You know how a room can sometimes feel cold? I don’t mean temperature-wise. I mean that feeling when you encounter a home decorated with ultra-contemporary furnishings, sleek finishes and a restrained, neutral color palette. While it looks totally chic and could easily grace the pages of a modern shelter magazine, it can be a bit sterile and unwelcoming in person.
Or have you experienced a space that just feels off?
Something’s missing. All the pieces are in place, maybe even some artwork and accessories, but something about the home feels unfinished. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, you just know there’s something that doesn’t feel complete.
In both cases, the solution is something natural and textural: greenery, antlers, wood, sisal. Something from the earth that connects us with the great outdoors. Forgive me for getting all Mother Nature woo woo here — I’m actually a city girl at heart — but there is something to be said for a little earthy-crunchy goodness to bring a space from the sleek magazine pages back down to earth.
I’ve always been drawn to indoor spaces that feature an impressive potted tree or collection of lush ferns or perfectly imperfect floral trimmings set in a gorgeous vessel. Even in college I was sure to include some sort of greenery in my residential design projects. In fact, my family still teases me about a tree I included in the living room of a loft design. I was a bit generous when adding this feature to my scaled floor plan, and what I had intended to be a modest indoor fiddle-leaf fig tree would have needed an epic custom support system to handle its massive roots and soaring height. I accidentally drew it far too large on the plan, and since this was the era of using permanent ink on Mylar, there was no turning back. Whoops. I’m happy to say that my sense of scale and my knowledge of computer-assisted drafting programs allowing the editing of poorly scaled potted trees has improved greatly since the early 2000s.
Floor plan faux pas aside, I love what plants can do to a home. They bring life — literally — and also their own unique charisma.
When I was living in an uptown studio apartment in Toronto, Canada, I bought a cute little houseplant to add a pop of green. I named him Steve.
If I excelled at keeping plants alive, giving him a name — and therefore a personality — wouldn’t have been an issue. But I’m basically a black thumb, notorious for killing plants either by neglect or by smothering. I grew so attached to sweet Steve that in my attempts to love and care for him I accidentally drowned him with overzealous watering. I’ve also killed a succulent named Erica. Yes, a succulent, those hearty, draught-loving beauties that are nearly impossible to kill. I’m pretty sure I could kill a cactus. Now I’m all about artificial plants. (And I don’t name them anymore.)
If you’re shocked that a designer would recommend fake plants — how tacky! — you might be surprised how far faux flowers and greens have come in recent years. Gone are the days of stiff silk arrangements that reek of grandma’s perfume and a fine layer of settled dust. While the plastic and silk florals available today can’t hold a candle to real perennials, especially when placed side by side, they’re pretty impressive and can often fool the viewer at first glance. And artificial plants won’t face the same fate as poor Steve and Erica.
I’m all about layering textures in interiors, which includes a variety of indoor trees and plants but also animal furs and antlers. A classic white sheepskin is one of my favorite styling secrets. Drape it over an unassuming dining chair to create designer-chic seating, or toss it casually on the floor beside the bed to create an inviting space to land your feet on cold mornings.
In Texas, I suspect most folks are down with the deer hunt and resulting mounts and trophy antlers. I have a gorgeous buck that my husband shot many years ago in Minnesota adorning the walls of my home office. His name is Hector. (I’ve really got a thing for naming inanimate objects.) And while sometimes I’m startled to catch sight of this massive animal unexpectedly, I love the regal form and the soft and elegant texture he brings to our otherwise industrial office space. Hector provides a fantastic juxtaposition against white walls and a cold steel filing cabinet. Plus, he’s a real conversation starter.
Whether it’s a big ol’ deer head or a big ol’ potted plant, an unexpected natural element is essential in any interior. You can have too much of a good thing, though. A zoo or a jungle in your living room isn’t exactly what I’m advocating. The right mix of hard and soft, natural and synthetic, masculine and feminine, is key to creating a home that feels warm, welcoming and complete.