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Out to forage

Things I learnt while foraging

A year ago in June, I met Siobhán O’Callaghan, founder of Primitivkollektiv, who’s since become a good friend of mine. Back then Siobhan gathered a group of plant enthusiasts, and together we took a trip to an abandoned castle. There, the air thick with the heat of summer, beetles and bugs abound, we set out to forage. I with my eyes, ears and camera. An eager student. My companions with their knowledge of edible plants, growing in the wild. Little did I realise then, the deep and lasting impression this sunny day would have on me.

Dhamsmuhlen SchlossForaging in BrandenburgDhamsmuhlen Schloss
Foraging in the countryside near Berlin

Moving amongst the trees, the search for sustenance steered our footfalls. As I learnt the names of the plants we collected, I was learning too, a new language. One of communion. Between myself and my environment. Deeper into the woodland I went. Deeper into a new way of being. A shift took place. A feeling that I did not know how to bring to words. But I could feel it take shape. And it was exhilarating.

Dhamsmuhlen SchlossForaging in the countryside near Berlin

How exciting, I thought, that my immediate landscape, could provide me with nearly instant nourishment. It seemed effortless and required little work. Nature, was simply providing. Like gifts to us without the need to till and work the land – something which I have come to learn has devastating effects on our soil anyway. 

BrandenburgCountryside near BerlinBrandenburg countryside
Countryside near Berlin

My misgiving of our current ways of doing things–like monocultures, agriculture, importing foodstuffs–grew stronger. I wondered then, whether our efforts towards domestication, in fact drove us away from our environments. As if trying to control it, taming it, bending it to our will, we changed ourselves more than we changed her. Banishing ourselves, once again, from the garden of Eden. Our mother. Our home. Into the devastating world of “progress”. The kingdom of the ego. Of strife. 

Our landscapes have become a resource for us to exploit. To take from, instead of the friendship it should to be; where both give and take with care and attention. A symbiotic relationship instead of the parasites we seem to have turned ourselves into. 

Dhamsmuhlen Schloss
Foraging in Berlin

I say these harsh words because foraging too, is now causing harm in places. Beautiful pristine environments are destroyed by newcomers who fail to listen to the earth. But perhaps you cannot directly blame people who have yet to learn the language of our mother. I know I haven’t. I’m trying now to do so. 

Foraging in the countryside near BerlinDhamsmuhlen SchlossDhamsmuhlen Schloss

But let’s go back to that pleasant afternoon amongst the trees. Picking plantain and nettles. Yes – the weeds we find in the nooks and crannies of our streets. Still, in our every attempt to cultivate our landscape, the earth finds ways to provide. Whether we want her to or not. Through the tarmac and mortar, coltsfoot and dandelion still show up. Tough and relentless. Jam packed with sustenance. Superfoods, right on our doorstep.

Foraging in BerlinForaging at Dhamsmuhlen Schloss
Brandenburg countryside

But off course, here in the forgotten world of schloss Dhamsmuhlen, they were bountiful. Happy and healthy companions, perhaps more so because the area is mostly abandoned. Plenty of space for elderberries and shepherds purse to run wild. 

I learnt that day out foraging, that if I could find a way to listen, mother earth would teach me things. Showing me how to take care of myself and in turn, of her. 

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Johannesburg guest house for birders and nature lovers

2Mokolo guest house in Johannesburg

My sister and I used to run a small design studio in South Africa. One of our first and favourite projects was to design the brand identity for a new guest house in Johannesburg, called 2 Mokolo. The project was for Sandra de Witt, the then Creative Development Officer at the Jupiter Drawing Room, and her husband Graham Hickson. Both nature lovers and avid birders, Sandy and Graham sought to create a refuge for visitors in search of a nature filled respite from the bustling surrounding city.

2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast

On my most recent visit to SA, I stopped by to take some photos for the new website we’re working on. I always enjoy the visits to their house, which is situated in the tree-lined suburb of Morningside in Sandton and a stone’s throw away from the Outspan Bird Sanctuary.

With its natural canopy of wild olive and white stinkwood, the garden itself is home to an abundance of bird species and 100% indigenous flora, which makes it the perfect retreat for bird and nature lovers.

Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast

Through the years the bed and breakfast has evolved and now include an elegant 4-star guest house called Annex at 18. Each of the luxurious rooms have wooden decks where guests can relax in the sun among giant palm trees. Sandy and Graham designed clever louvred sliding screens that provide complete privacy while guests can still enjoy access to the surrounding garden.

Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast

As a filmmaker, Graham’s love for story-telling is visible throughout the guest house. Quirky elements like repurposed tripods (now used as bedside lamps) and old tin cars and wooden toys, add to the inviting character of the interior. The couple’s love for birds and the African bush veld is also evident in the collector-like aesthetic, choice of fabrics and use of materials.

The rooms are vibrant and friendly. Each have a brightly painted barn-style sliding door that leads into a luxurious en-suite bathroom with beautiful bath and huge shower that open onto a private deck, adding an almost spa-like feel. My favourite is Annex III with its pewter bath and private outside shower.

Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast

Sandy, who’s won numerous awards at Cannes, D&AD, One Show and the Loeries during her corporate career as Creative Director of TBWA South Africa, now runs 2 Mokolo with equal fervour. So it’s without surprise that the guest house has such an excellent traveller rating on Trip Advisor.

2 Mokolo is central Joburg’s first BirdLife SA accredited birder-friendly establishment, but it’s not just nature lovers and birds that are welcome here. The guest house has its own beehive too. So aside from Graham’s delicious home-made sourdough bread, kombucha and preserves, guests can enjoy honey from the resident bees.

2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastInterior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & BreakfastJohannesburg bed and breakfast 2MokoloBathroom details
The luxurious bathroom at 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast
Interior Photography by Soonafterstudio for 2Mokolo Bed & Breakfast

Soon the beautiful 2Mokolo will have a brand-new website designed and built by yours truly. Until then, bookings can be made on 2mokolo.co.za.

If you’re in need of some beautiful photography and a modern functional website, we’re here to help. Have a look at our studio page to see all the ways that we can help your business communicate beautifully. We’re also always looking for nature-friendly businesses to feature on the blog. Yours might just be the perfect fit!

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Ecological countryside cabin

Countryside escape to an
ecological wooden cabin in Zempow

Just before the lock down, we headed out to the countryside for a week of solitude in a tiny German village a little outside of Berlin. We had found an ecological wooden cabin, and loved it so much we could have stayed a whole month. Sadly it was booked out for the next weeks, and we sourly returned to Berlin. Perhaps we’d be able to head back there in the summer.

Foggy morning in the german countrysideOuter details of wooden cabinClose-up of pine tree

The cabin is located in Zempow, a small village just under two hours from Berlin. A short walk from the studio takes you right into the forest with lots of trails to stroll along. The surrounding area is filled with woodlands and hilly pastures with many lakes to explore. The surrounding farms are all organic and in the tiny town there’s a lovely little bio shop where you can buy food from the nearby farm and region–perfect for a week-long hide out in the countryside.

Interior details of eco friendly wooden cabinEntrance of eco friendly wooden cabineco friendly wooden cabin

Designed by photographer Michael Reitz and designer Henrike Meyer, the house was built from natural and recyclable building materials like clay, hemp and wood with the help of architect and ecological construction pioneer, Arnold Dransfeld.

The design is minimalistic and elegant with huge triple glazed south facing doors and windows, offering beautiful views across the countryside while providing privacy from the road. There are no corridors and the slanted ceiling creates a large cavity, adding additional air and light to the open-plan living room and kitchen, making it feel quite lofty and spacious.

Eco wooden cabin in German countrysideWooden cabin in German countryside

The cabin has no concrete floor slab and no insulation in the floor but rather a limestone gravel foundation that allows the house to breathe downwards. Other than the wonderful aesthetic appeal, the clay walls regulate the humidity of the rooms.

The interior of the cabin was done by Henrike–who owns the Berlin based interior firm Meyer + Harre. It is elegant and understated with minimal but comfortable furnishings in muted colours that harmonizes nicely with the patina of the wood. I liked the natural tones and textures of the wicker chairs combined with woven baskets and linen curtains.

Even though it was cold and rainy for most of our stay, we really didn’t mind. Cosy and snug, we spent our mornings in front of the fireplace, with fresh afternoon walks in the countryside. One thing that caught my attention was the incredible amount of birds of prey we saw. Red Kites were hunting across the meadows and eagles were frequently circling the sky. I guess the area must have plentiful supply of food for them–a good sign in terms of the ecology of the area.

Interior photography of eco friendly wooden cabin in German countrysideInterior photography of eco friendly wooden cabin in German countrysideInterior details of countryside cabin in Germany

The bathroom and shower too, are entirely made from wood. It reminded me of a sauna, with lots of space–which I assume is to make it wheelchair accessible. I also really enjoyed the blue colour of the tiles combined with the plywood. The old teal stool and clever towel rail added a nice touch to the space. The bathroom has underfloor heating provided by the gravity based solar system that supplies the home with energy.

