Chic, simple, spooky – new ways with plants
Two trendsetting interior plant designers talk to Alice Vincent about their new guide to living with houseplants – and dabble in decorations for Halloween
After years out in the minimalist wilderness, houseplants are firmly in the midst of a moment. Potted foliage is flourishing in the window displays and around the shelves of our high streets, Pinterest and Instagram, the aspirational photography-based social media platforms, are brimming with artfully displayed interior greenery, and lush, leaf-based botanical prints adorn fabric from high-end interior designers.
The theory is, in design at least, that trends go through a resurgence every 50 years or so. And so it would prove with houseplants, which, in the Sixties and Seventies were all the rage, especially if suspended from a macrame hanger (which millennials now make in metropolitan workshops) or trained to creep around a room divider.
Plant designers Caro Langton, 29, and Rose Ray, 30, are living proof that what goes around, comes around – before transforming it again for a new generation.
Their debut book, House of Plants, is dedicated to Langton’s late grandmother Ann, who, with her husband and a cooperative of people, bought a grand Highgate coach house in 1964. The place was a doer-upper, and Langton’s grandparents lived in the part reserved for the horses, putting a beautiful conservatory on the back, which now acts as Langton and Ray’s office.
It’s here that I meet them. Devil’s ivy and spider plants hang from the ceiling, the desk is flanked by a fishbone cactus and an explorative rhipsalis, and a mischievously large monkey’s tail cactus sits on top. Ikea shelves are home to neatly ordered boxes of air plants and a collection of glass containers of all shapes and sizes.
Langton and Ray met on a fashion design course at Nottingham Trent University, and always joked about forming a business called RoCo. Several years later it happened after
both found themselves craving a job that required their creative skills. A stay in San Francisco illuminated Ray to the potential of modern interior gardening, and she came back inspired to build her own terrariums out of found objects to sell in Broadway Market in Hackney, east London.
“I lived in Sheffield at that point and went to a lot of car boot sales. I started collecting vessels, such as cine lenses, and started planting inside them,” she says. “We got the market stall and started selling them and people were just like: ‘What. Are. These?’ ” RoCo soon moved up the ranks among the stallholders (“I do remember that first week we set up and the guy who runs it was like, ‘Oh, you’re at the wrong market, this isn’t Columbia Road’,” says Langton) and witnessed the untapped enthusiasm for contemporary houseplants blossom before their eyes.
“People were freaking out about the mini-cacti,” says Langton, remembering one of their early successes. RoCo experimented with Ray’s delicate terrariums – which proved popular but nightmarish to transport across the capital, as they would upturn before they reached the market – concrete pots, wall hangers, macrame hangers and himmeli, traditional Nordic decorations that act as the perfect receptacle for air plants. There are how-to guides to create all of them in their book (see box, right).
“We started basically designing things to hold the plants, and then got into plants,” says Langton. It’s not, perhaps, the most conventional way to become plant experts but both extol the virtues of being self-taught when it comes to gardening.
“Because we’re self-taught, [designing] is a natural progression. You’re asking yourself, what’s the next step? It’s a journey. And our customers are going through a similar journey,” says Ray. In short, they are discovering the wonder of houseplants for the first time, just like the urban millennials who buy their products. Because they haven’t seen it all before, RoCo are able to not only be receptive to trends,
‘You’re asking yourself, what’s the next step? It’s a journey’
Living colour: main photo, a monkey’s tail cactus adds ghostly charm to a Halloween setting; Caro Langton and Rose Ray channel the gothic side of greenery