I’ve been nominated for the Amara Blog Awards. And you can help me win!
I am very excited to report that I’ve once again been nominated for the Amara Blog Awards. I made it to the finals last year and the award ceremony was an absolute ball. I would love to walk away with the prize this year and you can help me win! Please go vote for me here 🙂
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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”.
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.”
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.”
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.
For more information about Line and Studio Mosbech, have a look at her website and don’t forget to follow her on Instagram @studiomosbech.
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.
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.
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.
From our monthly edit of beautiful objects we found & loved
Soonafternoon is all about celebrating creativity and supporting those who make, create and fashion. We may be affiliated with some of the platforms where you can find these beautiful items, which means you support us by supporting those that we support :).
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:
Exploring the most captivating palace and garden in Sintra
Much is written about Sintra – the beautiful town on the west coast of Portugal known for its majestic residences and Moorish palaces. I went there with the main 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 park and palace of Monserrate. Much to our surprise it’s not as hyped as the other sights, though some seem pale in comparison to the marvellous majesty of this place.
It’s hard to decide whether it’s the impeccable garden, with its lush vegetation of exotic species, or the intricate detail with which the summer house is constructed, but the park and palace is nothing short of breathtaking.
The stately home that we can enjoy today, was built in the 1960’s by Sir Francis Cook on the ruins of a neo-gothic structure. For decades though, the building lay in ruins, before restoration began in 2000 and the estate has since been classified as a Unesco World Heritage site.
At first glance the place looks like a mash-up or architecture styles from the Middle-East, India and Europe – like a fantastical set built for Game of thrones or Lord of the rings. This is in fact the very characteristic of the Romanticism architecture so popular at 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).
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 craftwork. 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.
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 it’s soft and salty breeze up the hillside and through the treetops.
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.
On the second story, details of the restoration works are on display, where visitors can get a sense of the utter state of disrepair the estate was once in and the award-winning restoration work the building later went through.
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 to the extraordinary garden, brought to life by one person’s vision and the expert hands he put to use to achieve it.
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.
On a surprisingly fresh July morning we made our way to Neukölln, ready and excited for Soonafternoon’s very first event; The Berlin Plant Swap at The Boat Kaffee.
Even though the day started out cold and windy, our first visitors arrived shortly after we finished setting up. Soon we had a great selection of plants ready to be swapped. In addition to our assortment of plant species, we had people and cultures from all walks of life – from South Africa to Nigeria, Canada to Ireland, the United States and Italy and even a few native Berliners.
Also there, were the plant-care specialist from Horticure – to share some tips and insights, talk about general plant care and to mingle with fellow plant enthusiasts.
The lovely Alicia and Louise from Grüneo stopped by as well – sharing their beautiful prototype with the crowd and getting some feedback on their lovely designs.
Inside, The Boat Kaffee boss ladies, Annie and Thea, was hard at work keeping the crowd energized and fed, with their delicious coffees and mouth watering cakes. Even Georgie (the cafe’s eight-year-old adopted mutt) kept us entertained with her nonchalant mug and cheeky spirit.
Some of the species I managed to make a record of were Chlorophytum Comosum (Spider Plant), Echevaria (Succulent), Epipremnum Aureum (Golden Phothos), Monsteras (Swiss Cheese Plant), Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) Aloe Vera, Tradescantia pallida (Spiderworts), Pilea peperomioides (Chinese Money Plant), red-brown as well as colourful Coleus and some edible plant varieties like Celery and Tomatoes.
At the end everyone went home with a wonderful selection of new species. If you are keen to join us for the next one – which there will certainly be! – sign up to our newsletter to stay in the loop and be notified as soon as the next one comes around. Thanks again to everyone that participated!
WEbuilding: Supporting communities through sustainable architecture
Life is filled with unexpected synergies. A few weeks ago I came across a story of architect Diébédo Francis Kéré and a school he built in Burkina Faso. I was drawn to his work not only for its beauty, but also the purpose it served. Hailing from South Africa, I’ve always been confronted with and troubled by the poor states of schools across our continent. I felt inspired by his pursuits and thought, I’d like to interview someone like him one day. Two days later I found a message in my inbox. It wasn’t from Kéré off course, but indeed another Berlin based architecture practice – an NGO in fact – calledWEbuilding.
