Hilton Carter is an interior designer and the author of Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants. He is also the proud (and slightly overwhelmed) owner of about 300 stunning house plants, which he and his wife, Fiona, reside among in their Baltimore apartment. Here, he shares his tips on starting your own plant collection and gives us a peek inside…
On ALL THE PLANTS: We have 180 in our home and another 120 in my work studio. Honestly, it takes work to keep them alive and thriving. I spend about five hours a week tending to them, usually on Saturday or Sunday morning. 300 plants, that’s my max. But then I always always end up with more.
On the view: I try to give all the chairs in the house a good view. I like setting up seating areas where you can sit back and see everything as a whole — rather than having all the furniture pointed at one thing, like the TV. I want you to really feel like you’re IN the space.
On butt-friendly furniture: Growing up, I lived with my grandmother. You know how back in the day people used to put plastic on all their ‘good’ furniture? She did that. You never got to sit on the couch. I remember saying to myself, ‘When I grow up and have my own place, all the furniture will be for people to put their butts on.’ Here, you can sit wherever you want!
On your stuff vs. our stuff: This was the first apartment my wife and I moved into together. Combining our stuff, honestly, was the hardest moment in our relationship. It’s hard, looking at the things you’ve carried with you in your own life and try to ‘downsize’ them. We each had to look at our separate belongings and decide what was going to be ours. My wife does like the plants, though! She’d have to, right? She married me!
On compromise: All that said, there was a bar cart that Fiona insisted we keep. It opens like a pop-up book and takes up so much space. But it was mandatory for her, so we figured it out. We found a nice corner for it, right under a plant, so now it looks like this cool little jungle bar.
On becoming a ‘plantfluencer’: I’ve been on Instagram since its infancy. I made the jump from Facebook as soon as I saw it, because I loved the idea of a photo-based platform. At the same time, I had a dream of doing interior styling and was trying to figure out how I could pursue that passion (my day job is in advertising). My wife who pointed out, ‘Well, you don’t really share photos of your own space. We’re about to move into a new apartment, so why don’t you take some ‘before’ photos and share that process on Instagram?’ She was the one who reminded me to use hashtags and actually utilize the app. And it just so happened there were lots of plants in it, which pushed me into this new green community on Instagram. It changed my entire life. It turned my side-hustle into another full-time job.
On the illusion of a dining room: If you’re sitting on the couch, you’re only three feet away from the dining table. But my goal was to make the dining ‘room’ feel like a separate space. I decided to do this Venetian plaster look on the wall, by painting and scrubbing and sandpapering it off. I wanted something with a bit of an edge.
On having a fantasy kitchen (some day): I don’t like our kitchen, honestly. This is a rental, so we’re stuck with it, but I dream of the day when we have a big kitchen and I can get my Smeg refrigerator. THEN everything will be great. This one is small, yet it’s still the place that everyone gathers when you have a party. I don’t know why that happens, but people just cram in.
On finding your light: The first thing to figure out when you want to buy a plant is what kind of light you have. Get to know your window — is it east-facing, north-facing, etc. Then go to the nursery or hardware store. Always talk to the associates about which plants will work best for you — and let them tell you how to care for them. You might think there’s one kind of starter plant, but there isn’t. People usually think they should start with a snake plant. True, that is a low-maintenance, low-light plant, but if you’re new to plants you might not realize that snake plants like to stay dry longer than other types, and you’ll likely overwater it. A lot of plants die because of overwatering.
Plant cradles: Things by HC.
On a wall of green: I really wanted a living wall, but that would have required installing a system of hoses, which you can’t do in a rental. So, I created this propagation device called The Cradle. I love that I can continuously grow new plants — or, if friends come over and see a plant they like in the house, I can take a cutting out of the wall, pot it, and give it to them as a gift. We’ve also been given cuttings from other people’s plants and use this wall to grow them into plants for our own collection.
On a glamping-inspired bedroom: Have you ever gone camping? I haven’t really. But if I were going to, this would be my style of camping. There would be a lot of greenery, but there would also be an actual bed, and you’d have all your things with you. THAT was my inspiration for our bedroom. The bedroom should be the place where you can totally relax and let your hair down.
On a plant that fits your lifestyle: When choosing plants, think about how much time you can commit. If you’re a busy person who has to travel a lot, you’re not going to go out and buy a puppy, right? You also don’t want to go out and buy a finicky, needy type of plant that requires a lot of watering. Maybe you need a cat type of plant, you know? With a cat, you can put out extra food and water and go away for the weekend and they’ll be okay. Maybe you need a cactus.
Thank you so much, Hilton! You are amazing.
P.S. Many more home tours, including a 600-square-foot family apartment in San Francisco and a Mexico City house with a tree inside!
(Photos by Hilton Carter.)