On trend for 2019, an air-cleansing houseplant is the Christmas gift that just keeps on giving, says Kya deLongchamps.
Minimalist or austere? The uptight, sleek, relatively empty neutral space spiked with worthy mid-century inspired furnishings is being challenged in 2019 with the return to a cosier more full inhabited feel of maximalism. Celebrated American architect Robert Charles Venturi Jr, who sadly died this year, tangled with the Mies Van Der Rohe’s sacred but paralysing adage trotted out in the last 10 years of decorating – ‘Less is more’, Venturi stated flatly, ‘- and less - is a bore.’
One of the most popular and luxurious interpretations of the ‘more is more’ school of aesthetics is the Memphis look – a 1970s fantasy of brass bound tables, marble, velvet and abstract art layered joyfully over every wall, glass and lacquered surface. It’s still chic, but there’s a lot more ‘you’ in these playful rooms.
In lush imagery of the Memphis lifestyle in European and American trade shows, living and faux greenery softens glass counters, orphaned corners and empty vertical voids using the exquisite geometry of rosette succulents, string-of-pearl (trailing Senecio Rowleyanus) and statuesque palms-house super-stars.
Houseplants, formerly curated into the conservatory are completely cool again all over the house. They can handle every contemporary, period and retro’ style from Bohemian to Bauhaus with grace. Containers, hangers and full honest-to-god plant stands are marching through the stores and online collections. It’s a look most easily described as organic-modern. It’s softer, more relaxed, more personable, even homely.
Together with a relieving natural presence, plants offer another opportunity to layer, a crucial point in all comfortable room-scapes. Organic, green living things strike an emotional note – even a cactus with 5cm needles, manages will gentle a terrace of books on a shelf. When you’re making up a mood board, plants add effortless texture for a relatively small spend and can be picked up and moved to other, appropriate growing quarters to shake up your ornaments and collections.
Scientific research has proven that botanical additions can effectively remove toxins from the indoor air, and with the tight build regulations placed on new homes, renovation and extensions, it’s worth taking note. Published, peer-reviewed papers from respected agencies including NASA, have demonstrated that airborne toxins including trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde, can be absorbed and mitigated by certain plants and together with modern mechanical ventilation (MVHR) can provide air as clean as that outdoors or potentially even better.
Interestingly, many of species identified as warriors against ‘sick building syndrome’ that can grab VOCs straight out of the air, thrive and photosynthesise household light despite their sub-tropical character (NASA Clean Air Study 1989).
Species include weeping fig, stiff succulents and several drifting lovely ferns, and you can find the breathing-plant guide on many blog sites including johnstowngardencentre.ie.
Last month a new study in league with the Royal Horticultural Society and Reading University revealed that plants can also help to moisturise the skin via their natural transpiration of water back to the air. Offering slightly damp or hairy surfaces on which drifting dust can deposit, they can even keep the house slightly cleaner. If you think someone might benefit from softer skin try peace lilies or trailing ivy planted up with something else in a hanging planter.
Depending on your level of belief, the spiritual hit of plants might guide your choices too. Anjie Cho in her wonderful book, Holistic Spaces (CICO Books) on feng-shui led decorating, recognises plants for both their metaphysical ‘invisible force’ for growth and healing, and visually as a ‘burst of vibrant energy.’ She describes living greenery as part of the home’s zen, included as a ‘wood’ element in this Eastern philosophy.
For professionals working remotely, a plant dedicated to their home office (again, judge the choice to the light levels in the room) will, according to feng shui principals, stoke abundance and inspire inner growth – so you could even make this remark when you gift your plant.
Cho even suggests plants in the bedroom, something we’re not familiar with in general, suggesting “green plant in the recognition area of the bedroom can get you noticed and create inspiration in your life. Flowering plants even more so!”. Cho is a fan of bamboo (everywhere this year). It is closely associated with prosperity om Eastern philosophies, is a superb, elegant choice for almost any home and another NASA favourite.
Bringing a plant into the house or buying one for someone else — the first prompt will certainly be a visual one. However, the character of the plant, its requirements and potential vulnerability in the face of extreme conditions, should steer your choice. This might not be a six-week-old labrador puppy, but let’s be kind. We are stewarding a living thing, and the relationship of person to plant species matters. No one will thank you for an intruding 2m rubber plant or a terrifyingly bright Begonia Rex – scale down to start, concentrating on buying a gorgeous, pert healthy example with perfect foliage that’s easy to tend.
Houseplants are best sourced at a garden centre or through a dedicated supplier. Be guided by the plant labelling and the advice of a seasoned horticulturist on staff in the store. Don’t buy any species in the role of the ‘ultimate survivor’.
Even a desert plant needs care and tucked tightly into a planter, they can be dead for months before being noticed a neglectful owner. Buy them a botanical cushion print instead.