Archive for February 2018

9 Low-Maintenance House Plants for Every Room

February 26th, 2018

What might your office or apartment have in common with a NASA spaceship? Unfortunately the answer may be poor air quality. Indoor air pollutants have been ranked among the top five environmental risks to public health: Stagnant indoor environments allow pollutants to build up and stick around in greater amounts than we humans should be breathing in. Living and working in places rife with air contaminants and lacking decent ventilation can cause “sick building syndrome,” which can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and eye, ear, and nose irritation. Lucky for us, NASA scientists have been working to understand this problem and find solutions. Their space-age solution was an easy one that anyone can use: Use houseplants to clean the air .

What’s the Deal?

Given that people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, air quality matters . Furnishings, upholstery, synthetic building materials, and cleaning products in homes and offices can emit a variety of toxic compounds, like formaldehydeIndoor air pollutioncan also be caused by pollen, bacteria, and molds, as outdoor air contaminants like car exhaust finds its way into buildings. All of these are made worse in small or poorly-ventilated spaces (like maybe your apartment with that window that you accidentally painted shut last year).

The good news is that there’s an easy and affordable way to combat the presence of the yucky stuff we may be breathing in, and it comes right from the natural world. Plants purify air, making them part of what NASA calls “nature’s life support system.” Adding potted plants to a room has been shown to reduce the amount of air particulates (although plants in bloom may be contributing their own compounds to the air)  .

So, how do houseplants clean the air? Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time that they take in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen through photosynthesis. But that’s not all—microorganisms associated with the plants are present in the potting soil, and these microbes are also responsible for much of the cleaning effect .

Beyond air quality, plants just make people feel better. For example, hospital patients with plants in their rooms were more positive and had lower blood pressure and stress levels . Similarly, indoor plants may make people smarter by allowing them to stay alert and reducing mental fatigue .

Your Action Plan

Although houseplants may be intimidating to those with a “black thumb” or fear of commitment, it turns out that many plants are easy to care for—so easy, in fact, you’d have to try pretty hard to kill them. Below, we’ve pulled together a list of nine virtually-indestructible plants inspired by NASA’s research.

Each kind of plant has its own favorite environmental conditions, so look for a tag that comes with the plant or online to find out how much sunlight and water it will need. If your plant doesn’t come in a pretty pot, or if it outgrew its previous one, you can easily repot it. Just find a pot that’s at least onw inch larger than the previous container, add potting soil to the bottom, and place the plant so that the top of the soil remains at the same level as before. Finally, carefully pack potting soil around the edges of the plant and water it. Voilà!

1. Garden Mum

In the NASA research, this plant was an air-purifying champion, removing ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene from indoor air. Popular and inexpensive at garden stores, they can be planted outside after they’re finished blooming.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene

2. Spider Plant

Spider plants are among the easiest houseplants to grow, making them a great choice for beginners or forgetful owners. A fan of bright, indirect sunlight, spider plants will send out shoots with flowers that eventually grow into baby spider plants or spiderettes.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene

3. Dracaena

There are more than 40 different kinds of Dracaena plants, making it easy to find one that’s a perfect fit for your home or office. They’re common foliage plants with long, wide leaves that are often variegated with lines of white, cream, or red. Pet owners might want to select a different plant, however, as these are toxic to cats and dogs.

Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene

4. Ficus/Weeping Fig

Though the ficus is a tree in its native home of southeast Asia, when it grows indoors, it’s a hardy plant that ends up being between two and 10 feet tall. So why not get figgy with it? Grow this low-maintenance houseplant in bright, indirect light and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Although this plant has some serious air-cleaning abilities, it can also be taken outside in late spring and brought back indoors when temperatures are warm and well above freezing.

Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene

5. Peace Lily

Peace lily plants are relatively small compared to many of the plants on this list, but they still pack some major air-cleaning abilities. Easy to grow, these plants will flower for much of the summer. Just be aware that those flowers (like all flowers) do contribute some pollen and floral scents to the air, so you may want to avoid having a room full of them. Put peace lilies in a shady spot and keep the soil moist without overwatering.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene

6. Boston Fern

These plants prefer to clean the air from a cool location with high humidity and indirect light. They’re relatively easy to grow, but they do need to stay moist. Check the Boston Fern’s soil daily to see if it needs water, and give it a good soak once per month.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene

7. Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

This is one of the hardest houseplants to kill. Although it does need to be watered occasionally, it generally prefers drier conditions and some sun.

Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene

8. Bamboo Palm

A superstar of filtering formaldehyde, these palms thrive in full sun or bright light. Part of the reason they can filter so much air is that they can grow to be pretty big—as tall as four to 12 feet high, making them exciting (and pet-friendly) indoor additions.

Pollutants removed: benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene

9. Aloe Vera

In addition to being easy to care for, aloe makes some serious health claims. The plant’s leaves contain a clear liquid full of vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and other compounds that have wound-healing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and there is some evidence that aloe may help (and is unlikely to hurt) skin conditions like psoriasis .

Pollutant removed: formaldehyde


This article was originally posted on March 3, 2015 on Greatist.

Ricky Martin Takes AD Inside His Blissful Beverly Hills Home

February 23rd, 2018

To say that the 40-something Ricky Martin maintains a boyish appeal may be the understatement of the year. The Puerto Rican superstar seized the spotlight as an angelic 12-year-old phenom in the boy band Menudo, beloved by teenyboppers and grandmothers alike. He has rarely been out of the public eye since. Fresh off a blockbuster 2017 residency at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Martin’s latest star turn has him portraying Gianni Versace’s boyfriend Antonio D’Amico in producer Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, on FX this January.