Bath towelInterior Photography of countryside cabin in GermanyPicture of a stool in a bathroom

The building has a small footprint, but is actually really spacious, with three bedrooms and space for up to 6 guests. On account of the weather we never got to use it, but there is a very nicely sized deck on the sunny side of the cabin. Perfect for family meals and barbecues in the summer. Thanks to the high ceilings, the space lends itself well as a photography studio and can be booked for both shoots and workshops. The fast internet made it really easy for us to get our work done in the morning before heading out to nature.

Eco friendly wooden cabin View of eco friendly wooden cabin

Some interesting facts I learnt about the area is that the town of Zempow had the only drive-in movie theatre in the DDR. It is still in operation, and close to the cabin.

The area falls inside the Naturpark Stechlin-Ruppiner Land with 180 lakes and forest covering almost two-thirds of its territory. Unsurprisingly the nature park has the highest density of breeding ospreys in Central Europe! It’s a type of raptor that can reach up to 60 cm and eat a diet consisting almost exclusively of fish. If the sky is home to so many species, I can only imagine what other creatures all hide in the underbrush :). It’s certainly a place worth going back to!

Rainy morning in the german woods

For bookings, you can visit their website Studio Zempow.

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Lessons from the long road

Wisdoms of an eight-year-old

At the youthful age of eight, I laced up my very first hiking boots. Four feet tall, a short bouncy bob, and a sleeping bag stuffed into the tiny backpack hugging my waist. Ready to traverse the rolling hills of Bochabello.

My parents introduced my twin sis and I to backpacking at an early age. This instilled in us a deep love and respect for nature, together with wisdoms imparted on one faced with the long road.

It is where I learned the power of words, the magic of the mind and the strength of unfailing belief. 

The Pilgrim's waySignage of the Camino de Santiago
Views of the Camino de Santiago

I’m sure you can imagine, grown-up distances gets far pretty quickly when your legs are the length of fore-arms. I remember one afternoon on a hike somewhere in the Blyde River Canyon, the hot sun beating down on my neck and shoulders. Tired, angry and close to tears I whined to my father. “How far still pappa?”. It must have been the fifth time I asked. My dad, who should’ve been at his wits end by then, calmly came to a halt and hunched beside us.

Modern day Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiagothe Way of St. James

He told us if we were good, he would share with us a magic word. If we said it over and over, he explained, the word will give us power and the energy to go on, and we would forget about being tired altogether. This magic word was “laskenakke”. 

“Will it really work pappa?”, we implored.

“Only if you really, really believe it will” he replied. 

We walked on. Repeating laskenakke, loudly and in unison. Woah! We laughed as we imagined how the energy erupted inside us. Giddy, we skipped onward.

On the Way of St. JamesSights of The Way of St. James
The Way of St. JamesThe Way of St. JamesRoadside flowers

Laskenakke has stayed with me my entire life. It’s what I summoned halfway up Chapman’s peak on a bicycle or when the birds started chirping when I pulled an all-nighter to get a final year project completed. It’s what I keep in the pockets of my mind every day.

Even now when I am writing this, it’s a mental snack. Always at the ready. Like the time we embarked on a leg of the Camino de Santiago–exactly two years ago–when at times, the 120 kilometres of road ahead, seemed a tad bit daunting.

Pilgrimage of Compostela
Pilgrimage of CompostelaPilgrimage of CompostelaPilgrimage of Compostela

Also known as the Pilgramage of Compostella or the Way of St James, the Camino is a network of walkways. These “pilgrim’s pathways”, lead to the shrine of the apostle of Saint James The Great, who’s remains is said to be buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain. This road (or series there-of) is walked by many, as a path of spiritual growth, to find salvation or as a way to deal with hardship. It’s considered a spiritual passage. A journey with the self. 

Pilgrimage of Compostela
Pilgrimage of CompostelaPilgrimage of CompostelaPilgrimage of Compostela

In so many ways, life at the moment, is like this road to Santiago. A mental journey. One we are all on right now. An internal struggle and dialogue with the self. The ups and downs that come with the uncertainty of what the future holds and all the grim headlines plastered everywhere. The fear of the unknown, of disease and of the poverty or the hardship it is said to bring. It may seem like a terrible mountain. And we the anxious eight-year-olds struggling and frightened. 

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de CompostelaSantiago de CompostelaSantiago de Compostela

And yes. This “walk of life” thing, will at times be tough as nails. 

And so, we can choose to sit on a rock and wait for darkness to descend. Because if we do it will. Or we can choose to believe in the power of laskenakke. The power of a positive mind. To keep going, even when it’s hard and the road seemingly endless. 

We can choose to believe that at the end there will be a warm place waiting for us. A bucket of water to wash our feet in. A can of sweet, sweet soda to quench our thirst. Cause if we believe it, there will be. But we need to keep on walking.

This is the power of believing in the positive. The magic of laskenakke. 

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Add some colour to your interior with the nyctinastic prayer plant

Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura

Full marks if you can get the name right in one go! This Brazillian beauty is native to the deep shady areas of the rainforest–which is exactly what gives this spectacular plant her incredible features. A colourful friend for any interior.

The varietal name erythoneura refers to the Latin erythroneurus which means red veined. Indeed, the leaves have beautiful bright magenta veins that arch across the top side of the leaf towards the leaf tip–the reason why some call her The Herringbone Plant. 

Plant Photography of Maranta leuconeuraHigh quality photography of Maranta leuconeuraMaranta leuconeura

The under, or for nerds like myself abaxial side of the leaves, are a beautiful shade of burgundy. This reddish-maroony pigmentation, is called Anthocyanin, a phenomenon often occurring in plants with habitats in limited light or dark, shaded areas like rainforests. It’s a pretty awesome trick that allows the leaves to catch and absorb reflected light, since they usually don’t get so much sun from above. 

Beautiful colourful underside of leavesPhotography of Maranta leuconeura

Apart from its intricate design, the Maranta has a ton of character. During the day, she appears to be silently sleeping. Her leaves lie flat and downward. Come evening however, her foliage folds nearly 90 degrees upward as her diurnal rhythm (daily circadian rhythm) bids her to react to the change in light. This behavior is called nyctinasty, and it is why she is nicknamed The prayer plant. I love it cause it really reminds me that plants are alive, and have habits just like we do.

Maranta leuconeuraHigh quality plant photography of Maranta plant

Maybe you’d also like to know that the Genus was named in honor of the Venetian physician and botanist, Bartolomeo Maranta, who helped found a botanical garden in Rome.  Let’s now take a look at her care instructions shall we?

Maranta leuconeura on a pink background

Caring for your Maranta

Names: Prayer Plant, Herringbone Plant, Maranta Tricolor

Family: Marantaceae, native to Brazil

Light: Any interior setting with indirect sunlight. Her colours will fade if she gets too much sun (remember the Anthocyanin from earlier). If there is too little sunlight, her leaves may not open properly. Watch her behavior. She’ll tell you what she needs.

Water: Water often, with purified water at room temperature (she’s sensitive to fluoride). She likes a moist humid environment–think tropical rainforest–and will roll up her leaves when she wants a drink-apparently. 

Soil: Moist, well draining and never soggy

Toxicity: Non-toxic to cats & dogs

Propagation: Quite easily by cutting just below the leave node and sticking it in some water, much like the Ficus or Pothos

Picture of Maranta leuconeuraHigh quality photographs of plantsMaranta leuconeura var. erythroneura – a colorful plant for any interior
Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Pinterest for interiors

Upping your Pinterest Game

Having more time to spend at home, I’ve had the opportunity to delve deeply into strategies and plans to grow my blog and readership. Knowing how important Pinterest is for driving traffic-especially interior related blogs, I’ve been surprisingly sluggish in getting to know the ins-and-outs of the platform. That is until I got my hands on the Pin To Win Pinterest for Interiors E-book developed by Decor Blueprint.

I’ve had the chance to try out the Pinterest course developed by interior blogger and Pinterest pro Victoria Jackson; who grew her traffic from 4 readers a month to thousands of readers a week! Since implementing the strategies she mentions, I’ve already seen increased engagement in my own Pinterest activity. Although it’s probably a bit soon to look at the numbers just yet! But aside from that I feel so much more confident about what I am doing, and how to approach my pinning game.

I am excited to see how my Pinterest activity will change over the course of the next few weeks. Since I am so motivated about what I’ve learnt so far, I have teamed up with Decor Blueprint to help them promote the E-book.

As an affiliate I will receive a percentage of the sales from this course. I hope you will get just as much value out of it as I have so far!

The round house

The round house

When I was little, my mom used to drive us to Rietondale for icy early morning hockey tournaments. Often, I’d ask her to take the steep drive up Eastwood, so we could pass by the round house on top of the hill. Every time, I marvelled at the unique architecture, and busied my mind with thoughts of the interesting people whom I was certain must live there. For one must surely be curious to live in such an unusual home.

