Marissa McInturff and Curro Bernabeu’s outdoor space means everything to them these days. Since stay-at-home orders went into place in Spain, the Barcelona-based couple leaves their home only to buy essentials, but they’re in a fortunate position: In addition to their 750 square feet of indoor space, they have 800 square feet of fresh air in the form of an atrium, patios, and a rooftop terrace. “It makes our little quarantined world feel so much bigger,” says Bernabeu.
Featured within the pages of Hilton Carter’s new book, Wild Interiors: Beautiful Plants in Beautiful Spaces (CICO Books), McInturff and Bernabeu’s outdoor space is home to hundreds of plants, including a thriving rubber tree that has more than tripled in size in the past year, thanks to the nurturing Mediterranean climate, and a recently acquired bougainvillea that, to their surprise, has bloomed deep red flowers. “They’re taking off,” says McInturff.
The greenery that is not situated on the ground crawls up the walls in ceramic pots (the flat-back containers are popular in Catalonia, and the couple secures them to the cement facade with strong anchors). While quarantine has put a temporary hold on their plant shopping, the pair is using this time to reconnect with the buds they do have. During the workweek, they treat these sunny areas as an office and set up their laptops outside. “Marissa only goes in when the sun goes down,” says Bernabeu. In this excerpt from Wild Interiors, Carter takes us inside the lush respite:
Curro and Marissa purchased their home about two years ago. “Our building was constructed in the late 1930s, and we’re not sure of its original purpose—it could have been housing, a workshop, or a warehouse. Everyone we talk to has a different theory,” says Marissa. When you first enter their building, you are in a linear atrium that connects four units. The atrium is covered with frosted glass, which helps to filter bright indirect light into the space throughout the day. Because of this, the residents of the building place plants outside their doors to make the communal spaces a lush, welcoming environment. Once you enter the apartment, you can feel the effect of the Mediterranean location right away.
“The climate here is pretty mild, and we have a lot of bright, protected outdoor spaces for plants to go if they don’t like the conditions inside the house,” says Marissa. So because of this, they let their outdoor spaces showcase their passion for greenery. And are they ever—passionate! When I ask Marissa how many plants they care for, she answers: “Hundreds.” I didn’t dare count for myself—seeing plants protruding from every corner, windowsill, and wall of their patios and terrace, I just took her word for it.
They have been bringing plants home since the day they moved in: “Immediately after moving in (and we do this a couple of times a year), we rented a van and drove up the coast to one of our favorite nurseries (in Spanish, it’s called a vivero) and absolutely filled the van, top to bottom, wall to wall, with plants. Our last apartment had a tiny balcony, and now we have a ton of outdoor space, but it’s all paved, so our immediate need was to fill it up with green! There wasn’t even a question; it was just this need. Both of us love the outdoors and crave a connection with nature, and having plants in our home gives us that.”
Curro told me he grew up in a home with houseplants, but definitely not quite as many as they have now. For Marissa, there were fewer inside, but she grew up in a home with lots of windows that was surrounded by trees. “Although the green wasn’t inside, the connection to it was very strong,” she says.
Living in Barcelona has its benefits. You get to eat all of the paella [you’d like], take siestas, and have mild-to-warm weather year-round. This means you rarely have to bring your outdoor plants inside once winter shows its ugly face. For Marissa and Curro, this is everything, because they treat their patios and terrace like an extension of their living and dining rooms. Since they mostly purchase plants for their outdoor spaces, there are many more options to choose from. For them, shopping for plants is quite simple. “It’s often based on love at first sight. Once we get a plant home, then we figure out where to put it. But at other times, we’ll be looking for something for a specific space and need to be sure we find a plant that will be happy with the light conditions,” says Marissa.
With so many plants, they have never felt the need to name them, and when asked, they wouldn’t admit to having a favorite, although Marissa says, “To be honest, Curro has a soft spot in his heart for the ponytail palms (especially the one he rescued from the trash).” As they say, one man’s trash ponytail palm is another man’s treasured ponytail palm—or something like that.
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