Yet for all his success, Martin’s greatest joy lies in the happy home life he has built with fiancé Jwan Yosef, a Syrian-born Swedish artist, and their nine-year-old twins, Matteo and Valentino. The couple met two years ago in London, where Yosef was living at the time, and spent the next twelve months traveling the globe on Martin’s One World Tour. The children were with them for the entire ride.
“Tino and Matteo were born on the road. They’re used to spending two weeks in one place and then moving on,” Martin says. “Our kids are stable when we are together. Wherever we happen to be, that’s home.”

Today, however, the family’s concept of home has an actual address, specifically in Beverly Hills. “We were considering living in London or New York City, but then we decided to rent in Los Angeles for a month, to get a feel for the vibe. L.A. totally caught us off guard—we loved it. By the end of the month, we knew we wanted to be here,” Yosef recalls. After a marathon three-day house-hunting expedition, the couple settled on the first place they had scouted, a serene, modernist residence with a surprising architectural pedigree. At the core of the 11,000-square-foot dwelling was a 3,000-square-foot home designed by acclaimed midcentury architect Gregory Ain for psychiatrist Fred Feldman and his wife, Elaine, in 1953.


This article was originally published in Architectural Digest on January 9, 2018.

Step Inside a San Francisco Tudor with an Aesthetic as Cinematic as Its Own Backstory

February 21st, 2018

“I always asked if Bruce Wayne lived there,” says Hillary Thomas, looking around the landmark home in the San Francisco Presidio Heights enclave that she gut-renovated and designed. “The house seemed lost, and I said to myself, it needs me to help figure itself out.” Built in 1914 by noted San Francisco architect Houghton Sawyer, the six-bedroom, six-bathroom English Tudor mansion has an extraordinary provenance.

After Sawyer’s parents died when he was a child, he went to live with his ward and uncle, Leland Stanford, the industrialist tycoon and founder of the eponymous university. Sawyer, who graduated from the first class of Stanford University, went on to study in France. Deeply inspired by his time there, he returned to San Francisco, was hired by the venerable Potter family to build them a stately manor in the heart of the city, and thus broke ground for the fortified edifice. (Sawyer, learning a lesson from the 1906 earthquake that all but leveled the City by the Bay, was one of the first architects to use reinforced concrete in single-family-home construction.)

“I wanted the opportunity to do something really special,” recalls Thomas of finding the property, which “was desperate for light and a youthful point of view.” With its unusual walled-in garden and location adjacent to the foggy forests of San Francisco’s historic Presidio district, the home feels like a country house in the center of town. But doing “something special” also meant working hard to turn back decades of ill-advised alterations and neglect. The property, sold for the first time in 1960 to the kingdom of Belgium to become its consulate, later fell into total disrepair. “It was a Grey Gardens situation,” comments Thomas. The residence would be traded three more times—in 1982, by a family who made it into a separate home for their four children; in 2005, when it became a decorators’ show house; and then again in 2006—before Thomas entered the picture in 2012.

The designer happened to be visiting friends across the street when she caught sight of the place. “The house felt like a timid grand dame; she needed light and love,” she says. “With so many owners, she was ready for love.” And like so many great love stories, this one has a rather unexpected ending: Both the house and Hillary found lasting companionship in the process. Indeed, Thomas fell in love with the house and its owner. It only took a century, but at last the formerly patchwork building became a unified home filled with youthful design.

“We wanted it to be a family home first and foremost: At any time, we have lots of kids running around, and we wanted a warm backdrop for everything from intimate dinners to grand parties and events,” says Thomas. “We changed everything—we reversed the flow. Now it feels right, it feels loved, and it feels like home.”

The dramatic dining room is papered in a custom-colored Japanese Garden by De Gournay. The silver-leafed ceiling by Willem Raké studio is designed to complement the wallpaper. The vintage Italian chandelier, purchased at Coup d’Etat in San Francisco, hangs above a black-lacquer 1860s dining table from the Paul Bert Paris flea market which is surrounded by chairs by Celerie Kemble from Henredon; they are covered with Rogers and Goffigon velvet. The Willem de Kooning painting is Untitled (1970–1972) from Travis Hansson Fine Art. The sideboard, original to the house, stands beneath a Michael Smith mirror and holds two 1970s laps with custom-designed lampshades and finials from Hillary Thomas Designs. The mantel is a custom finish and color with a silver-leaf interior and, like the herringbone floors, is from Exquisite Surfaces.

“The kitchen is the heart of this home,” says Thomas, who did an extensive renovation that included moving stairs to flip-flop the family room and kitchen to allow in natural light from the front yard. The result is an open gathering space with an enviable flow. The reclaimed floors are from Exquisite Surfaces, as are the slabs for the waterfall-stone island and antique tiles. The overhead lights are Urban Electric designed by Steven Gambrel, and the stove area is made from back-to-back La Cornue ranges. Other details, like the moldings, were replicated from the dining room. All the cabinets, which include rolling storage that fits seamlessly under the island counter, are custom.

“We wanted something soothing, a bit of a sanctuary,” says Thomas of the master bedroom, which has a dramatic custom bed and canopy in Rose Tarlow fabric. The linens, also custom, are from Walker Valentine, and the stools at the foot of the bed were found on 1stDibs. The vintage mantel—above which hangs a picture by Henri Laurens, Reclining Figure, Study for Sculpture (1934)—is from Exquisite Surfaces. The lamps are vintage, with Hillary Thomas shades and finials.

This article was published in Architectural Digest on January 9, 2018.