What to Spec Now

These Are the Houseplants Top Designers Love

From Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s ferns to Christine Gachot’s cyclamen—and countless fiddle figs in between—here are the plants popping up in projects
designer houseplants
Houseplants inside a project by AD100 Nate Berkus. Douglas Friedman

You probably have your favorite designer houseplants, from the perennially popular orchid and maidenhair fern to a more unusual variety perhaps available only locally. AD PRO quizzed some of our favorite designers, finding a range of extraordinary plants making their way into projects—and, perhaps as expected, a high number of fiddle-leaf figs. Designers dished on their favorite sources, too. (If you’re feeling charitable, there are fundraising campaigns currently running to support flower market workers impacted by COVID-19 in New York and San Francisco). Read on to meet your new favorite houseplant.

Charlotte Moss

I buy all of my miniature orchids at Holiday Flowers & Plants on West 28th Street in New York. A small orchid is easy to care for, lasts a long time, will rebloom if you love it, and can be tucked in anywhere. Topiary requires effort, but they pay you back in spades: Myrtle, rosemary, eugenia, and coleus are just a few. In New York, I go to Milton at NY Topiary and in Easthampton, New York, Wittendale’s Florist on Newtown Lane.

Will Massie, McKinnon and Harris

At McKinnon and Harris I have a stunning miniature orange tree that I have had for 45 years. As a child, I tended it on my bedroom windowsill, and later my parents cared for it while I was in college. It’s now happily living in our lounge at McKinnon and Harris, and everyone loves the spa-like smell of the blooms and then the pungent fruit!

I’ve killed more maidenhair ferns than I care to admit. They are very persnickety and fragile, but there’s nothing more beautiful and airy with all of the fresh shades of green. They are like a pointillist painting with all these dots of green. Our mother had maidenhairs all over the house—they make any room feel loved and alive. Suzanne Rheinstein had the most spectacular one I’ve ever seen in the back courtyard of hollyhock in a huge overflowing pot.

Martyn Lawrence Bullard

My favorite houseplant isn’t actually that unusual or exotic. It is, however, the plant that makes me happy. The fern: in various forms—from the big beauty, the ostrich fern, which I always have a pair of in my entry hall sitting in giant Italian ceramic pots that resemble the heads of the ancient king and queen of Sicily and as such look like their giant green hair, to the smaller maidenhair ferns that I love to use to decorate my kitchen and sometimes even dining table, included in dinner tablescapes—creating whimsy and romance. I buy my ferns at Rolling Greens in Los Angeles, where they always have a beautiful and healthy selection.

Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s use of greenery in an outdoor space at Kourtney Kardashian’s home.

Landry Design Group

Brett Beldock, Brett Design

Gardenia plant! Every year at this time I buy a gardenia plant and nurture it for three weeks until Mother’s Day. Gardenias are my mother’s favorite, and subsequently mine too. The flowers open a few at a time and the aroma is delicious. The sweet blooms are a soft white, delightful to have in the house. I source my flowers from Fowler’s in Southampton, New York.

Keith Williams, Nievera Williams Landscape Architecture

My favorite houseplant by far is a ficus lyrata, more commonly known as fiddle-leaf fig. I love this plant because you can easily find it in so many different sizes and shapes; the leaves have a great scale, color and texture to them; it requires very little care; and it has a really great architectural look.

Jeff Andrews, Jeff Andrews Design

My favorite plant is the Dracaena Reflexa, and I have one in my den that I lovingly call my “plantelabra.” My favorite local source is Rolling Greens, located right down the block from my design studio in Los Angeles.

Jeff Andrews calls the Dracaena Reflexa plant in his den, at right, his “plantelabra.”

Grey Crawford

Jeffry Weisman, Fisher Weisman

When I was growing up, my grandmother had a towering fiddle-leaf fig in the glassy entry hall of a midcentury house in the Hollywood Hills, its roots covered with bold chunks of turquoise-hued glass. It was love at first sight for me and remains my favorite tree to use indoors because of the bold scale of the leaves and the incredibly sculptural quality of its structure. Having always thought of fiddle-leaf figs as houseplants, I was stunned to discover massive specimens along the boulevards of Mexico City, where we live part-time. They are stunningly beautiful as well.

Orchids appear in a project by Paloma Contreras.

Kerry Kirk

Paloma Contreras

My favorite houseplants are myrtle topiaries and beautiful orchids. The topiaries require a lot of care, so they’re almost like pets, but they add a cheerful energy to a space. They also have a somewhat architectural quality to them. I also love unusual orchids, especially when potted in a pretty vessel. They add a dose of vibrant color and are so much more interesting than white phalaenopsis orchids. Ironically, both are impossible to get in Houston, so I usually have to special-order them from New York. My favorite source for interesting houseplants and orchids in New York is NY Topiary. Sadly, his showroom had to close due to the restrictions from the government during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is currently shipping orders via email, at nytopiary@yahoo.com.

Meridith Baer, Meridith Baer Home

My favorite houseplant has always been phalaenopsis orchids. They are exotic, elegant, long-lasting, and easy to care for. All they ask for is indirect sunlight and a little bit of water each week. I buy them at farmers markets, the flower mart in downtown Los Angeles, Trader Joe’s, and even Costco!

Vanessa Alexander, Alexander Design

They might be everywhere, but they’re everywhere for a reason: Fiddle leafs are low-maintenance, architectural in shape, and don’t take up much real estate considering the amount of low-key drama they introduce to a space. Otherwise, I like to keep things relatively simple with houseplants and often opt for succulents, ethereal air plants, or clipped branches. My favorite vendor is The Tropics Inc. in Los Angeles.

Jessica Geller, Toledo Geller Interiors

On installation days we bring in all of the furnishings and accessories for the big voilà, but we always make sure to leave time to stop by the local nursery to select some greenery for a special planter. The fiddle-head fig adds a burst of green with a lot of character and just the right height—it livens up any dead corner. We usually run to Sickles Market in Little Silver, New Jersey.

Jessica Geller often sources plants from Sickles Market.

Jacob Snavely

Kathryn Ireland

I love home orchids. They’re great for a center table to create a splash or just as an accent in a bathroom or on any side table. They last a long time, need little water—I just throw in an ice cube a week. I buy mine at Inner Gardens, which has an extraordinary selection of unusual orchids.

Gail Davis, Gail Davis Designs

Monstera is my favorite houseplant. It is easy to maintain with weekly watering. I love how it is shredded. It has perfect fenestration. Valerie, who owns Brave Floral in Maplewood, New Jersey, is a lifesaver. In addition to having a gorgeous shop, she is a knowledgeable and patient plant care coach.

Gail Davis recommends monstera plants from New Jersey florist Brave Floral.

Courtesy of Brave Floral

Margie Grace, Grace Design Associates

Bromeliads—a dramatic cryptanthus variety such as cryptanthus “Absolute Zero,” which I like to underpin with a Tillandsia xerographica and maidenhair ferns, or a single Guzmania Deseo White in a rustic white pot with sphagnum moss—divine! I love the sculptural quality of these plants. Tough as nails and long-lasting too. What’s not to love? I get mine at Terra Sol Garden Center, just north of Santa Barbara, California.

Dahlia Jacob, Dahlias Day Interior Design

The fiddle-leaf fig is my all-time favorite houseplant. As a die-hard fan of anything green, I like the fact that the fiddle leaves are oversized and many times take over a space so organically—[that’s what] makes it my go-to choice. We believe every room should have a warmth factor, and bringing nature inside is the perfect way to accomplish this. Shelly, the owner of Terracotta Flowers in Great Neck, New York, does amazing work. She is a horticulturist who has a special eye and touch when it comes to curating different types of plants and flowers. We have been working with Shelly for many years and use her as our source for bringing the outdoors in.

Erin Gates, Erin Gates Design

In reality, fake ones are what I use a lot. It’s so hard to keep real houseplants alive if the light in your home is less than ideal or you don’t have a green thumb. There are so many great fakes right now that look so realistic. I’d never do fake flowers—I'm not willing to cross that line—but fake trees and plants I can get behind fully! This fake maple tree we found on One Kings Lane, which has some great options. It looked amazing in this space (image below), which is a room that isn’t used a ton by the family, so it’s easy to forget to water a real tree in here. This one is perfect! I have a little fake olive tree from Ballard Designs, and I actually have a real mini olive tree next to my kitchen sink that I’ve managed to keep alive for four years, so you can go either way with this type of plant. They seem to be quite hardy and add such a nice little hint of life to a kitchen.

A fake maple tree sourced on One Kings Lane appears in a living space by Erin Gates.

Michael J. Lee

Kristen Peña, K Interiors

My favorite houseplant is a ficus triangularis. It is definitely more rare than most of the ficus family, and I love it for its rich green color and the slightly rounded triangle leaves. The fullness of the plant adds softness and cozy vibes to any corner of a home. It does require a lot of direct light, though, and is harder to care for than most other ficus plants. Our favorite vendor by far is Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco.

Chad James, Chad James Group

One of my all-time favorite houseplants is the pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli, commonly called Milk Bush). I love that it’s airy with a side of “I don’t care.” It always reminds me that beauty can be found in chaos and not all things have to be structured in life.

Christine Gachot cites cyclamen as a favorite houseplant.

Jackie Tallmadge Gachot

Christine Gachot, Gachot Studios

[Partner] John’s mother always kept a cyclamen on her kitchen table—the upswept petals were as elegant as she was! Becky at Shelter Island Flowers puts them aside for John. They’re long-lasting, charismatic, and remind of us of Irene!

Nina Magon, Contour Interior Design

I love the fiddle-leaf fig because it is a very versatile plant that has scale, can work with a range of styles, and can transform any space that is lacking something with a perfect touch of life. My vendor is Buchanan’s Native Plants.

Liz Caan, Liz Caan & Co.

With its delicate leaves and graceful arms, the Southern maidenhair fern is a houseplant I never tire of. And it’s such a specific, joyful shade of green. They’re a challenge to keep happy, but for me that’s part of their charm.

Gabriela Gargano, Grisoro Designs

The ficus Audrey is my favorite houseplant. The leaves are small and a rich shade of green with bright accents. It’s a bit easier to care for than the fiddle leaf, of the same family, and doesn’t grow as wide, which is helpful for smaller spaces. I typically purchase my plants through Greenery Unlimited, as they offer high quality and low-cost delivery in New York.

Emilie Munroe, Studio Munroe

Rubber plants are our new and improved alternative for clients seeking a fiddle-leaf fig. We adore the thick, glossy leaves and easy maintenance instructions, but our favorite feature is that the Black Knight varietal has deep, plum-black leaves with magenta highlights. Your houseplant coloration simply cannot get more chic and unexpected than that. We purchase all interior trees through our trusted professional landscape team at The Gardenista. Utilizing a landscape designer ensures the highest-quality plant, a polished pot/filler installation, and a resource for questions down the road.

Black Knight rubber plants flank a dining room by designer Emilie Munroe.

Thomas Kuoh