Going green is no longer a trend. It’s mainstream. We have walked through the door to environmental consciousness and no one is turning back. Our collective conscience is to incorporate green materials, conserve energy and live both wisely and well. In fact, for informed homeowners it has become a passion permeating all facets of living in and furnishing our interiors. We now want up-to-date looks and current trends that are in harmony with sustainable building and wholesome living.
Today’s consumers, in fact, are now savvy eco-conscious homeowners who are seeking products needed to live in healthy, nurturing homes.
In addition to saving energy and living with the biorhythms of the sun and seasons, many eco-conscious residential clients are, logically, focusing on garden themes to furnish their personal spaces. Garden themes are highly diverse and can be approached in three ways:
2. Opening the indoors to the natural garden space outside so that the exterior garden is a visual extension of the indoors
3. Combining both: exterior garden spaces with a complementary theme indoors.
Gardens are sensory experiences: delightful colors and textures to view and touch; whiffs of fragrances that delight and stimulate the retrieval of pleasant memories; peaceful sounds of water, the soft rustling of foliage from gentle breezes, chirping birds and humming bees all contribute to emotional peace and soulful harmony with nature. Even the feel of the air, whether humid or dry, is a culminating garden experience. The garden is a place we go to heal, to unwind, to refresh ourselves and to tend the earth, which in turn tends to our emotional renewal.
Indoors, a garden fragrance may be provided by the natural air or from incense diffusers, potpourri, wall-plug fragrance-emitting devices or candles burned or placed on candle warmers. Natural sounds may be accomplished with myriad indoor water features from tiny tabletop to wall-sized waterfalls, or from a compact disc of water sounds perhaps combined with music peacefully transporting one to a beach, a waterfall, a trickling stream, or a rushing river. Sometimes, gardens and water mix in the sound of a passing shower or thunderstorm. Together, the sounds are engineered to reduce the stress and worry of the work-a-day world.
Garden themes are as varied as the Earth’s landscape. Selecting a garden theme for an interior space for a client may take some consideration of the site, climate or location of the home itself. Or you may consider the past or future, even wishful, travels of the homeowners. There may be a special interest expressed in a particular geography or style or an involvement in horticulture. A certain, personally delightful color palette may form the inspiration, which can be established in the selection of flooring, patterned textiles, wall coverings and furnishings. Whatever the source of inspiration, a garden theme is ideal for creating unforgettable, alluring interior spaces where peace and renewal can be found.
To help create the right atmosphere for your client, here are some well-loved types of gardens with a selection of colors, textures and furnishings considerations:
• Tropical, Jungle Gardens. These represent the richest and most diverse regions on our planet and are also the most popular of garden themes today. Incorporate large-scale plants for room corners, waterfall accent features and densely designed textiles. Focus on fabulous jungle-inspired textile designs such as palm fronds, large-scale tropical foliage, overlapping leaf motifs, exotic birds and flowers. Colors are earthy browns and deep lush greens with splashes of brilliant color.
Wood, bamboo or other slatted blinds at the window will tame strong sunshine and let it enter in muted shades. Semi-sheer fabrics draped or swagged over wood, faux wood or wrought iron hardware might evoke mosquito netting, especially if used as a tieback, asymmetrical treatment over the shades. Top treatments of matching or companion fabric and side panel draperies or vertical louvers are good choices.
Wicker furniture, in white, natural or stained brown, will be at home in a tropical setting, as will teak and mahogany. Hard flooring is an appropriate choice in wood, tile, stone left bare or overlaid with mats or natural fiber rugs. Earthy accessories in natural materials such as basketry, wrought iron, wood and other primitive textures will complete the look.
When presenting the design use mood adjectives right for a tropical interior: adventurous, challenging mysterious, exotic, far-away, lush, deep, camouflaged.
• Desert or Xeriscape Gardens. These are a close second in contemporary popularity. They are settings with a few strategically placed and strangely shaped cacti or succulent plants, watered via tube irrigation, all placed on gravel, stone or rustic stone or brick settings.