The round house living roomThe round house in Pretoria
The round house in ArcadiaThe round house in ArcadiaThe round house in Arcadia

Many years later I drove with a friend up that very hill, on our way to visit her mum. And to my surprise and utmost delight, we stopped at the round house. My friend had grown up there. This was their house. Going inside, I felt like I’d received a gift. For not only was I able to explore a place of childhood fantasy, but my reveries of a marvellous interior, had been largely correct. This house was indeed extraordinary.

The Le Corbusier inspired “Round House”, was designed by German architect May von Langenau, for my friend’s late father and her artist mother, Margaret Nel. An exemplar of the so-called International Style of architecture, the house is noted for its spherical shape (quite a novelty at the time of construction in 1961) as well as the structure. Hoisted off the ground by supporting pilotis, the terrain extends under the house in true Le Corbusier fashion. With a radial layout instead of load bearing walls, the space provides spectacular views of the surrounding Magalies mountains.

But if the view or the structure does not amaze you, the interior will. Nel has done an incredible job at curating the space. Every detail has been carefully thought out, every piece telling its story. Old iron hospital beds, -trollies and -lockers add to an industrial theme that feels surprisingly warm and modern thanks to accompanying second-hand, mid-century pieces sourced at great length by Margaret.

An interesting dialogue between the decor and artwork is evident throughout the interior. Among the works of esteemed artists like Claudette Schreuder and Diane Victor, peculiar artefacts like plastic dolls and dinasours, wooden sculptures and vintage mannequins, transform the house into an artwork itself.

The round house in Arcadia
The round house in ArcadiaThe round house in Arcadia

The clever displays feel like a running commentary of artistic expression. It’s at the same time sensitive and quirky; a dualism of sorts, between a bright and colourful South African vernacular, and a muted European design sensibility. Nel’s own work is on display as well. Pieces from her “Best Before” series (oversized life-like renderings of meat and confectionary wrapped in plastic and styrofoam) continues the dualistic notions, in this instance, of preservation and decay. 

The round house in Arcadia

The house itself feels, as it were, like a juxtaposition. It’s at once classic and modern, off-beat and stylish. And so in answer to my childhood daydreams, the round house is undoubtedly eccentric. An elegant expression of Margaret Nel’s keen design sensibility, her prowess as an artist and her fine sense of humour. Check out the piece on minimalism to see the Anex to the house.

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Leit & Held

The founders rethinking raw materials in their design of beautiful leather goods

A couple of weeks ago I spent a chilly Sunday afternoon with Dana Mikoleit and Pia Held, two of the three founders behind the inspiring brand LEIT & HELD. We met at Dana’s beautiful home in Friedrichshain–her living room serving as the studio where the very first pieces were born. Dana, pushing pedal to metal on her Durkopp Adler 267, expertly crafted new prototypes, while I quizzed Pia on some of their business fundamentals. Nina Conrad, who lives in Zurich, could not join for the day, but nonetheless shared her valuable insights into their efforts of making leather goods more sustainable. It’s one of those interviews, that really makes you buzz with excited inspiration.   

Architect's kitchenHallway
Architect's kitchen

What inspired your idea for the business and why did you decide to look into the hide production and supply chain as a point of focus?

Pia: “Dana and I started this journey 3,5 years ago where it was mainly about the design and the creative process. Our skills and design aesthetics are very complementary, so we did this as a passion project, just for the joy of working together, exploring the possibilities of materiality.  Within the process, very organically, the question about the origin of the material came up and while we were travelling through Portugal, making partnerships with manufactures and tanneries we realized how non-transparent and dirty the leather business is.”

“After a little crisis we started again, changing the perspective, visiting local organic farms in Germany and did a lot of research on organic agriculture, farming and sustainability. At this time we met our 3rd partner Nina on a Fair Fashion event in Berlin who is an expert in sustainable supply chains. We teamed up with her and worked on the common vision to build up our own supply chain for Leit & Held–from the cows to the final product, all in Germany.”

Nina: “The leather industry has been in disrepute for a very long time. We forget that leather is a by-product of the meat and especially, dairy industry. We have to take a critical look not at leather per se, but at the consumption of meat. As long as we consume meat and dairy products, there is nothing more sensible than to use the skins of these animals. To bring the whole process into harmony with nature, and to make it traceable and transparent is my driving force.”

Dana: “I enjoyed creating beautiful bags. For me the design aspect was the origin. In the course of the process I was motivated by the desire to be able to wear them with a good feeling.”

“Finding the most acceptable material was the biggest challenge. But the more I understood leather as a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, the more I believed that what we are doing makes sense.”

KitchenA beautiful kitchen with wooden detailsA beautiful kitchen with wooden details
A beautiful kitchen with wooden details

How long did it take to make your idea into a product and business? Tell us about the timeline from conception to launch. 

Dana: “I started with the first prototypes in 2015. About a year later I met Pia and together we developed the brand. At that time Pia and I were still looking for happy cows in Portugal. When we met Nina we decided together to build the whole supply chain in Germany.”

Pia: “It was a long and organic process, not very linear. It became more serious when we founded Leit & Held in the beginning of 2019. We celebrated our launch last September at LOK6, so 9 Months after the official start. Like a pregnancy!”

Nina: “I’ve built leather supply chains in other projects and teamed up with Pia and Dana to build one in Germany as well. Due to my know-how, it went much faster than before–but still very long if compared to conventional brands. We take the term ‘slow fashion’ literally.”

Cacti in a windowsillA beautiful scene out of a window

Where are your products made? Was this difficult to coordinate or set up?

Dana: “Our cows live on green pastures near Bodensee in Southern Germany. Not far from there is the slaughterhouse “Fairfleisch”. All animals come from certified farmers, who guarantee an appropriate animal husbandry. Our tannery is only a few kilometres away. The hides are processed into products in Solingen in a small family business. It was a very long process to establish the production in Germany. Since Nina is based in Zurich, she can visit the producers regularly. I go to Solingen and make sure that the production is going well. ”

Pia: “It’s definitely not that easy nowadays to find (good) manufacturers in Germany–as most businesses prefer cheaper and more profitable productions in China etc.”

Nina: “Our entire supply chain is located in Germany. The short distances between the companies and the short distances also to our cities make coordination relatively easy. It was more difficult at the beginning to get an overview of how this whole industry works and also to find partners who are willing to rethink processes.”

An architect's bathroom
An architect's bathroomA furnace with a photo an candle on topCacti in a windowsill

What’s been the hardest or biggest challenges you faced?

Pia: “As this started as a passion project the brand Leit & Held is quite personal for me and became a big part of my life. Growing with it, it was and is hard to learn to think more like a business person, which is very different from just focusing on the creation part. It goes against my nature, to tell people to consume… But I guess its part being an entrepreneur.”

Dana: “It was the endurance that you have to show when building your own brand. To go on for so many years and still keep on doing it has challenged me a lot–as I’m always full of ideas”

Nina: “I find it most difficult to maintain our team spirit due to the great distance.”

A tea canister of a marble table
A boho livingroomTea with the founders of Leit & Held

What has been the most rewarding part of the process so far? Any memorable surprises?

Pia: “The incredible flow with which this project has evolved from day one. I feel like we have always met the right people at the right time.  And all the positive feedback so far for what we do and how we do it. ”

Dana: “The fact that we received the support from Investitionsbank Berlin gave me great motivation. To see that others also believe in the concept has motivated us all. 

 Nina: “The many good feedbacks about Leit & Held and our project, our vision and our courage have definitely motivated me the most. And of course it was a great honour for me to be interviewed by the biggest magazine in the leather industry, ILM ;-).”

Founders of Leit & Held
Leather wallets on a marble tableThe lovely home studio of Leit & Held

What are your big future goals?

Pia: “Creating more supply chains for beautiful products from other natural materials (like linen, wool etc). Collaboration: We want other brands, especially bigger labels to use our materials to change something in the fashion industry. Inspire a more mindful consumption”

Dana: “We plan to make collections with other natural materials that are available in our region. The goal is to manufacture products from it in Germany or Europe.”

Nina: “We would like to make our supply chain and our knowledge available to others and I would be very happy to be able to implement many co-operations in the future. Leather can be used not only to make bags and accessories, but also furniture and other interior objects, shoes, clothing, toys and much more.”

Leit & Held co-founder Pia Held

What does sustainability mean to you as founders and how do you bring it into your business practice?

Pia: “Longevity. Creating goods that last forever (quality-wise but also because of their simplicity) so that people give it to their children and grandchildren one day. Reflection and awareness for our next generations and our planet, contributing to it. Finding moderation. Finding your own center.”

Dana: “In every decision we make about what is more responsible to our world. For example, we decided not to use magnetic buttons on the backpack, but instead we used snap fasteners. They last longer and are produced in a more environmentally friendly way. Sometimes this topic is annoying because all decisions are made more slowly, but when you look back you are proud to have made a lot of good decisions.”

