Bloom Where You Are Planted
High Point designers Allen and James grow their business with plants
By Jennifer Bringle
High Point interior designers Patti Allen and Stephanie James of Allen and James Interior Design believe in the power of plants. Whether to inject color and life into a space or to take their own business to a new level, the designers know plants can be transformative.
“You can really finish a house with plants,” says Allen. “Everybody loves green, and they see it in their outdoor space and love to see it on the inside of their home, too.”
That’s why Allen and James decided to go beyond simply adding greenery to clients’ homes and opened their own plant shop, Fiddle Figs. Housed in the 100-plus-year-old Sherrod house in downtown High Point — which serves as headquarters for their design firm and home furnishings and accessories boutique — Fiddle Figs adds the finishing touch to round out their business, just as plants do for home design.
“We wanted to add more of a niche for our company, and I think our clients really enjoy it,” says James. “It opens up the door to design on their patio or their front porch.”
Building synergy between indoor and outdoor spaces is one of the biggest benefits of adding plants to a home, according to Allen and James. The key is to be thoughtful when selecting greenery for each space.
“You can get creative or have the vegetation match to correlate the outdoors with the interiors,” says James. “Some people just pick the basic plants, but we like to mix it up a little differently and have the style of plants match the style of architecture.”
That architectural approach guides the designers’ selection of plants both for clients and their shop. While there’s certainly room for basics like geraniums and daisies, the duo often choose more sculptural plants such as succulents, elephant ears, orchids and their store namesake fiddle-leaf fig — a tall, dramatic variety with large violin-shaped leaves that can grow up to 6 feet in height.
“I think the scale of the piece is important,” says Allen. “Instead of putting a floor lamp in the corner, sometimes I’d rather have a tall plant. And today there are so many beautiful pots and containers that add that different layer. It’s a different way to accessorize.”
And the process of choosing the right plant for a space is quite similar to selecting furniture and accessories.
“It’s just like a sofa in a home,” says James. “How does it fit? How are they going to use it? Are they going to care for it? It’s all the same thing; it’s just a different product.”
But unlike furniture or accessories, plants don’t require the same monetary investment to transform the look of a room.
“Plants really give you a lot of bang for your buck,” says James. “You can have a tall tree in the corner, and it’s less expensive than most accessories you can buy or a piece of furniture.”
Admittedly, most plants require ongoing attention to ensure they continue to enhance a space rather than detracting from it. With that in mind, Allen and James partnered with Pam Rogers, a master gardener who helps source plants for the boutique and provides guidance for plant owners to keep their greenery alive and well.
“She’s the expert — she’s been doing this for a long time,” says Allen. “Stephanie and I are the experts on knowing what the best pot is and what style we like.” But it’s Pam Rogers who takes it from there. With her help, Allen and James provide care sheets detailing how to maintain the vegetation. And they even add alerts to clients’ smartphones to remind them to water their plants.
For clients who are really serious about their plants, Allen and James sometimes help them adjust a room’s design to accommodate the vegetation.
“To bring in proper light, I’ll just do curtain panels to the side where it’s not covering the window,” says James. “We even once took off the stained glass on the front of a house and opened it up to allow more light to come in.”
And outdoors, there are even more factors to consider when adding plants to a space — not only light, but also heat and other weather conditions.
“I just had a penthouse installed in Winston-Salem, and we brought in big containers with trees and topiaries,” says James. “But then you have to take into consideration the wind. We had to put down 160 pounds of stone in each pot to weight it. There’s Mother Nature as your outdoor objection you have to overcome — it’s not just about the look, there are other factors involved.”
With so many sources for plants from local nurseries to big-box retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot, Allen and James knew there would be a fair amount of competition for Fiddle Figs’ business. The designers work to set themselves apart by offering distinctive plant varieties not available elsewhere, as well as healthier plants cultivated to last longer. And unlike those other outlets, their boutique offers the service of an interior design firm to help customers not only choose their plants, but also install them in the home or yard.
“Now there are so many people who love to have their patios done, and they want someone else to come in and do it,” says Allen. “There are a lot of people who have nice nurseries and plant stores, but they don’t want to come to your house to do the planting. Our clientele likes that we offer that.”
But Fiddle Figs isn’t just for interior design clients. The shop — along with the home furnishings and accessories boutique — is open to the public, and Allen and James see it as a way to offer their services to customers of all budgets.
“We want everybody to be able to come in here and buy a plant,” says Allen. “A lot of our clients come in here and leave with a plant because it makes them feel good. It’s something small you can change around in your home.”
When they embarked on this venture just a year ago, the designers weren’t sure what to expect. But so far, even with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Fiddle Figs has been a success. And more than that, the business has been an opportunity for Allen and James — 20-plus-year veterans of the interior design industry — to explore something new and push themselves outside their comfort zone.
“One reason we did this is because it was a new challenge,” says James. “We know a lot about furnishings and about spaces, but getting to know the plants and what lives where and even having the containers big enough for the root systems, it’s just a different thing that we can enjoy.” h
Jennifer Bringle has written about home design for nearly a decade, most recently as editor-in-chief of Casual Living magazine. She also admits to having a pretty green thumb, caring for dozens of plants throughout her Greensboro home.