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Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist & Creativity Mentor

Interview with Maggie Coker,
Botanical Stylist & Creativity Mentor

Walking into botanical stylist and creativity mentor Maggie Coker’s Berlin apartment, is like walking into a candy store. Filled with visual treats, her home delights you with corners of beautifully arranged objects and tastefully styled dried flowers. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of visiting her at her home-studio in Neukölln. The vibrant bohemian space is filled with Maggie’s cool and calm charisma and underpinned by a creative energy that permeates the space. I could spend hours there, chatting about life and all it’s turns and tales. Here is some of what I learnt about the undeniably colourful miss Coker and her latest creative endeavours.


Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

You have such a lovely apartment – how long have you lived here and what brought you to Berlin in the first place?

“I have a had the contract for my flat for 10 years. It was really important for me to find affordable accommodation as I knew I wanted the option of living alone, and to open a shop. Even in 2008 it felt like a daunting task looking for a flat in areas like xberg. As a non-white German not all neighbourhoods felt comfortable to me. Elements of cultural diversity was something I felt was very important to me when choosing my home. Who could have imagined what would become of Berlin today and the nightmare and heartache people are suffering at the hands of greedy real estate agents, and private landlords. It wasn’t easy for me to find a place, I would often call up for a flat or flat-share, get a lovely response on the telephone, then show up and realise they were expecting someone that fitted the British accent, and not someone that looked like me.”

“However, I would swap those times for now. I have not known a time when I have never experienced prejudices or racism, but I have never been in a situation when I have been afraid to lose my home because the landlord decides he wants to now jump on the Berlin real estate hype.”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Your studio is an absolute oasis – what inspired you to work with plants and how did you get into flower styling?

“I think the decision was somehow already made for me. I’ve always worked with plants and flowers. It has always been a huge part of my emotional and physical health. Flowers make me happy so I kept them around. Botany was something I always trusted and been curious about, so I worked for companies that celebrated the medical healing benefits of plants and flowers.”

“Personally I continued to use flowers and plant based medicine when needed, but I segued into vintage clothes and opened a vintage shop and became connected with the Neukölln small business community around me. I founded the Neukölln Schatzkarte in 2013, a marketing tool to help increase business for small local businesses, and highlight the people behind them. I came to realise again that I was suited to work more directly with helping people, people felt very comfortable opening up to me in the shop with all their business problems, their stresses and depressions during hard times.”

“By 2015 my passion for flowers crept back in, and I turned Rag And Bone Man into a concept store, vintage clothes, flowers, café, textiles and crafts. As time moved on I cared less about vintage fashion and more about space surrounding it – the feeling it gave people. The flower concept Poems & Posies took a life of it’s own, we started to get big requests from the likes of brands like H&M home, Adidas, and even worked for Will I am…”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Is there a particular reason why you decided to work with dried flowers?

“Working with dried flowers as well as fresh was for the same reason as working with vintage clothes; the respect for sustainability, and the beauty of old ageing things, texture and value. I really feel blessed to be able to make money from working with flowers, so I guess it makes me value each flower just a that bit more and I tried to preserve as many as possible and give it an afterlife… to preserve the sentiment somehow.

I love how flowers dry, forming different shapes and creations. They are beautiful and have this really delicate appearance even though they now last much longer. How have people or clients been responding to this?

“Always mixed reactions, some love them, some don’t… But overall very positive and rewarding.”

Where do you get the flowers that you work with?

“I get my flowers locally and from the large flower market in Berlin.”

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker
Studio of Botanical Stylist & Creative Director Maggie Coker

You’re so creative and have a great eye for colour and design. Do you have any creative training or background in design or the arts?

“I studied Performance Arts for five years. I think set design is something that is always with me. The mood of the room is very important to me and how it inspires or makes others feel. I’m a dreamer and somehow always trying to create my dream space.”

Are there any other flower stylist or creative person that you admire and draw inspiration from?

“There are some I admire for their business direction. I try to look more inwards for creativity. Nowadays I feel there is an over stimulation of creativity. It’s hard to tell what is coming from you, or just images and styles you have scrolled over for the millionth time on Instagram. But it makes me happy seeing so many boss ladies doing their thing. I think the flower business has taken a new direction because of so many awesome women and their innovation. And thank goodness for all the amazing photographers who bring our work to life…”

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director
Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

We chatted once about the beauty of aged flowers, and how we as societies should learn to appreciate age and imperfection more. What other positive change would you like to see realised in the world?

“Things I would love to see change in the future is more diversity in access to business funding for women and in particular women of colour and marginalized groups. Thankfully one of the good things about social media is that people who normally was not given mainstream exposure can create their own following, and form their own narratives, and set up incredible business concepts. You can also find things that are relatable and represent your concerns and outlook in life in a true likeness. But as much as I appreciate the opportunities that social media offer, I would rather spend more time in real life connecting with people, and I feel the cracks of overuse of social media is begining to take its toll on people.”

“For example last year summer we hosted a Creative Flower Talk Salon, and the topic was, Social Media Perception vs Reality, how this impacts our self esteem and mental health. A couple of attendees shared with us that social media made them feel lonely, envious of others success, and was quite overwhelmed by all the glossed over happiness online, that they did not feel in their own personal lives at the moment.”

“At the end of the session we used rose as the flower language for the session. All flowers have a language, but roses hold a special place in our hearts. They actaully open your heart chakra for expression and love. With rose petals we gave all the attendees a moment to listen to their souls as a flower by allowing it to blossom and be seen, heard and understood. They each went away with a memory pouch filled with rose petals as a reminder of the healing circle we formed together, and a place where they were Seen, Heard and Understood! We need more spaces where people can open up about their mental health issues without fear judgement or stigma.”