Nina: “Thoroughly examining every step of a supply chain and making the best possible decisions in terms of a solution that is as natural as possible but also durable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the cotton thread that won the race, but a mixture of cotton and polyester, as this thread simply lasts the longest. The footprint may be slightly higher immediately after production, but when you look at the lifespan of our products, it is much lower.”

Livingroom at dawnLeit & Held co-founder Pia HeldLeit & Held home studio

In what way does it make running a business harder and where can the industry improve?

Pia: “It’s challenging to combine our design standards with our expectations on sustainability. Also, people are so used to always have access to all products, in big amounts, immediately. We forgot how to be patient, slow down and wait for goods to be manufactured. It’s important to create awareness for prices and costs for something you can carry your whole life with you.”

Dana: “For us, good design is as important as sustainability. These two components may contradict each other and then decisions are not easy and therefore take more time. ”

Nina: “I do a lot of research and I can’t let myself be influenced too much by trends. The whole fashion industry still has a lot to learn.

At the moment many brands are focused on imitation leather under the term ‘vegan’, which is always associated with oil. In my opinion, that is not sustainable.

But I do understand this behaviour, because it’s mostly out of ignorance. To support this with my know-how is a great pleasure.”

Dana making prototypesDana making prototypes

Which businesses inspire you? Do you have industry leaders that you like to learn from or that inspire you?

Dana: “Kaffeeform from Berlin. They have a small team and are a great example for me in teamwork. Besides, they have managed to become successful all by themselves, without big investors or backers. I admire the founder for his energy and endurance. I see it every day as we sit in an office together.”

Nina: “I’m very inspired by my dear friend Dörte de Jesus from The Lissome. She manages in a wonderful way to show the beauty in sustainability and make it accessible. I am also very inspired by Claire Press, sustainability editor at Vogue Australia, who is very passionate about her work and delivers a lot of exciting content with her podcast ‘Wardrobe Crisis‘.”

Eye wear case prototype
Leather work toolboxA beautiful workroomA prototype glasses holder
Founders of Leit & Held

How can my readers support you?

Pia: If what were doing resonates with you, follow our journey through our Newsletter, Instagram or our Website.”

Dana: We’d be happy if readers understand our philosophy and tell others about Leit & Held .”

Nina: “By continuing to tell our story, carrying our honest attitude and by buying a product from us. :-)”

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers
interview with sutainable brand Leit&Held

Ficus Benjamina

The Weeping Fig

With the cheerless winter lingering on, we’ve been enjoying the company of our leafy friends at home and so the choice for this week’s houseplant post was as much inspired by it’s personality as by its name.

The Weeping Fig is a handsome character; it’s downward drooping branches and glossy pointed leaves giving it a moody charm. And with the whole of Berlin still gloomy and grey, the weeping fig is both a splash of happy greenery as well as a reminder of the melancholy of winter.

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The Benjamina (as it’s scientifically called) is part of the ficus genus and a popular choice for a houseplant, due to its relative ease in care. The reason I call it moody is because this beautiful tree can be quite temperamental. The weeping fig is rather intolerable of disturbances, and will quickly shed all of its leaves if you dare to move it. A protesting tree can look rather bare and dull, as if winter has found its way indoors.

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Weeping figs enjoy bright areas with a bit of sun and shade, so a spot near a west or east facing window should provide a good setting. Once in it’s place, let the ficus settle, and only move it if you have to. Benjamina’s are sensitive to colds and drafts so best not place it in areas with fluctuating temperatures. Make sure your pot drains quickly and well. The ficus dislikes soggy soil so be sure to water it less often during the colder months.

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Benjamina’s are great company as long as you don’t expect them to move around very often. They will silently grow without any bother, and will look great doing so throughout the year.

Names: Weeping Fig, Benjamin Fig or Ficus tree

Family: Moraceae, native to Asia and Australia

Water: Moderate watering in Summer, less during Winter

Leaves dropping from over-watering: Fallen leaves fold easy

Leaves dropping from under watering: Fallen leaves are crispy

Soil: Fast draining soil mix

Prune: After Summer and before Spring

Toxicity: Mildly toxic to cats & dogs

Propagation: During Summer months by placing branch-cuttings into soil

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Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers
Caring for your Ficus Benjamina

The world’s richest succulent biome

Succulent Karoo: The most abundant biome of succulents in the world

During the month of December I had the good fortune of making a trip with my family from Namibia all the way down to South Africa’s Western Cape. We had the opportunity to visit really remote places, living without the normal comforts like running water or electricity and to reconnect with nature.

Semi desert eco region of the Nama Karoo Image Copyright SoonafternoonSucculent-Karoo-Image-Copyright-Soonafternoon-07

In the course of this trip we travelled through the Namaqua National Park, a unique landscape where–from a distance–not much appear to be happening. Running down the Western coast against the Atlantic ocean, the area looks like plain sandy plains. As far as the eye can see it appears to be covered in low growing–rather dull looking–bushes.  

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But once you are inside the landscape and you start to pay attention to the details, the scenery reveals to you its treasures. You notice that the dark blackish bush, hides within it hues of purple. And indeed upon even closer inspection, these explode into a myriad of other colours still; like puffy red-fingers waiving at you from the earth.

Weird and wonderful plants of the Namaqua National Park Image Copyright Soonafternoon
Wonderful flora of the Namaqua National Park Image Copyright SoonafternoonThe Namaqua National Park Image Copyright Soonafternoon

This magical landscape is called the Succulent Karoo. It is magical first and foremost, because it is such a sneaky chameleon. Hiding behind a mirage of grey and brown, you can find around 3000 succulents–a third of all the species in the world! And when you are lucky enough to visit during the spring, the landscape transforms itself into a tapestry of colour with flowers abound. 

Strange flora of the the Namaqua National Park Image Copyright Soonafternoon
The beautiful Namaqua National Park Image Copyright SoonafternoonInteresting plants

40% of the plants here are endemic and found nowhere else on the planet. The plants have adapted to this area, a semidesert ecoregion, by storing water in their roots and swollen leaves. One species, called the Mesembryanthemum crystallinum–also known as crystal ice plants–look like they’re made up of tiny bubbles of water! Others surprise you with bright papery petals or puffs of teal.

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Funny plants of the semidesert ecoregion of the Namaqua National Park Image Copyright SoonafternoonWeird and wonderful flora of the Succulent Karoo Image Copyright Soonafternoon

Careful not to impose on the delicate ecosystem, I kept to the footpaths provided. In my imagination though, I could wander deep into the thicket, curious about all the wonders I have yet to see.   

Beautiful succulents of the Succulent Karoo Image Copyright Soonafternoon
Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Windowsill veggies with Grüneo

Founders Alicia Ferrer and Lena Müller on how they make home-grown herbs and veggies, easy, fun and sustainable

Alicia and I met at Soonafternoon’s plant-swap event last year. She told me about her product and I immediately liked the idea. I had been trying to grow veggies at home with various successes and failures, and usually had no clue what I was doing. Alicia’s aim was to help people grow their own greens by providing a beautifully packaged comprehensive DIY solution that would guide you every step of the way. Earlier this year I joined the duo for lunch, to learn about their ambition to bring the joys of edible gardening to every home and to do so sustainably. 

Grüneo founders Alicia and Lena
Growing food at home with Lena Müller from GrüneoHerbs in the window sill

Let’s start with some details about you two; tell us where you are from, what you are into, what makes you, you.

Alicia: “I am from a small city on the beach south of Barcelona. I ended up in Berlin by mistake 5 years ago. I came to take a summer German course and I instantly felt attracted by the Berliner sexiness. What makes me, me? I would say my inherent sense of humour!

Lena: “I am from Hof, a small town in Franconia. When I am visiting my family, you will find me in the backyard of my father’s house. There I have my vegetable garden and greenhouse, where I have been sowing, growing and harvesting vegetables since 2013. I love to experiment with special types of vegetables like physalis, sweet potato, and melons. For this, you must know that Hof is also called Bavarian Siberia, because of its weather. It is the coldest place in Germany. Nothing makes me happier than to be in my garden and eating fresh veggies and fruits – no meat! I’m not joking when I say gardening is my life!”

Growing food at home with GrüneoGrowing food at home with Grüneo
Growing food at home with Grüneo

Why Berlin?

Alicia: “As I said, I had a crush with the city at first. What makes me stay, are the great possibilities Berlin offers to found and grow a startup in terms of market opportunities and startup network.”

“I think that sometimes the best things in life are those that are not planned and are a result of many coincidences.”

Lena: “I came to Berlin after finishing my Master degree in Erfurt. The reason actually was love. After my boyfriend and I were living in different cities for 5 years (due to my studies), it was time to move in together. I was looking for a job in the green-ecosystem. Working on a vegetable farm or in practical research is impossible in the city of Berlin as there are no big fields. That’s how I ended up at Grüneo. As a Plant Expert, I help our customers to make gardening easy and fun.”

