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What plants contribute to interior design

by timber press on May 27, 2016

in Design, Gardening

Beautiful, large ficus trees make this modern lobby more warm and inviting. Image: Beth Harding

Beautiful, large ficus trees make this modern lobby more warm and inviting. Image: Harding Botanicals

Plants provide more than a decorative touch to the indoor environment. The Manual of Interior Plantscaping author Kathy Fediw explains how they bring people together, help them relax, and create an environment for cooperation and collaboration.

Indoor plants play an important role in interior design. They bring in a living element that is portable, growing, and ever-changing, for a fraction of the cost of a new wall or architectural element. They provide function and form while looking beautiful. They can change the ambiance and feel of a space. They add color to complement any décor. They enhance the design without interfering with other important design elements.

PLANTS AS FOCAL POINTS

An indoor plant can act as a focal point, drawing people through the space and towards a specific destination. This can be done in several ways.

Large specimen plants can be used alone to draw attention due to their size. Specimen plants are usually 12 to 14 feet tall or more. Palms, ficus trees, and certain dracaenas are most often grown for this purpose. Large indoor plants may be difficult to find and are usually contracted months in advance with commercial growers. Specimens are usually used alone or with shorter groundcover plants under their canopies.

Plants with unusual forms act as living sculptures and are often used as a focal point. For example, marginata (Dracaena cincta) can be grown with interesting twists and bends in its trunks, and eugenias or ficus trees can be pruned into topiary shapes. Keep any other plants in the area simple and low to the ground so the focal plant stands out.

A row of identical aglaonemas lines a busy hallway, encouraging people to move quickly so the area doesn’t become congested. Image: Phillips Interior Plants & Displays

A row of identical aglaonemas lines a busy hallway, encouraging people to move quickly so the area doesn’t become congested. Image: Phillips Interior Plants & Displays

Plants with bright colors can be used as focal points, either alone or in masses. A bed of brightly colored poinsettias draws attention during the holiday season. Vibrantly colored crotons with their yellow, red, and orange foliage are natural focal points, while neon-green pothos and lime-green Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’ catch the eye from a distance and stand out against solid-green foliage plants. Plants can help to direct the flow of foot traffic in a space and can be used to establish a walkway. Plants also affect how fast people will move along that walkway.

When several different kinds of plants in a variety of shapes and sizes line a walkway, people tend to walk more slowly. There’s plenty for them to see and they are drawn to look at each plant along the way. If the walkway is curved instead of straight, they’ll slow down even more.

If identical plants are used in a straight row, people are apt to walk quickly. There’s not much to see or capture their attention after the first plant or two. This can be helpful in areas where the designer wants people to move through quickly, such as the waiting line in a movie theater or in a busy lobby.

PLANTS CAN FRAME OR SCREEN A VIEW

Snake plants mark the entryway to each cubicle, while adding color and interest to a gray interior. Image: Heroman Services Plant Company

Snake plants mark the entryway to each cubicle, while adding color and interest to a gray interior. Image: Heroman Services Plant Company

A plant can act as a picture frame, drawing attention to an object or destination. The usual way to frame such a focal point is by using a symmetrical arrangement of plants on both sides. For example, two identical palms, one on either side, of the directory in an office building lobby will frame the directory and attract the attention of visitors. Similarly, plants can be used to frame a plaque, a doorway, an elevator, a staircase, an entrance, or even a significant piece of artwork, drawing attention and directing foot traffic to the area. A pair of plants can frame a spectacular view from a window or doorway, drawing people’s attention outside the indoor space and visually into the outdoor space.

Plants can also block a view that is less than desirable. In an atrium garden, they can hide the mechanics of a fountain, while in a restaurant, they can conceal the water station, or screen off a private dining room from the main dining floor. Plants can be used as drapes to shroud an ugly outdoor view without substantially decreasing the amount of daylight, maintaining the ambiance and feeling of spaciousness while obscuring the view of that ugly parking garage roof.

PLANTS CHANGE THE ACOUSTICS AND MUFFLE SOUND

Plants help to reduce the amount of noise without altering the overall design of the space in several ways. The next time you’re in a noisy restaurant, look around the space. You’ll see a lot of hard surfaces—walls, floors, windows, furniture—without much cloth or padding to muffle the sound. Any noises reverberate and bounce back and forth, reaching into the corners. People talk louder in order to be heard, and the sound levels rise even more.

Research has shown that indoor plants are effective in absorbing sound at higher frequencies (which are more annoying than lower-frequency sounds), especially in rooms with a lot of hard surfaces and very little upholstery or cloth. Ficus trees, dracaenas, peace lily, arboricolas, and especially heart-leaf philodendron were particularly effective. In addition, the bark mulch on the soil surface was also found to absorb sound (Costa and James 1995b). This research showed that plants improved acoustics by reflecting and diffracting sound waves. Plants with many small leaves, such as ficus trees, tend to scatter sounds as opposed to absorbing sounds, making the interior space less noisy and more inviting.

