things that inspired us to even create this podcast of Inside Out with Belgard. I mean, you can hear it in the name. We’re not just talking about the outside, we’re talking about how to incorporate the two, blend the two and kind of blur the lines between the indoor and outdoor space. So, we appreciate that, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on it and maybe a quick definition of what biophilic design is.

Mike Peterson:
I’ll be glad to Joe. It’s an interesting word. For a lot of people, it’s an odd word. Biophilia. What is that? But if you break the word down, just fundamentally. Bio meaning nature. Fillic is the opposite of phobia, so phil means love of. You put them together, and you’re talking about the love of nature.

It’s the result of our innate need, as a people, to be surrounded by nature because it’s calming, it’s reassuring. It’s the place we were born into, that our ancestors were born into. And so, as a design process, it helps us balance and offset the unnatural elements of life that we’re forced to live with every day.

Joe Raboine:
Yeah, I love that – love of nature. I would hope anybody in the outdoor industry would feel that right at their core, right? That they have a fundamental love of nature. And that’s hopefully what drew them into this industry.

So, if people are listening to this and thinking to themselves, “Okay, this is fascinating. This is interesting.” What are some ways that they could utilize some of the findings, some of the design principles in their everyday designs and projects?

Mike Peterson:
There are certain principles and design elements of biophilic design. One I’ve already mentioned, prospect and refuge. Creating those little alcoves that maybe protect you from the rain, and you’re sitting there well protected, but you’re enjoying the natural experience.

There’s another principle of biophilia that is called organized complexity. I don’t want that to sound too fancy, but essentially our brains have evolved in a way that our brains are the perfect example of organized complexity. And so, as a result, we seek out the same type of design.

When you look at a tree canopy, you see all of the movement of the limbs and the leaves, and you see the sun filtering down through the limbs and leaves – that’s perfect example of organized complexity. And we find it beautiful. The Eiffel tower is a perfect example of organized complexity. Clouds, the same, or a long stone wall, and more, so that’s another type of biophilic design element.
One other that’s used, and we don’t even realize it, is called modes of mystery. One of the things that comes from nature is that as you’re walking through, say a forest, you’re wondering what’s behind that tree. You’re wondering where this path is going. There’s a sense of awe and wonder and curiosity. That’s why I think in your world, Joe, winding walkways, walkways that bend around other landscape elements.

Those are like three different types of biophilic design elements. There are more, but those are the ones that have always fascinated me.

Joe Raboine:
That’s great, I think this idea of fractal design. Fractal design is a term a lot of designers may have heard, but they’re not really sure what it is, because it’s not necessarily utilized very often, right? And it’s kind of the DNA or the building blocks of natural design, correct?

Mike Peterson:
Yeah, we ought to probably define it first. Fractals are self-similar geometric patterns increasing or decreasing in scale. One of the best examples would be a Fern. The shape of the tip of the Fern is exactly the same shape as the base of the Fern, only there are a lot more of them at the base of the Fern.

Think of spiderwebs. Think of a tree lined street, and you’re standing on one end of the street and you’re looking down, all the trees are 50 feet tall, but they look differently at the end of the street.
Fractals, what’s interesting about them, they’re a perfect example of the organized complexity that I just mentioned.

And we now know science from Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, the people, and the neuroscientists that study this now document that fractal beauty is the highest aesthetic value in design.
We already know that we have a fundamental need for aesthetic beauty and aesthetic experiences. So, if that’s the case, we don’t have a choice, we have to have them. It seems to me that in the world of design, we ought to be looking at fractal beauty because we now have measured it has the highest aesthetic value for each of us.

And you’re absolutely right. Richard Taylor, who is one of our speakers at our summits, he’s a physicist at the University of Oregon, and he is generally considered a world-renowned specialist in fractal beauty. He says, “fractals are the basic building blocks of nature.”

Let me paint a word picture for you if I can. Try and imagine a beautiful, moving, fluid tree canopy juxtaposed onto our circulatory system. They are virtually exact. They are almost equivalent perfect examples of fractal beauty that are the building blocks of nature.

Joe Raboine:
Yeah, that’s awesome. You know, having seen that in the summit, I actually had an eye appointment a few weeks back and they did a scan of my eyeball. In there you can see the same network as you mentioned, which it looks just like a tree branching out, or a river system. And that consistency I think is fascinating, how all these things are connected and how we’re drawn to those types of beautiful patterns and spaces.

