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Why air plants are the solution to all your design woes

Picture the exotic-looking and increasingly popular tillandsia. You’re envisioning it in a spherical glass terrarium, right? And that’s a downright shame, according to Josh Rosen. “It’s plant torture,” he says, “because they’re epiphytes — they grow without soil and need good air circulation to thrive.”

Rosen, a landscape architect in Mar Vista, founded Airplantman to explore creative alternatives to the typical glass cages and pieces of driftwood used for displaying them. Instead, his online shop and studio/showroom (open by appointment only) offer tillandsias and sleek powder-coated metal frames, hand-thrown ceramic vessels and reclaimed wood pedestals to show them off.

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Interest in tillandsias has exploded in recent years because they’re remarkably adaptable to small urban spaces and they’re low-maintenance — in addition to moving air, they require only bright filtered light and a weekly soak in water. Native to the southern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, they’re also now widely available at nurseries as well as supermarkets, home furnishings stores and other non-horticultural retailers.

Rosen first became enamored with tillandsias during family vacations to Hawaii. “They looked like aliens that had landed and like they could get up and walk away,” he recalls. His collection started with dozens and today numbers in the thousands.

After shopping in vain for attractive and practical ways to show them off, Rosen came up with ideas of his own. “I wanted to celebrate that tillandsias can grow suspended in air,” he says. “I also wanted to figure out how to highlight the beauty of a single plant or several en masse.”

The resulting Airplantman designs provide sophisticated ways to feature tillandsias as living accents — all of them locally fabricated and sustainably grown. Here are a few examples:

DESIGN PROBLEM: A unique centerpiece that’s longer-lasting than a vase of cut flowers SOLUTION: Multiple glazed ceramic vessels, each supporting a tillandsia, that can be arranged in a variety of configurations
DESIGN PROBLEM: A unique centerpiece that’s longer-lasting than a vase of cut flowers SOLUTION: Multiple glazed ceramic vessels, each supporting a tillandsia, that can be arranged in a variety of configurations (Josh Rosen)

Taking center stage

DESIGN PROBLEM: A unique centerpiece that’s longer-lasting than a vase of cut flowers

SOLUTION: Multiple glazed ceramic vessels, each supporting a tillandsia, that can be arranged in a variety of configurations

DESIGN PROBLEM: No-fuss, space-efficient desktop plants for the office SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum vessels that each hold one tillandsia
DESIGN PROBLEM: No-fuss, space-efficient desktop plants for the office SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum vessels that each hold one tillandsia (Josh Rosen)

A work break

DESIGN PROBLEM: No-fuss, space-efficient desktop plants for the office

SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum vessels that each hold one tillandsia

DESIGN PROBLEM: A front door exposed to the street and neighboring houses SOLUTION: A screen consisting of multiple powder-coated aluminum frames filled with more or fewer tillandsias, depending on the amount of desired privacy
DESIGN PROBLEM: A front door exposed to the street and neighboring houses SOLUTION: A screen consisting of multiple powder-coated aluminum frames filled with more or fewer tillandsias, depending on the amount of desired privacy (Art Gray)

Privacy, please

DESIGN PROBLEM: A front door exposed to the street and neighboring houses

SOLUTION: A screen consisting of multiple powder-coated aluminum frames filled with more or fewer tillandsias, depending on the amount of desired privacy.

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DESIGN PROBLEM: A focal point where wall space is limited but floor space isn’t SOLUTION: A pedestal of blowtorched reclaimed wood with an armature that spotlights a single sculptural tillandsia
DESIGN PROBLEM: A focal point where wall space is limited but floor space isn’t SOLUTION: A pedestal of blowtorched reclaimed wood with an armature that spotlights a single sculptural tillandsia (Lindsey Boice)

A small footprint

DESIGN PROBLEM: A focal point where wall space is limited but floor space isn’t

SOLUTION: A pedestal of blowtorched reclaimed wood with an armature that spotlights a single sculptural tillandsia

