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We all know that plants can elevate mood and bring a touch of the outside in… but how do they affect a room’s design? And which types of plants are right for which kinds of rooms? With everyone spending much more time at home these days, we wanted to get some tips not just on plant care, but how to actually design with our little green friends.

We asked ten designers who are known for their use of plants how they incorporate them in varying types of spaces. From leafy fiddle figs to classic palms or even basic succulents, these are the choices you’ll want to make the next time you’re at the garden store, nursery, home goods warehouse, or anywhere else you pick up plants (here’s looking at you, neighborhood bodega). Because even a little bit of green helps. Read on for their tips and get the outdoorphins flowing.

Design: Maureen Stevens Design. Photo: Peter Molick.

Think of Plants as Sculpture

Since they can be such large features in a room, plants act almost like a piece of art in the home. Maureen Stevens believes in using them as such. “Just like other design elements, curating and editing also applies to plants,” Stevens says. “Big ones can almost look like a sculpture or art in itself while little ones are great for layering a space or a vignette. It seems the fiddle fig leaf tree has been a favorite of most designers and that includes me, of course. They can grow into massive pieces with foliage in amazing shapes. I also love olive trees, birds of paradise, monstera, snake plants, and yucca cane.”

“Most of the plants I have need a little bit of sunlight so I put mine in the sunroom, with a few in the bedroom and living room. Dining rooms like the one shown are great too, since they’re places where family and friends gather that can be beautified by a touch of nature.”

Design: Mendelson Group. Photo: Tria Giovani.

Let There Be Life

When it comes to designer Gideon Mendelson, there are plants for every kind of space, since they come in every kind of style. “Aesthetically, plants can be used to introduce a variety of colors, textures and scale. Smaller plants can be used to accent a desk or table. A large plant can bring verticality to a space and flowering branches can add a sculptural quality,” Mendelson says.

“In terms of types of plants, we don’t discriminate. We typically look for interesting and unique forms and colors. Plants are beautiful and bring so much life to a space. Literally! Plants in the home can reduce toxins and improve air quality. They may even reduce your stress and help you sleep. We all need that right now.”

Design: CM Natural Design. Photo: Chipper Hatter.

Don’t Be Scared of Heights

As with any room element, scale is an important part of selecting plants for a space. Corine Maggio of CM Natural Designs advises clients to know where they’ll be placing each plant and how that will affect their vitality — as well as the scale of their spaces. “Be sure you understand the nature of the plant you’re purchasing. Not every plant will survive in any location of your home,” says Maggio. “Take pictures of the space where you need a plant and have a good understanding of how much light (both direct and indirect) it would get throughout the day and share that information with the salesperson at the nursery. For example, cacti are low maintenance, which is a plus for most people. They are also very sculptural and can be tall so they can really serve to balance out a space and add an artistic element that leafy plants can’t. The ceilings in this loft are particularly tall, so this lean cactus perfectly fills the space it was intended for.”

“Lastly, if you’re going to have more than one plant in the same location, make sure the heights are staggered. Even if you have to place a few books under some of them, you don’t want them all to be at the same height.”

Design: Michael Del Piero Good Design. Photo: Janet Mesic-Mackie.

Pair Plants With Your Aesthetic

While it can be easy to get caught up in colorful, attention-grabbing options, you should ensure the plants you’re selecting match well with the style of your spaces. “As fans of simple and serene palettes, we prefer lush greens and branches to bright floral arrangements,” says Michael Del Piero of Michael Del Piero Good Design. “Branches and greens are very simple and sophisticated yet bring needed ‘life’ to a space. Their simplicity and irregular shapes provide just the right amount of interest to any space in which textural fabrics and weathered elements create the overall vibe. And although they’re temporary, consider their impact as you would any piece in the room.”

Design: Liz Caan. Photo: Eric Roth.

Give Your Kitchen Some Life

The kitchen is the heart of the home — and that heart could use some outdoor life. Designer Liz Caan is a believer in using greenery to enhance every room, including the kitchen and baths. “I always love adding plants, trees, or flowers to a space. Any room is great for plant life — even a little mossy mound in a little vase is great in a powder room,” says Caan. “I particularly love plants in the kitchen because we spend so much of our time there. They also counterbalance all the hard surfaces and materials like copper, stainless steel, marble, and tile, even if it’s just some plants on the counter along with some fresh herbs or some flowers. It’s actually convenient to have fresh herb plants in the kitchen when you are cooking as you can just snip off what you need.”

Design: Art Home Garden. Photo: Nick Glimenakis.

