1) We heard that you have a crush on air plants when you visited Hawaii. What do you find special about these plants? Why did you choose them?
There is something so charismatic about tillandsia or airplants. They look like they could get up and walk away, or just landed from another planet. When I learned they also required no soil and could live suspended in air I became really interested, the final blow was learning there were over 600 species in all shapes, sizes, and colors. I love variations on a theme and trying to collect them all!
2) Why did you name your own brand as Airplantman? How did you put forward your first steps in business?
Airplantman was actually my first email address when email was invented! Josh Rosen and all its variations were taken so had to get creative and had already started a collection of tillandsia by that time. When playing with words the combination of airplant and man flowed together and was easy to remember, perfect for an email address. It wasn’t till almost a decade later that my passion for these plants turned into a business. When looking for a name I realized already had one!
My first steps in my business were purely born of a passion for these plants and elevating their display. I love tillandsia, but everywhere I saw them used it was what I call ‘airplant torture’. These displays made it particularly difficult to give them what they needed to thrive (regular water and air circulation) and/or didn’t highlight what was special about them (can live suspended in air). Finally there was something lacking aesthetically, they were treated as throw away items rather than celebrated as living sculpture that has evolved in a remarkable way.
My work as a landscape architect allows my to design outdoor spaces and as part of one of our projects a client requested a living wall and was fascinated by tillandsia. When I revealed my fascination and a concept I had been playing around with at home there was suddenly funding to create a more refined version of my idea. The result was spectacular and I quickly realized this custom project could be made in large quantities and shared with the world. The rest has been keeping up with requests for new projects and keeping the webshop developing to meet the demand.
3) You have created the modern and minimalistic vertical gardens to display the charm of air plants. And they are all handcrafted. How did you come up with such a concept?
Our goal was to create products that do 3 things. 1 – Highlight what is special about tillandsia, that they grow floating in air and have unique and beautiful forms. 2 – Make providing what tillandsia need to thrive easy, this is primarily air circulation and ease of repeated waterings. This is why our AirplantFrame is completely waterproof, to make submerging it along with its tillandsia easy. Airplants don’t love to be handled too often as our hands contain oils that are bad for their leaves, by creating products that allow you to water them without touching them it leads to healthier more beautiful plants. 3 – Make products that are refined in their aesthetic so that the unique organic forms of the tillandsia could really shine and a contrast can occur between nature’s design of these plants and our human-made rectilinear forms. We find the beauty in that juxtaposition.
4) You have created many projects in large scale, for example, the Custom Installation for Ray Kappe Designed Home was recreated from the whole exterior walls of a building. It’s very impressive. Have you encountered any challenges during the process? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges are usually the clients. Landscape and tillandsia installations are difficult as there is typically a leap of faith involved, no matter how many drawings or photos you show a client they usually cannot picture the end result 100%. This is due to the organic nature of plants and is simply an inherent quality of doing this kind of work. No one has ever been disappointed, its just making sure they have enough confidence to take that leap and move forward. The airplants themselves are easy to work with and usually very cooperative.
5) Currently, you also bring along some new products like AirplantVessel and AirplantFrames. These products can not only provide enough sunlight and air to the plants, but also make the daily care more easily. Where did you get inspiration for these products? Please tell us more about it.
Our inspiration is often from clients who push us to make their idea reality, with a little creativity and editing wonderful things emerge. It’s this collaboration that we really enjoy and the results are always unexpected and a lot of fun to share with the public ideas that come from private projects or installations (with everyone’s permission of course!).
6) You’re one of the pioneers who first introduce air plants to the public in an innovative way. What do you want people to feel about your work?
Our main goal as a brand is to connect people with nature. When I see the look of wonder on people’s faces when they see our work the mission is accomplished. Often when people see plants there brain doesn’t pause and moves on, we want to cause that cognitive dissonance of wait, that’s a plant, but it looks different and is floating in air….what’s going on here, I need to stop and learn more. That surprise factor is based on a natural evolution that lead to this genus, our display work seeks to highlight and maximize that impact. However, this isn’t simply dangling airplants from fishing wire, a thoughtful design approach needs to be taken. We spend countless hours debating every detail of our products and projects, usually editing to find the simplest and most powerful solution so that viewers step back and connect with nature in a fresh way.