Growing food at home with Lena Müller from GrüneoGrowing food at home with Alicia Ferrer from Grüneo

What inspired the idea of Grüneo? And what were the steps you took to make your idea into a product and business?

Alicia: “I am passionate about DIY-projects. Actually, if you come to my home, it is all full of self-made furniture, paintings, and whatever handcraft thingy. I  wanted to grow my own greens at home, but I have no balcony. So I started growing a small garden in my windowsill until I thought; what if I develop a whole concept and bring it to urbanites? My first step was to make market research and build the first prototype with the main product features and test it with potential customers. It worked pretty well, however, it was only the first time I would ask for feedback!”

Lena: “The concept of Grüneo was Alicia’s idea, and I jumped on the project on Nov. 19. ”

“To bring our Grüneo products into life, we work continuously with the Lean-Startup Methodology. We started small, built a prototype, asked for feedback from real customers, and rebuilt it until the final product we have today.”

Growing food at home with Lena Müller from Grüneo
Growing food at home with Lena Müller from GrüneoGrowing food at home with Lena Müller from Grüneo

What do you think are key characteristics one needs, to be an entrepreneur and to start a business?

Alicia: “I think to be an entrepreneur first you need a passion for what you do. You are and should be the first believer of your product or service, not only to be the best seller but also to stay strong when tough moments and challenges come. I also believe the founder should be constant as it requires faith and “perseverance” every day. For example, you don’t have a set routine, or a boss waiting for you in the office. This is really connected to the routine, I really recommend having a healthy and planned daily routine. ”

“Being an entrepreneur is like being a hiker, step-by-step the mountain is high and tough, you carry with you a big backpack. But reaching the peak is the best feeling.”

Lena: “To be brave – Fortune favours the brave! A strong belief in your idea and  product is crucial, as well as to build a strong team and a working mentality. ”

Herbs in the windowsillGrowing food at home with GrüneoGrowing food at home with Grüneo

What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you had to overcome in the pursuit of your product and business?

Alicia: “A big challenge has been to build a high-quality product in terms of user-friendly content and sustainability. We have done big research to find suppliers that produce regional and have the environment as their Nº1 priority.”

Lena: “We also did experiments with different substrates for growing in indoor spaces. We chose seed varieties which are easy to germinate and that have similar nutrient requirements. Some plants, like rosemary, normally propagate with cuttings. Sowing seeds does not work that well. Our boxes offer the tomato ‘Bogus fruchta’–the growth stops and ends with a flower in 65 cm, while normal tomato varieties can grow up to 15 meters high. It all fits together; the best materials for growing indoors, ease-of-use and sustainability. Currently, a big challenge is to get the Öko-certification.”

Grüneo founder Alicia Ferrer
Alicia Ferrer from GrüneoHerbs in the window sill

Do you have some words of advice for someone who wants to pursue an idea?

Alicia: “Build a great network from the first moment. Finding and creating alliances with like-minded people will not only open new doors, but also be a good support for your project. For example, in Berlin every day there are at least two events dedicated to entrepreneurs and startups!”

What does sustainability mean to you as business and how do you bring it into your practice?

Alicia: “Sustainability for us starts from our suppliers, our production, and our philosophy in growing the business.”

Lena: “We create a product which has a good impact on our life and our environment.”

“Especially in gardening you can easily buy the false materials. E.g. the substrate – the fundament for all plants, contains most of all peat. This is a non-renewable natural resource and valuable ecosystems are destroyed. Our substrate is peat-free and regional, it has only natural ingredients which are social and environmentally friendly.”

“For our pots we selected the ones that are made from regional wood fibre. Our fertiliser has more than one good feature. It is plant based and pure nature without adding chemical components. Second, it is made from sugar production waste without any animal manure, like normal organic fertilizer which usually has. It is vegan and though it is a concentrate, it is long-living, suitable for indoors and smells like liquorice. It will bring all the needed nutrients too.” 

Lunch with the founders of Grüneo
Making foodHarvesting HerbsHome made meal

Where would you like to see yourselves and your business in a year from now? What are your future goals?

Alicia: “Growing very high! We just started our crowdfunding campaign with Startnext (which will run until the 28th of March). This sets the kick-off of our brand into the market. The goal is to collect funding for this year 2020 and get our first customers. That being said, in a year from now we wish we will have a beautiful running online shop, selling across Europe and setting up our new B2B channel.”

Lena: “That in one year we grow big! I wish our online shop is successful and we have a wide range of seasonal boxes. In a year we will have made it possible for many people to have their own garden and with our service we will have helped all in gardening questions. And maybe our customers can buy our boxes in organic supermarkets and garden centers.”

Preparing a meal in the Kitchen

What slogan do you live by?

“The future belongs to the ones who believe in their dreams”

– Alicia

“Gardening is the only philosophy that fills your belly”

– Lena

How can my readers support you?

Both: “We are currently doing a Crowdfunding campaign in Startnext. We are launching our new gardening boxes. Check our campaign and get inspired by our green vibes! Go to www.startnext.com/gruneo and watch the video. There, you can select your preferred reward and give our garden (startup) light (funding) to grow very high!”

Here’s a link to their website and instagram. Go help them grow a new way to grow :).

Grüneo founders enjoying a meal together
Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

My home

Amara Blog Awards: A new year and new fuel for creativity

If you are following me on instagram or signed up to the newsletter you’ll be well aware that I won the Amara Blog Awards in 2019. It is a wonderful achievement, one that I am very proud of. But it has also been a bittersweet victory… 

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Interior Photography

After making it to the finals the year before, I was spurred on to push for a win in 2019. I poured myself into my blog, working hours and hours. And I was really having a lot of fun with it.

Then came the burnout. By the end of the year I had very little energy and almost no motivation to keep the blog going. I learned that I had made it to the finals again, but I lacked the energy to apply for a visa to go to the Award night in London. Honestly, I did not believe I would win. So why bother…

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The morning after the ceremony, I discovered that I had been a winner. But instead of feeling happy I was overcome by heartache.

It saddened me to think that I had put in all the effort to win–so much so that I burned myself out–and then simply gave up on my goals. It felt like I had run a marathon, and gave up ten steps before the finish line. I was crushed. And I was ashamed of the fact that I abandoned the girl who hustled during the whole of 2019. She deserved better. I owed her more respect.   

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My sister suggested that I find remedy in writing about it. So I opened up on instagram and was overwhelmed by all the heartwarming messages I received. My honesty and openness seemed to resonate with my tribe. And I was truly humbled and grateful for it.

So this year I’d like to be more honest and open. To perhaps share more of the troubles that go with the triumphs and to invite you to discover more about me. 

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Beautiful blue living room

Since most of my stories are with other founders and the spaces from which they hustle, I thought it would be nice to invite you into my own home for a change. To share with you the space where my own magic and mishaps happen. Where sometimes, the sun shines just right. And where–when all I can see is the wintry grey of the Berlin horizon–I find comfort and solace in the beauty of my space and company of my plants. 

Soonafternoon home-story

Here is to a beauty filled and inspiring 2020. I am so excited to share all my discoveries with you.  Remember to sign up to the newsletter and to follow me on Instagram so you can follow along the journey.

An offline journey to Richtersveld

Where earth meets sky
An offline journey to the Richtersveld Park

The Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, is a tricky place to get to. The roads are tough, with deep sand and rocky ascends. Steep climbs wind between mountainous landscapes of volcanic rock–some an estimated 2000 million years old. It’s a place of dirt and rock and dust. And of breathtaking beauty.

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Situated in the north-western corner of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, the landscape seems desolate. Temperatures can reach well into 50° and water is scarce.  Life here depends on sporadic winter rainfall and moisture from the “Malmokkies”–the local name for the early morning fog and life-giving mists from the ocean. 

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is home to the Nama people–the last survivors of the indigenous Khoikhoi or San people still practicing a traditional way of life. With their existence intrinsically connected to the environment, the nomadic locals manage to make a home for themselves and their livestock in an area bereft of common comforts. Together with South African National Parks, they are the keepers of the park.

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In the heart of the park lies Kokerboom Kloof. A plateau between giant boulders with views across the valley that seem to go on for days. When the sun has put its rays to bed and pulled night across the sky, the heavens come alive with stars. Allowing you to dip your imagination into the colourful milky-way and dream of Shamans reading stories in the wind and dancing in the shadows if the spirits. 

With life prevailing against the odds it’s easy to be present here. The vastness of the surrounding nature overshadows your existence–the immensity of the universe at the same time louder and more silent than one’s thoughts.

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The name Kokerboom Kloof (Quiver tree valley) is derived from the vast amount of quiver trees dotting the landscape–an endemic species of endangered tree aloe (Aloidendron) such as the critically endangered Aloidendron pillansii (Bastard Quiver tree) and the Aloidendron dichotomum (Quiver tree or Kokerboom).