Together with their team of volunteers, the WE Building founders Laura Gómez Agudelo and Ivan Rališ, have a surprisingly similar objective; that is to build schools in impoverished communities and doing it through sustainable practices. They invited me to spend a morning at the vibrant Sari-Sari space they share with Nowhere Kitchen in Neukölln, to learn more about their work and to talk about the beautiful school they just finished in Ghana. This is their story.
Tell is a little about WEbuilding and how it all started.
Laura: “While I was at the university I discovered one can actually practice architecture in an NGO environment and help people in need. I was fascinated by the idea and as soon as I graduated I left to Ghana, where I worked at a small NGO doing the site management for the construction of a youth center.”
“A few years after, while already living in Berlin, I got in contact with that same NGO and they told me that they bought a plot, and that the community was planning to build a school.”
“We initially got involved only to design the architecture project, but very soon we figured we could try to find financing in order to build it. That required us to register an official non profit in Germany to be allowed to apply for any and that’s how WEbuilding was born.”
What is the drive behind the NGO, why do you do it and what keeps you going?
Laura: “I have no other option. Ever since that first volunteering job in Ghana it became my passion. Over the years I’ve gotten “distracted” with some other work, but somehow I always come back to this “architecture to help people” world. There is nothing more interesting that I could do and I feel extremely grateful to live in an environment that allows me to do it. Currently I work 28 hours a week in my paying job, and I devote the rest of the time to work in WEbuilding.”
Tell us about the first school in Damang, Ghana. Why did you decide to build it sustainably and how did you manage that?
Laura: “Even though our primary goal is the social part, and that meant building a school for the children in Damang, there is always a decision on which materials and construction techniques to use. After a few months of living in Ghana, I realized local construction in the rural areas (which is made out of natural materials) doesn’t seem to be liked by the locals. We found that it’s a pity that a country where once foreign people came to learn about earth construction mostly turned its back on its own tradition. We thought we could use some more modern ideas and still be able to use natural and sustainable materials so that the maintenance is easier and the quality of the construction remains as high as it would be by using the “normal” materials.”
“We managed to build it, both sustainable and unsustainable parts, only with the support of a lot of people who volunteered their time and expertise to get it done. Although we had very experienced local contractors doing most of the construction work, in order to build everything exactly as we planned, we needed to do a lot of supervising of our own. While we were running things from a distance via Whatsapp and endless emails, our colleague Masa temporarily moved from Leipzig and spent six months in Damang overseeing the construction. Various other volunteers, mostly architects, spent around a month each on-site and helped out with whatever was needed. Most of us gathered for the school opening last September and it felt great to share that moment together.”
What does sustainability mean to you as architects and how do you apply the thinking to your process?
Ivan: “Sustainability is the buzzword nowadays, which is great, but in our field it should be taken with some moderation and adjusted to the project and the location. The most important thing is to find out which “sustainable” materials are available locally and then try to use that and not force something just for the sake of it.”
“We try to find some middle ground here and combine, as we did in the Damang project, using concrete, earth blocks and wood together. Sometimes being too sustainable could actually be unsustainable.”
Is building in a sustainable way harder than using other conventional methods? What makes it so?
Ivan: “Building sustainable requires a much higher level of knowledge from everyone in the design chain, especially the builders. It’s easy to say “let’s build this from rammed earth and old car tires” but if there is no one on site that actually has the know-how then it just doesn’t work. Taken all this into account, sustainable often means it is not cheap.”
“In our case we were lucky to meet Samuel, while doing our first “material scouting” trip back in 2015, and his fairly advanced compressed earth blocks that he does with a custom-made hydraulic machine. We immediately knew we had our main material and it is the one that gives the recognisable look to the classrooms.”
“These blocks are nothing new, they have been around in the 1950s in South America, but if there was not a “Samuel” doing them, one hour away from the school site, we would probably have to use something else.”
