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Design Toolchest: Using Themeing Foliages

by Brett Peterson of Commercial Silk Int'l

What is Themed Foliage?

Themed foliage is the process by which a designer selects a pallet of artificial foliages from hundreds of foliage varieties in order to be used in combination together to create a desired theme.

How should you evaluate and choose a themed foliage company?

There are three main disciplines to evaluate when selecting a foliage Company; design, manufacturing and installation. Many foliage Companies only supply the product and it is the responsibility of the client to hire a themed fabricator to use the product to create the theme design. This approach has it limitations in that a themed fabricator is skilled at building products from the ground up, but in order to create a theme using foliages you must have an expert in landscape design. You will not get the desired effect if you simply think putting a palm tree in the corner of a room will give you a tropical theme. You must select a Company that can take the themed fabricators vision and add foliages, plants and trees to create an immersive landscape design that invokes the theme.

Second, you must select a Company that can manufacture complete plants and trees to your exact specifications. This does not mean they are custom, it simply means that they built to order and that they are not selling you imported pre-built Asian plants. This is important, because with any theme design you must manufacture the products to appropriately fit into the design. For example, if the foliage supplier only has 6' plants but the space is large and expansive and requires 10'+ trees, the supplier needs to be able to build these to the specifications required to create the correct design.

Finally, the last and perhaps the most important consideration would be if the foliage supplier has the ability to install the project. As mentioned previously, in order to create the entire effect, you must have a team capable of strategically planting all the material in the right areas in order to pull off the intended theme. This is a difficult thing to evaluate and the best way to determine if the Company is capable is to review their previous installed projects. It will be visually apparent what Company is truly capable and what Company is not.

What types of themes can be created with foliage?

The most typical theme is a tropical theme and is mostly seen at themed restaurants and entertainment venues. Additional themes include; northwoods, wilderness, southwest, asian and more.

How are the foliages used to create a theme?

The designer will be experienced in the art of both design and manufacturing in order to create the desired theme. The designer must know both how a single foliage branch can be used individually in the display as well as how the foliage branch can be used in the crafting of a bigger larger themed plant/tree. Often times the designer will need to know how to use a multitude of different materials including epoxies, urethanes, foam and paint to manufacture the finished plant/tree on-site. In addition, the designer will need to be aware of the many crossover applications of trees, plants and foliages. A Maple Tree for example, depending upon its color / shape / density, can be used in a residential boulevard setting, a forest diorama, a winter scene or a graveyard. Customization of products, either by the manufacturer or on site is critical in achieving the desired effect.

We at Commercial Silk Int'l have worked with architects and designers all over the World to create various themes using our foliages. To date, our product has been installed in over 50 countries. To learn more about how we have used trees, plants and foliages to create themes, visit our Case Study pages on our website. All of our Case Studies can be sorted by theme.

What are the requirements for themed foliage complying with building fire codes?

Most building inspectors require fire retardant materials throughout the theme displays. Even if they do not specify it initially they will sometimes retroactively require it to be applied after the display is installed.

What are the advantages of IFR** Foliage (Inherently Fire Retardant) foliage:

Foliage that is created through a process by which fire retardant chemicals are impregnated into the materials during the manufacturing process is called IFR, or Inherently Fire Retardant. These chemicals are blended with the fabric as well as the plastic or PVC parts at the time the materials are injected into the mold. Commercial Silk Int'l is a direct importer of the industry's largest selection of IFR TM Foliages. We have developed the most extensive line of IFR TM Foliages in order to provide architects and designers the ability to create their entire theme using fire retardant foliages. This is an important distinction, because often times architects and designers become limited in their selections and are unable to fully create their themes with fire retardant material. Our large selection of IFR TM Foliages enables our clients to create entire themes that are completely fire retardant.

What are the alternatives to foliage that are not IFR** (Inherently Fire Retardant), and why are they not as desirable?

Non-IFR foliage may be treated by spraying or dipping it in topical fire retardant chemicals. This process of fire retarding is not done during the injection of the material into the mold. Rather, this is done as an after-market application. This method often leaves a spotty or discolored film that can degrade the foliage giving it a wilted look. The tacky surface film that is left on the foliage can attract dust and can wash or wear off easily, requiring expensive re-application of the chemical. The level of protection provided by this topical chemical is often very inconsistent and inadequate for meeting fire codes. This is why the process of impregnating chemicals directly into the materials during manufacturing presents a superior result that is often preferred over other methods, such as this topical application.

What are the Benefits of IFR** (Inherently Fire Retardant) Foliage ?