PROBLEM: An indoor living wall without the need for heavy soil and potentially leaky drip irrigation SOLUTION: An airy custom powder-coated aluminum frame filled with an assortment of large and small tillandsias
PROBLEM: An indoor living wall without the need for heavy soil and potentially leaky drip irrigation SOLUTION: An airy custom powder-coated aluminum frame filled with an assortment of large and small tillandsias (Josh Rosen)

Bringing green inside

DESIGN PROBLEM: An indoor living wall without the need for heavy soil and potentially leaky drip irrigation

SOLUTION: An airy custom powder-coated aluminum frame filled with an assortment of large and small tillandsias

DESIGN PROBLEM: A vertical outdoor garden for an entryway SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame covered chockablock with tillandsias and equipped with a built-in watering system
DESIGN PROBLEM: A vertical outdoor garden for an entryway SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame covered chockablock with tillandsias and equipped with a built-in watering system (Valerie Chiang)

Looking up

DESIGN PROBLEM: A vertical outdoor garden for an entryway

SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame covered chockablock with tillandsias and equipped with a built-in watering system

DESIGN PROBLEM: A plant that can survive the humidity of a bathroom SOLUTION: A powder-coated aluminum frame of tillandsias attached to a mirror where the plants receive reflected light
DESIGN PROBLEM: A plant that can survive the humidity of a bathroom SOLUTION: A powder-coated aluminum frame of tillandsias attached to a mirror where the plants receive reflected light (Josh Rosen)

A cheeky fix

DESIGN PROBLEM: A plant that can survive the humidity of a bathroom

SOLUTION: A powder-coated aluminum frame of tillandsias attached to a mirror where the plants receive reflected light

DESIGN PROBLEM: An adjustable wall installation SOLUTION: Multiple metal swing arms, each supporting an individual tillandsia, that are able to move independent of one another
DESIGN PROBLEM: An adjustable wall installation SOLUTION: Multiple metal swing arms, each supporting an individual tillandsia, that are able to move independent of one another (Lindsey Boice)

Super flexible

DESIGN PROBLEM: An adjustable wall installation

SOLUTION: Multiple metal swing arms, each supporting an individual tillandsia, that are able to move independent of one another

DESIGN PROBLEM: A gallery wall not based on conventional paintings, prints or photographs SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum frames of tillandsias laid out either randomly or in a pattern
DESIGN PROBLEM: A gallery wall not based on conventional paintings, prints or photographs SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum frames of tillandsias laid out either randomly or in a pattern (Lindsey Boice)

Completely unexpected

DESIGN PROBLEM: A gallery wall not based on conventional paintings, prints or photographs

SOLUTION: Multiple powder-coated aluminum frames of tillandsias laid out either randomly or in a pattern

DESIGN PROBLEM: A temporary and mobile space divider SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame mounted on a rolling cart with a built-in watering system and grow lights
DESIGN PROBLEM: A temporary and mobile space divider SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame mounted on a rolling cart with a built-in watering system and grow lights (Josh Rosen)

Walls that breathe

DESIGN PROBLEM: A temporary and mobile space divider

SOLUTION: A custom powder-coated aluminum frame mounted on a rolling cart with a built-in watering system and grow lights

The Airplantman recommends 5 favorite air plants

Tillandsia ionantha: “It’s cute and small in size, with leaves that blush red when it’s blooming.”

Tillandsia caput-medusae: “This one has lots of charisma. The name means ‘head of snakes,’ and you can see why from its waving arms that curl or straighten, depending on watering.”

Tillandsia xerographica: “Known as ‘the king of air plants,’ it has bold, gray foliage and a striking form that’s both sun- and drought-tolerant.”

Tillandsia tectorum: “This one’s so fuzzy! The leaves have extra-long trichomes, or hairs, giving it a frosted appearance and making it sun- and drought-tolerant.”

Tillandsia stricta: “It’s a solid standby, hearty and prolific. It has green leaves with blue, pink or purple blooms that hummingbirds love.”

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