Mike Peterson:
And Joe, think of what we’ve done to ourselves, especially in this last hundred years. For centuries and centuries, aesthetics and beauty were an equal third to form and function. Then around the turn of the 20th century, when we started developing reinforced concrete and elevators and this industrial movement, we kind of gave up on beauty and focused mostly on form and function. By doing so, what we’ve done is create environments that are unhealthy, that actually, we now know, are somewhat punishing.

To me, the exciting part this conversation and what we do in the summits, it proves and it validates the fundamental need there is for what we do. We have to balance what society, and architects, have done over this last hundred years. These big glass buildings are fundamentally unnatural. Colossal oblongs is all they are. And providing beauty and biophilic design and rich ornamentation is an antidote. It’s a balance to the world we have to live in.

Joe Raboine:
It is interesting when you think about even today, right? You look at some of the most popular trends, right? Very modern homes, very little ornamentation. The one thing I would say as, and I’ve thought about this quite a bit, it does feel like there are some benefits to some of those designs in that, in that connection to the exterior, lots of glass to see out. To your point, a lot of this is almost an affront to our senses to see things that are not natural. That are very, very boxy or lots of glass from the exterior. I’m trying to connect these two with what goes on with the buildings.

Our contractors typically come in at the end of a project or a renovation. They’re not necessarily influencing the design of that space at home, that business. But I think there is a real ability for them to become experts in some of this, or at least become educated as much as they can with some of this research, so they can actually help create better connections, better design buildings that connect better with the exterior. In that outdoor space, you blur the lines of where the inside and the outside begin and how they’re visually and physically connected.

Mike Peterson:
I would think that would be a great move for your industry. You would be influencing the movement of lines – the architectural lines.
One of the things you see in nature is everything has a fluidity to it. There are no right angles in nature. There are no straight lines in nature. And yet we build boxes, homes that are made up of straight lines because of efficiencies. Straight lines and right angles. Architects are beginning to see around the world that roof lines need to have movement. And that could blend much more appropriately to the work that you do, Joe. So, you’re absolutely right.

Joe Raboine:
Another thing that struck me is that the bulk of the attendees, at least from my perspective, that we’re in the summits were from that interior design perspective. They’re not necessarily in the outdoor space, but it does feel like there is an opportunity for those two groups to work together more closely. And I’d love to provide some examples of ways the interior design community is leveraging this knowledge.

Mike Peterson:
They’re beginning their conversations with their clients differently. Instead of just asking them, what colors do you like? What textures do you like? They’re asking questions like, how do you want feel in your home? What do you do in your personal life or inn your travels that makes you happy that gives you joy and pleasure?

They’re starting from a different perspective. Not just how to create a pretty room. They’re starting from the perspective of how can I make you healthy? How can I improve your health at home? That is the focal point. That is the center that a lot of designers have moved to.

One of the benefits of the designers using these approaches now is that it differentiates them. One of the biggest challenges I think we all know in marketing is why are you different? Why are you unique?
Brand marketing 101: Who am I and what do I stand for?

There are designers now in our industry who are standing for improving health. First and foremost, I want to lower the blood pressure, the heart rate. I want to increase GSR, which is galvanic skin response, to create an environment that is exciting and more healthy than it ever has been. And so that’s what they’re doing. They’re beginning to market this in their advertising collateral. They’re showing imagery
of fractals and textures as this is the type of warmth and good feeling that I can bring to your home. I think how they’re approaching, working with clients is probably one of the biggest changes.

Joe Raboine:
I was thinking what a different way to approach a client. People would be taken aback by the question. Before you dig into the nuts and bolts of the space itself, asking those questions about the feeling part of it. What is it that you want this space to do for you? How do you want it to make you feel? Talk about stress and some of the benefits. I think you could end up with a much different space than if you just walk in and start asking what materials and what size and shape and all that. Totally different experience in the sales process.

Mike Peterson:
We hear back from our designers, how do I get started on this? How do I take the first step?

So, we’ve come up with some questions as to how they can start opening interviews. One of the questions is using the third party endorsement approach. It’s something like, “Hey, Mrs. Smith. With all of the discussion today about health and the need for good health, of all of your personal interests, where do you put health in terms of importance?” So, boom, you’ve just kicked the door open for the overall conversation. We now have some of our clients using those approaches because by saying with all of the discussion of health, you’re implying and suggesting that everybody’s talking about it, I better get to be talking about it as well.

Joe Raboine:
Thinking through some of the other things. You mentioned earlier neuroaesthetics – could you define that a little bit more? Just so people understand what that is cause that’s really the foundation of what we’re talking about here, correct?