PLANTS CREATE VISUAL DEPTH AND DELINEATE SPACES

Large, cavernous spaces, such as building lobbies and shopping malls, can seem intimidating and uninviting. People can feel exposed in big, empty spaces, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Introducing plants can interrupt that space, creating visual depth and breaking the space into smaller, cozier, more appealing areas. Plants can act as room dividers, creating smaller, more intimate spaces within a building lobby where people can meet and review their notes prior to attending a business meeting.

Plants can also be used as portable walls, creating collaboration spaces in an open-concept office without walls. Most plants in individual pots can be moved as the needs of the tenants and visitors change, something most walls cannot do.

PLANTS VISUALLY LOWER CEILINGS

Tall ceilings can also be daunting and make a visitor feel small and vulnerable. Introducing tall plants with a canopy of foliage into such a setting creates a “false ceiling” by visually lowering the space overhead. Tall, well-spaced ficus trees can turn a large lobby or shopping mall into an inviting indoor garden space. For example, introducing a 15-foot-tall ficus tree in a space with 50-foot ceilings can visually bring the ceiling down to a more manageable 12- to 15-foot height. The heavier the canopy of foliage, the greater the reduction in perceived overhead space.

Tall palm trees and shorter tree ferns effectively bring the visual ceiling of this space down to a more comfortable level in two stages. The airiness of the canopy keeps these two levels from being too heavy. Image: Kathy Fediw

Tall palm trees and shorter tree ferns effectively bring the visual ceiling of this space down to a more comfortable level in two stages. The airiness of the canopy keeps these two levels from being too heavy. Image: Kathy Fediw

PLANTS ADD COLOR AND INTEREST

Plants can add splashes and dashes of color to an otherwise monotone setting. We think of plants as being green, yet there are many shades of green. Leaves can vary from deep green to olive green, blue-green, silver-green, or neon-lime green, to name a few possibilities.

Just as spices add interest to a meal, plants add color and interest in subtle or more vivid ways. Leaves can be variegated white, silver, yellow, red, purple, or orange, or even have markings in multiple colors in the case of croton foliage. Vibrant-colored plants stand out while darker shades of green or deep maroon recede, adding depth and acting as a background in plant groupings. Juxtaposing plants of different shades adds more allure and visual appeal in masses of plants.

PLANTS IMPROVE ECONOMICS AND PERCEIVED VALUE

Research has shown that when plants are present in a shopping area, people perceive that the value of the merchandise being sold is greater, compared to the same merchandise in an area without plants. In one study, consumers were willing to spend a conservative 12 percent more for products in an environment with trees (Wolf 2002). People also tend to linger longer and buy more merchandise in shopping areas where plants are present. Many shopping malls and boutique shops take advantage of this effect to increase sales.

Plants add a sense of luxury and prestige to a space. People subconsciously associate tropical plants with success, and feel more confident working and dealing with companies that have plants in their built environment.

Ferns, palms, and flowering plants are especially effective in creating a luxurious ambiance. These plants are often used in the finest hotels, restaurants, and high-end luxury homes. Most successful corporate headquarters and prestigious office buildings have indoor plants.

The vivid colors of the bromeliads and dracaenas stand out along the edges of the planting, while the darker foliage of spathiphyllums in the back recedes, creating depth. Note the contrast and interest created by the white flowers of the spathiphyllums. Image: Mimosa Interior Landscape

The vivid colors of the bromeliads and dracaenas stand out along the edges of the planting, while the darker foliage of spathiphyllums in the back recedes, creating depth. Note the contrast and interest created by the white flowers of the spathiphyllums. Image: Mimosa Interior Landscape

PLANTS ENHANCE THE DESIGN AND CREATE AMBIANCE

Indoor plants and their containers act as accessories in the interior design. They add to the overall design and help to create the overall look and feel of the space. For example, cactus and succulents add a southwestern feel to hotels in Phoenix or San Antonio. Palms add a sense of luxury and exclusivity to shops in Beverly Hills. Tall, sculptural marginatas and mass canes add the right touch to a contemporary, minimalist office design in New York. Ficus trees and arboricola bushes mimic the outdoors and create a sense of casualness and family-friendly atmosphere in a shopping mall in Cincinnati.

PLANTS CLEAN THE AIR AND CONTRIBUTE TO A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

Plants provide a wealth of health and well-being benefits to those who work, live, and visit the indoor built environment. Over the years, scientists and researchers have proven what we’ve known all along—plants make us feel better.

Plants remove harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene from the air, converting VOCs into harmless compounds that plants then use for food. Bill Wolverton, former research scientist at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was among the first to study this process. Since then, other scientists in several different countries have continued and expanded this research, all with similar results.

Researchers have found that the potted-plant microcosm (the plant, its root system, soil microbes, and soil medium) is able to reduce by at least 70 percent all high-concentration, air-borne VOCs within 24 hours, sometimes completely eliminating these VOCs (Wood et al. 2006). A microcosm’s ability to rid the air of VOCs becomes more efficient each time that additional VOCs are introduced in the air, and is equally effective during the day or at night. The VOCs are converted into carbon dioxide and water, along with other harmless compounds. So far, all of the plants researched have shown the ability to reduce all of the VOCs tested to date.