7) It is said that there are at least 600 species of air plants, do you have any preference among them?
Duratti for its amazing small, caput medusa for its sculptural form, but streptophylla is my all time favorite for sheer charisma, they look like an creature from another planet that came down to visit.
8) Would you share with us some tips on plants caring?
It’s all about regular deep watering. Indoors is a challenging environment for tillandsia due to air conditioning and heating drying out the air. They can thrive however so long as given ample sunlight, occasional fresh air, and most importantly submerging in water for 6-12 hours weekly. People often give them a little spray of water once a month and think this is sufficient. It is, if you live in a rainforest and they are outside!
9) You were born in central New Jersey, a place surrounded by forests and natural landscapes. Did the life there drive your passion for nature and plants?
It did, for several reasons. New Jersey has everything from beautiful nature to suburban and urban areas that are less than inspiring, but certainly replicated throughout our country. I grew up right next to the Raritan Canal built in the 1800’s for transport of barges. A gravel tow path ran alongside that the mules would pull the barges along, I spent countless hours in this landscape either running along the towpath or wandering in the woods. The contrast of this completely linear human made feature of the landscape being reclaimed by nature as the forest encroached was fascinating and drew me in. Old deteriorating locks to control the water level were of particular interest, I love the simplicity of their utilitarian forms.
10) We heard that you liked to collect plants when you studied in Chicago and that you even worked as an intern in a botanical garden. Then you got your Master’s degree in Landscape Architect at the University of Arizona before you moved to LA searching for a post. What have you learned in each of your previous roles?
It has been interesting living in such varied parts of the country and each city had its own sense of place and unique landscape. Probably too much to share here, in short would say the experience of studying philosophy in college lead me to seek connections to reality and this world, with an emphasis on the relationship between nature and people. I joked that after studying philosophy I wanted to stop talking about reality and start doing work where undeniably something was different at the end. Landscape architecture is a profession where one shapes experiences and places and hopefully creates a relationship between people and nature that is mutually beneficial and increases the health of both. Practicing in LA the past 10+ years as a landscape architect has provided countless fascinating experiences with people and places that were both good and bad. In the future I hope to take these experiences and translate their lessons to create further changes to how we design, build, and develop policy that improves human lives and leads to healthier ecosystems. It’s a tall order, but inspiring to try.
11) You have collaborated with many clients and brand chain hotels. What impressed you most about these clients and hotels? Is there any client that you look forward to working with in future?
Client’s always keep things interesting! I don’t have a particular client looking forward to working with in the future but enjoy the challenge of different programs and personalities, and in particular the unexpected results of what can come from working together.
12) When you are not working, you travel a lot. Do you also seek inspiration during your trip? Which city or country do you like most?
I love travel and this past year had the opportunity to join a tillandsia focused eco-tour of Oaxaca and Chiapas in Mexico. The level of passion and knowledge of the other participants was amazing and such an inspiration. After years of opening boxes of tillandsia I ordered in the mail from a nursery, to be surrounded by them growing in their natural habitat was honestly quite an emotional experience for me. It was like visiting an old friend at their home for the first time and was informative from a scientific and practical perspective, but also quite spiritually meaningful. I had the chance to create some film footage of the trip and create a video I hope people can enjoy. Looking forward to more trips in the future where I can learn about where different plants call ‘home’.
13) What is your favorite moment so far when living with plants?
Hard to say, unfortunately I also live with cats that find plants far too tasty to simply admire from afar. While my garden and studio is overflowing with plants, no one remains alive and uneaten indoors!
14) Nowadays, your customers are from all over the world. Where do you see yourself going in the future?
I would love to do a world tour of all the amazing people we have connected with over the years and who enjoy our work. The response in Singapore, Australia, and Japan has been particularly strong and would love to do a pacific rim tour in the near future.