Inside, spaces are spare, but very tactile. Leather and woven textures are best for upholstery. Hard flooring with area rugs (choices are limitless, but may be ethnic or Navajo, for example) make the interior hard but not without a touch of human softness. Sculptural shapes are seen in stone tables, abstract forms of desert potted plants, large-scale artwork and modern or ethnic accessories—not just from the American Southwest, but from the client’s travels around the globe.
Window treatments must stack back to expose the sun and the view. This selection includes the gamut of hard and textile shades and blinds, both horizontal and vertical. Top treatments may also be appropriate depending on the level of desired visual comfort, needed relief from hard materials, and the need to connect spaces visually.
Mood adjectives for your presentation of a desert-like interior include: Spare, uncluttered, sculptural, sun-baked, earthy, dry, protected, elemental.
• English Country (and Victorian) Gardens. These are perennial favorites, having never really gone out of style since the days of Queen Anne in the early Georgian era (c. 1695-1750). The English Victorian gardens became a hallmark of taste during the 19th century and continue to be a nostalgic and romantic look today.
The English garden theme is based on a profusion of perennial, annual, tuber and bulb flowers in overflowing profusion, and is often associated with summer months. The gazebo or park grandstand structure is associated with Victorian garden themes, too, along with white wicker/rattan or wrought iron garden furniture in either white or black. The gazebo or big front porch where tea is taken atop elegant cut-lace tablecloths gives a distinct impression of refinement and loveliness.
The cut flowers of an English or Victorian garden are brought indoors and placed strategically to be enjoyed and replaced regularly with more fresh-cut garden flowers from roses to peonies and azaleas, from sweet peas to hydrangeas and delphinium. The list is practically endless. Flowers in fabrics are sought-after, and the application of refined textiles such as damask or sateen fabrics is generous. From draperies to slip covers to lampshades to tablecloths to pillows and accessories, fabric is queen.
Carpet or handsome Oriental or European rugs go underfoot, and in more formal rooms. Use classic traditional furniture in eclectic settings. Refined woods may be used with elegant accessories such as crystal, fine leather books and brass lamps. This look can be either highbrow and rich, or more picnic-in-the-garden lovely.
At the window use blinds, shades, shutters or privacy sheers overlaid with straight or tied-back draperies and fabric top treatments such as swags and cascades. Color schemes will be based on the floral fabric selection, even if the patterned fabric is a small accent pillow with plain or textured fabrics in other applications.
English gardens always included rose gardens outside and extensively large glass conservatories where everything from table vegetables to oranges, orchids and exotic specimens are grown. They often include walkways, water features, statuary, artistic teak garden seating and tables. Arches laden with climbing roses or clematis frame picturesque vistas into enchanting spaces.
Adjectives to use to describe an English or Victorian garden include: lovely, precious, delicate, delightful, romantic, endearing, nostalgic.
• Formal French and Italian Gardens. These are close cousins to the English garden, but are far more controlled, disciplined and articulately planned. Sometimes French gardens are referred to as parterre de broderie, or embroidery of the earth because the colorful planted (sometimes raised) beds, when viewed from above, seem to become tapestry-like embroidery.
Brick and stone pilastered (attached-column) architectral accent walls and brick or pavement walkways are of critical importance in this theme along with landscape details including statuary, stone seats, water features and pergolas (slatted ceilings supported by columns), which permit dappled shade and a private place to rest from full sun.
Italian gardens are planned as more straight-course rectilinear pathways, handed down from landscape plans of ancient Persian walled gardens. Thus a feeling of seclusion and protection against the outside world is felt in Italian and also in French gardens. Shrubbery may form long walls, either short in height or as mazes (also popular in England), and may be sculpted into topiary or shapes. A touch of humor is seen in animal topiary.
Interior furnishings may be similar to the English theme, but with more formality.
Adjective descriptions to use for formal French and Italian gardens include: seclusion, discipline, control, refinement, elegance, restful, enchanting, historic, significant.
• Japanese Gardens. These gardens have long captured the imagination of Western culture. Based on the theory that all the world can be created in a single garden, large rocks become symbolic of mountain ranges, stone-lined seasonally wet/dry creek beds the great rivers of the world, and bonsai (miniature) shrubbery symbolize great forests. Old-appearing, bent shapes of the bonsai represent reverence for the wisdom of the aged and to imbue long life upon the viewer.