What was your biggest challenge in getting the first school built? How did you overcome this?
Laura: “It was a long process with a lot of challenges, but it always comes down to money. Getting the project funded was by far the hardest. With most other things it is in your power to accomplish the goals – be it from the whole administrative puzzle of registering a non-profit organisation in Germany, or carrying out the whole project management over WhatsApp.”
“But when it comes down to money applications, the only thing you can do is be stubborn and persistent and keep at it until you get a bit lucky. Took us around two years to finally manage it.”
Going through the process of building the school in Ghana, were there any surprises or things that happened that was totally unexpected? Even good surprises count here. If any.
Ivan: “Every day was a surprise! One day water well dries out, the other cement mixer brakes, then morning work starts, and we find a bunch of little kids’ footprints in our freshly poured concrete slab and so on. And apparently a 10 mm steel bar is called a 12 mm in Ghana. First we though we were cheated, then we realised it is a common practice of naming things.”
“The most pleasant surprise was to actually walk in those classrooms and realise we’ve all actually managed to pull it off. We were around only at the beginning of the construction, we followed it through photos and daily conversations. But to actually open the door and see that it turned out even better than we thought, was pretty amazing.”
What are you working on next and what are the biggest challenges you now face with this next project?
Laura: “We have a few ongoing projects. Another school in Koforidua, Ghana, where the projects are already done, and we’re applying for funding. A youth center in Douala, Cameroon, two potential school projects for indigenous communities in Colombia and the project that’s taking most of our time at the moment – Humbi Farm in Mozambique. The local NGO wants to make their existing children center more self sustainable by complementing it with a large permaculture farm, together with various buildings – greenhouse, workshops and basic volunteer accommodation.”
“Beside architecture projects, we are also trying to start a regular program for children workshops, and try to bring closer the culture of the countries we’re working in – currently Ghana, to the kids in Berlin.”
“The biggest challenge right now is trying to make our WEbuilding team bigger and incorporate more volunteers, since in order to do all those projects we definitely need more help.”
In your opinion, where is the biggest deficiency in architectural practices in the drive towards sustainability?
Ivan: “Sustainable architecture is mostly related to organic materials. There are big challenges that come from that. As an architect, designing buildings that use materials like earth or straw requires a lot of knowledge that you normally don’t get at a university. You have to investigate on your own, take various courses, do workshops, or if you don’t have that knowledge or time to learn it yourself, collaborate with people that know more than you. Once it comes down to construction, you actually need people on-site that know what they are doing and how to build with such materials. Or you need someone to teach everyone involved how to do it. All that should be taken into account even before starting the design.”
“And after all that, comes the hardest part, that doesn’t even have anything to do with architecture – maintenance! I would say maintaining public buildings is a big problem almost everywhere in the world – there is always a budget to build things, but rarely do you see budgets mentioning maintenance. So, now when your building is not completely made out of concrete that will stay there no matter what for generations, but rather out of earth or bamboo, you need local people with the knowledge and resources to take care of it year after year.”
How would you propose to solve this if at all solvable?
Ivan: “Little steps. Building more projects like we did, which use slightly more alternative methods of construction. But these sustainable alternatives shouldn’t be significantly more expensive, otherwise they will never catch on. Sustainable architecture here in Europe is a different thing, economically based on long term savings in heating and cooling. In tropical countries a different approach is needed.”
“What we see as crucial in this process is communication and open sharing of information with anyone interested in doing similar projects. Maybe even creating a “library” of some sorts – including advice, average prices, contacts etc. If we did some mistakes, there is no need for someone else to do them all over again. I suppose lots of architects do projects like these, once or twice in their career and then continue with their other work, and a lot of that knowledge and networking gets forgotten.
And finally, just for fun – Where are your favourite spots in Berlin for:
Breakfast or coffee: “Croissanterie in Pannierstrasse for breakfast or coffee at coffee corner in Kottbuserdamm.”
Spending a hot summers day: “In our rubber boat hanging out in the canal.”
Spending a cold winters day: “At home.”
Finding inspiration: “I’m very practical and I don’t look for inspiration.”