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Maggie Coker Botanical Stylist Creative Director

Tell me a little about your new endeavour, Greenhouse Mentality, how did it all come about?

“The Greenhouse Mentality – a joint venture with creative director Florian Wenzel – uses plants and flowers as a muse to open up conversations about mental health and emotional well-being in the workplace and amongst the freelance, creative community. We curate stress relief and flower therapy workshops for companies, as well as hosting Creative Flower Talks Salons, and podcast series with special guests and community leaders sharing their mental health journeys, hopefully breaking down stigmas and encouraging others to speak up! We want to train at least one person in each company that we work with to be a mental health first aider.”

“Over the 7 years I managed my own concept store, it occurred to me that the workplace is where we spend most of our adult lives. Sadly, it is also the place where, in my experience, mental well-being is the most neglected and stigmatized. We worry about fitting in, fulfilling company expectations, maintaining consistent levels of performance and creativity, generating more business and paying our bills. We are often made to feel that high stress levels, and overly demanding positions, go hand in hand with success. Being bored on the job, a common cause of mild depression and anxiety, is often brushed off as a “luxury” problem or employees are too scared to mention it.”

“If we have visible injuries or illnesses like a broken a leg, or even the flu, companies and co-workers are more understanding and even offer sympathy. However, this is sadly not the case for mental health issues, which are not as easy to see or understand as there are no visible symptoms. Evidence shows the earlier we identify a mental health issue, such as stress, anxiety or depression, the more manageable and easier it is to treat.”

“We can dramatically improve the mental well-being of the start-up and creative community in Berlin by making talking about mental health commonplace at work. This is done through training team members and co-workers on how to address mental health issues at work and create an open and safe environment to talk without judgement. The Greenhouse Mentality uses the beauty and magic of flowers to connect with companies and their co-workers. Our aim is to sign up as many companies as possible to take part in our Mental Health First Aider training programs. Our mission is to make talking about mental health as common place as talking about a common cold and to curate nurturing spaces that inspire healing and learning.”

“In 2019 I hope we can attract more funding and partners that also see the importance of improved mental health awareness in the startup and business communities of Berlin.”

Maggie Coker Home Studio

Maggie Coker Home Studio
Maggie Coker Home Studio

Are there any events coming up that you’d like us to know about?

I have two events coming up, one is a cozy walk in nature called Gratitude Walk For Women’s Mental Health on February 3rd at 2pm. You can find more details about it here. And the other event is on February 9th, called Greenhouse Mentality – Botanical Self-Care. More details about it here.

Name your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee:
“For coffee my favs are Companion Coffee, Two and Two, and Populas. I don’t have a favourite breakfast spot at the moment.”

Spending a summer’s or winter’s day:
“My summer and winter days vary, depending on my mood and the temperature! We are so blessed to have so many green areas with canals and lakes in Berlin, an abundance of cafés and cultural events happening each and every week. But I love eating out with friends, it’s still something that is affordable in this city.”

Finding inspiration:
“I draw inspiration from everyday life, going for walks in nature, reading articles, photography, visiting public places, in my dreams, spending time with friends and of course from time to time on the internet.”

A night out with friends:
“I enjoy going to Rosa Caleta Jamaican reasurant, beautiful warm hearted people and great service. I also love to go the Nigerian restuarant Ebe Ano. I’m a dinner person, more than bar and drinks.”

Maggie has a beautiful instagram account called ragandbonemanvintage. Be sure to check it out! To stay up to date with events and happenings at Greenhouse Mentality, be sure to follow them as well!

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

English Countryside Glamping: Middlestone Farm

Glamping in the English Countryside

Nearing the end of fall, Peter and I ventured across the pond to attend the annual Amara Blog Awards in London. We decided to make a weekend affair of our British trip, and rented a car, heading westward for a weekend of glamping in the English countryside.

We were keen to spend a few days in nature and was excited to find a farm that offered a low key refuge a stone’s throw from the beautiful Exmoor national park. After a long day of driving we finally reached Middlestone Farm. The beautifully fashioned safari-style tent, named badger lodge, had been warmly prepared for our arrival. With a fire already crackling in the cast iron ESSE, farmer and owner Patrick, gave us our introduction. A home-made lasagne was waiting in the fridge – right and ready to be propped in the oven – along with a hand written welcome note and bottle of bubbly. A most pleasent start to a marvellous weekend.


Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

With a view over the valley and a personal hot tub, Badger lodge is indeed on the glamerous side of camping. The spacious tent is not only beautifully decorated but comfortably furnished with attention given to every little detail. Owners Patrick and Catherine Heard know exactly how to make their guest feel at home. In fact, Middle Stone farm also has it’s own little farm shop, with food items sourced from the farm and surrounds. You even have the option to order some freshly made bread; warm and ready for pick up the next morning.

Indeed I was so charmed by what Middlestone had to offer, I asked Caroline and Patrick to tell me a little more about their farm and how the idea of Middlestone farm came about.

Could you tell me a little about the history of Middle Stone Farm, the idea behind it and where it all began?

“We think the farm house at Middle Stone Farm is about 300 years old, it used to be a diary farm and village cricket matches used to happen in the glamping field and cricket teas on the front lawn. The club moved to nearby Pitsford Hill in the 80s we think. We chose the farm because of it’s size and manageability of the land, also because we thought the site would work well for glamping.”

