Green statement pieces across Kansas City’s Midtown and Crossroads neighborhoods — from Westside Flats to the spas at The Laya Center and the herb dispensary at Fresh Karma — boast just a snapshot of the story behind the mossy growth of The Fat Plant Society.
The eye-catching biophilic designs — which have the appearance of a forest top on its side — are the work of husband-wife duo Morten Klinte and Kasey Riley, reflecting a new movement to redesign spaces around greenery and other elements that simulate the outdoors.
“One of the aspects that has been brought to light during the pandemic is how important our actual workspace environment is,” Riley said. “What’s the air quality? How does it feel? If it’s a dark, dank room with fluorescent lights and no ventilation, people don’t want to come back.”
Around since 2016, The Fat Plant Society is a moss and biophilic design studio that creates sustainable interior pieces like floor and wall coverings mostly for commercial spaces, as well as private residences.
Click here to explore The Fat Plant Society.
Though the trend is growing in popularity, moss used in such installations is often misunderstood, Riley said. For example, living walls require dirt and water systems, which can be quite costly, whereas moss walls don’t need any watering or misting. The two terms are usually used interchangeably even though they’re quite different, she said.
“Basically the moss is neither living nor dead,” Riley said. “It’s just essentially been stopped in time and rendered dormant using a natural paraffin and glycerin process.”
In touch with nature
Studies show connections with nature boost humans’ overall wellbeing; a concept well-translated through biophilia and especially represented in Scandinavian countries like Denmark, where Klinte was born and raised in Copenhagen.
He met Riley — who is from Iowa but has lived across the globe, including in China — while both were on separate vacations in Malaysia. The couple married two weeks later and are celebrating 25 years together soon.
They moved to Kansas City for the first time in 1999 because Klinte had always wanted to live in the U.S. Their travels took them elsewhere until they returned to the city again to formally launch The Fat Plant Society.
The duo first worked with succulents, but they became more familiar with moss in 2017 after installing a 20-foot wall inside the now-closed Hogshead for Chef Clark Grant and Shawn McClenny.
They learned to use American moss, which tends to be hardier, sturdier, and clumpier than European moss, Riley said. The Fat Plant Society blog includes long-form articles about the different varieties, current trends, and more written by Riley. She said her strengths are researching and marketing, while Morton brings his sharp design eye to projects.
“He can look at a space and within seconds visualize how it’s going to come together,” Riley said.
A new reality, expectations
Most of the time, The Fat Plant Society designs for commercial clients.
Installations adorn the walls of the Ronald McDonald House, River Market Dental, Education Dynamics’s Lenexa location, MidContinent Public Library’s Withers location, Leverage Lab, and elsewhere across Kansas City. They also created a wall in the Tridel FORM building in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
But since more people are working remotely in the ongoing pandemic era, they’ve also been hired to create pieces in home offices. Riley said she’s working on some smaller concepts to be used on tabletops as an alternative to their larger pieces like the popular Skinny Panel, a 6-by-48-inch strip for $250.
Like many other businesses right now, they’re currently facing serious materials delays because of global supply chain challenges, Riley said. They’re telling clients to expect delays of eight to 12 weeks minimum while they wait for building materials to ship from overseas. In the meantime, she said, their priorities include managing customer expectations and communicating with existing clients.
While Kansas City will always feel like home and be a place of inspiration for the couple, they have dreams of taking the business international. Once the right opportunity comes along, she wants to build another large, dramatic piece like the one in Toronto, she said.
“Both of us have always thought big,” Riley said. “I would love to let our imaginations run wild and see what we come up with.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.