A night out with friends: “Späti inside Hasenheide.”
You can find out more about WEbuilding and how to get involved through their website. Or follow them on Instagram @webuilding to see what they are up to next.
Beautiful vintage lamps for your next decor project
We love old stuff. Why? Cause they’re simply made to last. The fact that they’re still working (and looking good) can attest to that. And secondly – it’s better for the planet. As the adage these days goes; reduce, reuse and recycle!
So here’s this month’s roundup of our favourite vintage lamps. Clockwise starting at the top left:
Add some latino flare to your home with the Philodendron Xanadu. Native to Brazil this Araceae practically bounces with tropical delight. With it’s sleek long stems and heavy flared leaves it’s not hard to imagine this specimen samba-ing through your living room.
The Philodendron Xanadu belongs to one of three subgenera within the Philodendron genus named Meconostigma. As part of the Araceae family you might already know its brother; Monstera Deliciosa. Other than the Monstera, the Xanadu is not a vine, but grows upright to form wide dense clumps of green foliage. They are very easy to care for and grow prettier with age.
The Philodendron Xanadu are said to tolerate low light conditions but the plant will be much less dens with long stems and smaller and sadder leaves. So if you want it to really dance, place it an area with lots of bright natural light (preferably diffused or it may develop leaf burn or Chlorosis). Enough sun will also keep the stem from rotting, given that you water it at moderate intervals.
Caring for your Philodendron Xanadu
Location: Bright area with lots of indirect or diffused sunlight
Water: Give it a good soak when watering and wait until the soil is completely dry to the touch before watering again. The number of days will depend on the temperature and location of the plant in your home but usually it’s no more than once a week.
Propagation: A happy Philodendron Xanadu will grow fairly quickly, forming many new stems and eventually becoming too big or top-heavy for it’s pot. This allows you to propagate by division. To do this, remove the entire plant from its pot and gently divide the root cluster into sections using your hands or a small shovel. Then you can re pot each section in its own container in well draining potting soil.
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My name is Barbara. I’m a Berlin based photographer, communication designer and the author of Soonafternoon.
I specialise in interior photography as well as lifestyle and commercial photography for brands and businesses. On my studio page you’ll find more details about all the services I offer and how I can help your business communicate beautifully.
I come from a magazine family. And when I say magazine family, I mean a home FULL of magazines. My mother could never get herself to bin them, so they piled up under beds and chairs, in cupboards and crannies, on cisterns and on coffee tables. There were Your family’s, Garden & Home’s, Habitats and Getaway’s – all equally eagerly consumed. Read, clipped, copied, traced and stowed.
My sister and I even attempted our own “tydskrif” (as it’s known in Afrikaans). We spent hours writing, drawing, cutting and pasting and sold the single copy called “Chill Out” to my parents for 50 cents.
We were very chuffed with it.
I grew up but mum’s enthusiasm stuck and soon my own racks of Visi’s and Wallpapers were neatly stacked by date and colour. Pinterest would later come along, and again I found myself pinning and saving whatever inspired me.
Then one day I decided that instead of being a consumer of inspiration I wanted to create it. I bought a camera and started taking photos. First it was my living room. Then the corner cafe. Before long I felt myself finding a voice, and discovering the stories that I wanted to tell.
Today this blog is my magazine. My photographic journal about the things I feel passionate about. I love to find and photograph founders and creators, architecture, interiors and beautiful environments – all with the flavour of living slowly, taking care for the planet & each other, and creating beauty where ever we go.
Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am!
When we were children, my parents often took us on long hiking trails through the South African countryside. There they made up stories of gnomes and fairies and the “stap kabouter” (the hiking gnome) that you might meet along the trail as reward for your fitness and stoicism. I would search the undersides of rocks and peer into cob webbed holes in tree trunks – conjuring up homes for all these gnomes in the crooks and crannies of the forests. It was a time of magic and imagination.
Getting older there aren’t many opportunities to live in the wonder of made up worlds. But if you go down to the Spreewald, you may just find yourself back in a place where – floating in the slow moving hull of a kayak or canoe – your mind can roam free again and stories of make-believe worlds can flow back in.