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon
Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

<img src="http://soonafternoon.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Glamping-in-the-English-countryside-17.jpg" alt="Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside

The lodge is beautifully decorated and superbly built. Who is behind it all? Did you do it yourself or get some help?

“The canvas Lodges are produced in nearby Wellington. The carpentry work was by local builders and the lodges are decorated by ourselves.”

I read that you were interested in becoming a certified organic farm. How is that going? Is it tough to do?

“We are in the process of converting to Certified Organic at the moment. We have had our first inspection and will be certified Organic for Pigs in the summer 2019 and the rest of the farm in summer 2020. There is a lot more paper work, mainly to prove traceability and to justify any intervention (ie medicine for sick animals). Animal feed where required, is more expensive and work on the farm is more labour intensive as you have to remove weeds manually, and cannot use herbicides or pesticides.”

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon
Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

On your website you speak about a sustainable lifestyle. Can you elaborate a little on what that means for you guys and about how it works?

“Sustainable for us means – The heating and hot water on the farm is carbon neutral and renewable, using our own wood and from a forest a couple of miles away. Currently approx 70% of our electricity is generated by solar panels on the barn roof providing a large proportion of electricity and sending power back to the grid. We hope to generate 100% of our electricity in the future. As far as possible all of our electric appliances and light sources are low energy. We produce all of our own meat and eggs on the the farm and we hope in 2019 to be producing all our own vegetables. We try and have lots of local products in our farm shop. All the water on the farm comes from our own spring and is only treated by UV light, no chemicals.”

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

English country side
Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Do the principles of sustainability carry through to the lodge as well? If so, could you tell me a little about that?

“Yes, the lodges are produced by a local firm – only 20 minutes from Middle Stone Farm. The wooden platforms they’ve built on and the wooden walls are from local sawmills with wood from the surrounding woodlands. The firewood from the stoves is from a local woodland.”

The lasagne you left for us was mouthwatering! It was so nice to arrive to a home cooked meal after so many hours of driving. Who’s the cook behind these wonderful dishes?

“We produce all the meals ourselves using local products and our own meat and eggs where possible.”

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon
Glamping in England

From the short chat we had with Patrick it sounds like you have quite an adventurous history. Could you give me a little information about your background?

“Patrick and I met in London, Patrick was a wine merchant and I was working at Sotheby’s auction house. We knew we wanted to move the country and relocated to East Sussex shortly after getting married. Then around 5 years ago we decided we wanted to live a more self sufficient sustainable life, eating our own meat and vegetables, or our neighbours food, knowing it is free from unnecessary chemicals and that the animals have had a happy outdoor life.”

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon
Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Middlestone Farm – Glamping in the English countryside by Soonafternoon

Is there a place you like to escape to? Somewhere you go to recharge or that makes you feel good other then Middle Stone of course if indeed you ever need to escape from the farm?

“We love France and used to go over quite often when we lived in the South East. It’s not so easy to escape from the farm now, especially with all the animals who typically decide to escape if they hear we’re thinking of going away for a night or two. So it would be Cornwall for the moment – easy to get to from Somerset and the Cornish coast is beautiful.”


Name your favourite spots in Exmoor for:

Breakfast or coffee: Brazier Coffee Roasters, Wellington, Somerset
Spending a hot summers day: Tarr Steps near Dulverton
Spending a cold winters day: By the Aga in our kitchen!
Finding inspiration: Instagram
A night out with friends: Around our kitchen table or at a friend’s. Our clubbing days are far behind us!

For more info about Middlestone farm, be sure to visit their website. They also have a ton of great reccomendations and tips and ideas of things to do around Exmoor. Their instagram account is just as wonderful, with beautiful pictures of life on the farm and the wonderful creatures you may find there.

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

BLOSSOM BY HAUS//KLINIK

If you’re an avid reader of my blog, you know by know that I’m pretty crazy about plants. I love spotting new flower shops around the city and taking a peek inside. But often my high expectations of blooming bliss, are met by disappointing interiors and sad looking over-priced plants wrapped in plastic. Until one sunny Sunday afternoon, when I ventured into Blossom.

I could tell straight away that this store was different. The tasteful interior is a mix of scandi-cool and tropical jungle with a neat displays of mint condition flora. What makes this space so special though, is not only the excellent quality of it’s offering, but their approach to sustainability.


Flower shop in Berlin

The shop in Sredzkistrasse 57 is the handy work of Kristin and Daniel Hallson. Kristin, who’s from Norway, felt dissatisfied by the lack of quality flowers in Berlin. The flower industry is still far behind, when it comes to fair trade and organic production and Hallson would like to change that. So, as a way of scratching her own itch, their environmentally friendly flower shop went from idea to fruition in just under a year.

The entire business approach is that of practical, sensible sustainability. All their plants are top tiered produce, sourced from entirely sustainable and eco friendly farms in Germany and Holland. Their focus is thus on quality rather than quantity, and their selection based on what’s available close-by and coupled with a positive impact on lives, the environment and the economy. In addition to beautiful houseplants and ready-made flower bunches, the store also offers three types of pre-made bouquets aimed at businesses as well as sustainably made pots and planters.

I wanted to know a little more about this exciting venture. So last week I paid them another visit, to interview the inspiring shopkeeper, and find out what makes Kristin tick:

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin
Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Q&A

How did you get started with Blossom? What was the inspiration and driving force behind starting this venture?

