Pro Tips from Calgary Restaurant Designers on Decorating with Plants

Learn from the green ways of Native Tongues, Bridgette Bar, Phil & Sebastian, Neighbour, Monogram and Ten Foot Henry.

From the lush ferns at Ten Foot Henry to the desert-like cacti at Native Tongues, the jungle vibes are strong at Calgary restaurants. We talk to six Calgary-based architects and interior designers behind these spaces to hear their tips on decorating with plants, how to keep them looking lush and where to buy them in Calgary.

Amanda Hamilton, Amanda Hamilton Interior Design

Native Tonques Taqueria | 235 12 Ave. S.W.

Why did you use houseplants in Native Tongues?

“To get the look we wanted – which is a bit rough around the edges and feels like it has always been there – we wanted to soften the existing structure. Plants make guests feel like they’re entering a tropical, slightly residential-feeling space, like a traditional taqueria found off a bustling side street in Mexico.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants?

“Maintenance, which includes everything from how little or how much water, sunlight, fertilization and care that they need. It is important that in both residential and commercial spaces, designers and owners understand the specific needs of the plant for proper up keep.”

Which plants did you use?

“Succulents for the most part; they’re easier to keep alive.”

How does the restaurant keep them alive?

“They have someone who comes in weekly to manage them.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary and what are your tips for people who want to incorporate them into their homes?

Plant in Inglewood is our favourite spot, but I also love going to the nurseries around town like Sunnyside Greenhouses and Plantation Garden Centre. If you have a busy lifestyle and know watering plants is going to be an issue, focus more on desert plants like succulents and cacti. For those with a green thumb, you can manage more particular plants and flowers that may need regular attention with trimming and watering. I highly advise calling Kyle Chow at Plant for help and advice on our selection.”

Kate Allen, FRANK Architecture

Bridgette Bar | 739 10 Ave. S.W.

Photograph courtesy of FRANK Architecture

Why did you use houseplants in Bridgette Bar?

“We wanted a space that felt comfortable and not pretentious. The addition of plants added another layer of texture and colour to the interior, and helped to decrease the formality of the space. Plants are a signature of retro interiors and laid-back California design, which inspired the interior of Bridgette.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants?

“Ensuring proper scale, placement and quantity within a space can be a challenge and our climate poses one as well. The long-term success of the installation relies on the dedication of the staff to care for the plants – so far, Bridgette’s plants are well loved.”

Which plants did you use?

“We used plants that were low maintenance and easy to care for. We shared our concept to the experts at Plant and they provided the perfect curation of greens.”

How does the restaurant keep them alive?

“The manager has a great green thumb and looks after them.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary and what are your tips for people who want to incorporate them into your home?

“We sourced all of our potted plants from Plant in Inglewood. They have a great selection and very knowledgeable staff. We also love working with the team at Peaseblossoms Flowers who have finished our interiors with floral charm many, many times.”

Grace Coulter, Toker + Associates

Phil & Sebastian Stephen Avenue | 102 8 Ave. S.W.

Photograph by Robert Lemermeyer.

Why did you use houseplants in Phil & Sebastiann Stephen Ave.?

“When we first approached the design options for the coffee shop, adding vegetation as the focal point was an early favourite strategy by the design team and the owners, Sebastian and Phil. From a design perspective, we wanted a clean palette. The plants add a layer of visual chaos and colour that makes the space complex and rich.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants?

“Designing for anything that will grow and change overtime is a challenge. For Phil & Sebastian we wanted to use plants as a tool to define the space. The planter in the middle of the caf serves to partition a busy zone at the till from the seating zone. The shelving at the west wall is partially filled with embedded planters while also displaying local artist’s goods from Market Collective that are for sale in the shop.”

Which plants did you use?

Plant supplied all the vegetation for the coffee shop. They did an amazing job working with the conditions of the space which includes big south facing windows. They used hearty, partial light tropical plants like pothos, snake plant, zamio culcas and ponytail palm.”

How does the caf keep them alive?

“Careful planning upfront makes maintenance later on more manageable. For example, the design considered height restrictions on the shelf based on what would be easy to water at a later date. Plant also provided Phil & Sebastian with guidelines for weekly maintenance. For regulars to the shop you can see how well the plants are doing in their new home as they have grown an insane amount over the past few months.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary and what are your tips for people who want to incorporate them into your home?

