Space is a powerful tool to foster engagement, inspire innovation, and drive productivity. But what exactly does an optimal space look like? In the Science of Space, we explore how the science of intentional design can turn any work environment into a holistic experience.
Let’s say that you, a trusted, competent, beloved member of your workplace, were charged with increasing your company’s productivity by 15 percent and substantially boosting in your coworkers’ happiness. Most of the solutions to this kind of problem—say, a renovated space, group meditation, or workplace yoga—usually involve throwing a decent bit of money around, or asking employees to do things that aren’t, well, very productive. What you really need is a low-cost, low-maintenance solution that requires minimal effort or time from your colleagues, that inspires productivity and happiness.
You need plants.
Science has proved that a greener thumb leads to happier, healthier people. Study after study links the biological impact of plants, like cleaner air, with the psychological effect, like a more aesthetically pleasing environment. In a 2014 University of Exeter study, researchers saw a 15 percent increase in productivity after adorning an otherwise barren office with houseplants—a correlating result of its subjects also reporting increasingly positive perceptions with concentration in the office, air quality, and how satisfied they were at their jobs. A 2010 study from the New University of Technology Sydney yielded a similar result: Plants helped reduce stress levels and negative feelings by 58 percent.
But plants are a pain: They are a pain to buy, a pain to move around, and a pain to care for. Going to a nursery or the greenery section of a hardware store is an endeavor of suffocatingly multilateral decisions to be made. Which size plant? Which species? What color? How much (or how little) light do you have in your room? And which of those plants require the level of care you’re willing to put forth? What kind of care is required of it? Which kind of soil does it need? And, finally: What. Kind. Of. Pot. Will. You. Put. It. In?
Plants are definitely earning their place on a pro forma cultural lifestyle checklist, the perfect adornment for finishing an Instagram-perfect living room. If you’re at all a citizen of the internet, looking at the Instagrams of young urbanites near and far, you’ve probably been served ads for companies like The Sill, a plant startup selling everything from succulents to room-dominating fiddle leaf trees in chic, color-blocked pottery. If nothing else, you’ve read the stories about plants as—what else?—a millennial trend: Bloomberg reports that startups like The Sill are taking advantage of the intersection of millennials’ delayed parenting plans and their desire to care for something living while still enjoying the frequent travel they’re known to value.
All it would take, then, would be some canny entrepreneurs who knew the greenery space, who understand our most contemporary anxieties, and who have a slick hand with branding to come along and solve for the plant-decision-paralysis that stops potential buyers before their first pottings. The world needed someone to make houseplants cool. The plant disrupters did just that.
Justin Mast comes from four generations of professional gardeners, and he practically grew up in his parents’ Michigan greenhouse. His company, Bloomscape, headquartered out of WeWork 19 Clifford St in downtown Detroit, is vaporizing the most quotidian details of dressing your workspace (or home) in greenery, making the most grating aspect of plant-buying a thing of the past. With a tightly knit (but, yes, growing) team of 13 employees, Mast is painting the country green, taking a personal understanding of what a new generation expects from their lives, and (yes) using it to help sprout a new standard around itself.
“Millenials have been a conscious group of consumers from the beginning,” says Mast, 36. “A lot of the mindfulness around food and where it comes from—I think we’re taking that same attitude to our homes and the environment that we’re in. It’s weird that you’d spend all this money taking yoga and drinking an organic smoothie, and then you come home to a stark space that’s full of chemicals in the air and Ikea furniture.” That same logic, Mast explained, should naturally extend to millennials’ expectations for workspaces.
Bloomscape begins by quizzing users on what they might want in a plant, what they might be able to commit to, both space-wise and timewise, and how much light the plant is going to get. After that, users pick a plant, which all come in Bloomscape’s one-motif-fits-all chic terracotta potting. After you place the order, the plant shows up at your door with a notecard detailing care instructions specific to the plant in terms so simple no green thumbs are required.
When it comes to picking the right plants for the office, Mast offers advice that has little to do with natural-light needs or water requirements: “Get a plant that’s interesting to you and the people around you,” he says. “There are some really funky and fun ones to choose from. A ponytail palm, for example, looks like a character from a Dr. Seuss book. Find plants that you can relate to. Or, more simply, just get excited about.”
In the canon of cliche quotes about gardening, a particularly common one comes from Spanish poet and playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca: “Green is the prime color of the world and that from which its loveliness arises.” Surely, some pinstripe-wearing stockbroker from a bygone era once purchased a brass and mahogany paperweight from the back of a SkyMall catalog with that line inscribed on it and mounted it next to his banker’s Lamp. But imagined misappropriations of Calderón notwithstanding, is it possible that plants genuinely boost success of one’s business and life? To say nothing of the loveliness of one’s life?
“There’s a Dutch word I grew up hearing a lot—gezelligheid,” Mast says with a laugh. “It’s a feeling of warm, social, lighthearted coziness.” If that sounds like the kind of thing that can’t be faked—especially in a work setting—it absolutely is. It’s a feeling that needs to be cultivated naturally. And the easiest, healthiest way to see it around you involves cultivating nothing more than a little nature.
Hedge your bets
Before you plant your urban jungle, keep these things in mind.
Start with one plant. Then get a friend. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many plants right away. Get to know the rhythms and needs of a single pot. Once you’ve got that down, try another, similar plant—no two plants are exactly the same.
Read the instructions. You are not a bad plant parent. Plants are not a mystery —you just need to do your homework. Keep those tags with the plant name and care instructions. If something’s going wrong, read the label or expand your research online.
Pick a plant that inspires you. Instead of choosing something by how easy it is to care for, get a plant that excites you. If you’re interested in the plant, you’ll keep it alive.
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