“We got started with blossom by HAUS//KLINIK after moving to Berlin in 2016. We found that there are a lot of flower shops here, but we missed the way of buying flowers that we’re used to in Scandinavia. We usually buy flowers by the bunch and mix our own bouquets.”

If you could summarise what you are trying to accomplish in one or two sentences, how would that sound?

“We would like show people that it is possible to get very beautiful, sustainably grown flowers, for a reasonable price. Great quality flowers don’t cost that much extra and they will make you happy for longer!”

If there is one change you would like to see realised in the world, what would that be?

“When it comes to the flower industry we would be thrilled if more shops chose quality over quantity. In order to change the industry we need to present the customers with real quality flowers so that they can see, feel and smell the difference. We always buy flowers that are grown as close to us as possible, and only top quality flowers. A rose grown here in Germany smells like grandmas garden and the colours are much more vibrant!”

What motivates you in your work and daily life and where do you find your inspiration?

“The feedback we get from our customers motivates us the most. They inspire us to keep going and their feedback prove to us that we are on the right track. We recently got a complaint from a customer, stating that the quality of our flowers are too good! She wanted to change her flowers back home, but after three weeks they were still looking too good to be thrown away.”

Do you have a brand, icon or business that inspires you? What about them motivates you?

“I’m very inspired by OOhh Collection, the brand of all our pots and vases. They run a fair trade project providing women in Sri Lanka with an income whilst taking care of their children. The pots and vases are all made out of recycled materials and the women make them all at home.”

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin
Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Do you have a life-philosophy or advice you follow religiously? What is the one piece of advice you could give someone who’d like to be pursue their own business idea:

“It’s all going to be alright, as long as you are able to adjust to the changes. Sometimes it’s harder to think about it than to do it. And besides, you can never know everything in advance, so you just might get started. Most of the things we do, we learn along the way.”

Is there a place you like to escape to? Somewhere you go to recharge or that makes you feel good?

“Since I’m from Scandinavia it’s good to go home from time to time. Seeing friends, family and eating fresh seafood is something I really miss. I grew up next to the ocean so coming home to the smell of a salty sea breeze and sound of seagull is just therapy!”

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin
Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Your favourite inspirational quote or motto:

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” -Earl Nightingale.

If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why?

“I would go back to see Edith Piaf live in concert in a smokey venue somewhere. She had an amazing voice and character. I don’t even have to meet her, I would just like to hear her sing “Mon Dieu” live.”

What is your favourite destination, and why do you love it?

“That is so hard to answer! I really love the vibe and diversity in Berlin. There is really no need to leave, is there? I also love going to southern Spain where the life isn’t as hectic as in the big city. Malaga is one of my favourite cities in the world. It is a perfect mix of old and modern, beach and citylife. Add some tapas to that and you have everything you need!”

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin


Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

Name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee:

“I recommend Benedict in Wilmersdorf for breakfast, 24/7! And for coffee I’m gonna be boring and say my own kitchen. I always enjoy drinking coffee at home the most! I guess it’s something about the feeling of slowly starting the day at home.”

Spending a hot summers day:

“Biking around the city and cooling down with at beer at BRLO in Gleisdreieck.”
Spending a cold winters day:

“Either go to some park and play with the kids or spend the day at Technikmuseum Berlin. That’s good fun for kids and grown ups! I could also spend hours at Bauhaus. I love renovating!”

Finding inspiration:

“I love walking around the city looking for niche shops and businesses. It’s always inspiring to see how other people follow their dreams. I don’t even have to like the actual product to be inspired. It’s more about the fact that people do what they believe in that inspires me.”

A night out with friends:

“I would definitely go to Salut in Schöneberg for the best drinks in town!”

Sustainable flower shop in Berlin

There’s just so much to love and like at Blossom. One of my favourites is their clever flower carriers from recycled paper. What a pretty gift! I also love that they never throw out old flowers. These are presented as “yesterday’s news” so even if they are a little bit off, they still get to shine in someone’s home. You can follow them on instagram @blossombyhausklinik and @the_jungleroom for loads of plant inspiration. They also plan to open a webshop soon, so if you check back in a while I will have the link to that as well. In the meantime, treat yourself and go give them a visit either at Sredzkistraße 57 or the concept mall at Bikini Berlin.

Remeber to follow us on instagram to stay up to date with the latest stories and features!

 

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Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

Island Retreat

A beautiful cottage on the island of Hydra

Last year, on a trip with my father to Greece, we all agreed that our holiday just wouldn’t be complete, if we didn’t visit one of the many surrounding islands. After hours and hours of research, we finally came across Hydra – one of the lesser known islands just off the mainland, and only a two hour boat ride from Athens.

Hydra Island in Greece
Hydra Island in Greece

In search of that “home away from home” feel, we settled for an AirBnB apartment that caught our attention thanks to its sea viewing terrace, a garden ripe with fruit trees and its promise of an endless summer.

Much to our delight, the crisp, white cottage was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the town. A lovely respite for those seeking a quiet retreat. Cars and motorised vehicles are banned from Hydra, and we were surprised at how tranquil and peaceful the island was. With the donkeys seeking shelter in the shade and a clowder of cats bathing in the sun, one could not help but feel like time stood still here.

Hydra Island, Greece
Hydra Island, Greece

Inside our holiday cottage, a tasteful interior occupied the space. With a nautical theme throughout the house, the cobalt windows and shutters served as constant reminders of the deep blue water of the surrounding see. The house, undoubtedly homey, felt more like a visit to my favourite aunt’s house, then a holiday apartment thousands of miles from home.

