Living Design: How to Decorate with Plants

Work houseplants into your décor for a lovely, lively home.

  • Great houseplants for all homes. From left to right: Baby's Tears, Desert Rose, Bird's Nest Fern, Prickly Pear Cactus, Rex Bagonia, ZZ Plant, Rubber Plant, Areca Palm.
  • A grouping of houseplants brings energy to a bedroomwith a minimalist color palette. Houseplantsí air-filtering qualities are particularly useful in the bedroom, where they help ensure a healthy night's sleep.
  • A large plant in front of a sunny window helps provide privacy, but doesnít block light.
  • Consider using houseplants to accentuate areas of architectural interest in your home. Here, a series of low-growing plants in simple pots lends softness to a spare staircase.

If you’re looking for home décor that is beautiful, affordable, suited to any taste and actually improves the health and wellness of your home, look no further than your neighborhood garden center. With their wide array of colors, shapes and textures, houseplants are a perfect way to enliven your home’s interior landscape. They’re a fun outlet for gardening in winter and a perfect way to connect with nature in urban homes without much outdoor space. Living with plants is also good for us, beefing up the oxygen content of the air and cleansing it of toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene—common chemicals that can cause adverse health effects. Studies also have shown that the presence of houseplants lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and helps us ward off the common cold.

Growers today offer myriad options of houseplants, which can enhance your home’s décor just as much as furniture or fabrics. And houseplants are quite cost-effective: A few inexpensive plants from a local garden center can look lush and beautiful for years if you treat them right. Thankfully, this is an easy task as the majority of houseplants have simple needs. By analyzing your interior spaces and choosing wisely, you can use houseplants as vital design elements in your natural home.

Live-In Design 

Begin your houseplant design by analyzing the style of your rooms, advises Diana Yakeley in her book Indoor Gardening: A New Approach to Displaying Plants in the Home. “Carefully study the room in question and decide whether it is formal or informal, classic or contemporary, rustic or urban chic, then gauge whether the plant and container are in keeping with the style. If they are not, then the arrangement will never look right,” she says. For example, in a modern design, you might want nothing more than a single elegant bloom to emphasize the purity of the space, whereas “a country kitchen is the perfect place for a profusion of herbs in old terracotta pots,” she says.

Rather than thinking of plants as an afterthought, regard them as an integral part of each room’s décor. Large spaces with high ceilings need big plants with bold color or foliage to feel balanced. “The reason most indoor plants seem insignificant is because they are too small, overwhelmed by large furniture and high ceilings,” Yakeley says. If you have the space, allow statement plants to dominate their area of the room so their sculptural qualities can be appreciated. In smaller pockets, choose more delicate arrangements using plants with dainty foliage and soft color. “Small, charming arrangements work well in more intimate spaces,” Yakeley says. “They also look wonderful if displayed in multiples to form a miniature indoor landscape. Rows of bamboo individual glass containers are much more interesting than just one.”

As you plan, consider the physical structure of the rooms you are designing. Your placement of plants can help you define or enlarge spaces—for example, if you want to subtly break up a large room, use a weeping fig or lady palm as you might a partial wall or room divider. If you want to make a small room feel more expansive, place a colorful, attention-grabbing plant at the farthest point from the entry to draw the eye across the room. You can also use plants to highlight favorite areas or structural details. Trailing plants are dramatic on shelves or ledges where their leaves can spill down the wall. Small, mounded herbs in low-slung pots look welcoming perched on each stair in an entryway. Plants can also act as barriers, disguising unattractive areas or providing privacy in front of windows while still admitting light.

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