Respite From A Sterile Environment

October 29, 2008
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When Western Michigan University graduates Jody and Scott DeVecht married 24 years ago, little did they know their professional lives would merge, as well.

Back in 1986, the couple looked at Jody’s training in interior design and Scott’s degree in biology, put the two together and bought a Foliage Design Systems franchise.

“It’s a unique kind of combination you don’t see very often,” said Jody DeVecht. “I understand interior design and how designers think and what their needs are. He’s got that very deep biology background and he understands plants and their needs. It’s kind of the marriage of the two that causes us to be so successful, and probably the only ones in West Michigan that handle these larger-than-life projects.”

This year, the Byron Center couple and their staff of 12 snagged four 2008 Best Project Awards from Interiorscape magazine, including Grand Awards for Herman Miller Inc.’s B-West Building in Zeeland and the University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor.

Foliage Design Systems was founded in Florida in 1971, and started franchising in 1980. Today 33 franchises operate in 15 states. Interior landscaping was a $1 billion business in 2000, according to Interiorscape magazine, with FDS ranked second in sales.

Although the DeVechts design interior plantings for many types of commercial buildings, they specialize in health care. In addition to the U-M center, their projects have included Spectrum Health’s Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion and Meijer Heart Center, Metro Health Hospital, Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences and a Borgess Methodist Hospital medical office building in Kalamazoo. They also install and maintain the plantings.

“We’re not just putting plants in. We’re creating an environment,” Jody DeVecht said. “If anything, hospitals need to find a place of respite from that sterile environment. It’s not unusual to watch somebody with their IV drip, in their hospital gown, inching their way forward, finding their way into that garden. There’s something about, not just the plants, but the sound, the feel — it all incorporates into that holistic healing. There’s something inside us that really responds well to the living environment.”

The DeVechts get involved in a project at the design stage to make sure that plant areas have enough strength to carry the weight load of dirt and plants, have drainage, a water source and, most importantly, light.

The two-month-long installation at Lemmen-Holton, with 4,625 square feet in six indoor gardens on six floors, demanded 15-hour days prior to its June opening, Jody DeVecht said. Each garden has a theme. The first floor is a Michigan theme, anchored by a 22-foot black olive tree. The second floor is the White Garden, featuring white Amazon lilies. The third floor has tropical blossoms such as hibiscus, bromeliads and bougainvillea. The fourth floor has ferns and a waterfall. On the fifth floor is tropical plants, and on the sixth floor are arid plantings with some rare and succulent plants, including Madagascar palms that look like cacti. The imitation rocks are hollow castings, shipped in from Colorado.

While constructions crews were finishing everything from floor tile to painting to signage until the 11th hour, the DeVechts’ crew moved several truck loads of pea gravel through the building so that each planting has a three-inch base for drainage. Installation of a 20-foot tree required the use of a crane and the removal of a window. And just before the opening, construction dust had to be removed from the flora, both for the health of the plants and for aesthetic appeal.

The DeVechts, the parents of two college-age daughters, are working next on plantings for Spectrum Health’s new Butterworth Hospital lobby. HQ

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