Mike Peterson:
Yeah, it is. The study of neuroaesthetics again started about 30 or 40 years ago. And neuroscience is essentially the physiological, the brain and aesthetics of course is beauty. Science about 30 or 40 years ago began to study the convergence of science and design and they ended up with the word neuroaesthetics.

I have a quote that I want to give from Susan Magsamen, the Executive Director, International Arts + Mind Lab, Pedersen Brain Science Institute, Johns Hopkins University. She’s one of our speakers. She says, we have a fundamental need for aesthetic experiences, and they’re hardwired in all of us. They are evolutionary imperatives and coded in our DNA. Essential part of our humanity. They’re essential to our health. So again, this is why beauty and design and nature are all interconnected in this conversation.

We’ve been talking about nature a lot in this conversation. Dating back to my first conversation with Don Ruggles, he was talking about beauty. But they’re all interconnected because again, a hundred thousand years ago, beauty, our beauty, was nature and still is. They’re all interconnected.

That’s why this study with all the technology that we have today, Joe, the scanning technology, the ability to measure skin response and to measure the amount of serotonin that gets burst when we see something of beauty. That’s what neuroscience and neuroaesthetics is studying today. And, and we ought all be glad for it because it’s improving our lives.

Joe Raboine:
We like to think we’ve somehow disconnected ourselves from nature and maybe we don’t need it the way that our ancestors do, but in reality, we’re actually right where we were thousands of years ago. It’s still a fundamental part of who we are.

We talked about fractals; we talked about the refuge and modes of mystery. Actually, the materials themselves, the texture of the material can also be a way to integrate some of these fundamentals. And I remember at the summit, talking about wood grains or wool. A lot of our designers are focused on the hardscape, the stone, the pavers, the walls, but actually the other materials that surround that space are just as effective of a way to pull in some of these design principles as well. Correct?

Mike Peterson:
Yes. The first and most important neurological connection is visual. Number two, right behind, it is tactile. It is the feel and whether it’s a physical touch or whether it’s an implied touch. You could have a textured stone paver, or you would have some type of movement in the physical product that you may not touch, but it would connect with you neurologically. And, by the way, we haven’t talked about this, but it would connect immediately.

One of the things that we don’t realize is that 95% of our brain is devoted to the subliminal, to the subconscious. Ann Sussman, professor of cognitive architecture at Boston Architectural College, talks about this in her book, Cognitive Architecture: Designing for How We Respond to the Built Environment. I’ve never given it much thought, but my God, we’re just skating through life. 95% of what we do is just instantaneous. It’s decided in a millisecond, there’s no conscious thought given to it. We see something attractive. Boom. We don’t have to think about it. We see something we don’t like. We don’t have to think about it. We should be designing for the first impression as well. Let’s not think too long and hard about this. What do we like? And what don’t we like?

Joe Raboine:
That knowledge, too, is still in its infancy. It’s actually starting to change fundamentally around the world. Right? I know you don’t see a lot of examples necessarily in the United States, but definitely in other parts of the world, this kind of biophilic movement of these design principles being incorporated into every aspect of life.

Mike Peterson:
We’re behind in the states, there’s no question we’re behind. Far East in particular has grabbed onto this subject very aggressively. You see numerous buildings and landscapes that are based on biophilic design.

There’s actually a hospital in Singapore called Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. That is 100% biophilic design because the medical industry knows the healing value of nature. It’s actually the hospital that if you’re designing a hospital today, anywhere in the world, you have to go see this hospital because it’s like the world standard.

Singapore also thinks of themselves as a city and a garden. Hotels there that are just beautiful. There’s a hotel there called the Oasia Hotel and your listeners should Google it and take a look at it. 100% biophilic design. The corners of the building are not 90-degree angles. They’re rounded. The building is covered in greenery with abundant natural light. There are other parts of the world that are far ahead of us.

I will say that if you want to take a look at what we are starting to do. In the last 10 years, some of our major brands, our major corporations, have spent the money to study how to increase productivity, how to increase creativity. Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, California is 100% biophilic design. Every workstation has access to greenery and natural sunlight. Microsoft is now building conference rooms in treetops. We all have probably heard about the Amazon spheres, their conference rooms are built and constructed as birds nest up toward the top of the spheres. They have 390 different types of plant life in their headquarters.

