by Joelle Steele

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Everything seems so much easier when you break down the interior landscape design process into smaller, more logical components. When you design a space, try taking it step-by-step to help you streamline the process.


- How is a space used? Is the area used to create an image as might be found in a reception area, a conference room, or the president's office? Or is the space utilitarian, such as an employee lunchroom or an accounting department sectioned off with cubicles?

- What is the space like? Is there a lot of room, empty corners, showcase areas, etc.? Are there high ceilings and lots of natural light? Are the only obvious empty spots ones which are used for foot traffic?

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- What about the existing or planned decor? Is it high-tech, oriental, traditional, or just the bare essentials? Are there variations in decor which need to be tied together with a planting theme?


- What does the client like? Do they love a jungle look? Do they want understated elegance? Are they merely seeking to fill empty corners or to make a bold design statement? Do they have a favorite type of plant that they just can't live without? How about their tastes in decorative containers?

- What's in the budget? Is this a "spare no expense" project, a well-thought out business expense, or a "keep it cheap" job? How much do they want to spend on the installation, on the maintenance? Give them ballpark estimates for each based on what they like and negotiate from there.

- What are the priority areas? Do they want the most highly visible areas done as showcase designs? Do they want an even distribution of plants from one department to the next? Do they want to do the job in stages?


- What kind of plants do you specify? If the client likes palms do you go for rhapis and caryota, or stick with something more budget-conscious like seifriziis?

- What kind of containers are appropriate for what the client wants, what will match the decor, and what will suit the plants?

- What kind of staging materials and topdressing will complement the plants and decor: moss, bark, or stone?

- When using plants for topdressing in containers or groundcover in atria, do you go with vines (pothos or cissus) or with easy-to-maintain shrubs (aglaonemas or spaths)?

- How about color rotation? Do mums really go with any decor or should bromeliads or orchids be considered as more suitable alternatives?


- Use formal design plans if the job is large and is not yet built. Hire a landscape architect or a skilled designer to do the drawings and blueprints for you if this is not your field of expertise. Include a materials specification list.

- Use only a plant list if the job is small or a simple re-do. List the plants and materials by area, by department, by individual's names, job titles, or a combination of all four.

- Use both a design plan and a detailed plant list for large projects that are built but not installed or that are being re-done.

If you are overwhelmed by the design process, hire a professional to assist you. It's better to do it right than to risk your reputation trying to do something for which you are unqualified or unsuited.



Cool: Blue (dominant) and all the colors in the green-violet portion of the spectrum. Bluish gray is a cool gray. Cool colors derive from water tones and are perceived as peaceful, serene, and restful. All green plants are cool.

Warm: Red and yellow are dominant. Yellowish or brownish grays are warm grays. Warm colors are derived from the colors of the sun and are associated with aggression, assertiveness, and action. Crotons/codiaeum are warm.

Hue: The actual color identified by its common name such as red, greenish yellow, warm gray, neutral brown, teal, sky blue, etc.

Tone: A term used when referring to chroma, (e.g., bluish, prevailing red), value, (light or dark), saturation or depth, (deep or pale, bright or dull).

Contract colors. These change yearly and from decade to decade. They can "date" a project more quickly than its style. When you see a gray building with maroon trim it was built (or at least painted) in the late 70s, early 80s when those colors were "in." You may still come across buildings in peach and celery colors which originated in the mid-80s. Colors for the 90s were earthy, mineral hues and vivid computer monitor tones and they're still around. The first decade of the 21st century has emphasized a retro palette harking back to color schemes that were popular in the 1970s.


Smooth: A clear, clean, flawless surface. Ceramic cylinders and polished metals are smooth as are the leaves of dracaenas and aroids.

Rough: A surface with a carving or grain. Terra cottas, baskets, and brushed or woven metals are rough. Dracaenas are rough-stemmed and cissus are rough-leaved.

Regular: Refers to the way the texture is achieved, in this case, a fine finish. Plastic, glass, ceramic, and polished stones (for topdressing) usually fall into this category.

Irregular: Implies a roughhewn texture. Aggregate stone containers, willow baskets, sphagnum and Spanish mosses, and bark chips fit this definition.


Linear: Refers to the dominance of line rather than mass in defining form, such as a marginata which is linear versus a ficus tree which is soft. Linear styles include high-tech and southwestern.

Soft: Refers to the dominance of mass rather than line in defining form, such as a chrysanthemum which is soft versus a bromeliad which is linear. Soft styles are predominantly traditional, eclectic, and eastern.


Traditional: Usually means natural materials, rough and irregular textures, and warm colors. Ficus trees, aroids, mums, and most dracaenas are considered traditional.

Eclectic: A casual, hodge-podge style that mixes different styles, colors, and textures found mostly in residential clientele where people with different tastes live together.

High-tech: Predominantly black, white, and gray, with a vivid primary color accent (red, blue, or yellow). Clean, smooth, linear look such as found in marginatas, bromeliads, and ceramic or metal cylinders.

Eastern: Oriental influence of China and the Pacific Rim. Texture is smooth, regular, and often finely patterned. Containers may be urn-shaped with clear blue floral patterns dominating, and highly lacquered Chinese reds and blacks are common. Plants would include aralias, palms, and orchids.

Southwestern: Derives from the desert areas of southwest U.S. Consists of rough, irregular textures, and warm, muted colors. Though cacti and succulents are most characteristic of the look, character marginatas, yuccas, and beaucarneas are acceptable. Containers: terra cotta, of course!

Like clothing styles, building styles and decor come and go and what is popular now may be old hat in a very short time. When designing for clients who are on a tight budget it is important to keep this in mind so that their image does not deteriorate over time, necessitating a costly remodeling.

This article last updated: 11/25/1995.