The Spreewald is an area of captivating beauty. The UNESCO biosphere is made up of an extensive network of waterways and tributaries through meadows and forests, best explored by canoe or “Kahnfahrt” (a punt-boat steered by a Kahnfährmann or ferryman in traditional attire).
Lübben and Lübbenau – the two main towns from which you can set off on your expedition – are both easy to reach by train and roughly an hour’s journey from central Berlin.
The region is covered in lush vegetation, with a great array of flora and fauna like adders and otters, beavers and cranes. Apart from its historical and cultural significance, the area is dedicated to the development and research of biodiversity, environmental education and nature tourism.
Tucked away between thickets and underbrush you’ll also find examples of traditional architecture, wooden ginger-bread-like houses with interesting details and low arching thatch roofs. Some streams have river-side market stalls selling Spreewalder Gurkens and other regional delicacies.
Drifting through this fairy tale landscape I spot a dragonfly hurrying like a dart through the sky. In the distance a dandelion dances past on the breeze, dissolving into a thousand tiny stars, each silently disappearing into crystal clear waters.
Magical, I think, as I breathe in the fresh air. Perhaps there is some magic in the world after all.
Revel in the details
A few tips before you go
Getting there: The RE2 departs from several Berlin stations to Lübbenau – check the timetables here. Train ticket: The Brandenberg-Berlin Day Pass will get you there and back and cost €29 for 5 people. Boat rental: Book a paddle boat or kayak in Lübbenau. Eat: There are several beer gardens and restaurants along the river where you can dock to eat, but it’s not a bad idea to take water and snacks with you to enjoy on the boat.
Remember to take sun protection, drinking water, mozzie repellent and a hat!
Beauty follows function: in search of a beautiful, functional and sustainable soap dish
Ever since I started my “plastic free” journey, I’ve been buying bars of soap instead of liquid lotions. With this ensued my search for functional soap dishes – a seemingly endless undertaking since I could not find one that did not end in a premature demise of mushy soap. My search finally ended when I came across the beautiful soap dishes by OBA studios. A beautiful object that moves beyond the realm of pure aesthetics, thanks to the addition of two paramount elements; function and sustainability.
I met up with the creators of OBA studios to share stories of entrepreneurship, design and creativity. In their sunny kitchen, sitting down under the giant leaves of a beautiful Monstera deliciosa, founders Birgit Ostermeier and Dr. Barbara Jenner told me about their endeavours to make every day objects better and to do it in a way that is good for people as well as the planet.
Tell us a little about OBA Studio. How dit it all start?
Barbara: “It all started in Famalicao, a very small village in Portugal, where we spent a summer together. In the middle of nowhere we decided to start a business together. Our vision wasn’t completely clear at the beginning but we wanted to sell everyday objects that are simply better in terms of function, aesthetics and sustainability. However at that point we didn’t have a clue how to do that.”
Where did the idea for your soap dish originate from and what was your process in going from concept to final product?
Barbara: “At that time I was working a lot with ceramics. I love soaps but had to see them drowning and finally dissolving in their own liquid almost every two weeks. At one point I got tired of watching that misery in my bathroom and tried to come up with something better. The first shape was a very simple zig zag shape, but surprisingly it seemed to work! After firing (in the kiln) I took a photo and send it to Birgit – it wasn’t the perfect shape at the beginning, but it was already working so much better then what I had before. We decided to make it our first product, and started testing and improving it. Six months later we had our first product online.”
How long did it take to bring your product to the market and what were your biggest obstacles?
Barbara: “We decided to start a business during the summer of 2017, but we really started making plans end of 2017 and officially became a GbR in June 2018. From the first idea to the ready to sell product online it took almost a year.”
What I love about the soap dish is that it solves two problems. It’s not only beautiful but effectively keeps your soap from becoming soggy. How do you marry aesthetics with functionality?
Barbara: “We are both very critical observers. And we challenged ourselves to make the very best.”