IFR** Foliage

Other Fire Retardant Applications

Chemicals impregnated into the materials during manufacturing

Treated by spraying or dipping it in topical fire retardant chemicals

Will not wash or wear off

May wash or wear off and requires periodic reapplication

Consistent fire protection

(NFPA 701; NFPA 705; ASTME 84-97a Class A; UL 723; California Title 19; US Gov SIN 722-06)

Inconsistent fire protection

Structurally sound; premium grade materials withstand commercial application.

May degrade materials, resulting in a wilted appearance

Smooth surface reduces dust build-up

Tacky surface film attracts dust

Visually identical compared to standard foliages

Appearance may have a spotty or discolored film

What are the design considerations for artificial foliages used in outdoor applications?

Outdoor foliages are manufactured the same way as the IFR foliages in that a UV inhibitor is impregnated into the foliage at the time of manufacturing. By injecting the UV into the plastic, PVC and fabric, as opposed to post treating the foliage with a spray-on UV, you lock the properties into the main materials of the foliage thereby creating a higher quality UV protection. In addition to the UV component, it is also important that the foliages are made from durable materials capable of withstanding the harsh outdoor environments. Most outdoor foliages are manufactured from plastic. Commercial Silk Int'l manufactures outdoor artificial trees, plants and foliages for a number of applications including boxwood hedges, topiaries, evergreen trees, and more.

What are the costs associated with themed using foliages, plants and trees?

It is dependent on the size, amount of customization, amount of detail, botanical correctness (ie; is it imperative for a Norway Spruce to be built on a Spruce trunk?) and the ability for the display builder to do on site modifications. Often times, museums are the only application where recreations must be totally authentic and botanically precise. For theme parks, water parks and other entertainment venues, the idea is to create the desired look by using existing foliage molds and altering them slightly to create the theme. By using existing foliage molds, the clients are able to save substantial costs that normally are associated with building custom molds.

Is plant customization available?

To a point. If you need two fall color Poison Ivy plants you may be better off modifying a readily available plant from a catalog. If you require 2 acres of an Autumn Prairie grass a supplier may be able to manufacture the product. As with all things, as soon as it becomes custom the costs increase dramatically. Commercial Silk Int'l has extensive experience building custom trees, plants and foliages for themed applications. Our catalogs are used as a starting point for architects and designers. From there, we custom manufacture to each client's specific application. From half trees, to column wraps to foliage ceiling screens we can manufacture what you need.

What is the time frame for obtaining plants?

It depends upon the product, size and custom nature of the plant. Generally loose foliage can be shipped within a day or two. Built products usually have a lead time of 3 – 5 weeks. Large product quantities, manufactured specifically for a project can take 6 months to a year to produce. Check with the manufacturer to obtain a production schedule and availability.

How can we get design and budget assistance?

Most reputable manufacturers have staff designers and graphic designers that can assist in budgeting, plant selection, installation procedures and product photos. Make sure you select a supplier that can aid in design as well as can provide a turnkey solution by providing installation. Commercial Silk Int'l is a full service design / build Company specializing in the manufacturing, design and installation of trees, plants and foliages exclusively for commercial projects.

What foliage features should I be looking for in a Supplier and what are the Benefits?

Features

Benefits

Exclusive Foliage Designs

Botanically correct / More selection / Not cookie cutter

Custom Foliage Availability

Able to make any type of Foliage

Unitized Foliage or Pin Sealed

Lasts longer / looks better longer

Thicker Gauge Wire in Stem

Foliage will not spin / Holds shape longer

Easier to reshape / Lasts longer

Coating on Leaf Surface

Easier to clean / Lasts longer

Custom Painted Foliage

Can create seasons / more authentic / Can add shading or color

Inherently Fire Retardant

Meets current codes / Safer / User friendly/ Plastic and fabric are treated

What plant/treee features should I be looking for in a Supplier and what are the Benefits?

Features

Benefits

Use of Natural Material

More botanically correct / more authentic

Hard Wood Stems

Longevity – Ability to hold its shape

Add-A-Branch

Make a larger canopy / Can create a different shape, also get a larger tree through a smaller access area

Coned Tips

Better transition from branch to foliage

Cable System

Ability to hold its original shape – last longer and easier to install

Hand Painted

Blends imperfections into natural stem

Brett Peterson is a principal at Commecial Silk Int'l , a manufacturer and supplier of artificial trees and silk plants based in Minneapolis, Minnesota."

** IFR™ Foliage (Inherently Fire Retardant) foliage is a trademark of Commercial Silk, International.

   

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