Plant in Inglewood did a fantastic job with this space. Both myself and Melissa Cowan on my team (who co-designed the space) have plants for our own homes and workspaces from the shop.”

Majida Boga, principal at RNDSQR Lifestyle, Design and Development Firm

Neighbour Coffee | 4038 16 St. S.W.

Photograph courtesy of Neighbour Coffee.

Why did you use houseplants in Neighbour?

“We decided from the inception of Neighbour that we wanted to keep the design very fresh, light and airy. Plants are a great way to warm up a space and make it homey. Brett McDermott (the owner of Our Daily Brett and Neighbour) is always keen on sourcing fresh local ingredients and we thought this would be a great way to convey his concept with growing fresh plants and herbs right in the shop.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants?

“There are many challenges, especially if you don’t have a green thumb. You have to make sure you pick plants that are conducive to the environment they’re in. If you are designing a space for certain plants you will need to know what they require to flourish, like direct or indirect light, humidity, warmth and water.”

Which plants did you use?

“We used a variety of plants in Neighbour from cacti to indoor vines.”

How does the cafe keep them alive?

“With lots of love, coffee and gluten-free treats.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary and what are your tips for people who want to incorporate them into your home?

“There are many great places to shop for plants in Calgary like Sunnyside Greenhouses, Plant in Inglewood and even IKEA. For this particular project we sourced all of the plants from our local partner Esme Beauty & Floral Bar located on 17th Avenue S.W. I would suggest if you want to incorporate plants into your homes, start with something simple like a cacti or rubber plant that does not need much maintenance.”

Jeremy Ho, owner of Monogram

Monogram Coffee Fifth Avenue Place | 420 2 St. S.W.

Photograph courtesy of Monogram.

Why did you use houseplants in Monogram at Fifth Avenue Place?

“We used houseplants as a way to bring life into our space, to add texture, softness, natural elements, as well as to bring the coffee plant face to face with our customers. We want our cafes to feel natural and not sterile, to foster creativity and energy, which is what plants really do.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants?

“The challenge of designing with plants is making sure that we choose species that will survive the conditions in our cafes.”

Which plants did you use?

“We used cactus, succulents, tropical and kokedamas. We actually partnered with local Calgary business, who makes a coffee Arabica (coffee plant) moss ball plant for us exclusively in the cafes, in addition to lots of great stuff from Plant in Inglewood.”

How does the caf keep them alive?

“We have them on a regulated watering schedule. Sometimes they don’t make it, but we have a great relationship with our supplier, and a visit to pick out new plants is always a welcome experience.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary?

“We have a great working relationship with Kyle and Erica from Plant, as well as Caine who makes our kokedamas. The biggest tip we have is to talk to the experts – ask questions to make sure you are getting the right plant for your space. We have learned that just because a plant is cute, it won’t survive if it can’t be properly cared for. All the things that can influence the health of a plant – temperature, sunlight, moisture are all factors in the caf.”

Connie Young, principal of Connie Young Design

Ten Foot Henry | 1209 1 Street SW

Photograph courtesy of Connie Young Design.

Why did you use houseplants in Ten Foot Henry?

“The concept for Ten Foot Henry has its roots from the notion of a garden shed. It seemed valid to add texture, detail and contrast with plants, since the menu is plant-forward. The macram hangers added a bit of retro kitsch for whimsy.”

What is the challenge of designing with plants? Which plants did you use?

“In restaurants we have to use plants that will not attract fruit flies or insects and, in this case, plants that would fair well without direct sunlight. Ferns were the answer, but also a great choice in that they have a beautiful textural quality.”

How does the restaurant keep them alive?

“They cannot be forgotten; however, ferns are extremely hardy so don’t need a lot of attention.”

Where do you shop for plants in Calgary and what are your tips for people who want to incorporate them into your home?

“We used Esme for most of the planting and Plant in Inglewood for the sculpture above the ten-foot table. They are both great and have excellent ideas. Our best tip would be to keep plants more sculptural and certainly intentional – don’t just use them to fill a corner; that’s a sign of not knowing what else to do.”

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