Due to their slow growing nature and difficulty to cultivate elsewhere the trees are extremely rare. The indigenous San people who called it “choje”, used to hollow out the tubular branches to make quivers for their hunting arrows, resulting in its English name. 

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More than 4000 plant species (nearly half of them endemic) have been recorded in the Richtersfeld. The biosphere is a transitional zone between the coastal Succulent Karoo ecoregion and the drier Nama Karoo and is said to be the only arid biodiversity hotspot on earth, providing a habitat to specimens found nowhere else on the planet.

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Other than ablutions, the park does not offer amenities. Visitors must be well-equipped, with enough provisions of food, water, basic medical supplies, fuel and spare tyres.

The Richtersveld is where you go, to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the man made world. To rely solely on what nature provides and to find comfort in the discomforts of living simply.

Images from this post are now available for purchase

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Advice from 5 female founders I met last year

Five tips to invigourate your creative endeavour in 2020

With 2020 already well on its way I had a look at some words of wisdom I picked up during the course of last year. Here’s a roundup of my favourite pieces of advice from founders I interviewed in 2019 to inspire you to keep(or start) hustling in 2020.

1. If you could  give yourself some advice in your twenties – what would it be?

“Take the risk: failure often isn’t failure, but regret is real.”

horticure founder Deborah Choi

2. Words of wisdom or mantras you live by? 

“Don’t be afraid of what might happen. Everything that happens will make you grow. Sooner or later every experience makes sense somehow. Even negative phases in your life will turn out as the most positive growing after time.”

Line Casselman, founder of Studio Mosbech

3. Building a business has its challenges and even though it’s highly rewarding, it’s not always easy. How do you stay positive and motivated?

 “One thing is probably just to trust that it will work. It’s something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.

Dr. Barbara,  co-founder of OBA studios

4. Words of advice for someone who’d like to pursue their own creative endeavour?

“Keep the faith and keep making. No one can do it the way that you do, so be inspired by other artists, but don’t copy. Be prepared to work hard, at both your creative output and building your business.”

Artist and urban landscape painter, Jenny Parsons

5. One piece of advice you could give to someone who’d like to be their own boss:

“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.”

Kristin Hallson, founder of Blossom

The minimal jungle of horticure founder Deborah Choi

The minimal jungle of horticure founder, Deborah Choi

The home of horticure founder Deborah Choi, is a tranquil space bathed in sunlight, with plants reaching all the way to the ceiling. Earlier this year I had the absolute pleasure to pay a visit to the home she calls her minimal jungle. It was a joyous morning filled with stories of plants and travels, of finding a home in foreign places and of creating value for others. Here’s a peak into all that transpired on that beautiful morning in August.

Tell us about horticure and the idea behind it.

“horticure is a consumer platform for plant care, connecting you with the knowledge, services and products that keep your houseplants happy and your indoor spaces green.”

 
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Where did the idea for horticure originate and how did you go about shaping it into a business?

“I got the idea for horticure after years of bad luck with my own houseplants, and having gone through the hassle numerous times, to find the plants I want locally and get them into my flat. I wanted convenience, I wanted access to expertise, and I realized there was an opportunity to create that for myself and others.”

 

Tell us a little about Deborah.

“I was born in Nigeria, though grew up in America as my parents immigrated to the US for better education and economic opportunities when I was three years old. Although I didn’t grow up there, I consider New York City to be home; I moved there a few years after university and it was this city that really formed me as an adult and also as a professional. I now have lived in Europe for a little over 4 years, and in Berlin for 3. But that’s just the geographic stuff! 🙂 Professionally, I’ve been an entrepreneur and business owner for the majority of my career: in this way, I’ve learned a lot of what I know about recruiting, branding, marketing, partnerships, tech and sales by doing (as I studied political theory at uni). Horticure is my 4th business, after first launching a fashion e-commerce brand, a media company and an innovation agency for venture-backed startups.”

 

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What are the values you bring to your business and professional practice?

“I’ve had the privilege to work as a consultant to improve the ideas and strategies of others, within corporate environments as a marketer, within media as a strategist, and also as a founder going from “0 to 1” a few times. These diverse experiences help me understand and know how to work with the influences, stakeholders and ecosystem around my newest venture much better than I could have, even 5 years ago. I view experiences as cumulative, and seek the ways to weave in what I’ve learned in the past, into today.”

 

What are your ultimate long term goals for horticure?

“We envision and aspire to a world filled with healthier, greener indoor spaces. For us this means thinking flexibly about the channels in which we deliver knowledge, services and products. For now, it’s via in-home services, video consultations and messaging. In the future, it could be via AI integrations, voice assistants, etc.”

 

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What are some of the biggest setbacks or challenges you face?

“We’re a marketplace business, which means we have to manage the growth of the supply (i.e. our horticulturists and plant suppliers) vs. the growth of demand (i.e. plant owners and plant shoppers). Generally speaking, managing “liquidity”, or having just the right amount of supply and demand is hard, and it’s hardest at the beginning, which is where we are!”

 

Are there any other brands, or companies who inspire you or where you draw inspiration from?

“I am really inspired by the service platforms that have nailed the user experience, and deliver a feeling of ‘ultra convenience’ for their users. I love using apps like Uber and Deliveroo for this reason: the experiences provide very little friction for me, simplify my decision-making and save my valuable time.”

 
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What does sustainability mean to you as a business founder and what would you say are the biggest challenges business owners are facing with regard to the topic?

“For our users, we focus on keeping their houseplants happy and alive, so they can feel good at home and draw more of the well-being effects from having greenery indoors. The alternative–buying plants, killing them, repeating that–is wasteful. Nearly a billion euros is wasted each year in the UK in this exact process by people and companies.”

 

If you could  give yourself advice in your twenties – what would it be?

“Take the risk: failure often isn’t failure, but regret is real.”

 

What brought you to Berlin, and what keeps you here?

“In a way, family brought me here. I first moved to Zurich, Switzerland four years ago from NYC, and I gave birth to my daughter there (her father is Swiss). But I knew I couldn’t be a happy me there, and also that staying in Europe would be important for my daughter to grow up with both her mother and father. My daughter keeps me here, but now three years in… there are exciting, other roots that root me here too: friends who are family, a nice quality of life, and now also this business venture.”

 

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How would you describe your home, what influences your style and where do you draw inspiration from?

“I like to call my home style “minimal jungle”. Form and function, only having what I need, these ideas go into the furniture choices I’ve made. But I’ve also been very inspired to bring a lot of greenery indoors, as well as unique pieces from my travels to Marrakech, one of my favorite cities in the world. You’ll find a lot of natural materials in my home: bamboo, rattan, jute, cotton.”

 

Do you have a favourite piece of furniture or artefact? Tell us the story behind it. 

“It’s always something with a story. Maybe the first that comes to mind is the new Berber rug in my flat, which I got the last time I was in Marrakech over the summer. I and the shop owner spent several hours bargaining; jotting down a number and pushing it back and forth across the table, over several cups of tea. At the end we shook hands, even snapped a photo together. Some find that process of buying in a market like the souqs as stressful. For me, it’s incredibly fun!”

 

Soonafternoon Interior Design Details

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There seems to be a rising trend of indoor plants and people filling their homes with plants. What do you think motivates people to bring greenery into their homes?

“We spend such a small amount of our time outdoors and in nature, less than 10%. Plants reconnect us, and can create a sense of well-being in any room with even one.”

 

Your number one tip plant-care tip for someone whose thumbs aren’t particularly green.

“Get watering right, and you can kind of ignore everything else… Over- and under-watering your plants is what leads into the bigger problems that then require more of your time, like pest control.”

 

Soonafternoon Interior Design Details

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Name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee: Lekkamokka Cafe in Mitte for their flat whites.

Spending a hot summers day: Out in the northernmost spielplatz in Mauer Park, picnic packed, with my daughter.

Spending a cold winters day: I love to go to Oderberger Hotel’s swimming pool on cold winter mornings with my daughter. They keep the water temperature at a nice level, and their space lets in incredible light — you can forget it’s super cold and winter outside for an hour or two. 

Finding inspiration: I live in Prenzlauer Berg, and a walk through the nearby Humboldthain Park is always a great way to clear my head, and allow the space for new ideas and inspiration.

A night out with friends:  A great night out for me is often a social night in: I love to host friends for dinner and cocktails at mine, or attend the same at theirs. Home cooked meals, the intimate space where belly laughs are completely acceptable, I love these kinds of gatherings with my friends.

 

If you’d like to learn more about horticure and the services they offer, take a look at their website: horticure.com.

 

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Feng Shui designer’s apartment in Berlin

Berlin based interior designer Line Casselman on design, sustainability and a little bit of Qi.

I found designer Line’s work on Instagram, and it was a little like love at first sight. When I knocked on her door a few days later for an interview, I thought it curious (and awesome!) how easily people welcomed me into their homes. But then Line opened the door, and at meeting her for the first time in person, I felt like we could just as well have been friends forever. Stepping into her beautiful apartment, I simply felt so comfortable and at home. Whether it is Line’s welcoming demeanour and warm energy, her lovely collection of plants or her clever use of Qi, I cannot say. All I know is I did not want to leave and I can’t wait to visit her again. Here is her story:

Tell us a little about Studio Mosbech.

