They say a tree grows in Brooklyn, and in the Clinton Hill home of architect Aaron Schiller, that’s literal. At the center of the skylit stair in his 3,050-square-foot renovation, a former carriage house that dates to the 1870s, is a six-and-a-half-foot-tall Japanese maple. Meanwhile in Beverly Hills, multihyphenate stars Chrissy Teigen and John Legend have a monster mash of an arbor planted in their spacious living room (the trunk and branches are made of preserved wood while the evergreen leaves are silk). In the lightwell foyer of her oceanview Malibu abode, AD100 Hall of Fame designer Kelly Wearstler nurtures an 18-foot-tall ficus. Indoor trees, it seems, are on the rise.
While efforts to achieve the orangerie aesthetic have seen homeowners (and their decorators) dragging potted fiddle-leaf figs into chic interiors worldwide for years, a recent shift in focus on biophilia is convincing some to make that move more permanent with full-size indoor trees. Whether an overt display of a green thumb or an endeavor to harness the bodily benefits that nature’s oxygen releases can bring, it’s becoming a staple of the luxury home to have a full-grown tree indoors. Live or faux, these plantings make for a statement interior.
Though stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic made us collectively crave the great outdoors, this trend has more ancient origins, argues Italian architect Carlo Ratti. “The idea of the living tree as part of the home has always compelled our imaginations,” muses Ratti, who recently designed a Northern Italian home in collaboration with fellow architect Italo Rota that supports the life of a 33-foot-tall ficus tree growing through its living space. “Over 2,000 years ago, Homer’s The Odyssey described a living olive tree forming one of the posts of the hero’s marriage bed, its roots symbolizing fidelity and its green leaves fertility, new life, and growth.”
Such symbolism isn’t the specific aim of today’s in-house plantings; designers say that the reasons are more rooted in science. The emerging field of neuroaesthetics supports the idea that beautiful environments positively affect our well-being, while biophilia theorizes that humans need a connection to nature to be their healthiest and most stress-free. “Nature improves your mood, but there are physical health benefits to having nature incorporated into the architecture,” explains Schiller. “The right kind of plants inside your home improve the air quality dramatically, especially in an urban setting.”