Hydra Island, Greece
Hydra Island, Greece

The kitchen – my favourite room in the house – opens up onto a spacious balcony, perfect for sundowners and evening meals. The marvellous view of the mediterranean, dotted with yachts and colourful boats, provided hours of entertainment as we eagerly watched the annual Oxi Day regatta from a distance. The well equipped kitchen with its enviable gas stove and beautiful marble sink made it an absolute pleasure to cook in – something I don’t usually enjoy in a stranger’s kitchen.


I loved how the mismatched stone tiles (mimicking the colours of the surrounding island terrain) seamlessly tied the inside with outside areas. To the front of the house, a spacious veranda, sunny and bright in the morning sun, provided the perfect spot for a morning coffee or lengthy breakfasts. Down below, the garden was brimming with citrus, offering bright golden lemons, ripe for picking.


Thanks to its use of natural materials like raw stone and wood, the building has an unpretentious air, creating the perfect balance between elegance and modesty.

From here we enjoyed pleasant strolls along the coast line and a (steep) early morning hike up the mountain, to examine an Orthodox monastery – a silent and ancient watch to the harbour below.


Though not as endless as we had hoped for, our summer sanctuary delivered on all its other promises – comfort, taste and repose. We were all a little down cast at the thought of leaving, and subsequently agreed on a prompt return – another visit to this island retreat, with it’s crisp white cottage at the foot of the hill.


Psssst. Remeber to follow us on instagram to stay up to date with the latest stories and features! 🙂

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

Berlin apartment, by Quiet Studios

Berlin apartment, by Quiet Studios

My friend Daniela Franchechini from Quiet Studios, has designed yet another beautiful studio apartment in Berlin. The prewar building with high ceilings and wooden floors, provided the perfect canvas for her to create a stylish temporary residence, and an absolute gem for me to shoot.

Even though the apartment has a tiny footprint, the space feels vast and spacious thanks to the high ceilings and large windows. Capitalising on the vertical space, Daniela incorporated a custom made Hochbett (German for raised bed). This separates the public living space from the private, and allows for a more cozy and intimate bedroom area, with space for storage or a wardrobe below.


The apartment has a calm and elegant design, a fine balance between aesthetics, comfort and homeliness. The understated elegance, is rooted  in the honesty of the space and the integrity of the pieces. Daniela always chooses objects with character, furnishings that tell a story other than the usual mass market Ikea aesthetic.


The furniture, minimal yet functional, is a mix of midcentury and antique pieces sourced from local Berlin dealers. The bespoke kitchen is basic with open shelves and natural woods. Daniela, collaborating with experienced carpenters, excels in creating made to measure environments that add a hand crafted warmth to her sophisticated spaces.


Her background in sustainability makes Daniela sensitive to human nature and its relation to interiors and design. The individual is always at the centre of her design approach; how a space will affect his or her mood and behaviour, and how they move and interact within in an environment. This allows her to create a true feeling of homeliness, within her calm, minimal spaces.


Pssst. Remember to follow us on intagram to see the latest posts, features and stories! 🙂

Text & images © Barbara Cilliers

Interview with Photographer Garick van Staden

Home visit with Garick, Lisa, Jude & Lily

It’s a sunny afternoon in Pretoria. Two Hadedas lazily poke at the lawn, slurping earthworms as I make my way through the gate. I’m at the home of Garick and Lisa, the photography duo behind Emotive Art photographers. Lily with her bright eyes and colourful headband smiles gingerly from her mother’s arms as the couple welcome me into their colourful home. Their little boy Jude, full of stories and questions, excitedly steers me towards the patio table, where a smorgasbord of tapas awaits – a feast before our interview ensues.

INTERVIEW

How did you become a professional photographer? What was the inspiration and driving force behind pursuing a career in photography?

“It started when I moved to Stellenbosch in 1998. I was somehow fascinated with taking abstract photos of anything I could find because I moved in creative circles. Not knowing or being serious about it I kind of put it second as I had to survive to pay my rent working as a waiter at a wine farm during the day and a barman/waiter by night and some weekends doing castings in Cape town for overseas tv commercials on some other odd occasion.”

“I partied hard and never thought of following photography as a career. Until I decided that I need to make more money and moved to London where things got pretty real pretty fast. With no degree behind my name I worked as a blue collar worker and with that famous London weather I got depressed as an artist and needed something to release my state of depression. I remembered my camera and started getting into it again.”

“After 18months of working almost 12 hours a day and every second weekend taking photos in between my travels, I finally decided to return to South Africa. Still struggling to survive I made the big leap to pursue photography. The inspiration came later as I discovered my passion for people and how I work and communicate with people I don’t know.”

“My first paying gig was a wedding by the coast of Cape Agalas (most southern tip of Africa). What inspires me about people is their ability to tell stories and then when I look at the images of those people I get a deeper glimpse of their pain and joy. It stirs my emotions in so many directions that it charges me to capture more.”

At what point did you realise or start to feel that working as a photographer was worth pursuing and that it could be a viable business?

“The moment when I was invited to move to Pretoria to be mentored by another photographer because of the potential they saw in my work. It was the gate/opportunity to my future as photographer. Somehow I knew I had to make the sacrifice to leave the beautiful Cape.”

Was there a point where you almost gave up? Tell us about that – and why you kept going nonetheless.

“There were a few times but my love for what I do has kept my head on my shoulders. Every time I feel like giving up I had to make the decision to look back on how I landed up where I am today. That’s when I stop my groaning be thankful for what is given to me and carry on. Its grace that brought me this far.”


