San Francisco Bay Area designer Leah O’Connell recently tried to create that feeling in her cousin’s Richmond home. “Everything was done with light and garden in mind,” said O’Connell.
While her choices are client-specific, they also reflect larger emerging lifestyle trends: a growing interest in sustainable materials, the return of indoor plants and a renewed fascination with naturalistic collectibles, including taxidermy Stripping.
Of course, most people don’t have the space (or budget) for such a project. But we talked to O’Connell and other designers about how anyone can cultivate this garden experience at home—no green thumb required. Here are their recommendations.
Let Mother Nature shine. “The landscape is part of the home experience: vibrant pinks and whites in spring, green and lush in summer, and then fall colors,” O’Connell said. She chose white paint for most of the house, allowing the views from the many windows to be the star of the show. But she also wanted to use green in a modern way. She installed custom green-grey and white tiles on the floor of the solarium in a bold cubist pattern, and she chose “fresh grass tones” from Fine Paints of Europe (No. S 6020-G10Y) for the library , rather than the more predictable dark green. She painted the glossy finish in that room, adding a lively note. “It’s very sturdy and bright, but because they’re a young family, we wanted something fresh and lacquered,” she said.
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Create new sights. Landscape murals have been popular since the late 17th century, when China began exporting hand-painted paper to Europe, as another way to embrace the theme of landscape. O’Connell chose de Gournay’s early Indian pictorial for the restaurant, where elephants, palm trees and distant mountains lend a romantic and distant feel.
“Landscapes grab your attention and start a conversation,” says Nashville-based interior designer Robin Rains. She also loves the way the images can reflect a place or atmosphere that we find interesting. Because you’ll want as little distraction as possible in the image “to get the full effect,” she says, “be sure to account for doorways and windows” when positioning the scene.
Explore mode. Botanical prints, especially fabric prints, can visually connect the interior of a home with its surroundings. O’Connell placed Schumacher’s fern “Les Fougeres” on a chair in the solarium. Colefax and Fowler’s classic Bowood chintz is in the breakfast nook; there’s also Jasper’s Malmaison-Fontaine in the library, featuring climbing passionflower vines. The floral scent continues in the master bedroom, where O’Connell uses one of her own designs, Cora, named after the homeowner’s daughter. She mixed stripes and solid colors to keep the room from overgrown.
“There should always be an element of surprise, too,” she added. Flick the light switch in the powder room to see Jennifer Shorto’s emerald wallpaper, a kaleidoscopic pattern of bright green scarabs inspired by the paintings of 17th-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. Insects, industrious pollinators, perhaps not getting as much love as some of their garden buddies, are symbols of rebirth in ancient Egypt.
Add some animals. Animal prints, including taxidermy, have a place in interior design. O’Connell brings them into the Richmond space with antique bird prints, snake-frame mirrors and vintage taxidermy pheasants from Creel and Gow.
“taxidermy can be tricky. You either like it or you don’t,” says Los Angeles-based designer Kevin Beer, whose home (adorned with his taxidermy-clad bird) is featured in The New Naturalist , the book highlights collectors interested in this curiosity. But if stuffed animals aren’t for you, Bill says, there are other options. “Flea markets, real estate sales, and antique malls are good sources of cheap treasure, but if you’re lucky enough to own a garden, these are all free: feathers, rocks, seed pods, branches of flowering dogwoods,” he says. “Just get out. Found items are everywhere.” Whether you scatter them around your home or collect them in cupboards or glass domes, as Beer does, they create a personal Stories, representing “what the earth gives you”.
Play with textures. Combining interesting textures, including small surfaces and natural furniture materials, even formal spaces can give a relaxed outdoor feel while recreating the sensory, tactile experience of being in the garden. O’Connell fills the sunroom and living room with old-fashioned rattan, wicker and bamboo, for example, at the West End Antiques Mall in Chairish and Richmond. For the living room, she brought a handcrafted rattan console from Soane that was woven into a fabric that looked like a drape. She also found a faux bois wallpaper from Nobilis with textures for sunrooms and burlap upholstery to give the guest room’s bergère chairs a practical edge.
Don’t forget plants. “Greenery makes you feel good,” says Stephen Bullock, owner of California nursery and showroom Inner Gardens. “The world is a mess right now – there’s a war and we all feel out of control – but the plants are grounding.”
Comparing today’s needs to the botanical boom of the 1970s, Block says they’re the perfect way to add a natural touch. “Just don’t introduce plants that add stress. Consider cost, longevity and ease of maintenance,” he said. “Small plants can be harder because their root systems are fragile, while larger plants can take different care.”
For this Richmond home, O’Connell focused on leafy Boston and Blue Star ferns, as well as umbrellas and orchids, “to echo what’s outside,” she said. “Indoor plants feel less formal than cut flowers, and they don’t have to be turned off all the time,” she said, noting that fresh bouquets are for special occasions.
“Greenery is the main focus here, but it’s also a convenience for customers,” she added. “The house feels just like them: cool and down-to-earth.”
Maile Pingel is a Los Angeles-based writer and former editor of Architectural Digest.