Living, Breathing Interior Accents

August 26, 2011

Besides looking pretty in corners, leafy accents enhance indoor air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds and releasing fresh oxygen.

You could have the most perfect living room, with a soft and soothing color on the walls and the furniture placed just so. But if there’s not a speck of greenery anywhere in the space, it might feel dull.

“A room with plants and flowers just looks more welcoming and homey,” says Bethesda-based interior designer Lynn Madyson (Lynnmadysondesigns.com). “It looks lived in; it adds life to the room.”

That’s, of course, because plants and flowers are actual living organisms. But there are plenty of other reasons why it’s worth introducing plants into your home decor, from their aesthetic appeal to the impact they can have on your health.

Plants look pretty, for one thing, and can bring color, depth and personality to a room. “They add a point of interest that helps to move the eye around the room or set off something that you want people to look at,” says Dee Thornton, principal and senior designer at Alexandria-based Houseworks Interiors (Houseworksinteriors.com).

They also allow you to breathe a little easier, both literally and figuratively. All plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, while some also absorb volatile organic compounds in the air. “And studies have shown that plants and flowers actually make people feel better and more productive,” says Jean Nayar, author of “The Happy Home Project” (Filipacchi Publishing, $22).

But you shouldn’t just stick a potted fern from the grocery store on an end table and call it a day. “You want to disperse the greenery throughout the room in sort of a triangle pattern, so that it’s balanced,” says Madyson. “It doesn’t have to be single plants; you could have a group in one corner or a few plants behind a sofa.”


Plants housed in unexpected settings —such as this greenery nestled inside geometric pots within a fireplace — bring quirky personality into indoor settings.

Almost any room can benefit from botanicals, whether it’s a den with an empty corner just begging for a ficus tree or an office in need of the Zen-like vibe of a bonsai. “Just be sure to get a plant that fits the scale of the space it’s filling,” says interior designer Taniya Nayak, an interior decorator and HGTV host. “Don’t put one rinky-dink potted plant in a corner. Cluster some together, or choose one with the right volume and height to fill up the space accordingly.”

Then again, don’t go overboard at your neighborhood nursery. “My rule of thumb is to edit your furnishings judiciously, and I would say the same goes for plants,” says Nayar. “Too many plants can make a room look cluttered and feel a little overwhelmed.”

Even if you’re not known for your green thumb, you can still find plants that will work for you. Choose ones that don’t require the touch of a gardening guru to keep them alive, such as succulents, peace lilies, Chinese evergreens and spider plants. “Herbs are awesome,” says Nayak. “If you have a window in the kitchen that gets good sunlight, herbs rock and are so great to plant.”

Make sure to monitor live plants, removing dead leaves and wilted branches when necessary. “Just as skimpy curtains actually detract from a room, spindly looking plants don’t really enhance a room,” says Nayar.

So don’t be afraid to toss any that have become lost causes. And if you wind up with a less-than-impressive track record in plant parenting, find something else that works for you.

“I travel all the time for work and can’t be reliable when it comes to watering plants, so in my house I have a huge vase filled with sand, and nestled into that are tall birch poles,” says Nayak. “I love it because I still have that sense of nature inside the house.” And she doesn’t have to worry about finding another casualty when she walks in the door.

Faking It
Never fear faux foliage; the right artificial plants can add leafy lushness to your house or apartment. And as long as you don’t skimp on quality, nobody will be the wiser.

“I suggest that whatever budget level you’re at, invest in the best that you can,” says interior designer Lynn Madyson. “Cheaper [fake plants] are not going to look as real. Try to get the most natural-looking color as possible, and stay away from any that are too twiggy.”

Once you’ve found pieces that you like, find ways to give them a little more life. One idea: Move them around each season, suggests Dee Thornton, principal and senior designer at Houseworks Interiors. “The problem with artificial plants is that they never change,” Thornton says. “They’re always the same day after day, month after month.”

And don’t forget to dust your arrangements every once in a while. Some can be hosed down in the sink or shower, depending on what material they’re made from.

Another pro tip: “Mix artificial plants in with real ones,” Madyson says. “It kind of tricks the eye and people will think they’re all real.”

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Vicky Hallett · August 26, 2011