Light Challenge Solutions for Your Interiorscape Projects

Designing an office space is difficult for many reasons.

For one, finding the right plant for the particular space and light is hard. Often, interior office locations have little to no natural light. And working with fluorescent lighting is frustrating. You get bored of using the same dracaena family of plants again and again. But what can you do if you want the plant to survive? 

The Struggle to Find Enough Light

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When I began designing, planter options were limited. Project after project, I had to use the same old combination of mass canes, janet craigs, peace lilies, or aglaonema in the popular gold or silver brushed vista pot. Then, I got the opportunity to design for a brand-new building that had floor to ceiling windows and open cubicle areas. Finally, I could stretch my design skills and use the tropical varieties Florida is known for!  

Two weeks later, I had installed the plants and the office space looked great. The arecas and adonidias were thriving in the natural light. Then the company went and had the windows tinted to block out the UV light. The beautiful interiorscape design I created started to brown and thin out.

History Repeats Itself …

After designing for almost two decades, I’ve encountered many similar situations. Instead of tinted windows, clients decide to remodel and repaint the interior walls a deep red, dark blue, or green. Not only do the plants survive on a mere eight or so hours of over-headed light, but now they must contend with dark colored walls that absorb light instead of reflecting it. 

Perhaps, you have faced situations where departments move from a bright sunny area to a cave light environment. Clients rearrange furniture, and the ficus lyrata that happily flanked a window now resides in a dark corner.   

I’ve learned to ask the client if they plan on tinting the windows, painting the walls a different color, etc.  Since this never guarantees the space will remain the same, I include a “light clause” in the contract that protects me from any future changes. Explaining to a client, especially one you’ve had for years, they have to purchase new plants after spending thousands on a remodel can be a tricky situation. In efforts to avoid that conversation, here are some methods I’ve developed to deal with lighting situations.

Invest in Up-Lights

If the current plants cannot acclimate to the new light situation, bring in up-lights to provide an extra boost. I’ve found this step helpful in several accounts. I charge the client the same amount I paid for the fixture, which can average between twenty and thirty dollars. An added benefit is the ambiance the up-light creates as the light shines up onto the leaves. 

Incorporate LED Lights

light interiorscape designs
Office Snapshots

A few weeks before Christmas, I had a client specifically request a pygmy date palm. They wanted to display it in their reception area under the company sign for their big open house. The wall is bright red, the sign has silver letters, and two overhead lights offer the only light source. I told the client I couldn’t guarantee the landscape palm tree would survive more than a couple months. Since they wanted a unique holiday tree for the season, I suggested we use LED white string lights around the branches. Three months later, the four-foot date palm is green and sprouting new fronds. The only way I imagine this palm tree could go from direct sunlight to low interior light and not just survive but thrive is because of the bright string lights that surround its trunk and stay on 24/7. 

Consider Grow Lights

light interiorscape projects
Office Snapshots

If the client does not want to invest in up-lights or LED lighting, I have one other suggestion: ask about installing a grow light. You can find these easily online. While a grow light may be a long shot, it is worth asking your client if that is your only option before suggesting artificial plants. In the meantime, always let in as much natural light as possible. Whenever I go to an account and see a plant sitting in the dark, I’ll flip on every switch and open every drape or shade to allow the sunlight in. 

While I understand that companies value cost efficient practices, if they value their office plants and your services, they won’t mind leaving the lights on or opening the blinds for a few extra hours to help the plants live. 

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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