My 750sqft: Instagram’s ‘Apartment Botanist’ grows nearly 200 plants on the Upper West Side

October 2, 2018

6sqft’s series “My sqft” checks out the homes of New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Alessia’s plant-filled Upper West Side apartment. Want to see your home featured here? Get in touch!

Amassing 24,000 Instagram followers in just over a year is nothing to sneeze at, but when you have a collection of nearly 200 plants in a 750-square-foot Manhattan apartment, you’re going to attract some attention. Artist Alessia Resta moved into her Upper West Side home seven years ago, and when she saw how much light came in through the west-facing, 16th-floor windows, she decided to finally start assembling the plant collection she always wanted, and there was born the Apartment Botanist.

Today, Alessia, her boyfriend Micah, and their two dogs live very happily among the greenery, which includes many philodendrons (perhaps the most popular species among Insta-planties), Monsteras, and succulents. 6sqft recently visited their apartment to get a first-hand look at the plant paradise and learn what it takes to upkeep the operation. 

Okay, let’s get right to it–how’d you get into plants?!

My interest in plants sparked in college when I began looking into the form of plants as inspiration for my sculptures. I then started creating terrariums, which was a really therapeutic and meditative process. Slowly I became more interested in the plants themselves and their individual care needs. Once I started working from home, I made a decision to begin collecting new species and tested my limitations to what I could care for in my 750-square-foot apartment.

Describe the watering process to us.

Watering plants is a labor of love! I usually water Sunday or Saturday mornings (except for some plants that get watered twice a week). With the help of my boyfriend Micah, it takes about an hour to get to all 165 plants. I also try my best to water the plants in the shower because I like feeling like a rainforest!

Do you find it hard now not to keep acquiring more and more?

Yes, extremely! The more information I gather, the more unique plants I want to obtain. Instagram has become a beautiful yet dangerous place because my feed is continuously filled with eye candy plants. Every time I think my collection is complete I see another beautiful plant.

When a plant needs a little extra TLC, it goes to the “hospital,” the converted fish tank in the bedroom. The neon piece was done by Alessia.

What’s your process when a plant isn’t doing so well?

CRY! Haha, just kidding! I always have something happening with my plants; it’s a perfectly normal process for any plant parent to experience. Depending on the situation I usually try to first rule out pests. A big indicator of that is patterned leaf damage or deformities with new leaves. If it’s constant yellowing or browning I need to reevaluate my light and watering situation. If you rule everything else out my best piece of advice would be to un-pot it and see what’s happening below the soil surface. Maybe it’s time for fresh soil or a larger pot.

What would your best advice be to a New Yorker without a green thumb?

I was there with you once, trust me. I tried to grow cacti in my old and very sunless apartment, whoops! My best advice would be to get what works in your space and give it the best possible chance to survive. Don’t set yourself up for failure with a difficult plant right off the bat. Purchase an easy, beginner level plant, like a Snake Plant, and give yourself confidence by gathering information on your new plant. You’ll get the hang of it and feel like a pro!

Speaking of which, in your experience, what are the best plants for apartments?

This is a tricky question because I think a huge factor is light. I’ve built my brand on keeping rare and amazing plants in my west-facing apartment, so I’ve had a great opportunity to keep different types of plants here and when my natural light isn’t enough I accommodate them with grow lights. For me, there is always a way when it’s a plant you love.

We know even plant mommies don’t like to pick favorites, but is there one plant that is most special to you?

I go through waves of favorites all the time. It’s a good way to stay fair. Currently, my two favorites are my Anthurium Forgetii and my Philodendron Patriciae.

Micah, we know Alessia is super passionate about plants, but how have you gotten into it since living together?

At first, I was a bit hesitant about having so many plants, but after seeing all the different varieties, I’ve grown to appreciate the time and work that goes into caring for them. I do have my favorites as well like the Alocasia Zebrina Reticulata and the Aglaonema Pictum Tricolor. Both have intricate patterns that draw me to them.

Top: Shitzu Pachino, named after the town in Italy where Alessia’s grandparents are from; Bottom: Zeus, a Weimaraner 

Do you ever have issues with the dogs going after the plants?

Thankfully, we are fortunate to have little to no issues with the dogs and the plants. The only time we have a problem is when Zeus wags his tail into the leaves of the plants. But hey, that’s one happy dog!

A lot of the coral and glass boxes come from estate sales

You mentioned that a lot of your decorative items are from estate sales. When did you start this hobby?

I started going to thrift stores a lot in college to find budget-friendly clothes and objects for projects. Back then I didn’t realize it was a hobby because it was more of a necessity. After I met my boyfriend, Micah, I began learning more about design through him and his father, who is a mid-century modern collector. We started going to estate sales and flea markets together to track down certain items. It’s always fun because you never know what you’re going to find once you’re there!

What are your favorite thrift stores and flea markets?

I’ve always loved Housing Works here in NYC. I’ve been going there since I was a freshman at SVA. I still browse my local HW all the time. They are wonderful! My current favorite flea market is Elephant Trunk in Connecticut. I used to love going to the Garage in Chelsea, but sadly, they stopped running.

Speaking of shopping, where do you buy most of your plants?

I buy most of my plants online due to the fact I’m mainly looking for unique tropicals like philodendrons and anthuriums. That doesn’t stop me from going to amazing stores in the city like The Sill, Sprout Home, Plantshed, and the plant district on 28th street.

Your social media following has really grown. What has that been like?

I’ve never felt more connected in many ways. I’ve been fortunate to find like-minded plant lovers from all over the world. With my growing following, I have gained a broader sense of responsibility to produce meaningful content, and it’s only made me a better content creator because of it.

What is your best advice for someone hoping to start their own niche Instagram account?

Just dive right into it. Immerse yourself in the community that interests you. Engage with accounts in that community and foster friendships. Most importantly, create work that is unique to yourself that will always be way more interesting!

The living room coffee table is a Paul McCobb; the shag rugs in the living room and bedroom are also vintage

In addition to your plant collection, you have quite an impressive collection of mid-century-modern furniture. Tell us about this.

This style is very influenced by Micah and his father. I’ve taken what they’ve collected and put my eclectic spin in the space. The modern furniture acts as the right bones and clean lines for the splash of colorful artwork and plants that fill it.

Alessia runs a laser business. She studied digital art at SVA.

You work from home as a laser artist. How did you organize the space to fit your printer and supplies?

Organization is a daily apartment living and working struggle that I go through. It is not easy keeping inventory where you live, but I always try to reevaluate the space to see what can be most effective. I usually try to maximize efficiency along with look and feel. My printer has always been in the space it’s in now, and I’ve created an ecosystem of plants around it. I refer to that section of the apartment as the “urban industrial center.”

What brought you to the Upper West Side and how did you find your apartment?

We’ve been in the area now for seven years. We originally moved uptown from my college dorm on the Lower East Side so that Micah could be closer to work. Our first apartment uptown was a 600-square-feet, sunless space so we knew we couldn’t live there past a year. That’s when we found our current apartment, and as soon as I saw the light, I was sold. We’ve been here ever since.

Favorite spots in the neighborhood?

Our favorite spot was Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table, which is where Micah and I ended up on our first date eight years ago. They shut their doors this past summer, but it’s always a really special place for us. Some of our other favorite food spots are Naruto Ramen, Jacob’s Pickles, Good Enough To Eat, and Amorino! Other go-to spots are the North Woods in Central Park and Riverside Park.

All photos taken by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft. Photos are not to be reproduced without written permission from 6sqft.

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