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Breathing Life Into Interiors

Jan. 3, 2018

Of all the planning and careful curation that goes into designing retail, hospitality, and other commercial environments today, a single design element can speak louder than most others: plant life. From succulents lining the register at a small retail shop to a two-story living wall installation in a luxury boutique hotel, plants communicate something about a brand when words fall short.

Companies and designers attuned to global movements surrounding health, wellness, and sustainability have been leaders in bringing plants into public spaces in recent years. The intention behind the use of greenery may vary—creating a sense of freshness, an acknowledgement of environmental friendliness, or a feeling of health and vitality—but the result is always a strong message to all who enter the space. 

trending now
Growers and purveyors of plants and flowers have seen a surge in consumer interest in their products over the last few years. Reinforcing anecdotal evidence, in 2017 the U.K.’s Garden Centre Association reported an 11-percent growth in member sales year-to-date. This increase in the public’s admiration and knowledge of plant life has served to amplify its use in branded environments. 

Interior designers and their commercial clients continue to seek unique, thoughtful approaches to incorporating plants into commercial spaces due to consumers’ affinity for greenery. However, even more so, living decor is being utilized as a method of communicating something central for the brands themselves.

Manufacturers have responded with an array of products, ranging from large self-watering pots to tables with built-in plant centerpieces and precision-manufactured and custom garden walls, all of which provide solutions for spaces—and budgets—both large and small. 

fresh plants, fresh ingredients
As organic food, farm-to-table cooking, and plant-based eating continue to rise in popularity, we see restaurants using creative solutions to “green” their interiors and capitalize on the trends.

At Chicago’s Belly Q, where celebrity chef Bill Kim is known for amplifying Asian-inspired barbecue cuisine using locally farmed ingredients, a lush living panel stands as the restaurant’s centerpiece. Yes, the plants help with noise abatement and provide a great photo opportunity for diners, but they also communicate something about the fresh ingredients on the table that the menu descriptions cannot as effectively capture. 

The same is true for “fast casual,” healthy food chain Lyfe Kitchen, which has locations in California, Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas. An indoor herb garden gives customers a sense of the just-picked freshness of the parsley on the roasted cauliflower flatbread or the cilantro atop the buffalo chicken salad. 

Designing with plants makes a bold statement to restaurant patrons, regardless of the size or location of the space. The updated approach expands upon classic techniques used to exude freshness and signal healthy options, like utilizing shades of green in branded items. 


eco-friendly focus
Sustainable design is no longer an afterthought; it has become the standard as the duty to protect our planet becomes more urgent. Faced with mounting issues—and, in some cases, regulations—around pollution, waste, and climate change, organizations are pinpointing strategies to reduce their carbon footprints while maintaining an impressive design aesthetic that aligns with their respective brands.

However, it isn’t just businesses that are considering ways to be more eco-friendly, of course; many consumers are making it a priority in their personal lives as well by purchasing items that are better for the environment. In fact, the public continues to invest in more “green” products each year. In an international study conducted by Unilever last year, roughly one-third of customers reported that they prefer sustainable brands. 

For example, home improvement store TreeHouse carries green products and offers services that enable homeowners to make their homes healthier and more sustainable. The company utilizes plants in the decor of its retail outlets to convey its mission and values. When shoppers arrive at the Dallas location they encounter a naturally lit, bespoke living wall that sprawls above the entrance. In addition to serving as an incredible grouping of custom design elements, the plants carry a message that TreeHouse is focused on the environment.

healthier hospitals
In collaboration with the design teams behind these spaces, leadership at hospitals across the United States are seeing the benefits of utilizing greenery in their facilities as well, but for an additional purpose. We know that plants communicate freshness and sustainability—attributes that are inherently important to healthcare facilities—but beyond that, they spark a feeling of health and well-being.

Just down the street from Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s state-of-the-art facility includes its fair share of greenery. Patients, employees, and passersby can appreciate the 1,200-square-foot exterior wall garden that comforts and welcomes all who come across it.

Similarly, Lancaster Hospital in Lancaster, Pa., combats the typical stark, institutional feeling that is common within hospitals by splashing lush greenery across its corridors. While the plants there do much of the heavy lifting to freshen the space by purifying the air, they also ignite a feeling of vitality and energy for those who pass through the bright and airy hallways.

The public’s focus on health, wellness, and sustainability is here to stay, and it’s the role of interior designers and brand experts to help companies reflect a commitment to these tenets. Whether functioning as an effective first step in reaching sustainability goals or as the icing on an already health-conscious, sustainably branded cake, plant-infused design makes a clear statement about a brand’s individual message. 

Richard Kincaid is the founder and managing partner of Sagegreenlife, a design and manufacturing company specializing in living garden walls. As a strategic leader with a background in real estate, Kincaid drives the firm's mission of bringing a sense of well-being, purpose, and beauty to commercial and residential spaces across the globe. He is also a principal at Lakeshore Holdings, LLC, and the president and founder of the BeCause Foundation.

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