What Is It About Homes With White Walls and Plants That We Can’t Quit?

published Mar 8, 2021
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A plant paired with an eye-catching vessel is impactful on its own, but prop it against a solid backdrop, and its appeal increases tenfold. This concept is anything but new; remember when #PlantsonPink was all the rage? There’s just something visually striking about the contrast between a lively green plant and a saturated wall that makes for a truly irresistible combo. Turns out, though, that the opposite is also true. Plants don’t need a bold backdrop to shine — just a solid one — meaning the-white heavy palette popularized by Scandinavian design and minimalist spaces has laid the groundwork for a combination that has taken over homes everywhere: White walls and plants… on plants. 

This look has all but taken over Instagram and Pinterest in the last couple of years. I’ve seen countless renditions of it in various Apartment Therapy home tours, in neighborhood coffee shops, and design-forward brick-and-mortars. Let’s not forget the dining room of Le Sirenuse, a striking hilltop hotel in Positano, where vine-covered walls manage to steal the spotlight from the picturesque Amalfi Coast.

Light neutral walls can complement a wide range of decorative aesthetics, and it’s safe to say that many homes feature something neutral in one capacity or another, especially those newly constructed and even older homes updated and staged to sell. To emulate this look, all you need is a plant (though more is always better!) set against a blank white or very, very pale colored wall. So what is it exactly about this combination that works so well? 

“There’s something about a white wall that just feels so clean and fresh,” says plant expert and influencer Ciara Benko of The Jungle Upstairs. “Pops of color like a pink or blue can evoke beautiful, bohemian vibes, but the crisp minimalism of green against white is what really makes it stand out.”

Need more convincing on why the white walls and plants trend might be worth trying and here to stay in the design world, well, forever? Let me count the ways below.

A quick heads-up: Note that any specific plants mentioned in this story or any others may be toxic to pets or humans. “Toxic” plants can induce symptoms that range from mild (upset stomach) to severe (possible death). If you have a cat, dog, or kid, make sure you research the plants ahead of time on a reputable site like ASPCA.orgPetPoisonHelpline.orgPoison.org, or by calling your vet or pediatrician.

Credit: Zoe Pearson

It’s rental-friendly

Chances are if you’re living in a rental, you probably have white walls. The silver lining here is you’re basically halfway there, as far as this decorative concept is concerned. Allow the backdrop to stay as is — let’s face it, having to repaint an accent wall before moving out is no one’s idea of a good time — and elevate your blank walls with botanical touches. 

When it comes to styling out your space, Benko suggests either dialing up or scaling back by being intentional about the variety and size of the plants you choose. “If you’re looking for something simple and clean, I’d recommend sticking to a single plant versus mixing a few different vining plants together, because they’ll grow at different speeds, and it could come out looking wonky,” she notes.

For those who prefer to decorate with a “more is more” mindset, allow the plant-filled London loft above to serve as inspiration. While a good majority of the living space happens to be white, it sets the stage for the lush greenery to stand out. It’s worth noting, however, that even in this lush, jungle-like space, plants are grouped together by species and clustered in focal spots — the mantel, tops of bookshelves, and a sideboard — so there’s still a nice eye-path and some visual unity. The white walls, of course, and even the floors work like negative space here so all eyes are on the greenery.

It’s decoratively versatile

White walls coupled with greenery work with just about any aesthetic, and you can easily work this look into your current space, regardless of whether it skews modern minimalist, industrial, or even traditional. Take a trip to the wild side by swapping plain terracotta pots for vibrantly-animated planters to really pack a punch, just as blogger Julia of Summer Svenson did in her color-filled Melbourne home. While the setting itself remains relatively understated (with a woven cane console and blank white walls), these artful vessels lend a much-needed dose of saturation to the tonally maximalist nook. Not to be outdone, the lively greens themselves still remain the center of attention. 

That being said, picture the above setup with a more modern metal sideboard and maybe galvanized zinc or steel planters instead of poppy painted ones. This kind of pairing creates an industrial edge, but the beauty is that white walls will always work with whatever decor style and plant pairings you favor.

It’s low-effort yet high-impact

An empty nook is pretty much an invitation to carve out the ultimate plant corner (bonus points if it’s surrounded by windows). Follow designer Gala Magriñá’s lead and create a cluster of bright greens to cultivate a mini oasis in an otherwise unused area of your home. Low effort yet striking enough to make a statement, the beauty is in the simplicity here. 

Follow the lines of the area you’re filling and arrange plants so they’re roughly against the wall for a curated look instead of just haphazardly placing them. You might even consider a stool or pedestal to raise a few prized plants up over others, resulting in a more dynamic composition.

It can lend itself to a DIY focal point or feature wall

Take one look inside Benko’s NYC walk-up and you’ll immediately be taken by this statement-worthy feature: a living wall. A few years ago, she bought a small, vining Scindapsus pictus (also known as the satin pothos) and positioned it on a floating shelf in the living room. “Before I knew it, my little plant was growing like crazy, and the vines were reaching about three feet in length,” the plant pro recalls. “I started taping up the vines against the wall with Scotch tape, and over the course of the next two years, those vines trailed across the entire living room.”

Every few months, Benko rearranges the vines and resticks them as they grow. “I’ve also seen people use 3M hooks that won’t damage the walls,” she says. The beauty is that a white wall can be taken over by a plant in a way that the plant itself won’t get lost visually. The same wouldn’t be true if you had wallpaper up, for example. Curiously enough though, with the right kind of plant— and some time and maintenance — you can achieve the look of a bespoke living wallpaper for very little cost, and you can take it with you if you ever move.

It’s delicate on the senses

It’s almost ironic that a scene as lush and abundant as an assembly of plants can still manage to look visually unobtrusive. In this minimalist Chicago loft, for example, a handful of greens lend a dynamic layer to an otherwise very subdued spot, but you’d never call this combo loud or distracting to live with or be around.

For Benko, it’s that very crisp contrast of a white wall and greens that feels absolutely stunning. “The look is simple and easy to achieve, and it’s very Scandinavian-chic,” she notes, adding that the classic school of design is all about a bright, neutral palette with clean lines, which uses indoor plants to infuse texture and a living element to a space.

In the case of white walls and plants though, stunning can still mean soothing, and perhaps that’s one of the biggest decorative advantages of this combination. This pairing is bold, but, depending on how you accessorize your space, it still can read visually quiet, and that soothing quality is one thing many people want out of their spaces.

Apartment Therapy’s Styling with Plants vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Greendigs.