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A Master Class in Decorating With Plants

By Peter Luisi

Greenery has long been credited as a stress reliever and, when inside the home, it has a way of bringing a space to life. Fickle decorators should find solace in the low-commitment level of plants—choosing them is much less stressful than, say, purchasing a sofa or choosing a wall paint color, for instance. And when boredom sets in, ferns and ficus can be easily moved or can adopt an entirely new look with the simple change of a pot. Plus, there’s a plant for just about any design aesthetic—from bohemian to minimal to refined.

Below, interior designers share their best tips for decorating with plants—even for the black-thumbed.

Do Your Due Diligence
Deciding on the best plants for your home hinges on many elements. Christine Gachot, co-founder of Gachot Studios, which designed Marc Jacobs’s New York townhouse, suggests conducting research in advance of shopping. “Plants are living and need proper care,” Gachot advises. “Select plants that will be best suited for your environment. Consider scale and think of them as living sculptures. And consult a local expert. It’s always fun to visit your neighborhood flower district.”

Being open-minded is also important when decorating with plants, according to interior designer Bunny Williams. “Half the pleasure is continuously moving them around: setting small, exquisite auricula on a bathroom sink for a guest to enjoy, or arranging various pots of succulents in the center of the dining table,” says Williams. During the winter months, she relies on plants even more. “In the winter when cut flowers are more expensive, I buy a lot of plants, like paperwhites and amaryllis,” she explains.

Interior designer CeCe Barfield Thompson says the dimensions of a room should inform your plant choice. “For a big space, there is nothing better than a citrus tree, but they require a lot of light,” Barfield Thompson says. “In dark spaces, you can’t go wrong with a fiddle-leaf fig tree. You see them a lot and that is because even the blackest of thumbs can keep one alive.”

Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, owner of the home furnishings shop KRB is partial to bird’s nest ferns. “They have a graphic look and are easy to care for,” says Rheinstein Brodsky.

Choose the Right Containers
One you’ve settled on the type of plant that works well for your space, you’ll need to choose the right pot. There’s no denying that a well-chosen pot can take a simple plant to new heights. As an avid plant lover, Williams relies on a collection of containers. “I keep a variety ready to receive a plant,” she says. “They vary from china to wood to simple baskets and range in size with interior measurements from four to 10 inches to accommodate most standard plastic pots.”

Noa Santos, CEO and co-founder of Homepolish, is all for containers that make a statement. “I pick pots that aren’t just going to disappear,” Santos explains. “Especially if you’re decorating with large plants like cacti or trees, pick a pot or planter that is actually going to call attention to itself and be a statement all on its own.”

Barfield Thompson is also an advocate of a pot with personality rather than settling for a standard glass cube. “Nineteenth-century colored glass is my favorite vessel because the saturated color and smooth glass look beautiful against the texture of a plant,” she says. “Mossy clay pots are also a go-to and very Bunny Mellon—she was the queen of potted plants.”

For Rheinstein Brodsky, it’s all about drama. “The super chic Nopales cachepot from Nicholas Newcomb Pottery & Sculpture in either matte black or white works in both traditional and modern interiors,” she says. “For a stronger presence and drama, a pair of Faux Bois Christopher Spitzmiller urns is incredible. For something super special, I use a single black lady’s slipper orchid. Unbelievably elegant, they work best in a super mossy terra-cotta pot.”

But there’s also a rich sense of history behind pots that shouldn’t be ignored, Gachot says. “Italian terra-cotta can have a bit of Old World charm, while glazed planters from the Aesthetic and Arts and Crafts period can be timeless,” she says. “There is also a great history of ceramics and glazing from the mid-century movement, with designers such as David Cressey who have become very collectible. You can find contemporary options usually at a more approachable price point, from places such as Billy Cotton. Their Column Planter in natural terra-cotta is sublime and works well with any species.”

And don’t overlook the big picture when coordinating plants with the colors of your pots. “One strategy we use is matching the vessel to the surrounding furniture or material palette so it looks more integrated into the design,” says interior designer Chris Weir.

Creativity Counts
Once your foundation is set, there’s room for a dose of creativity. While it’s perfectly acceptable to embrace standard flower boxes in a windowsill or a palm plant in a neutral living room, think outside of the box. “I recently put a garden window in my bedroom,” says Justina Blakeney, a designer, artist, and founder of The Jungalow. “Normally, garden windows are reserved for kitchens, but I absolutely love how it opened up the small room and brought the outdoors in. One of my next big plant purchases is going to be a kumquat tree. I love the idea of growing fruit trees indoors.”

Bathrooms aren’t exempt from plants either, according to interior designer Cy Carter. “We keep Maidenhair fern near our windows in the bathroom and on a ledge next to our tub where they thrive in the humidity,” Carter says. “These sweet plants grow in shaded riverbeds and waterfalls, so every now and then I bring them in with me at the end of my shower for a good, cool soak.”

by MONIQUE VALERIS

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