Bringing botanical décor to a new level with custom-designed living walls and living furniture.
Walking into the recently opened Shake Shack restaurant in Austin one is immediately greeted by an 11x14 foot sculptural wall piece. A closer inspection reveals that the material used to create this stunning centerpiece is actually moss of different varieties. But the creator of this green masterpiece is not new to the medium. In fact, Articulture Designs is currently the foremost living wall designer in the city.
Monique Capanelli started making small-scale living walls in 2009. Her first pieces were small surfaces that could hang like paintings, ranging from custom powder-coated steel structures to classic vintage frames filled with low-maintenance plants — succulents, bromeliads, tillandsias — and enhanced by driftwood, seashells, seed pods and other organic elements to create fantastic landscapes. These small-scale living walls caught the attention of builders and designers, leading to contactsfor full scale works such as the one at Shuck Shack, commissioned by renowned architect Michael Hsu and installed in March 2015. In 2013 she designed and planted the massive living wall at the Whole Foods Market at The Domain, a giant chevron pattern made with steel and mosses in different colors and textures that spans 17 feet in height and 90 feet in length.
When designing these pieces, Capanelli encourages her clients to think about maintenance. These large-scale walls feature plants that require very little care, like mosses, but they still need to be watered.
This needs to be taken into account when deciding location. “I am constantly educating architects and designers [about living wall care],” she says. “These are large investments, so they want to be sure they last, just like regular landscaping and floral design. Therefore, they should think about watering needs. Because of its location, the wall at Whole Foods is very easy to maintain,” says Capanelli. A water supply was installed nearby, and the Articulture team uses a hose with an end sprayer to give the mosses a slow, deep soaking about once a month.
An outdoor covered patio is an ideal location for plants that need more regular watering. For walls that include moss or tillandsia, the occasional misting with a sprayer is enough. Light is another consideration. Living walls need to have a good amount of sunlight and good air circulation. Maintenance and watering are determined by each client’s needs and the types of plants used, and can be weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Thanks to her incessant desire to innovate, Capanelli came up with her next project — a line of Living Furniture™. “I was just pushing the boundaries of where I could put plants,” she says. “I wanted to leave behind the hippy-country aesthetic and become more avant garde.” These amazing pieces are not garage sale finds in which she drills holes and sticks a couple of plants. She designs each and every piece from scratch, knowing exactly where plants will go and what kinds she will use. The pieces are custom built by professionals, from coffee tables to patio furniture, working desks and cocktail tables. Materials include wood, steel, glass and even acrylic. “Monique is always trying to stay ahead of what others are doing,” says Danté Dominick, Capanelli’s husband and business partner. “Articulture pushes the envelope in plant design.”
The plant selection for living furniture incorporates low maintenance plants such as succulents, ferns and bromeliads, planted so that they are easy to replace if needed. The approach is the same as a container with no drainage. Capanelli uses a light proprietary soil blend and recommends a light watering schedule to prevent waterlogging. Care is easy since the pieces are similar to potted plants, which people are familiar with.
“People tend to over water,” she says. “When it comes to these pieces, less is definitely more.”
Thanks to their success and growing list of clients — and a successful Kickstarter campaign — the couple has recently bought a 2,200-square-foot commercial property on 3/4-acre of land, so Articulture Designs will have an actual storefront.
There will be a gallery, a retail space, working gardens and a community outdoor space where people will be able to take a variety of plant-related classes. After undergoing considerable renovations, the Articulture space is expected to open to the public in August 2015. And you can expect the décor will prominently feature living walls and living furniture.
DIY LIVING WALLS
If you want to try your hand at making a living wall, Shawna Coronado’s new book, Grow A Living Wall, is a must-have. The title is a complete guide to living walls, in any given space and any application. Coronado, an author and professional photographer, left her corporate job to become a professional speaker and writer dedicated to green living and sustainability. She is also an on-camera spokesperson, blogger, columnist, keynote speaker and radio show host.
The book offers instructions to build and plant living walls featuring flowers, herbs, veggies, fruits, ferns and much more, both for indoor and outdoor use. For instance, you could grow a vertical cocktail garden, with herbs that you can use to make a favorite libation. Other ideas include an aromatherapy garden, a wall to attract pollinators or a colorful garden for a shady spot. Coronado offers ideas and resources to purchase a variety of containers and special vertical garden containers, but also appeals to our DIY spirit by upcycling things like an old bookcase or even discarded wooden pallets to create beautiful vertical gardens. And if you live in an apartment or have a small backyard, these spacesaving solutions will let you enjoy a beautiful garden in even the smallest of spaces.
Each living wall project is illustrated with step-by-step instructions in color photographs, with the end result in an appropriate setting. Whether you are a seasoned expert or even if you are a beginner, this book is sure to inspire you to try your hand at this cool gardening trend.