Decorating with House Plants | Interior Design How-To

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You know that feeling when you’re scrolling Instagram and you see a living room decked out with ceramic pots filled with beautiful plants and indoor trees? Or a rainy cottage kitchen with windowsills overflowing with succulents and ivy? For some, that feeling is a core memory; An ancestral call to surround themselves with life in honor of the earth. For others this may elicit worry about creepy crawly bugs.

As designers, we believe in the power that plant life has on interiors and on humans. In addition to providing that finishing touch to make our decorated spaces feel complete, there is a very real and scientific connection to reduced blood pressure and increased energy. We also know that keeping our plants alive and our homes pest-free is another way to help with blood pressure. Finding the right balance is essential. There are countless ‘how-to’ blogs on keeping plants alive, so I will instead focus on the considerations we, as interior designers, make when introducing plant life and how to make the best choices when bringing the green into your home.

Credit: Gabriela Herman

Size & Shape

One of first tools designers use when designing a space is called the ‘schematic phase’. This is when we evaluate the layout and aesthetics of the space to determine where things will go, without deciding specifically what those things will be. In this phase, we want to sketch (or just imagine) the visual blocks of the space; What’s tall, what’s short, what’s long, what’s useful, etc… and place them in attractive groups. Round looks good next to square, long looks good next to tall, useful items work best near other useful items, and continuing on going with what feels right. This schematic planning is a great way to narrow down what species of plants to select. If the “long” is your sofa, then the “tall” might be a new snake plant.

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Which plants to choose?

Another big consideration for choosing plants is to think about what will thrive in the space. We, at Housewarming, pay extra attention to this, as the gothic gray of the Pacific Northwest can make many species of indoor plants just plain unhappy. Access to light, the safety of our pets, and ease of care are all questions that need answers. Once you’ve selected the size and shape you want, research such topics as “medium-sized plants for low light” or “is ____ safe for animals?”. These results will help you hone in on specific species, and from there you can research how to care for your leafy new housemates.

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Maintenance and Care

With houseplants, the single most common phrase we hear from our clients is “I love plants, but I kill everything I touch.” We know the struggle! A home full of empty planters and dead leaves quickly builds lost hope. I would be lying if I said, even with my green thumb, I’ve never killed a plant in my life. I’ve killed many. The best tip I can give is this: Most plants don’t need your intervention as much as you think. Our anxiety to keep them alive can often lead to overwatering, too much movement, or inconsistent lighting routines. Many plants will tell you what they need, when they need it, and will give you plenty of time to react. Leaves going yellow? Too much sun. Leaves dry and crispy? Time to water. Leaves soft and limp? Too much water. Once you’ve cared for them, give them a few days to adjust before trying anything else (This is where many anxious plant parents slip up). Change the soil once a year, water once a week, and take a couple minutes to research the plant before purchasing. If you want a plant that is so dramatic that it tells you what it needs weeks in advance, try a peace lily! They’re safe for pets, thrive in most lights, and can propagate easily.

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Picking the right planter

This is for aesthetics, but also very much for care and maintenance too! First and foremost, ensure your planter has a drain hole at the bottom. These are not standard for many planters you find in department stores, so take a peek just in case. Drain holes will ensure that water doesn’t stagnate at the bottom of the pot after watering, which can cause root rot and pests. Most plant boutiques will have them, or will offer to safely drill one before purchasing. We also suggest a plant saucer that complements the planter,  as this will allow water to drain directly into the saucer rather than requiring you to move it over a sink first.

For aesthetics, consider the planter as you would any other piece of décor. Does it want it to stand out as a piece of art, or would it rather fade into the background? Do its patterns, colors, and shape complement where it sits in the room? Do they complement the shape and color of the plant? We’re using our design brain just as before here!

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With these few considerations in mind, we designers can invigorate a home with new energy and offer a therapeutic routine for our clients. Plants are living, breathing entities; Ones we evolved instinctively to be custodians for. When we invite them into our spaces, they return gifts of health, peace, and a connection with our natural self. They’re also sometimes the only thing that will look good next to that battered suede sofa we’re waiting to give away, so design freely!