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The Modern Houseplant

Want to turn over a new leaf? Hip, happy greenery is all about light, water, and perfect pots.

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Square stainless steel planter, $399, at Room & Board. See more photos in our gallery below.
 

Q: I love how sculptural and sexy houseplants can look in modern environments. My plants seem fussy and old-fashioned in comparison, and I have trouble keeping them alive. How can I get a cooler, more thriving plant thing going? 

A: Thinking green is always a good idea, but you need to be realistic about the physical limitations of your space and the needs of plants. “A lot of people will be drawn to the look of certain plants, take them home, and kill them,” says Todd Pope, a division manager for the design group at Green View and the lead designer for Macy’s splashy annual flower show on State Street. “Most Chicago interiors don’t have the light or the humidity needed by a lot of varieties.”

Among hardy species that don’t mind low light, he recommends split-leaf philodendron, sansevieria, and echeveria. Designer and TV personality Frank Fontana, who devoted a chapter of his latest book, Frank Fontana’s Dirty Little Secrets of Design, to outdoor design, suggests Chinese evergreens, lucky bamboo, and peace lilies, all “super easy to maintain and unique and on-trend for today’s modern interiors.” To create humidity for plants, Pope puts gravel-filled trays of water underneath pots, keeping the water level below the bottoms of the pots. This also helps reduce insect and disease issues, as critters tend to be attracted to arid environments.

You can even make what Pope calls “granny plants” look good in the millennial home by changing their presentation. “We’re way past the parlor palm stuck in the corner of the room, where it’s forgotten,” he says. “Find ways to make plants the focal points and art pieces of your environment by using totally unexpected players like dwarf varieties or contrasting-colored ghost ferns that will be really surprising.”

Bridget Johnson, the creative director of the special-events-planning firm Kehoe Designs, considers the shape of the leaf and how it will relate to the furniture and design of the interiors she creates. “Palm trees and ficus plants have very distinctive leaf shapes and can play an important role in conveying a mood,” she says.

Shift those ferns down from the tops of bookcases (who wants to climb up there to water them anyway?) to sleek, contemporary plant stands and it’s a whole new game, says Susan Randstrom Bruck, a sales associate at Pasquesi Home and Gardens. And remember that one big, lush plant can have more impact than two or three dinky ones. “Foxtail ferns have a great dramatic form and can grow to four feet in diameter and height,” she says, “so the fronds can really drape down when you put one on a pedestal in a room.”

 

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