Plants Can Offer Lessons 

Plants can do a lot — elevate mood, oxygenate rooms (even if just slightly), and of course, beautify a space. But did you know they can even teach? More useful than ever these days, plants can offer important lessons. Stefania Skrabak of Art Home Garden likes to select them for children’s rooms. “I find plants perfect for a kid’s space because they encourage imagination,” Skrabak says. “Plants can be the launching pad for a jungle, safari, or even a camping trip. In my son’s room, I staged a fig tree with birds, butterflies, and even bugs. I change them seasonally and create an avenue for learning and development. It’s really great for a child to learn about taking care of a living thing and the benefits that plants can give us. For example, I love using lemon and orange trees in a kid’s room so they can learn about the reward of watering the tree and getting a tasty snack. It’s sustainable! Not to mention the vibrant, beautiful colors the trees offer.”

Design: J. Patryce Design. Photo: Christian Harder.

Go Green Everywhere (Even If Just a Little)

Joan Enger of J. Patryce Design believes in the power of plants in every space, even if it’s just a simple touch. “We believe it is critical to include greenery in our interiors. You won’t find a single image on our site that does not include some form of plant life,” says Enger. “They add depth and color and breathe life into a space. We choose low maintenance options such as succulents for clients lacking a green thumb. We mix plant life with found objects, books, artwork and sculpture to create a variety of texture and palette. No more than two varieties in a mix, and we keep it low and abundant (unless it is a tall vase or arrangement). We also love more unusual types of succulents such as pencil cactus. We have two in our office that have been with us since the start!”

“We tell our clients with outdoor spaces to buy themselves a good pair of clippers and trim from their own backyards! Seasonal branches make some of the best arrangements and they are free if foraged from their very own garden.”

Design: Matthew Caughy Interiors. Photo: Nick Johnson.

Bring Potted Trees Indoors

Matthew Caughy recommends thinking about ways to bring potted trees inside — even if just for a night. He even has a favorite party trick to incorporate them. “Adding plants to an interior is such an important finishing touch,” Caughy says. “I consider plants to be as essential to an interior as a great piece of art. I love cut flowers for special occasions; however, potted plants offer a longer life. Use the scale of your room to guide you on the scale of your plants. A potted tree is excellent for a large space, and a smaller, more intimate setting is perfect for specialty potted foliage.”

“A fun indoor entertaining trick I often use during the warmer months is to purchase a plant that is normally best suited for outdoors. Still in its plastic transport container from the garden center, I will throw it into a pretty basket for the event. After it’s served its purpose for the special occasion, it can be planted in the garden outside.”

Design: Mark Cutler Design. Photo: Brandon McGanty Photography.

Plants Have Personal Style, Too

They may not be able to talk (even if you talk to them), but plants have a personal style, by sheer virtue of design. Whether they’re tall, short, leafy, or pared down, they make different statements in a room. Mark Cutler of Mark Cutler Design advises that you consider this carefully before choosing greenery. “The style of your room is important to consider,” he says. “Is it modern? Then maybe something more abstract, like a large aloe plant, which looks like a contemporary sculpture. More traditional? Then one of the many varieties of palm might be good, since there is nothing more classic.”

“I tend to use a lot of large scale pieces in our work — the homes we do tend to be on the larger side, so they are a great way to break the room down to a more personal level. You will see a lot of fiddle leaf fig, as I love how big they can get. Yucca is a great one for a more tailored, contemporary feel, but my favorite would be any variety of palm; they always feel luxurious to me and introduce a quiet sense of history that I find appealing. Another favorite is the snake plant — I like how most people dismiss it, so it always feels a little cheeky.”

Design: Laurence Carr Design. Photo: Kelly Marshall Photography.

Release the “Outdoorphins”

Plants can have a big impact on mood, in every room of the home — particularly the bathroom. “Embracing outdoor plants as indoor collaborators to a life well-lived offers our natural biophilia an opportunity to thrive,” says Laurence Carr, of Laurence Carr Design. “Touching and smelling plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress and elevate mood. Even the potting soil works to nourish us through ‘outdoorphins,’ which release cytokines that act as natural antidepressants.”

When it comes to the bathroom, use plants that match the lush environment of the space. “The bathroom is often humid and so by incorporating greenery, the whole atmosphere feels natural and tropical,” says Carr. “There is something about the sounds of running water from the basin tap, bathtub faucets or even steam shower combined with the greenery that amplifies the reminiscence of being in nature. The bathroom is a room where you stand still. Having a moment to slow down helps you notice the greenery.”

“Some of my tips there are to start by adding a Monstera Deliciosa that sits in a shallow bowl or glass vase, while tumbling ferns can give the space a natural and tropical feeling. A vase with a tree branch or low lying vases with tightly filled greens is a great way to display plants. If it’s a spacious bathroom, you can have a fig tower for drama and color. Finally, sprinkle a few dried flowers with natural stones and crystal rocks on trays to give additional textures. Add nature sounds and light a candle and you’re ready to relax in a spa-like environment.”

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August 13, 2020

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