Each element is a picture of perfection in the Japanese garden, where all elements complement and are beautiful as seen against all other elements.
Exact planning of gravel beds actually creates naturalness, as though each stone had fallen into place. In truth, much careful planning went into the execution of these Zen-like spaces. No planted flowers are a part of an authentic Japanese garden. Rather, when the seasons change, the natural colors of deciduous plants lend orange tones; the winter scenes become black-and-white sculptural wonderlands.
Sometimes gardens are not to be trod upon, but viewed from a seated position such as a bench or the engawa, or an overhead-sheltered porch of a traditionally designed Japanese home. Gardens that permit wandering utilize grass and stepping stones placed as asymmetrical, meandering footsteps giving both the illusion of greater space and the intrigue of wondering what is around the corner. Stone lanterns, or ishidori, adorn pathways or are garden accent features. Perhaps the most beloved feature is the Japanese footbridge, arched and elevated over a streambed.
Window treatments include shoji and fusuma screens (light-diffusing rice-paper wood-framed screens), semi-sheer shades and shadings. The tokonoma is a narrow closet sparsely decorated with a hanging scroll and ikebana, or Japanese flower arrangement. Tatami mats of woven grasses, edged with black (silk) fabric are laid in three- by six-foot modules—contemporary applications might be a natural fiber rug. Seating is low (maybe not zabuton or square, floor pillows) and the sense is humble, simple, uncomplicated, yet artistically sensitive.
Japanese garden adjectives to use in a presentation include: peaceful, serene, symbolic, significant, elegant, refined, controlled, less-is-more, unified.
• Water Gardens, Sunken or Raised Gardens. These are places of sweet retreat. From a corner of a room or yard to a commanding presence, these gardens feature ponds, waterfalls and the hydrating benefits of moisture-infused air and the pleasing sounds of moving water. Water plants include water lilies and a host of hydroponic plants. Often koi, a Japanese fish, are placed in ponds to check undesirable algae growth and keep the water cleaner. Stones such as river boulders or large, rugged mountain accent rock also feature prominently.
Water is rarely a singular element, as architecturally prominent beds (lower than walkway level or raised to a low seat level) are filled with seasonal plantings. These also are used to create wonderful spaces inside, creating a greenhouse or conservatory-like space.
These garden settings can be accomplished on a small-scale in a single room or even in the corner of a room on a tabletop. Adding water and potted plants to any space, then carrying the theme to furnishings will create its own small retreat, both welcomed and healing.
Adjectives for to use for designs with water features and sunken or raised garden environments include: artistic, earth-connected, refreshing, soothing, decompressing.
• Seasonal Gardens, Outdoor Gardens. These are perhaps the most generally well loved among garden themes. Next to family history, gardening is the No. 1 American hobby. Family gardens feature flowerbeds lovingly planted by the homeowners with spring, summer, fall and even winter plantings. (Of course, some will hire out this work, along with professional landscaping and maintenance.)Vegetable gardening, fruit tree or cane gardening may also be a seasonal theme.
The garden of a homeowner may be in view through glass doors or windows. It is often a beloved space, private and precious and a source of pride through the labor of love. It may also include outdoor living spaces such as tables and chairs, lounges, hanging swings, garden seating, tables for outdoor dining and space for outdoor grilling, perhaps a covered patio and enclosed area containing a flat screen television and an outdoor kitchen complete with electricity and a refrigerator. Outdoor gardens may include spas and swimming pools and designated specialty areas such as children’s play areas or sport courts.
Seasonal gardens make excellent indoor themes. A spring theme includes bright, clean clear colors, lots of white and natural materials. A summer theme is soft, refined and muted or, conversely, can feature a riot of colors. Autumn themes suggest harvest in colors deeply rooted in orange, brown and gold hues with wood and stone elements. Vegetable gardens feature motifs such as botanicals, garden implements (tools) and pots.
Adjectives to use in presenting Seasonal and Outdoor gardens include: family, privacy, home-grown, harvest, welcoming (of the season), lovingly tended, earth-connected, revitalizing, hands-on.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.