“I started studying psychology and did a bachelor in economics. After that I worked in marketing for a short time but I wasn’t really happy. Finally I realized I wanted to do something more creative. I then did my Master’s degree in Interior Design in Italy. I couldn’t be more happy that I chose this career. It was a path of learning and growing. Now looking back, everything makes totally sense to me. It just took me a couple of different steps to get where I am at the moment. Finally, it all comes together. Now I use all my skills combined in Feng Shui, which is all about the individual human being and it’s environment. This is just perfect for me.”

“With Studio Mosbech I aim to create individual spaces that harmonize with its habitants needs and wishes. On top of that I match it up with the specific rules of Feng Shui. I love bringing joy to people by creating these spaces and turning apartments or houses into individual homes that express the owners’ personality. The same applies to restaurants or shops and their owners.”

Beautiful apartment of Berlin based interior designer
Interior Photography Berlin Interior photography and design

I love the calming energy in your house. How would you describe your style and how do you create such a tranquil mood?

“I’m definitely influenced by my environment and my Danish roots, but I don’t consciously follow trends. I love imperfection and mixing different styles. One style or direction can get very boring in my opinion. Everything I own has a story and some pieces I’ve had for many years from travelling, or handmade by my grandpa in Denmark.”

“I think each home grows with time. Mine for sure did. For me it’s definitely the individual touch that makes a house a home. I love earthy tones, natural materials and greenery which I also mostly use in my projects. This creates my very own personal retreat.”

What does sustainability mean to you and how do you bring it into your design practice?

“We have to realize how our decisions influence our environment. It is important to understand the context between choices and impact. For my work it means to use alternative sustainable products. My goal is to create designs that will last for years rather than following quick trends that will be gone in a minute. There are different levels to sustainability. One is the obvious like using decomposable, recycled or second hand products. The other level has to do with my workflow. I try to keep printing to a minimum by using digital concepts, invoices and contracts for example. But of course there is always room to improve.”

Studio Mosbech
Berlin Photography Interior Designer Line Casselmann

Are there any other brands, companies or designers with a sustainable approach who inspire you or where you draw inspiration from?

“There are so many incredible people out there that want to make our world better. I love to follow dariadaria from Austria. She really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to sustainability. I also really love the design and company values of skagerak.dk – like responsible production and long-lasting designs. Regionally I like johanenlies and their way of reusing old wood and metals. Kiezbett is also really nice. I like the design and that they only use regional wood for their products. I appreciate everyone out there who try to take responsibility and care for our world. This inspires and motivates me to do the same.”

Where do you think the industry could still improve?

“I feel like the furniture industry is adapting to the fashion industry. It is fast-paced in terms of trends. As a result, the quality is not as high as it used to be. I think we should all decrease our consumption of poorly produced products. But there is a lot of development. Recycled materials and totally new sustainable materials are playing a much bigger roll now. Nikolaj Thrane for example, introduced furniture that were made out of sea grass at this years Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair. Other brands built chairs out of recycled plastic from broken fisher nets. There are many alternatives coming up. So I hope the big players will take responsibility and jump on the environmental bandwagon.”

Beautiful baclcony of interior designer in Berlin

Your house is filled with beautiful plants. Do you make use of plants in your work for clients as well? What role would you say they play in creating atmospheric spaces?

“Thank you! I love plants! Ha ha ha. Again it depends on their individual desires. Every human being is individual and for my job it is important to take that into account. I know that not everyone likes to take care of plants. For me, plants bring life to a place and make it cosy. Not to mention that some plants improve the air you are breathing. Other plants use your air, so in Feng Shui you wouldn’t really place plants in your bedroom. That is where I make an exception. I just have too many! Ha ha ha. (But I definitely chose the ones with positive impact for the bedroom.)” 

Do you have a favourite species?

“I love the different varieties of calatheas because of their pattern and colours. The leaves are alive and are closing for sleeping at night. You can really see them breathe! How cute is that? I especially have a heart for special plants and nicely coloured leaves.”

Living room of Berlin based interior designer Livingroom details
Apartment of Berlin based interior designer Line Casselman

Tell us about all the wonderful old things in your home – what’s the story behind them all?

“Our families pre loved most of the things we own. Our kitchen table and cupboard are from my grandparents. It was the first kitchen furniture they had together. And now it’s the first of my boyfriend and mine. I hope it is a good omen for our relationship since they were married for 65 years, ha ha ha. I also own some nice wooden furniture my grandpa in Denmark made himself in his little studio back in the day. I’ve loved the smell of wood ever since I was a little girl watching him work. In general, I love to give old things a new life and home. But beside the fun factor, I think it is necessary to work with what we already have around instead of producing and consuming new stuff.”

Do you use vintage and second hand objects in your work as well? Where do you go to find the best items?

“It depends on my clients’ needs and wishes, but I would always recommend second hand and vintage before buying new. Especially when I work with smaller budgets it’s compelling to have to explore the secondary market to get similar appealing results. It’s so much fun to get the best out of the budget and hunt down forgotten treasures and bring them to new shine. I really like eBay Kleinanzeigen, fleamarkets and some antique retailers. But Berlin can be a bit tricky sometimes. Prices are quite high so you have to be quick and always have to keep an eye out. But if you go outside Berlin you can still be lucky to get nice stuff. Sometimes it’s even worth it to look on the streets. You can find real treasures”. 

Beautiful tranquil bedroom
Home of interior designer Line Casselman

What inspired you to study Feng Shui? Tell us a little more about the practice.

“Many people consult Feng Shui consultants because they have a problem to solve like a bad night sleep, illness or problems in a relationship. For me it was pure interest. I finished my Master in Interior Design and after some projects I realized it just didn’t feel complete. It felt right to pair my Interior Designs skills with the holistic approach of Feng Shui.”

“Feng Shui can bring harmony to your environment and positively turn the energy around. In a Feng Shui consultation I’ll visit your home and measure the cardinal points. After getting some information such as the birthdates of all the residents and the year of moving in, I can start with my calculation. As Qi (a kind of energy) changes over time, the date you moved in is important to calculate and define the changes of Qi. Afterwards I’ll recommend an interior concept that fits your personal needs. Of course there are many other solutions for individual problems (as I mentioned before) but this would go to deeper into the topic.”

How long did it take and how has it changed your design approach?

“The first course takes around 4-5 months. But it is a lifetime of learning and a process after all. Like Yoga and Qi Gong are working with the energy inside yourself, Feng Shui is working with the energy of your surrounding. Every yogi out there will agree, that there is always more to learn. Taking that into consideration it definitely changed my point of view how to build up design. Where to place furniture is not only an aesthetic question. It also has impact on the human being living there. With Feng Shui I can take actions to bundle energy and lead it in to a positive direction.”

Interior Details Interior design photos Home office of interior designer based in Berlin
Home office of interior designer Line Casselman
Interior details Interior details

Entrepreneurial life can be a tough at times. What would you say is the hardest thing about being your own boss and how do you beat those blues?

“Actually I even love to do my taxes! Ha ha ha. I really appreciate that I can work for myself, and I am very thankful, so I am happy for all the things that come with it. But getting in touch with like-minded people and proactively looking for clients is sometimes hard for me. I am not really the networking person. But I try to overcome myself. It actually is not that hard once you dared.”

Any words of wisdom or mantras you live by? 

“Don’t be afraid of what might happen. Everything that happens will make you grow. Something like that… One of my life lessons is that sooner or later every experience makes sense somehow. Even negative phases in your life will turn out as the most positive growing after time.”

Interior design details
Interior photography Interior photography

Do you think individuals can live more sustainably? Where would you advise we begin?

“I think most of us can do more than we already are. We have to. It is important to always reflect and stay informed. But I also think that we shouldn’t be too perfectionist. If every human being does a little, in total it is a lot. We cannot change from one day to the other. It is a process for which awareness is essential.”

“In short term I would advise to avoid producing too much waste. To begin with always having your own carry bag when shopping. Checking out your weekly market instead of buying plastic wrapped cucumbers. Make your own sparkling water instead of buying it in plastic bottles. If you take coffee to-go, take your own cup.”

“In the long term there are different steps you can take: try sharing vehicles. Use green power providers. In terms of Interiors I would always recommend to check out second hand first before buying new. There are also many sustainable/decomposable household items you can use like sponges made out of agave, wooden toothbrushes, reusable paper-towels made out of bamboo, etc. There are a lot of nice and well-designed stuff out there especially in such a varied city as Berlin.”

“Try to reflect and consume what you really need. It is always a balancing act between self-fulfilment and ecological responsibility. Always keep in mind what makes you really happy. This sounds way to know-it-all but a couple of years ago I didn’t apply these standards myself. As I said, it’s a process and it begins with awareness. There are a lot of easy steps to begin with. I hope we (mankind) will do better in the future.”

