By Design

So, remember when talking to your plants was a thing? If you do, you can probably picture macrame-sleeved hanging spider plants. That was groovy accessorizing in the '70s.

Guess what? Macrame is back. And so are houseplants.

Under the radar as a design trend, suddenly houseplants -- and the containers for them -- are almost as hot as the sizzling summer hit "Despacito," though we can't vouch that views on retailer websites are anywhere near the 3 billion eyes on the Luis Fonsi YouTube video.

What is significant about this verdant trend is that it's more expansive than before. In past decades, it was large-scale sculptural plants that won over designers, who then were tasked with finding appropriate containers for those palms and fiddle leaf figs that looked good and suited the style of the decor.

Now, smaller plants are garnering attention, and it's as much about the green styles and textures -- from asparagus ferns to newer air and string plants as well as succulents -- that are driving a need for more particular and innovative designs in containers. There's more to it than color, including tapping into current design trends from matte black and geometrics to 3-D and textural surfaces.

Even brands like Tom Dixon have weighed in, in elegant copper and glass containers that can hold flowers or plants.

Like popular planters for the patio or window boxes, there's a range of squares and rectangles as well as round pots. There are trays that usually include at least a trio of pots -- perfect for use as a centerpiece on a dining table. The terrarium also has made a comeback -- and in a variety of new forms that combine glass with wood. Some glass orbs can be suspended from the ceiling chandelier style, staggered and in multiples. At Anthropologie (www.anthropologie.com), there's even a brass and colored glass mobile.

Curiously, Pottery Barn has an entire plant shop that covers all of the trends and targets those without green thumbs. Its message: "Get the houseplant look" -- with faux greens.

One reason for this current resurgence in houseplants is a desire to connect with nature, to bring the outdoors in, in apartments and single-family homes that have little outdoor space. Many want to grow their own herbs and vegetables -- and if they can't do it outside, why not inside? Hydroponics (growing plants without soil), aquaponics (in water), grow lights and special herb pots for the kitchen are cultivating interest.

There are, of course, the health benefits of plants. More than 10 years ago, says Susan McCoy, CEO of the Garden Media Group, a boutique marketing firm that tracks trends in horticulture and gardening, plant folks were preaching about how they clean the air of volatile organic compounds.

"At the time we thought, who is going to know what that is?" says McCoy. Today, VOCs are part of the dialog regarding paints, fabrics and floor coverings.

"A recent study shows that 52 percent of Americans know that houseplants help purify the air," says McCoy. That's good, because studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that levels of indoor air pollution levels can be two to five times (and in some cases 10 times) higher than outdoor air. Some of the best plants to absorb indoor toxins include peace lilies, orchids and ferns.

As mainstream consumers grow food indoors, Garden Media's "Grow 365" report states that "indoor gardening is redefined. Growing clean fresh food is a necessity, not a luxury. "

Indoor gardening stores produced just under $1 billion of revenue in 2015, and the market has grown 8.2 percent.

"People also are seeking plants as a way to find mental wellness," says McCoy. "Plants inside or out help clear the mind, relax, unplug from a 24/7 life. More and more we need to be in touch with nature, find that calm, get centered."

Much of the green style has been coming out of Europe. You can thank Paris-based botanist Patrick Blanc for the living wall. His stunning 40-foot-tall green space on the side of the Quai Branly Museum in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower never disappoints. The vertical garden has been getting a little traction here in the U.S., mostly in commercial spaces, although it's a natural for residential outdoor settings -- especially when space is limited.

Williams-Sonoma was one of the first retailers to introduce a wall-mounted frame with integrated watering capability and a grid for placing a variety of plants. Models have included blackboard, which are super because you can write the names of the herbs in chalk, much like those slate cheese boards on which you can ID varieties of cheese.

Another European transplant is the idea of wall-mounted cubes or bowls, which hang like wall art or light sconces. One intriguing large flat zinc circle at Terrain has an envelope for plants.

The enormous popularity of succulents probably has driven some of the designs. Some of these containers have a textured finish -- an attractive contrast with the smoother succulents. Others are footed, which steps them up from a tabletop. Footed planters for the floor, like the mid-century style containers at West Elm, have a feel more furniture and beautifully suit a modern vibe.

Among the most inventive pieces are those from sculptor Robert Remer. His imagination has sparked everything from sculptural torsos to organic shapes to all-weather tables and chairs, which have pockets for tucking in plants. He sees his work as nature taking root in decoration, rather than "decorating with plants."

"The placement of plants is very deliberate," says Remer. "It's an aesthetic nod to nature."

String or air plants also offer a fresh look. String gardens, popularized by Dutch designer Fedor van der Valk, draw from the Japanese concept of "kokedama," kind of a floating bonsai.

While maintenance of string gardens may require taking down, soaking or misting, the air plant (genus Tillandsia, AKA tilly and tills to aficionados, is more forgiving. Indoors, it requires no soil -- just filtered light, while the humidity from showers in a bath is ideal.

Even on a small scale, a little green goes a long way.

"Nature, with an incredible vista of mountains, valleys, the ocean, has this wonderful scaling quality," says Remer. "There's a similar feeling with a dish with one plant, integrating nature into something manmade."

Sources

-- Atelier 2+ for Greenhouse for Design House Stockholm, www.ateliertwoplus.com

-- CB2, 800-606-6252, www.cb2.com

-- Opiary, 347-674-9744, www.opiary.com

-- Terrain, 877-583-7724, www.shopterrain.com

-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com

-- Williams-Sonoma, 877-812-6235, www.williamssonoma.com

Sidebar

Ready to Grow

Growing your own vegetables and herbs indoors is becoming quite the movement. And along with it come new ideas about how to provide water and light.

Some home builders have begun to install grow lights in kitchens or potting rooms, and it's a natural for kitchen manufacturers to design soffits or "canopies" with LEDs above long shelves that can display potted basil, sage, dill, rosemary.

Several Kickstarter campaigns soon will be enabling products from companies like GrowChef (www.growchef.com), which has an indoor hydroponic system with three-color LED lights that claims to harvest as much as an almost 10-foot-long garden with a daily yield. Another, SproutsiO (www.sprouts.iO), is an app-controlled "Personal Produce" system.

More portable options include lamps that can be assimilated into the decor, an alternative to a bulky standalone. One exquisite example from Czech glass company Brokis (www.brokis.eu) features an elegant rose bowl on a wood stand centered by a lamp that lights the plants that circle it. It's tailored to the needs of specific succulents.

Another category is the mini-greenhouse. Sweden's Design House Stockholm recently teamed with the design group Atelier 2+ to create an architectural piece that looks like a glass house on legs. Its Thai designers felt a need to get closer to nature while living in Sweden, "and to make room inside our dwelling for the nature that surrounds us." Available in ash or charcoal, it makes a fetching architectural statement -- in addition to bringing a lovely mini garden indoors (www.ateliertwoplus.com).

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