Have you noticed? Indoor plants are back, and even bigger than they were in the macrame-swathed 1970s. These days, collectors will pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for a snippet of a rare houseplant. 

But you don’t need to be a collector to appreciate the power of plants to beautify our home spaces.

“A space isn’t complete until you’ve added the plants,” says Jennifer Robbins, the interior manager for Botanical Designs, a Seattle design firm specializing in corporate plantings such as those at Climate Pledge Arena, University Village and Bellevue Square. “It’s typically the last thing people add after the color and furniture, but once you have plants, it really feels like a home.” 

There are many psychological reasons why the presence of plants, a visual connection to the natural world, makes us feel relaxed, Robbins says.

“There are a lot of benefits to biophilic design — which is using nature in our built spaces,” she says. “There’s increased productivity, reduction of stress and greater quality of life. They’ve actually found it can reduce stress and anxiety for trauma survivors.”

Another benefit, Robbins adds, is the reduction of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air. “Air quality is so much better if you have plants in your space,” she says.

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All of that is in addition to the feel-good bonus that comes from nurturing. “It’s almost like a low-key pet that’s thriving,” she says.

As design tools, plants can add warmth and vitality, screen views and act as visual accents. Robbins says Botanical Designs will often use a trough-style planter to delineate seating, work and entry areas in lobbies and restaurants, for instance. 

Making room

Riina Martin had been struggling to find a way to separate her husband Andre’s new workspace within their West Seattle home. Hoping to find a semi-sheer screen and perhaps some soundproofing, she shopped in vain for a room divider. One day, while looking at a small hanging planter she’d recently purchased at Ikea, inspiration struck. The Chilistran planter was already designed to hang one upon another — so she used 15 to make a full wall of them.

Strong welded brackets and heavy-duty drywall anchors were key ingredients in the install. “We have an almost 1-year-old, so it had to be strong,” Martin says.

And the result? “We were actually pleasantly surprised — it does muffle some sound,” says Martin. She says her husband loves it “because he can see light through it and still feels like he’s working in a little jungle.”

The divider is mainly populated with pothos cuttings. Beyond that, Martin’s house is awash with plants. 

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“We have plants everywhere in our house — they are definitely part of our home décor, which suits our midcentury bungalow,” she says. “It makes it even more fun to have plants around. We love green, forests and we love to bring nature close to us.”

Martin enjoys observing which plants are happiest where, and “researching the best places for them and then seeing them be super happy. It’s a hobby that’s very easy to do while you live the rest of your life, and it brings happiness,” she says.

When grouping plants, whether on a table display or on the floor, Robbins is partial to sets of three, selecting plants with contrasting color and form in foliage for the highest visual impact. 

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Climbing the walls

Taylor Stewart is a houseplant enthusiast who also works at Ravenna Gardens, a Seattle garden store. When decorating her Beacon Hill apartment, the plants are non-negotiable, so she’s come up with some space-savvy solutions for every angle.

Walls of hanging planters in several rooms add vertical interest. A tapestry of philodendron, pothos and trailing peperomia varieties, for instance, creates a romantic backdrop for her bed. The planters are mainly thrifted baskets and cachepots with plastic nursery pots inside.

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“It definitely created a lot more space,” Stewart says of her use of planter walls. “[It] made me feel much less overwhelmed with how many plants are in my space because they don’t take up any floor surface.”

“Green walls” are quite popular, but it can be a challenge to conveniently maintain them. Stewart was taking the nursery pots out separately to water them, but she found it tedious and sometimes avoided it. She’s since plugged up the drainage holes and now waters the pots in place — carefully and sparingly, so the plants don’t get too much water at once.

“I would love to have a living wall someday,” Stewart says of the practice of allowing plants to climb the walls themselves. But the roots of a living wall can strip paint off a wall — a dealbreaker for her apartment. “If I owned a home, I would probably let the plants climb the walls” until they needed repainting again, she says.

Alternatives include hanging planters, ropes and cedar planks, Stewart says, which can all be used to encourage plants to climb. She doesn’t recommend moss poles because they need to stay wet to foster rooting.

Saving space

Large living walls usually require incorporating  plumbing and electrical into the build. For home spaces, Robbins suggests using a Gromeo system. The mini living wall relies on the same technology that Botanical Designs used for the 1,900-square-foot plant wall at Climate Pledge Arena by having a wicking fabric fronting the plants. Fill the reservoir about every three weeks, she says, and capillary action does the rest.

Bookshelves and glass cabinets can be great space savers, too. Stewart has converted another Ikea item, a Vittsjo standing glass shelf, into a plant paradise by adding adhesive LED light strips to each shelf. Year-round residents include hoyas and Syngonium, but she gives her cacti and succulents a winter vacation there to counteract the dark winters.

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Other inspiring ideas Stewart has noticed lately include hanging a massive Kokedama — the moss-covered root ball of a plant — like a chandelier above a staircase, and taking sculptural driftwood pieces and festooning them with air plants.

There’s one more thing Robbins is seeing a lot more of these days: macrame, of course. It wouldn’t be a plant décor revolution without it.

Happy planting

There’s little point in creating a great plant design if the living wall, display or shelf fails to live. Robbins says her firm checks its charges weekly, looking for pests or growth issues and rotating them for even sun exposure.

The two main considerations, she says, are matching the plant to the proper lighting and temperature. Lighting can be enhanced with grow lights or lessened by moving a light-sensitive plant away from a window in summer, but temperature is harder to control. Many tropical plants dislike temperature swings, so placing them near a heater, air conditioner or revolving door is not recommended.

For novice plant-owners, Robbins recommends air plants, which she soaks in water about every two weeks, allows to dry out and then returns to their pots. 

Sansevieria (Dracaena trifasciata), or snake plants, are also good starter plants. They are amenable to a variety of light conditions, and they only require watering about every four weeks. 

Robbins does not recommend direct planting into decorative pots, even if they have drainage holes. She says the plants will get much better air and water circulation by keeping the them in their plastic growers’ pots.

So don’t ask permission. Group, edit, display, arrange and, most importantly, enjoy your space — and everything you choose to have in it.