Interiors & Design

The Best House Plants for a Stylish—and Healthy—Home

Not only a sophisticated way to bring the outdoors into your home, indoor plants offer great health and environmental benefits, too

As fall ushers in cooler weather and we spend more time inside, it’s natural to crave a taste of the outdoors. Bringing greenery into your interiors, in the form of house plants or even indoor trees, is undoubtedly the best way to do that.

“The energy that a living thing exudes in your home enlivens the atmosphere and personality of your space,” says Los Angeles-based designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who’s worked with the Kardashians, Sir Elton John, Tommy Hilfiger, and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne. “All rooms need life added to them. A plant will always do that, most often with more impact and style than just flowers.”

A huge pot of orchids on an black table in a light filled hallway
Bullard recommends using a mass of orchids in an entrance hall to create a calm, elegant display with real impact, and is also a fan of ostrich or maidenhair ferns for their “whimsy and romance.” Image: Courtesy Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Environmental Impact

Some house plants soak up all the natural light they can get, while others thrive best in shady environments. Whatever you choose, make sure you understand the amount of light your greenery needs when deciding where to put it. “You want your investment to have longevity and stay as healthy-looking as possible, which in turn makes your space look and feel uplifting,” Bullard says.

Wellness design consultant Jamie Gold, author of Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness, and Happiness, recommends talking with a horticulturalist or another plant expert. They’ll be able to advise on what best fits your space and schedule, as well as “a plant’s safety for pets, as some can be toxic to dogs or cats,” Gold says.

Green Choices

Even small touches of greenery throughout the home can make an impact. “I Iike to add a small, planted bush or miniature tree to a coffee table. Or, where there’s space in a bathroom, featuring plants at the side of the tub or next to a shower creates a sense of calm and well-being,” Bullard says.

A loft bathroom with large window and shelves with plants
Floating shelves are the perfect place to add plants as accent details in your bathroom, creating an indoor living wall that echoes the outdoors. Opt for ficus or monstera plants, which are happiest in humid places. Image: Getty Images

And, he adds, designing with several of the same plant species can also make a stylish impact. “When planted en masse, orchids, timeless in their beauty, make the most magnificent, serene display, adding an instant calming effect that’s bold enough to create a great design aesthetic.”

A plant exudes energy in your home and enlivens the atmosphere and personality of your space—Martyn Lawrence Bullard

If you travel often or don’t have a green thumb, Gold suggests incorporating peace lilies, pothos (also known as devil’s ivy), and snake plants into your decor. “Peace lilies and snake plants are considered high value for indoor air-quality improvements,” she says, pointing out that they absorb toxins such as carbon dioxide and formaldehyde. Some designers recommend placing snake plants in bedrooms, as they release oxygen at night, helping you breathe easier.

There are other tangible benefits to adding house plants to your decor, some of the best being their impact on well-being. “When you see a plant thriving and unfurling new growth, there’s a happiness you feel,” says plant guru and stylist Hilton Carter, who’s written several books about designing with greenery, including Wild Interiors and Wild Creations.

A home office filled with house plants and large vintage rugs
If you’re going all out on house plants, Carter recommends going big on decor too, with statement artworks or vintage furniture and rugs that can hold their own in a greenery-filled room. Image: Courtesy Hilton Carter

“We speak of the importance of wellness a lot and I think people feel that when they care for plants,” Carter continues. “They give you this ability to shut out the outside world and see yourself as a nurturing being.”

Tree’s Company

It’s not just plants that can brighten up a space. “The presence that a beautiful indoor tree adds to a room is incomparable,” Bullard says. “I personally love the fiddle-leaf fig—its architectural quality always prevails and adds such beauty.”

For a lofty room, he believes nothing adds drama better than a sculptural tree. “When placed in the right corner of a room, a palm or ficus, for instance, immediately lifts the energy and leaves the space feeling alive.”

Carter suggests selecting a statement plant or tree that contributes to your home’s overall aesthetic. “Three very popular plants right now are the variegated rubber tree, the audrey ficus, and the ficus alii,” he says. “They’re great to put in corners but also to create canopies over tables and sofas and set the mood of an oasis.” The audrey ficus is ideal in minimalist homes. “Its trunk is an off-white color instead of dark brown,” he says, helping it fit into modern color schemes.

Herbs growing within a kitchen island
Herbs are great for garnishing dishes, seasoning food, and simply brightening up a space—and, says Gold, many upscale kitchen manufacturers are now incorporating live plant features into their cabinetry and islands. Image: Courtesy Jamie Gold

If you’re looking for house plants that work best in a smaller space, Gold recommends going for greenery—such as salad greens, herbs, and miniature vegetables—which provide nutritional benefits, too. These can be incorporated into a healthy kitchen design, something Bullard did in his own home. “I love adding potted herbs to my kitchen,” he says. “Rosemary, basil, and mint are all beautiful in their living forms when displayed on a countertop or island, and are also fragrant and lusciously colored.”

Designer Plants

For indoor plants that truly pop, look for those with “exciting” foliage, says Carter. “Designer plants set off a room in that they can match your color palette and fit with the texture of your walls or wallpaper,” he says. Polka dot begonias, for example, have beautiful patterns in their foliage, while “stromanthe triostar has almost an abstract painting quality to it—a mix of greens, creams, and pinks in a single leaf. The ficus triangularis also has great color, and I love incorporating Australian tree ferns with delicate foliage into my kitchen island. They transport me to the North Pacific.”

Keep in mind that to maximize the air-purifying and other health benefits of plants, you’ll need to bring several into your home at once. “The appeal of indoor greenery is the passion for nature,” Bullard points out. So, as he says, let it grow.

Banner image: A living wall created with propagating cut-offs by Hilton Carter. Image: Courtesy Hilton Carter