Ever been in a house without a plant? Chances are it's lacking something you can't quite put a finger on. The same goes for a house with too many half-wilted philodendrons or an overload of cheap silk greenery.
Designer Roma Starkey has seen it all. And when it comes to decorating with plants, she knows that it takes just the right touch to enhance a home's decor.
Whether you like fake or real, silk or plastic, dramatic or subtle, plants add warmth to a room like nothing else.
"Plants should have a purpose just like accessories do; they shouldn't just be plopped somewhere," says Starkey, whose Tampa business, RomaRooms, offers interior arrangement. "The rules of height and dimension apply to a plant the same way they apply to a chair. And don't overload every corner or shelf with foliage or florals — it's just too much."
Real or fake?
Starkey frequently advises clients on ways to use plants in their homes but stays in the middle on the question of real vs. fake.
"Real is best if you're going to water and prune and pull off the yellow leaves. If not, then it's best to buy silks," she says.
Plants are a relatively inexpensive way to fill a room that has voids, but don't even think about going cheap, especially with fakes.
"The more expensive the silk plant, the more real it will look," she explains. "A cheap silk plant will cheapen a room a notch."
Kim Levell, a Tampa garden designer who owns Levell Designs and is developing her own television garden and travel show, says her clients often call on her for interior plant arrangement advice.
Levell has a background in horticulture and generally shies away from fake greenery, instead pointing clients in the direction of plants with good indoor longevity, even in poor light.
The kentia palm and the chamaedorea, or "parlor palm."
Both, she says, "are beautiful and do well in low light."
Levell also urges clients to invest in an attractive ceramic or wooden pot that fits well into the existing decor. She prefers one strategically placed large plant or a lushly healthy tabletop philodendron (no matter how common) over lots of little fussy plants, particularly if they're being nursed back to health.
"If you have a plant that's been reduced to one stubby stick and you're trying to bring it back to health, give it up!" she says. "I'm not an advocate of throwing plants away, but you could give it to someone who rehabs plants, someone who would love it and take care of it. We all know someone like that."
Before investing in a plant, Levell advises looking hard at furniture placement and where the light enters a room.
"Don't put the palm in the darkest corner," she says.
A faux fan
Bobbi Alspaugh, the head floral designer at Southern Hospitality in Plant City, a 73,000-square-foot store devoted to furniture, decorating, and craft and floral accessories, says that when done right, faux plants can transform a house from blah to beautiful in a matter of hours.
"When you see a house without greenery and then with greenery, it's really amazing," says Alspaugh, who is also an avid gardener and a fan of real plants as well.
For her clients, she almost exclusively uses the faux variety, fashioning silk greenery into various shapes that she nestles into entertainment centers and onto shelves and plant ledges.
The latest trend in the world of faux plants, she says, are plants made of plastic. It's a material that makes consumers balk "until they touch it," she says. The products are so improved from our grandmothers' era that, yes, they're even soft to the touch. "They're also easier to clean than silk and very durable," she says.
In her own home, Alspaugh likes to combine real plants with faux, but never side by side.
"I never put them together, but I will use the fake in places where I can't use real, like on top of a curio cabinet where I can't have water dripping."
Most experts agree that large rooms with more space to fill need a little extra thought when it comes to placing greenery.
Patty Fletcher, a general manager for seasonal merchandise with Michael's, the chain based in Irving, Texas, advises people with a large or unusual space to fill to consider the new fake trees with trunks that bend.
"You can bend them into whatever shape you want; they're very big right now," Fletcher says.
"When we think of fake trees, we tend to think of ficus, which are fine in a room where you just want a filler. But there are a lot of 'fashion' trees out right now, like the bendable ones, which are great in a big room."
Less is more
Current indoor greenery trends include a variety of faux grass "mats" in sizes ranging from 1 by 1 foot to 4 by 4 inches, Fletcher says.
"They're good for luau and patio parties as a way to bring a greenery element to the table in a really fun way," Fletcher adds.
Ideally, though, when adding plants to your home decor, keep it simple, the experts say.
Well-placed greenery adds a finished look, even a touch of coziness to any home. Too much is, well, a little frowsy.
"Remember," Levell says, "less is more."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.