Which story, interaction or series of work are you most proud of or affected you the most?

“Sho! There are so many where do I start. There is the story of the shoe repair guy. His name is JOB.”

“I love to talk and sometimes it can be my downfall – where I fail to listen. I wanted to do a story on Job, who works 6 days of the week to feed a family of 6 kids. I pre-warned him a week before that I will be coming to take photos and hear his story.”

“My approach was non photography at first and a lot of talking. Bombarding the poor man with questions and not giving him the chance to speak. I immediately saw how uncomfortable he was and stopped with the questions, picked up my camera and started taking images.”

“It taught me a lot that day as he prepared a piece of paper beforehand after the photos were taken where he paid for a taxi to get his eldest daughter to translate for me his story he read for me in his mother language. As she translated while he read she got tears in her eyes of how father had suffered many trials telling me how he started as an engineer apprentice loosing his occupation and ended up as a Cobbler. It humbled me tremendously and looking still at the images today reminds me of putting myself second when I photograph souls. It’s not about me, it’s who’s in front me.”


What motivates you in your work and where do you find your inspiration?

“Mostly my own family. When someone phones or emails me to tell us that we have captured them authentically, motivates me and my wife. Having my wife next to me as an artist and photographer is beyond epic! My wife’s ability to write something from nothing and make it sound like I am there inspires me.”

“My children on how they can imagine and play having conversations about small things from their world encourages me to be more creative. As a family we try and do things to keep that creative flame burning. Sometimes we put our favourite tunes on in the kitchen and dance. Other times we paint, play music. It’s important for us to use other creative means to inspire our work and passion for what we do.”

Do you have a mentor? Tell us about him/her. If not, who would you most love to learn from?

“I don’t have a mentor I really follow anymore. People can challenge, humble and teach me so many aspects of creation that I don’t have to look any further than that. If there is a photographer I still want to learn from it would be from Annie Leibowitz. She is a brilliant portrait photographer. What I do admire is her approach to people and the patience she has with them. Creativity cannot be rushed.”

Do you have a photography dream goal? A dream job or scenario that you’d love to shoot? Tell us about that.

“If National Geographic wanted me to cover a story for them of a people group in anyplace of the world that would be grand!”

How would you define your home style or style of your home?

“Mmmh that’s interesting. Most of our pieces are hand me downs and items we picked up at antique or second hand shops. We love to explore places and find gems that we can paint, change and reuse. We have a bit of everything. My wife is mostly the decorator, and she has always been drawn to the Frieda Kahlo/African colours , loved the colours and ways things could be so different but yet all blend in. Our home is quite eclectic. We purchased a place that at the time fitted our budget and so it is a continuous work in progress, there is still many things we would like to do, but it takes time.”


What is your favourite room at home and why?

“Our dinning room table definitely. The house was quite divided with walls and we have broken down the walls downstairs and opened up the space. We love the dining room table. As a family we take a big roll of paper, put it on the dining room table, secure the table with binder clips. We then have a permanent bowl in the middle of the table, with all sorts of colour pencils, markers and crayons in it. While we eat dinner, the kids eat and draw. When friends come visit, we put the phones aside and sit and talk and doodle. The dinning room table is our creative space, our talking space and getting together talking about our day and drawing space. WE LOVE IT!”

What’s your favourite piece (of furniture) at home? Why do you love it so.

“Our art deco chairs. After a long day just sitting you can fall asleep in it or early morning sitting in them drinking coffee and just staring into oblivion. Also the mint green cupboard in the dining room space. It comes all the way from Ladysmith in the Klein Karoo and its a treasured piece that reminds me of my gran and special memories as a child.”


What place do you escape to, a place you like to go to, to recharge or an address that makes you feel good?

“Mmmh, we definitely don’t escape enough. I would have to say Bettys Bay has always been a favourite of my wife and I or the Magoeba’s Kloof forest. When we can’t get there, anywhere near the sea and mountains. The sea is an open space, and you feel like you can just leave your thoughts to float along the coast as you watch the waves. The mountains remind me of how small we are in the world, there is something quite majestic about the mountains, makes me think of the bigness of the Creator…humbling.”

Do you have a philosophy in life, or advice you follow to the T? Let us hear it!

“I am kind philosophical by nature but find myself grounded in reading the Bible. The historical backdrop of then and how things have played out in this day and age fascinates me. Having conversations about topics like “what happens after we die”. Deep stuff I tell you.”

One piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be pursue their own dream or business idea:

“Just get up and start! Do! Stop talking and try. Even if you fail at least you started putting thoughts to action.”


What’s your favourite inspirational quote or motto. What does it mean to you?

“Love this quote: ‘The truly wise are humble because they know they have so much to learn.’ – Tim Challies. It keeps me sane in a fallen world. I love true biographies of legends like David Livingston who wrote this: ‘Do not think me mad. It is not to make money that I believe a Christian should live. The noblest thing a man can do, is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.’ ”

If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why:

“Albert Einstein. He knew something and did not share everything with the world. I want to know what that is. An then take a documentary photo of him.”

What is your favourite destination in or outside of South Africa, and why do you love it?

“Namibia. There is something magical about the dessert and dunes. I have always been drawn to landscapes and Namibia is a true favourite of ours.”


Name 5 of your favourite spots for…

Breakfast or coffee: “On my little porch using my pour over and favourite coffee beans or aroma coffee or vintage coffee.”

Spending a hot summers day: “In the pool…one of my favourite things to do is play ultimate frisbee. I found a frisbee you can play with in the pool, so I enjoy being able to enjoy the sun but in the coolness of the water. A good Gin and tonic too!”