What is your favourite thing about Berlin and how does it inspire or influence your creativity?

“There are so many creative and cool people living here. We all grow and inspire each other and there are so many super nice places to discover. But it’s also overwhelming sometimes. Berlin is growing and changing all the time and it’s hard to keep track of. It is always full of humans and it can be very hectic. I am very sensitive which makes it necessary to have a place to calm down in the end of a day. My home helps me retreat. There is room to breathe and dream and to restore my creativity.”  

Whats your favourite spots in Berlin for:

Breakfast or coffee: Two And Two in Pannierstraße, delicious cake and a nice selection of coffee.

Spending a hot summers day: At one of the beautiful lakes Berlin and Brandenburg have to offer.

Spending a cold winters day: At home with candles, tea and self-made cookies.

Finding inspiration: Everywhere.

A night out with friends: Drinking cocktails at Herr Lindemann. They use healing herbs as ingredients. They really have the best.

Interview with interior designer Line Casselman
Interior design photography Kitchen details

For more information about Line and Studio Mosbech, have a look at her website and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram @studiomosbech.

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Echeveria

Echeveria

Counter to what the name might suggest our next succulent is not as prickly as its thorny peers, but just as chubby and charming. The Echeveria, a rosette forming succulent, belongs to the Crassulaceae family and is native to the arid areas of Central America.

Echeverias are closely related to Graptopetalum, and have been hybridized to form the Graptoveria. They’re so similar in fact that you’ll have a hard time telling the difference. In any event, these fat fingered succulents make very popular houseplants, due to their hardiness and beautiful colours.

 

Echeveria succulent. Plant Photography by Soonafternoon Copyright

Echeveria succulent_Plant Photography by Soonafternoon Copyright
Echeveria succulent_Plant Photography by Soonafternoon Copyright
 

Care: Echeverias like dry air and plenty of sun, so position them in spots where they get loads of sunlight for most of the day. They require well draining potting soil in containers that drain thoroughly.
Water: Allow the soil to dry out completely between watering. This will depend on the location of your plant and the conditions of your home so stick your finger in the soil to make sure it’s bone dry before you give it a good watering. During the winter months they require even less water. As with most succulents overwatering will cause your plants to rot.
Propagation: Echeveria’s produce offsets or baby plants that you’ll see popping up around the parent. Carefully pull these out and replant them. You can also propagate them by laying leaf cuttings on top of the soil. Sometimes plants can grow heavy and break off when you handle the pot. Simply stick them back in some soil and they should take again.

 

05-Echeveria-succulent_Plant-Photography-by-Soonafternoon-Copyright

Echeveria succulent_Plant Photography by Soonafternoon Copyright
Echeveria succulent_Plant Photography by Soonafternoon Copyright
 

This large genus of succulents produce a myriad of colour varieties that can range from turquoise to a light lime or mint. These cool hues are perfect for creating a calm and tranquil atmosphere in your home. Some species have magical gradients like light green to pink or purple. Use these tones together for a surprising colour scheme that’s a perfect balance of serenity and zeal.

Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers

Vintage outdoor edit

Mid-summer Evenings

It’s July. The evenings are balmy and the Bellflowers still blooming. It’s the perfect time for outdoor dinners, lazy afternoon picnics or drinking something fizzy on the patio. Here’s my pick of this month’s vintage finds – all inspired by long summer days and the great outdoors. Clockwise from top left:

  1. Amber Libbey Coupe Champagne Glasses with bamboo stem
  2. Striped canvas vintage camp stool
  3. Antique Chinese wedding basket
  4. Stoneware crock ceramic planter
  5. Vintage croquet set
  6. Vintage Woodard Sculptura Lounge Chair + Ottoman
  7. Vintage oil lamp designed by Hans Agne Jakobsson
  8. Antique woven reed bowl

*These are Etsy affiliate links. It means if you buy something through those links, a percentage of your purchase goes to the our blog 🙂

Captivating architecture and interior details of Monserrate Palace

Exploring a beautifully restored palace & garden in Sintra

Sintra, the beautiful town on the west coast of Portugal, is well known for its majestic residences and Moorish palaces. I went there with the aim of seeing the Quinta da Regaleira–with its dubious wells and almost sinister Gothic Revival architecture. But then somehow my tour started at the beautifully renovated palace and garden of Monserrate. Surprisingly less hyped then the other sights, the tour offers a wealth of inspiration–both in the immaculate restoration of the palace interior, as well as the jaw dropping design of the garden.

Slow travel to Lisboa | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon Travel to Lisboa | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon

It’s hard to decide whether it’s the impeccably designed garden, with its lush vegetation of exotic species, or the intricate interior details of the summer house, but the park and palace is nothing short of breathtaking. 

The stately home that we can enjoy today, was built during the 1960’s on the ruins of a neo-gothic structure by Sir Francis Cook. For decades, the building lay in ruins, before repairs began in 2000. Since its restoration, the estate has since been classified as a Unesco World Heritage site. 

Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace gardens © Soonafternoon
Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace and gardens © Soonafternoon Slow travel to Lisboa | Monserrate Palace Gardens © Soonafternoon

At first glance the place looks like a mash-up of architecture styles from the Middle-East, India and Europe; reminiscent of a fantasy inspired set built for Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. This is in fact the very characteristic of the Romanticism architecture so popular of the time. Often referred to as “Gothic-Revival” architecture, it was characterised by imitations of older Gothic and Moorish styles. 

Inside, the rooms are adorned with intricate plasterwork with complex designs and fine detailing exemplary of the Moorish influences (Moorish refers to the islamic styles characteristic of decorative tile work, patterned ornament and intricate arches).

Slow travel to Sintra - Lisbon | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace stair details© Soonafternoon Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace staircase © Soonafternoon
© Soonafternoon Monserrate Park and Palace | Slow travel to Portugal Slow travel to Lisbon | Details at Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon

Gothic style Ogee arches (an arch with two ogee curves meeting at the apex) frame the windows and doorways, leading into sizeable chambers, painstakingly decorated from nook to ceiling. 


The textural details are delightfully pleasing–begging to be touched and traced–albeit in the mind, for I know better than to disturb such painstakingly restored handiwork. The entire structure is impressively ornate and would border on grotesque if it wasn’t for the high level of craftsmanship and tasteful choice of materials throughout the interior.

Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace details© Soonafternoon
Slow travel to Portugal | Monserrate Park and Palace © Soonafternoon © Soonafternoon - Monserrate Park Travel to Portugal

Even though the house no longer has any furniture, it’s not hard to imagine Cook’s impressive art collection on display at one point in time. The charming views call to mind scenes of how the residents must have lived there once. With balmy evening summer parties and sunny picnics on the huge open lawn.

Even more breathtaking, is the spectacular garden that surrounds the house. Peering through the dense canopy, you can catch a glimpse of the dark blue Atlantic Ocean sending its soft and salty breeze up the hillside and through the treetops.

Slow travel to Portugal | Monserrate Park & Palace © Soonafternoon Slow travel to Portugal | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon Slow travel to Sintra Portugal | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon

Although the climate in the surrounding area is semi-arid, the Sintra Mountains are considered moderately humid with higher precipitation in the mountain areas. The micro-climate caused by the natural landscape has given rise to dense foliage with a rich botanical variation.

For this reason the gardens here can sustain a huge array of foreign species. Cook collected a massive amount of exotic specimens, originating from as far as North and South America, from Mexico all the way to Southern Africa. A short walk past the giant Sterlizia and Japanese garden you’ll find a massive redwood towering proudly above its branchy peers.

Details of the architecture and restoration work are on display on the second story. Here visitors can get a sense of the utter state of disrepair the estate was in before the award-winning repair work took place.

What I love most about the park and the palace is the testament it gives to the boundlessness of the imagination. It’s a perfect example of one visionary bringing thoughts and ideas into reality. From the seemingly magical palace interior to the extraordinary garden, brought to life by one person’s vision and the expert hands he put to use to achieve it.

Slow travel - Sintra | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon Slow travel to Lisbon | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon Slow travel | Sintra | Monserrate Palace © Soonafternoon

A few tips before you go

Tickets: Can be bought in advance on the Parks of Sintra website.

Getting there: There are hourly trains that run from Rossio station in Lisbon directly into Sintra and takes about an hour.

Good to know: It’s a good idea to buy the train tickets a day in advance to avoid long cues at the station and to go early in the day as the whole of Sintra gets very very busy.

Do it differently: If you are into sports we can highly reccomend renting bicycles and cycling around the area. For the less advanced, there are several companies renting electric bikes (it is extremely hilly) but for those who like the grind it’s a great way to train those legs.

Monserrate Park and Palace | Slow travel to Portugal © Soonafternoon Monserrate Park and Palace | Slow travel to Lisbon © Soonafternoon
Text & Photography ©  Barbara Cilliers