Decorating with houseplants brings beauty and health benefits indoors

Atlanta plant experts are the best place to start for houseplant interior design advice.
The most important part of decorating with houseplants says Libby Hockenberry, co-owner with husband Cary Smith of The Victorian Atlanta in Old Fourth Ward and East Atlanta Village, is making sure they have adequate light for the plant type. Courtesy of Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

The most important part of decorating with houseplants says Libby Hockenberry, co-owner with husband Cary Smith of The Victorian Atlanta in Old Fourth Ward and East Atlanta Village, is making sure they have adequate light for the plant type. Courtesy of Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

Houseplants have a measurable impact on our health and quality of life. Numerous studies have found that houseplants can remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air, especially critical for urban dwellers who spend 80-90% of their time indoors. A 2023 Time magazine story notes that being around plants can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and that hospital patients can have better clinical outcomes when they have a view of trees or plants during their recovery.

But that’s not the only thing plants do. They can also add beauty and interest to our interior design said Libby Hockenberry, co-owner with her husband Cary Smith, of the East Atlanta Village and Old Fourth Ward plant shops, the Victorian Atlanta, where designing with houseplants is a growing side of their business.

The first step in decorating with houseplants, said Hockenberry, is paying attention to the light needs of the plant itself. “I find that when I go into people’s homes, they always want to place a plant in a corner. Because aesthetically, they feel like that makes the most sense,” said Hockenberry. But that approach fails to take into account the light needs of the plant.

Libby Hockenberry and Cary Smith are the owners of two locations of the plant shop the Victorian Atlanta and knowledgeable about how to decorate with houseplants and choose the perfect plant for your needs. Courtesy of Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

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Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Also critical, said Hockenberry, is being realistic about the type of plant you are buying and its care needs.

“Know if you are a low- or high-maintenance plant person,” advised Hockenberry. “I think a lot of times folks navigate towards things they see on Instagram, but they don’t really take into account if it’s a high-maintenance plant or not or if they know how to care for it.”

“Learn about the plants you own and where they come from and it will help you understand how to care for them better,” she said.

Libby Hockenberry recommends grouping plants of varying heights and shapes but keeping things consistent by choosing a simple color palette, like terracotta, for pottery. Courtesy of Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

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Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

If you are interested in designing with houseplants but not sure about your ability to keep them alive, Dan Belman, co-owner with Randy Korando of the 29-year-old Buckhead shop Boxwoods Gardens and Gifts, offers indoor plant compositions that bring together a variety of plant material, colors and textures in one pot.

And while it may sound counterintuitive to use what Belman calls “permanent botanicals” (aka faux plants) in home decor, they are a great option for areas of your home that get less light or for vacation homes. Many people even mix in faux plants with real ones, said Belman.

“So if you’re doing something on a high bookshelf or on top of an armoire or something like that, a lot of times it’s better to use the permanent botanical. You don’t have to worry about watering it and it lasts for years. I like to tell people ‘No muss, no fuss, just dust.’” Belman recommends using a blow dryer to knock dust off faux plants.

Hockenberry also recommends “setting yourself up for success” by repotting plants in high-quality soil in pots with a drainage hole and saucer.

Varying plant form and texture is key for successfully decorating with houseplants. Courtesy of Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

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Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Here are more decorating with plants tips from the Victorian Atlanta and Boxwoods:

Add drama with these plants

Hockenberry is a big fan of variegated monsteras, monstera “Thai Constellation,” dracaena, rubber trees, Calathea ornata, Euphorbia lactea ‘White Ghost’ and ficus ‘Audrey.’ Belman loves the lacy foliage of maidenhair ferns and thinks people are too intimidated by orchids, which are beautiful, dramatic and architecturally interesting and can last for years. Just give them the proper amount of indirect light and avoid overwatering them. Water them “once a week to once every 10 days, just a very little bit of water and leave it alone,” advised Belman.

Protect plants from drafts

Buy diverters for your heating and air conditioning ducts that keep hot or cold air from blowing directly onto your plants.

Focus on a color palette for pottery

“I think sometimes when you have a lot of plants, like in our home, I try to keep it simple,” said Hockenberry. “I have a lot of terracotta so that it doesn’t look … like 50,000 different types of planters.” Belman is a big fan of basalt clay pottery which has a neutral, natural look.

The beauty of decorating with houseplants is their versatility. They can displayed in groups, as singular, dramatic focal points and installed on the floor, on furniture and also hung from the ceiling for even more design options.
Courtesy of Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

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Credit: Daniel Stabler/The Victorian Atlanta

Buy from plant experts

Specialty shops like Boxwoods or the Victorian Atlanta are staffed with people who know everything you will need to know about caring for your houseplants. They are a far better resource, especially for beginners, than big box stores where you aren’t likely to get specialized advice.

Consider balance when grouping plants

But, cautioned Hockenberry, “it’s also important when you’re doing that…you want something taller next to something bushier and something that nests really well, but doesn’t compete with each other.” Hanging plants is a great way to take advantage of limited space, said Hockenberry.

Protect furniture

Hockenberry likes to use cork surface protectors to keep moisture off of furniture or floors. Belman recommends lining pots with plastic (even a black plastic bag will work) and using stones at the base of the plastic for drainage. Water plants at the sink if you can.

When decorating with houseplants, vary plants with different heights, volume and texture.

Credit: Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

icon to expand image

Credit: Cary Smith/The Victorian Atlanta

Help your plants thrive with outdoor time

“I always encourage folks to utilize their outdoor spaces during the warmer months of the year. I put a ton of my plants outside on our porches and let them really flourish out there. And then when I bring them inside in the wintertime, it’s like a fun way to decorate our home,” said Hockenberry.

Use outdoor plants indoors

Belman recommends topiaried azaleas or hydrangeas for a little bit of color indoors and then planting them outdoors in your yard when the weather warms up to get the most use out of your houseplants

Pay attention to the details

Don’t just stake your orchid with the utilitarian stick it comes with. Belman recommends replacing it with something more aesthetic like a beautiful branch. Another pretty touch is to add mood moss to the top of potting soil to finish off interior house plants.

Protect your pets and children

Many houseplants like lilies, philodendron and aloe are toxic to pets and children, so make sure those are kept well out of reach.

Felicia Feaster is a longtime lifestyle and design editor who spent 11 years covering gardening, interior design, trends and wellness for HGTV.com. Felicia is a contributor to MarthaStewart.com and has been interviewed as a design expert by The New York Times, Forbes and the Associated Press.

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