For their new 240-page coffee table book, Greenterior, writer Magali Elali and photographer Bart Kiggen visited the homes of 18 plant-obsessed creatives to discuss the role of plants in their lives, which ranges from a need to reconnect with nature to a form of self-expression. In one chapter, model and artist Ana Kras (who The New York Times named the “New York design star of the moment”) tends to a Boston fern atop her wooden dining-room table. “Houseplants reflect how you feel as a person because they are completely dependent on you,” she muses. In another chapter, painter Piet Raemdonck sits in his home—a former diamond-polishing factory now veiled in wisteria—next to a glorious Philodendron with waxy, heart-shaped leaves. “Every time new plants arrive, I have to find a balance,” the artist explains. “The composition has to be right.”
Magali and Bart hit upon the idea for Greenteriors while interviewing people for their successful interior-design blog Coffeeklatch. “We are obsessed with greenery, so during our chats, we always ended up talking about plants and sometimes we even swapped plant cuttings,” Magali explains. “Writing a book about creatives and their love for plants made sense to us.” Magali and Bart’s own home—a spacious townhouse in Antwerp, Belgium—integrates modern sensibility with European functionalism (think Sergio Rodrigues and Dieter Rams), and features cream-colored walls, vintage furniture and a horde of exotic plants. “We have plants and flowers in every room and every corner,” Magali says in the following interview. “It’s an obsession with no boundaries.”
When did your infatuation with plants begin?
My grandparents had a hair salon, and they always had a big vase with an opulent bouquet of flowers on the counter. I didn’t like them back then, but what do you like when you are a kid? I remember my mom not only adopting animals, but also plants that the neighbors didn’t want. Our home and garden were a jungle. Wildlife was everywhere.
Why do you think so many creative people are making their own indoor gardens or jungles? Is it a way to reconnect with nature?
It sure is. People love plants for the way they look. Plants are magnificent, so diverse and an interesting study object. Moreover, people view taking care of plants as a therapeutic experience and a gratifying hobby. The more attention you show them, the more they grow. So basically, when you are good to your plants, your plants are good to you.
What home in the book would you most want to live in and why? I would definitely choose the home of Nicky Zwaan, with its impeccable design and giant rubber tree…
The home of garden architects Bart & Pieter, without a doubt. Their home looks like a big greenhouse. It is filled with light and plants, and it is located in the middle of the city. I also like their bohemian and worldly aesthetic and their ability to build whatever they want.
I love that you included a plant index in the back of the book. In your experience, what plant is the most popular among creatives?
Ficus elastica is very popular right now. It’s easy to grow. It becomes big, and it looks spectacular. We also spotted Strelitzia and Philodendrons many times. They look exotic and have big leaves. In fact, when grown indoors, they look like big trees. These plants are an easy way to implement a lot of green in your home.
What plants do you keep in your home? You mentioned that you received plant cuttings from some of the people you interviewed…
We have plants and flowers in every room and every corner. I spend so much money on them. I always come home with new species. It’s an obsession with no boundaries. I prefer big exotic sorts, such as Philodendrons, Strelitzias, Ficus, Yucca, cacti and succulents. And we also buy fresh flowers every week, since we have a weekly column about greenery and flowers in the Belgian daily De Morgen. I have received many plant cuttings, of which most have grown into big trees, such as a Begonia Corallina de Lucerna that I got from Piet Raemdonck—it’s almost 7-feet tall now.
What is your best advice when designing or decorating a home?
A home comes to life by adding plants and flowers. Buy the ones you like. Go bold and wild. Ask the name of the plant, look it up on the internet, and don’t worry too much about it. Change its location if it’s not doing well, and don’t overwater it.
What’s next for you and Bart?
The Floralies in Ghent is a big plant and flower festival in Belgium. They asked us to curate a program, for which we are merging the floral industry with art, gastronomy and design. We’ve got a plant-swap planned, botanical dinners and so on. We can’t wait for it to start.