Add some life to your home, literally, in the form of plants or fresh flowers.

Add some life to your home, literally, in the form of plants or fresh flowers. You can accessorize your home to the hilt with these beneficial—and beautiful—resources. Not only are plants esthetically wonderful accessories for your home, but they bestow wonderful benefits. For example, a NASA study proved that specific houseplants have the ability to purify the air in our homes. Here is a brief list of some of the nasty chemicals a simple houseplant can help remove:

Carbon dioxide: Make sure your home is equipped with a carbon dioxide detector as well!

Formaldehyde: Found in pressed wood products such as cabinetry, plywood, subflooring and some furniture

Benzene: Found in glues, adhesives, cleaning products, paint strippers, tobacco smoke and gasoline

Mercury: Found in latex paint pre-1990, thermometers, thermostats, button-cell batteries and fluorescent lamps

Typical houseplants that do an excellent job of air cleaning include:

Peace lily: One of the few air purifiers that flower, peace lilies grow well with low light and require only weekly watering but are poisonous to pets.

Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue: These grow well with low light; put a couple in your bedroom for a slight oxygen boost while you sleep.

Boston fern: Americans grew to love these botanicals during the Victorian period. This beauty is one of the most effective air purifiers, but it can be a bit tricky to keep alive as it loves water and humidity.

English ivy: It is a pro at removing formaldehyde from synthetic carpet dye.

If you are serious about boasting the air quality in your home, you will need two pots, 10" to 12" in diameter, per 100 square feet in your home. That means a 1,500 square foot home needs 15 to 30 plants. Wow, that is almost jungle level! So, you might just consider placing plants in the areas your family usually occupies.

Plants as Room Dividers

Plants are a great way to divide a room into independent spaces. A common situation in newer homes is what I call the “run-on-room.” This is where one long room is actually meant to be two rooms, but visually it is not. The most common combination is the living room/dining room where the chandelier hangs at one end, serving as the only discerning indicator of two rooms.

Consider staging two large plants (one along each wall) maybe Ficus trees in large generous pots, to visually divide the space and create a visual partition. By doing this you will create an opening into the room between the potted trees. Silk trees have come a very long way in recent years; they are so incredibly convincing that they might be a wise choice. Selecting strong massive pots is what will really establish the divider for your room. Another additional element I like to add is real plants in the same pot and let them surround the silk tree. This offers the health benefit of real plants with the option to change them out with the seasons (for example, potted tulips in the spring). A trompe l’oeil"! In fact, the footbath on the desk shown in the photo is a combination of faux and fresh plants. Can you tell which is which?

The Faux Alternative

If allergies or the lack of a respectable green thumb plague your plant placement ideas, you will need to consider faux (fake) plants and flowers. While you will surrender the health benefits, you will still gain the aesthetic softness and the illusion of life. I suggest that you be very selective with the fabulous fakes you bring into your home. Select plants that require a touch to discern whether they are real or faux! I have placed orchids in client's homes so realistic that they really do deceive you into believing water is required. So, gorgeous, take your time in locating fabulous fakes for you home! You may even need to visit with a florist (may I suggest: Brick Street Floral Company/502 State Street) to find faux plants and flowers that will make you proud to have them be part of your home.

Flowers literally add sunshine to any room. While I prefer that you use the real botanicals God created, issues may arise that make that impossible. If faux is what you need to do for health or convenience, just be sure to make them convincing. I caution you about adding floral bouquets or arrangements that shout “I was created in a factory! I have no fragrance, I don’t need water and my stems have wire in them!” A floral design on your dining room table that uses KU blue roses, for example, is a dead giveaway. Mother Nature did not produce roses in that hue! Search for blossoms that portray a wonderful study in realism. Unfortunately, these beauties usually cost more, but the beauty they will add to any room will be worth the extra money.

Note that manmade posies are usually washable. Remove one petal and test it for color fastness. Once you have confirmed that the color won’t bleed, give them a gentle spritz with the sink sprayer to eliminate the dust and the occasional cobweb, then allow them to air dry and rearrange into a new floral design.

Less is More

My next suggested maybe met with some reservation, so I apologize up front. I do want you to remember that all of my advice should be viewed as suggestions. Your home is your home, and I truly honor that. However, I have to say that loading the tops of kitchen cabinets, high drywall shelves and tall pieces of furniture with silk plants is not desirable. I can’t really pinpoint the start of that design direction, but it might have been the restaurant designs of the 1980s. Back then, walls and decorative shelves were habitually loaded with stuff…all sorts of stuff. The problem is that when you place plants in areas that are 7' to 12' off the floor, you are not fooling anyone into believing they are real—and isn’t that the purpose? You want to convince family and friends that you have an amazing green thumb and that plants brought into your home thrive. Well, nobody in their right mind is going to retrieve a ladder from the garage and climb to those heights and water a plant! Now, gorgeous, you know and I know this isn’t going to happen. None of us are going to do this; I consider myself lucky if the tops of furniture get dusted yearly. (Maybe even consider leaving the tops of the cabinets bare to showcase the architecture of the cabinets.)

A better plan, I believe, is to place faux plants where you would position the real thing—and nowhere else. If you want a beautiful faux rosemary plant in your kitchen, find a fabulous pot and place it on the island or breakfast table, or tuck it into the corner on your kitchen counter. Place small plants in wonderful little teacups, antique china pots, or sleek chrome containers on stacks of books on side tables or in the bookcase. As for plants on the tops of cabinets (if you can’t resist) or on large pieces of furniture, select “containers” that relate to the room. For example, try a collection of antique cookie jars for plants in the kitchen and make the numbers few.

There is no alternative for plants and flowers in your home—nothing! The little lift a bright green plant tucked in just the right location in a room can be so beneficial to the joy of that space. Or the fragrance of a tight little bundle of bright pink carnations placed lovingly next to your kitchen sink in a crystal or cheerfully painted ceramic vase. These are such delightful little rewards you can indulge yourself with, so don’t wait for an occasion for flowers. And, after the carnations are ready to be tossed, clip the blooms off and add them to your spring bowl of potpourri!

I will leave you this week with some funny words from Erma Bombeck!

"Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died!"

See you next week!

Jan Colvin has been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). She accredits her mother Pat Robinson and Lucille Chase for her intense interest and love for design. 

She has taught interior design at the college level and operated her private design business since 2001. Look for her new book soon!

Jan welcomes questions, which will be answered in her columns. Send your questions to: