Forget Flowers! This Is the Smartest, Trendiest, and Cheapest Centerpiece for Your Dining or Living Room Table

updated Mar 19, 2021
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I don’t know about you, but my love for plants knows no bounds, and naturally, I’m constantly scheming new ways to incorporate them into my home. From plant shelves to ivy-covered walls, it’s all been done. So if you’re looking for a fresh approach (or maybe just an excuse to splurge on new greenery), how about using a sizable plant as a centerpiece instead of a floral arrangement?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s nothing revolutionary or wildly innovative about this. Greenery has long served as a decorative accent for entry consoles, shelves, and windowsills, but there’s something to be said for a dramatic potted plant that can double as a focal point of a coffee table or dining room. Just practically speaking, the idea of constantly going out and buying fresh flowers may seem great in theory, but it’s not always viable. “Everyone loves a fresh-cut bouquet, but purchasing new blooms every week can add up and become quite costly,” says designer Tiffany Leigh. “If you want the feeling that fresh flowers bring, a potted plant can be the way to go while saving you a lot of money!”

With that in mind, I turned to a few more designer friends to get the scoop on the plants worthy of a spot on your tabletops year-round. I also asked for their best tips on giving your greenery an extra touch of drama as a centerpiece, too, and here’s what they had to say.

Play with scale

Scale is an important part of interior design. The dimensions of a decorative element are just as important as its style, color, and material makeup, and all of this applies to plants as centerpieces, too. Think of it as the Goldilocks effect. Go too big, and you risk your display overshadowing or clashing with its surroundings. Think too small, and your plant will instantly get swallowed up and lost in the mix. Find the middle ground by looking to the pieces that neighbor your plant, and use them as a marker for size and scale. 

In general, a more minimalist scheme with a reserved color palette and a limited number of decor pieces around it calls for a larger-than-usual green guy with oversized leaves, such as a monstera or a Chinese Money Plant. The lush and show-stopping “Swiss cheese” plant, as seen here on Leaf Supply co-founder Sophia Kaplan’s dining room table, is a prime example of just how impactful this small detail can be. If you’ve got a lot going on around your plant centerpiece, you can probably go smaller; just make sure the plant is the largest thing in your tableau or vignette. Otherwise, it won’t read as the central item or focal point in your setup.

Credit: The Sill

Let it trail

There’s something so effortlessly cool about a plant trailing down the center of a table. Invite that sense of movement onto your tabletop setup by opting for greens with growing vines. With its subtly patterned leaves, a satin pothos, like the one pictured in this light-filled living room from The Sill above, is an evergreen climbing plant that will evoke a dramatic finish. Take things to the next level by filtering in various objects — think candle holders, decorative vessels, matching strikers — and loosely weaving the leafy vines around them.

Approach the plant with an artful lens

Interior designer Sarah Sherman Samuel tends to gravitate towards sculptural greens in lieu of colorful floral arrangements and thinks of them as a go-to in both personal and professional settings. “Not only do they last longer, but it’s also a much easier way to bring in some nature,” she says. “There is no need to arrange or fuss about placement; they just grow and do their thing.” A low-effort centerpiece that’s highly impactful? The concept is pretty hard to resist. 

Samuel recommends opting for a tractor seat plant (aka a leopard plant) or Pilea peperomioides (a Chinese Money Plant) and pairing them with similarly sculptural, earthenware vessels to give the greens a centerpiece-worthy base.

Choose the vessel carefully

When it comes to using a potted plant as a centerpiece, Leigh recommends a departure from the traditional terracotta planters while still being mindful of important features. “While you can find a lot of beautiful planters, pay attention to drainage, since most plants require this and not all containers have it,” she adds. If you happen to be set on one that doesn’t come with a hole, Leigh suggests compensating for it by placing a liner with appropriate drainage inside of your decorative pot. “We love European-inspired vessels that come in urn shapes with interesting handles and matte, antiqued finishes,” the pro adds. You could also drill a hole in a pot if you have the correct tool for its material.

If you’re up for a little more involved of a DIY, Leigh proposes artificially “aging” terracotta pots to look antique by applying plain yogurt to their outside with a foam brush then leaving them in a shady spot outside for about a month. Alternatively, you can transform any old ceramic vase by coating it with a combination of paint and baking soda to create a plaster effect. Mud from your yard is an option for faux aging a vessel, too. As for the greens that will go inside, Leigh loves a mini olive tree for its silvery leaves and sculptural shape.

Credit: Erin Derby

Think outside the circle

Don’t just limit yourself to a standard, cylindrical vessel for your greens either. Instead, follow the visual cues of the furniture your plant will sit on (is it round? rectangular? square?) for guidance on the type of planter that will complement it best. 

A round vessel placed in the middle of a long, rectangular dining table won’t have nearly the same effect as one that emulates the silhouette of its base. The fruit crate-turned-planter sitting atop the industrial-chic, railcar dining table in this Brooklyn loft provides an ideal workaround. Not only does this planter box double as a landing spot for shorter greens, but it also provides an opportunity to corral a variety of plants together for added interest. 

Interior designer Maureen Stevens suggests going for small-scale plants (ones that grow between five and 10 inches tall) that can still manage to bring a major dose of drama to a tablescape. Succulents, aloe, snake plants, and hoya plants are great options.

Raise it up

According to Stevens, compotes with feet (picture a planter or wide dish with a footed base) make for ideal vessels for potted plant centerpieces. “Display risers, such as the ones you see for wedding or party tablescapes can be your best friend,” she adds. Think of it as an easy method for bringing an elevated component to the scene and an effortless way to further accentuate the greens. You could also place your plant on a stack of coffee table books to get a similar effect in your living room.

Bear in mind, the footed planter (or pedestal) you choose doesn’t have to be anything too exaggerated. The tiny base of the terracotta planter seen on the coffee table of this cozy, boho house above shows how even the smallest bump can make a decorative difference.