The rise of living walls for home interiors

16:00 18 March 2016

Lancaster Stables, NW3

Lancaster Stables, NW3


Houseplants have a host of benefits, from making homes look good, to making their inhabitants feel better. Isabella Cipirska finds out why some homeowners are taking the trend to extremes.

Lancaster Stables, NW3Lancaster Stables, NW3

You wouldn’t have to look hard to find the odd houseplant in a lot of Hampstead homes, livening up a room with a touch of natural green.

But this unique three-bedroom house in Belsize Park, set on a private cobbled mews, takes the concept of houseplants to a new level. Designer Michael Nathenson has created a property where nature plays a defining role in harmony with the modern features of this characterful house, developed from the original 1890 stable block.

Through the glass atrium that is the major structural feature of this contemporary home, mature trees intertwine like nerves along a spinal cord.

Rising up from the lower ground floor to graze the glass roof, the plants creeping up the wall are visible from any floor of the house, providing a dramatic focal point.

The Albert Street house, NW1, with an internal living wall, designed by Daniel BellThe Albert Street house, NW1, with an internal living wall, designed by Daniel Bell

In the kitchen, an assortment of large, cheerful green plants line the edge of the room, benefitting from the natural light pouring in from the tall windows.

But do these large plants just play an aesthetic role? Designers are starting to recognise the multiple benefits of house plants from beautifying to improving mental and physical health.

Green walls, like the one formed by the tall plants in this property, can significantly improve air quality. According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, certain plants can naturally remove toxic agents from an environment.

English ivy, peace lily and chrysanthemum are just three plants that can reduce levels of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene in the home.

Lancaster Stables, NW3Lancaster Stables, NW3

The cleaner air could leave you feeling more awake and alert. In addition, plants can help to regulate temperature, decreasing the need for humidifiers, and can even absorb noise, making the house quieter.

Isabelle Palmer, who runs West Hampstead gardening company The Balcony Gardener, says: “House plants not only add a great aesthetic to interior decor but also have health and emotional benefits. “Scientific studies have shown that plants can help with temperament, increasing endorphins and creating a calming environment.

“Indoor plants also help improve the quality of air by reducing the level of carbon dioxide in the air, increasing humidity levels within the house, reducing the level of certain pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and benzene in the air and reducing air borne dust levels.

“One of my favourite large plants for easy care is the ficus elastica robusta (rubber plant). It’s like having a small tree indoors with broad shiny attractive leaves.

“This species is an easy plant to care for and can grow well on lower light levels. The worst you can do to it is over-water.”

It is little surprise, then, that other north Londoners are choosing to dedicate large amounts of interior space to plants.

Property owners on Camden’s Albert Street decided to turn a 25 sq m wall in their home into a living wall, with over 2,000 individual plants.

The plants, which have year-round foliage so that the wall stays thick and thriving throughout the seasons, are grown hydroponically with a special system that uses felt and a filter.

They enlisted the help of designer and plantsman Daniel Bell, who has helped to create three other vertical gardens in London and many more elsewhere.

“I think it is becoming very popular,” says Bell about the green wall trend. “I like to think it’s because it brings a smile to your face.”

Bell also expounds on the numerous health benefits, saying: “The effects that plants have in our environment has also been proven to have a very positive effect on our well being.”

One of his latest projects, a room where all four walls are covered in plants, is being studied carefully by a London based engineering company that hopes to document the findings with a view to replicating the idea in large office environments where air quality is particularly poor.

Daniel stresses that there are no conditions for installing a green wall in your home – you really can do it anywhere.

So why not consider swapping a token flowerpot for something more dramatic this summer? You might find yourself feeling more relaxed and clear-headed if you do.

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