Bringing the outside indoors with ByNature's Wallflower Living Frame

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      While relatively new to Vancouver, the idea of living plants serving as decorative wall art is well-established in Europe. Ten years ago, France quickly caught on to the concept of framed foliage, which has updated an Old World design for a new generation.

      “There’s a tradition in Europe of the planted pot,” explains Fred Collay of Vancouver’s ByNature, interviewed in the company’s bustling East Vancouver workspace, which is best described as part art studio and part greenhouse. “You go everywhere, and always in the corner you’ve got a plant. They are almost like the home pet. Because Vancouver is a more transient place, there isn’t that tradition here. But people were craving that kind of greenery, and this was an easy way to access real, credible nature.”

      By “this”, the effortlessly charming French expat means ByNature’s Wallflower Living Frame, which Collay has brought to North America with his business partner, horticultural researcher Nicolas Rousseau. Live greenery—including those from the spider plant, ficus, fern, pilea, and ivy families—literally grows out of picture frames that are mounted on the wall, making for an ever-changing piece of art. The plants are fed through a watering and nutrient system that makes things easy for even the most gardening-challenged of individuals.

      “It’s a smart system because it takes care of itself,” he explains. “Even though the plants are live, you have to do minimal work. It’s really appealed to the younger crowd because they like the idea of connecting with nature without the hassle of having to know something about plants.”

      While the Wallflower Living Frame arrived on these shores as an import, it was quickly given a Canadian twist.

      “Nico made it a success because he kind of adapted the initial design for Western Canada,” Collay says as his partner busies himself in the background. “He made it look like a rain-forest ecosystem. The French design was more desertlike. The ones in France were dry-ish. We made these ones wet-ish—that was important.”

      As noted, the smart thing about the Wallflower Living Frame is that it’s almost impossible to kill the plants growing from it, even if you’ve got more of a black thumb than a green thumb. The greenery is rooted in soil in a pouch that is suspended above a plastic reservoir. A water-absorbent cotton wick attached to the pouch dangles into the reservoir, drawing up only as much water as needed for the plants. A water meter lets you know when the reservoir needs to be refilled, every week to 10 days.

      All of these mechanics are, of course, hidden. All you see is greenery, surrounded by frames that range from distressed farmhouse chic to bamboo to decidedly more modern-looking candy-apple reds and lime greens. Many of the frames are made by artists at 1000 Parker, the building where ByNature’s office is located.

      “We wanted to collaborate with local artists, because we felt like this was a good medium for artistic expression,” Collay says. “They really responded well to that. You have the woodworkers doing funky shapes, and more visual graphic artists playing around with some of the other frames.”

      Collay has no trouble explaining the appeal of the pieces. Instead of hanging pictures of plants on your wall, you get the real living and breathing thing. That connected with city dwellers partly because the modern world has in many ways cut us off from nature, whether we’re living in a modern steel-and-glass condo in Yaletown, or a 19th-century walkup in the middle of Paris’s Montorgueil district. Getting out and enjoying the forest or the countryside is a fine idea in practice, but can be a pipe dream for those stuck with endless deadlines in the big-city rat race.

      The goal of the Wallflower Living Frame, then, is to bring the outside indoors in a new way.

      “You are using wall space as a plant-bearing surface,” says Collay, whose work was just featured at the Vancouver Home and Design Show. “That’s new. Before us, you put your plants in a pot on a shelf or on the floor or on a table. If you didn’t do that, you didn’t have a plant.”

      Also important is the fact that the Wallflower Living Frame doesn’t take up a lot of space, with the pieces ranging from seven by seven inches to 36 by 14.5 inches. The last thing anyone in a compact condo needs is a piece of art that looks big enough to anchor a wall in the Louvre.

      “If you are from Vancouver, you know the relationship between Vancouver and square footage,” Collay notes. “If you are looking at three or four square feet of space, but still have some nature inside your place, that’s really great—it’s a win.”

      Collay—who moved to the West Coast from France just over a half-decade ago—suggests that living frames, which are sold in 200 stores across Western Canada (see the stores at the By Nature Design website), are perfectly suited to Vancouver in other ways. Laughing, he says, “The good thing is that you can just put it on your wall, and then six months later, when they kick you out because they’ve sold the house—that’s happened to me a couple of times here—then you can just box it up and take it with you.”

      Not only that, he adds that the Wallflower Living Frame gives folks a chance to own an organic changing piece of art that won’t cost the equivalent of an average Vancouver mortgage payment. Consider that a deal in a city where they are increasingly hard to find.

      “A large-size living wall is 36 inches long with 16 live plants, and you can buy it in a shop at $250,” Collay says. “Although this is a big word, something that I believe in strongly is that we are offering a democratization of nature by making something that is accessible and affordable.”




      Oct 25, 2014 at 6:38pm

      Dear monsieurs: Open source the design and then we can talk 'democratization'. That way, those without the $250 to spare or those hackers who might contribute by further innovating upon it would also be given a chance to benefit and contribute. The ecological state of our host planet makes it clear that it serves us all equally to begin reconnecting everyone equally, and doing so as quickly as possible. Merci.