Spending a cold winters day: “In front of a bonfire or fireplace, with guitar tunes and djembe drum beats.”

Finding inspiration: “My wife would say watching theatre, for me chilling with close friends around a bonfire (there is something about fire).”

A night out with friends: “Any place that either makes good sushi or serves craft beer and magnificent coffee afterwards.”


Finally, where can we find your work? Any projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with the readers? We’d love to know.

“I am planning to print some of my private work to help stateless children in our country. We adopted a girl and desperately want to register her but our Department of Home affairs don’t want to because she is abandoned by her mother. Long story short, we found that there are 3.7 m children without homes in South Africa. Some of the money will go to a NGO who deals with helping children to be registered as it is their right to be citizens of a country to have education, healthcare ect. This video explains the issue in detail.”

“You can follow us on Instagram. We have two accounts. One for weddings and the other for our corporates:”

Corporate: The visual motive website or @thevisualmotive

Lifestyle family and weddings: Garick van Staden Emotive Art photographers website & instagram

Belgian Bloggers’ Brussels Apartment

A visit to Matthieu and Bénédicte, the creators of the Belgian design blog Auguste&Claire

My next story on creatives features the young Franco-Belgian couple and authors of the french interior and design blog Auguste&Claire. The creative duo Matthieu and Bénédicte live in the vibrant district of Saint-Gilles. Early spring, I visited them in their beautifully renovated Belgium apartment, to learn more about their blog and about what keeps them occupied in the dynamic city of Brussels.

Brussels through a window


Brussels Apartment

Their home is a beautifully renovated multi-story structure with large windows and high ceilings. Matthieu – an independent architect at pl.rigaux – did a great job at renovating and restoring the space, with careful consideration of the historic character and sensitivity to the original features of the building.


Bénédicte and Matthieu sought items that would compliment the character of their new space. So they started revamping some ikea pieces and vintage or second-hand finds. Soon they moved on to designing and building pieces of their own. Their blog; Auguste&Claire followed as a means to share these creations. Here they could show others how possible it is to make your own quality, personalised furniture & decorative elements, that’s not only cost-effective but durable and timeless. The TARVA dresser hack is one of my favourites. These days the blog also includes their discoveries on design, photography, architecture as well as other daily inspirations.

Brussels Living room

The couple, who met in Barcelona when Bénédicte was doing an internship and Matthieu an Erasmus exchange, makes a fine team. With his architectural understanding of both structure and shape as well as the integrity of raw materials, Matthieu manages to create DIY pieces that transcends your usual DIY feel. Bénédicte, who runs her own marketing & communications consultancy, translates Matthieu’s creations into beautifully styled and easy to follow content for the blog.


As independent business owners I was curious about their approach to doing their own thing and about the obstacles they faced. Apart from the initial administrative barriers, financial security was their foremost concern although both were optimistic and not at all troubled by the notion. Bénédicte pointed to the importance of having a clear vision and sticking to your goal and to make sure that you build up a solid network of support and leads before you go solo.


It’s apparent that these two aren’t ones to follow standard conventions. There’s a saying in Belgium; “de belg heeft een baksteen in de maag”. Meaning, all Belgians have a brick in their stomach. The maxim bears witness to the inexplicable need for every young Belgian to buy a piece of land and build their own house. It’s therefore rather unique for Bénédicte and Matthieu to have settled in the city. But walking down the lively streets of St Saint-Gilles, you get an instant sense of diversity and creativity of the place so it’s with little wonder why the two decided to live here.


I asked Matthieu and Bénédicte what attracted them most about Brussels in general. They unanimously agreed to the city’s cultural diversity. When they’re not out exploring the many vintage and antique markets for forgotten treasures, the cosmopolitain community and it’s rich artistic and creative offerings keep them more than inspired and entertained.


You can read more about the pair and their favourite things to do in the city in the Top Five Tips sections below. This is a new feature to the blog so keep a look out for some cool city tips, advice and inspiration in my future creative domains blog posts. For more DIY, home and design stories, go check out their blog: Auguste&Claire

Top tips from Matthieu and Bénédicte

#1 One piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be their own boss:
To envision the life that he/she most want and write down how it would look like. It always helps to clarify our main goals and make them happen!

#2 Your favourite inspirational quote or motto:
Creativity is contagious. Pass it on. (Einstein)

#3 If you could go back in time and meet one famous person, who would you want to meet and why:
We would love to enjoy a coffee with Jacques Brel, Belgian singer and songwriter, and talk about his multiple passions and lifestyle.

#4 What is your ultimate travel destination? One place you’ve been to or would love to go explore?
We’#5 re th5 of bout visiting Japan, probably the nr…t on the list!

Name some of your favourite spots in Brussels for:

Breakfast/coffee: Eating ‘pasteis de nata’ at Forcado Pastelaria

Spending a hot summers day: In the pool of the JAM Hotel

Spending a cold winters day: Early tour at the flea market in Les Marolles and a coffee at PinPon, an old fire station converted into a restaurant

Finding inspiration: Looking at the budgies building strange nests at the Duden Park

A night out with friends: A glass of wine at the evening market in front of Saint-Gilles town hall (every Monday)

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Minimalism

Minimalism

Last year I wrote a story on the beautiful round house of Pretoria artist Margaret Nel. The annex featured here, was a later addition to the Le Corbusier inspired circular building. It is a calm, minimalist space, but with the same dose of character one finds in the main house.