The major corporations are starting to recognize this need. They’re doing it because they want to make more money. They’re making their employees more productive. But it’s already in medicine. It’s already in commercial design. And that’s why we’re trying to bring it to residential design as well.

Joe Raboine:
Awesome. That actually leads into a question – what is it about this idea that is driving you? I mean, you’ve definitely taken the reins. You’re passionate, you’re spreading the message. What is it about this that’s fulfilling and is driving you to really get out there?

Mike Peterson:
You know, that’s a really good question.

When I first met Don, something just triggered in me. I’ve been very lucky. The design industry has been very good to me and for me. I just decided, five years ago that I didn’t want to be a corporate gun slinger anymore. I wanted to really try and make a difference. I love the subject. Imagine waking up every day, trying to think of new ways to improve the health of people. I’m not a doctor. I’m not an academic, but what I’m doing is trying to bring the world of academia into the commercial world. When I talk to these professors and scientists, I chide them because they love going to conferences and talking to each other. I tell them that they need to get their knowledge out into the commercial world, where it will have a different type of value and be expanded upon. It’s just a passion for me now. It makes me feel good when I see an interior designer start marketing herself or himself as someone who is going to improve the health of his client.

Joe Raboine:
I love that. I feel in a similar way. I’m obviously not spearheading a movement like you are with this, but I think everybody needs the sense of purpose, right? And if you think about yourself as a designer and it’s purely superficial there’s some value there obviously. I mean, you’re creating beautiful spaces and that’s great. But if you take it to a deeper level where not only are you creating a beautiful space, you’re creating a space that is healing and is helping people. I mean, that’s just an added benefit. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? That’s how I look at it.

Mike Peterson:
It truly changes the value proposition of the world of design. I had a business coach, a designer business coach, tell me a two months ago as I was explaining this to her. She said, “My God, Mike, what you’re doing is creating design as an alternative health resource.” And I thought, okay, I like that, that works. We’re in our infancy with this, but five years from now, I’d like to think that we’ve really made a difference.

Joe Raboine:
I was thinking of some of the names we could use, maybe an outdoor living health specialist. That’s great. Mike, you talked about a lot of this research and how it connects back to our ancestors. Society really began around the fire, correct. People got together around fire, they were in nature. Is fire considered an element in biophilic design.

Mike Peterson:
Absolutely. Some of your basic elements from seven and 8,000 years ago, running water, the green leaves, the bark on a tree, fire. It’s interesting because we feared fire before we learned how to use it to our benefit. It was a fundamental element in the livelihood and the health or the ability to live in those many years ago.

Joe Raboine:
How much more perfect could it be for the people listening who are in the outdoor living business to hear that fire is one of the fundamentals, fire and water.
If we sum up the design elements that can be utilized, it’s the design of the space overall. The shape, the texture, the pattern of the space, it’s the materials, the woods, the metals that are also being used, the textiles that are being used in the furniture, but then things like water and fire.
All those things come together along with the plant materials that are chosen. Again, thinking through, if someone really wants to position themselves as a leader, the idea to try and incorporate all of those principles and pieces into their designs is probably the best way they can go about achieving it once they understand what they’re trying to accomplish for that client. Does that sound about right?

Mike Peterson:
Yeah, it does. And I’ll tell you, there are a couple of books that your listeners might be interested in to learn more about this: Nature by Design by STEPHEN R. KELLERT and Nature Inside by Terrapin Bright Green. Both of those books do an excellent job of laying out biophilia, interior and exterior. They talk about products. They talk about the elements. It’s a good read, and I think they would be valuable to your listeners.

Joe Raboine:
Well, hopefully, we’ll create a whole army of biophilic neuroaesthetics experts in the outdoor living world. If people would like to learn more about you, what are some of the ways to get in touch or to really become educated on this?

Mike Peterson:
I do love the subject, and I hope you can tell and recognize that. Feel free to email me,, go onto our website andon Instagram Science and Design Summit. Those are just a couple ways to connect. Please, if you like the subject, please reach out.

Joe Raboine:
Thanks for listening! For more details about today’s episode or to catch up on other episodes, head over to

To find hardscape educational resources, product details, design inspiration and more visit or keep up with us on social media at Belgard Outdoor Living on Instagram, Outdoor Living by Belgard on Facebook and Belgard Hardscapes on YouTube. 

Join us again next time on Inside Out with Belgard. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For best results enter the ZIP code where your project is located.

Belgard products are manufactured regionally.

Are you looking for a Professional in your area?

Yes, I am

Want to explore products in your area?

Yes, Let's Go