Plants have also been shown to reduce levels of carbon monoxide from indoor air by 90 percent (Tarran et al. 2007). Even at minute concentrations, carbon monoxide can affect attention, focus, and overall health, and can be fatal when in larger concentrations.

Besides eliminating harmful VOCs from the air, plants benefit our health and well-being in many other ways. When plants are in an office space, the occupants experience 40 percent fewer coughs, 30 percent fewer sore throats and dryness in the throat, 30 percent fewer headaches, a 25-percent reduction in dry skin irritations, and a 20-percent reduction in fatigue (Fjeld et al. 1998). In similar research studies, sick leave absences were reduced by an incredible 60 percent in offices with plants (Fjeld 2002). Other research studies have shown that when people are working in a windowless room with plants, they have lower blood pressure and feel more attentive than those working in the same room without plants (Lohr et al. 1996).

Potted plants stabilize humidity and temperature, creating a more comfortable and healthy environment (Costa and James 1999). In fact, plants stabilize the humidity levels indoors to between 30 and 60 percent, the comfort level for people (Lohr and Pearson-Mims 2000). Without plants the humidity levels in many buildings would be an arid 20 percent. Lohr and Pearson-Mims also proved that potted plants reduce dust levels.

A planter of cast-iron plants (Aspidistra) adds just the right amount of modernism to a contemporary lobby. Image: Interior Plantscapes

A planter of cast-iron plants (Aspidistra) adds just the right amount of modernism to a contemporary lobby. Image: Interior Plantscapes

PLANTS INCREASE WELL-BEING AND PRODUCTIVITY

Plants affect our overall sense of well-being in other ways, too. They help to provide feelings of pleasure, calm, and relief from “attention fatigue” and create a restorative environment (Shibata and Suzuki 2002). Designers take advantage of this benefit by using plants in break rooms and restaurants in office buildings and hospitals.

Visual contact with nature reduces the fatigue associated with intense concentration. Plants can help to replenish the attentional system so people can refocus quickly after short “nature” breaks (R. Kaplan and S. Kaplan 1990, S. Kaplan 1995). In another study, college students under stress from an exam felt more positive and had less fear and anger when they had a view of plants (Ulrich 1979).

Plants can also improve our productivity, an important benefit in the workplace. One study showed that people working in a room with plants completed a series of computerized tasks 12 percent faster than those working in the same room without plants (Lohr et al. 1996).

So plants fulfill many needs in the interior design and function of a building. They cost less than expensive artwork, and far less than the construction costs of building new walls or lowering the ceiling. Yet they contribute so much more, improving our health, lowering our stress, and improving the way our brain works. No other living element in the built environment gives back so much while looking beautiful.

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fediw_kKathy Fediw is an interior plantscape consultant, author, and speaker with over 30 years’ experience. She is a LEED Accredited Professional, a Certified Landscape Professional, and a Certified Landscape Technician. The company she started provides consulting services, training workshops, online courses, and other educational resources to interior plantscaping businesses worldwide. Author of Green Plant Care Tips for Techs as well as a series of training manuals and online courses, Kathy also publishes and edits two monthly online magazines, I-Plants and Urban Horticulture. She developed the Green Earth—Green Plants certification program for eco-friendly horticultural businesses, and is actively involved with various trade associations across the country. You may also be interested in the author’s own Web site, jfaconsultingbiz.com.

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Click the image below for a look inside this book.

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“Organized logically and includes many helpful tips for those getting started in the field of interiorscaping. A very nice resource for those looking for practical advice about small-scale interior projects or an introduction to the planning and implementation of larger-scaled projects.” —NYBG Plant Talk

1 Planters Group October 31, 2016 at 6:25 am

Very well said. Indoor plants definitely have numerous benefits when it comes to interior design. One of the lesser known contributions would be their psychological effects on people. As was mentioned in the post, plants do improve productivity and reduce mental fatigue. They can even have therapeutic effects on patients, especially those suffering from cancer and other illnesses.

2 Agniete September 27, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Stabilized moss composition in interior design is really popular this year. Do you think it affects people as well as normal, natural plants ? Moss compositions look amazing and bring fresh atmosphere, however do they clean the air also ? Of course, just bright green colour on your wall can change the life :)

3 harini February 20, 2018 at 5:16 am

Thanks For Your valuable posting, it was very informative.I am working in Interiors in chennai

4 harini February 26, 2018 at 5:16 am

Thanks For Your valuable posting, it was very informative.I am working in Interior Designer in chennai

5 Saurabh February 26, 2018 at 10:02 am

Thanks for sharing about plants. which helps to improve greenary at home. its also helpfull for our health. Nice tips for sharing interior design. best blogging platform

6 baygardensny February 27, 2018 at 10:07 pm

We too provide great collection of gardening products for decorating your house or garden, if you want to buy these plants then you can visit our website – https://shop.baygardensny.com/collections/perennials

7 iconsintex July 20, 2018 at 12:21 am

Thanks for a valuable information about interior designs services and our company also providing about interior designs services.interior designs in hyderabad.

8 Plants Planet October 22, 2018 at 3:35 am

Great article, thanks for the ideas for interior design.

Best Regards
PlantsPlanet

A source of plastic pots for home and nursery use.

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