The design of the space is undoubtedly minimalistic; an aesthetic I particularly enjoy. The look is very hard to achieve however and I always find it fascinating how something so simple, can be so difficult to create. The words by graphic designer Paul Rand: “Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated” rings particularly true here.


I find the annex to be a great exponent to the minimalist sentiments put forward by seminal designers like Mies van der Rohe and Dieter Rams. As strong advocates against visual pollution and excess, their efforts towards simplicity requires an appreciation for possessions based on their aesthetic quality and integrity.


Throughout the annex, every item is well considered and beautiful. Even the books are attractively displayed – colour coded and visually appealing. By having only a few items in the space, each piece makes a greater statement because it does not have to compete for the viewer’s attention.


There is a dialogue between the items within the space. The nature and character of the pieces make this visual conversation feel lighthearted and humorous, but in a clever, tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I love for instance, how Nel juxtaposes geometric elements like the large black and white checkered pillows and woven rug.


The home is timeless and contemporary at the same time. The blue tiled kitchen, mid century furniture, and notty pine ceilings, are all reminiscent of the 1960’s design. But, paired with the sharp geometry and grey and white walls, the space has a fresh and modern appearance that transcends specific time periods.


If you enjoyed the Annex, be sure to have a look around the main house. The design has a similarly curated aesthetic but with a dash of quirky humour that I am sure you’ll find just as enjoyable.

Story + Photos by Barbara Cilliers

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Elegant apartment in Berlin

Elegant apartment in Berlin

Possibly one of the best things about working as a photographer is that I get to see and experience so many different apartments in Berlin. Sometimes I come across a few homes that are particularly pretty and elegant.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of photographing a wonderfully bright and spacious apartment near Boxhagener Platz in the vibrant neighbourhood of Friedrichshain in Berlin. The 137 m² square flat is available for rent on Spotahome – an online booking platform that offers thousands of furnished apartments around Berlin and 18 other cities across Europe.


The 2 bedroom, south-facing apartment is sunny and spacious, with an open plan living area and bright white kitchen. The decor is a mix of natural colours, with lots of wood and texture combined with reflective surfaces that open up the space, making it feel even brighter.


While the high ceilings add to the lofty feeling of the apartment, huge artworks on the walls create impact and drama – a nice pairing to the otherwise muted, monochrome colour pallet. The painted face-brick walls and jute rug also adds a rustic quality to the overall modern aesthetic.


I love the use of mirrors in the kitchen, which cleverly draws in the rest of the room, making the space feel even larger. Both bathrooms are also tiled with a slightly reflective mother of pearl mosaics from floor to ceiling. It has a slight pink to green hue, that goes very well with the crisp white and ultra sleek bathtub and basin.


For more information about the property and how to rent it, you can check out the detailed listing on Spotahome’s website. I also really liked this one, in the same vibrant area of Berlin. The bright open space and face-brick adds the same loft-like quality. If you’re looking to move to Berlin, you just may find your next apartment here.

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Story + Photos by Barbara Cilliers

The Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander

A visit to Rawdons Hotel in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

Every time I’m in South Africa, I try to visit a piece of the country I’ve never seen before. The Midlands is a place I had heard of on many occasions and been wanting to visit for quite some time. The name evokes scenes of misty hills, dark green woodlands and gleaming lakes – landscapes you’re more likely to find in the northern parts of England. But as I soon discovered, this quaint piece of countryside in the heart of Natal, delivers on all of the expectations that is promised by that name.


On our recent road trip through KwaZulu-Natal, we decided to pass through the Midlands, staying at Nottingham Road – a small village tucked away between rolling green hillocks of Mooi Rivier and the foothills of the Drakensberg. The area, also known as the Midlands Meander, is less than a two hour drive from Durban, and very easy to reach by car.


During our visit we stayed at the Rawdons Country Hotel, a tranquil estate with an old English charm. Surrounded by wide green lawns and massive oak trees, the hotel offers a breathtaking view of two lakes and the pine woods beyond. All day long the lake is full of life, with waterhens hopping on the water and ibises fishing for food. At night, while the finches disappear inside nests among the reeds, the evening air becomes abuzz with an orchestra of toads.


Tucked away between the trees at the edge of the water is the Lake House. Perfect for larger groups or families, the house offers two spacious rooms that open onto a semi private lawn. The interior is an elegant mix of antiques and country-cottage furnishings. My favourite was the kingsize canopy bed, the wood-burning fireplace and romantic bathroom with clawfoot bathtub.


The Rawdons Estate also houses the Boars Head Pub, an independent brewery known for its naturally brewed ales and lagers. Here one can sample an array of quirky-named ales like tipsy tiger or pye-eyed possum, as well as their very own gin and tonic on tap. If you think you’ve quaffed quite enough, you can brim your belly from a hearty selection of pub dishes like beer battered hake (my favourite) and hunters pie.


The Rawdons Hotel is the perfect base from which to explore everything the Midlands has to offer. Or for a simple day of relaxing, just curl up with a book next to the pool. Apart from the beautiful scenery and luxurious atmosphere, what I appreciated the most about the hotel, was their friendly staff and their efforts at making our stay feel super special.

My favourite spots in the Meander for

Breakfast: The Blueberry Café

Coffee: Terbodore coffee Roastery

Browsing & shopping: The Piggly Wiggly Country Village and Ground Cover Leather company.

Lunch: Chicken pies from the Windmill Country Stop

Beers followed by dinner: The Hogs Head Brewery

Story + Photos by Barbara Cilliers