Birgit: “Both coming from the art scene and having a trained eye for form and beauty is a great help. It is also neccessary to be much better than what is already out there. You find more than 10.000 different soap dishes that are sold online. We fortunately managed to add value not only in design and functionality, but also in regards to a fair and regional production.”
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?
Barbara: “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.”
Birgit: “We manage to laugh a lot with each other and that helps me a lot to keep going. But also the success we already have online. We have a good culture of discussion which helped us to develop a company we both love and to keep going step by step.”
“It is something you own, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s a mistake you made for yourself and not for others.”
Going from concept to final product or actioning on an idea and bringing it to life is really tough. What advice can you give someone that has an idea – but isn’t sure where to start in making it a reality?
Barbara: “One huge thing is research, or to simply look at the market and find out if there is already something similar out there. If there is, then it’s interesting to find out why it works or why it doesn’t. For our soap dish we’ve asked a lot of friends to test it and give us feedback, which was very helpful.”
The future of our planet is a hot topic right now and rightfully so. What do you think businesses can do to take positive steps at curbing climate change?
Barbara: “Most of all I think its important to be aware of this topic and to try to find better solutions. For small businesses like ours it’s not easy but we try to keep questioning production processes. Our decision to produce in Germany was based on exactly this topic.”
Birgit: “There are also a lot of aware customers out there, who we take very seriously. The results of the European selection show that a majority cares to prevent climate change. I believe that businesses should take this result very seriously and be motivated to go in the right direction. You can not transform a company into a climate friendly business in one day, but to set yourself the aim to, for example, produce CO2 neutral in 10 years will lead to different management decisions.”
As a company with a sustainability mindset – what would you say are the toughest obstacles to combat. Any ideas on how one can tackle or solve it?
Barbara: “Right now we are struggling with the packaging. It is very thin and doesn’t provide enough protection for shipping. Most of the refunds are shipping damages. Right now we have a bubble plastic cover on top of our cardboard packaging, which isn’t ideal, but we already found a solution and our workshop is on it!”
Birgit: “I think it is important to see the sustainability of a product as an ongoing process. At the moment we can be proud of what we reached in regards of producing with a socially engaged company in Brandenburg and that our product makes soap more durable than common soap dishes. After the packaging we will take a closer look at yet unsolved questions like recycling or things like environmentally friendly stickers.”
What would you say are the characteristics of a good team or business partner and what do you think are important things to consider when choosing an accomplice?
Barbara: “I think it’s good if you can find different skills and interests in a team, and then of course a huge shared interest in the same topic. One of the most important things is trust though, and I’m extremely lucky to have found such an amazing business partner.”
Birgit: “So am I! Besides trust I see humor, persistence and understanding each others needs as important prerequisites for a good business partnership.”
What are your future plans for OBA Studios? Which products can we look forward to seeing?
Barbara: “Currently we are working on different materials for the soap dish such as porcelain, terrazzo and wood. We’ve also started working on other products, one of them is an atmospheric wall light and the other one a self watering planter for all the plant lovers out there who aren’t blessed with a green thumb or simply want to go on vacation without worrying about their plants too much.”
Finally, name 5 of your favourite spots in Berlin for:
Breakfast or coffee: Barbara: “Kaffeebar, Tischendorf or Latodolce.” Birgit: “Kaffee Mitte, Café Krone.” Spending a hot summers day: Barbara – “At a lake or in Italy.” Birgit – “Favourite Lakes are Liepnitzsee or Schlachtensee.” Spending a cold winters day: Barbara – “At home or in the sauna.” Birgit – “My perfect choice is the Vabali Berlin.” Finding inspiration: Barbara – “On instagram and pinterest, books, magazines and museums.” Birgit – “By walking in nature and in restaurants and hotels that are managed with love and perfection.” A night out with friends: Barbara – “Ideally dancing, but mostly we just end up in a bar” Birgit – “Art openings, fancy restaurants and R&B dancing.”
The soap dishes are produced in Brandenberg, Germany. You can find more details about their products on the OBA studio’s website or buy them through their amazon store. Don’t forget to follow them on instagram to see what they are up to next!
Barbican Centre: Brutalist Architecture at it’s finest
Drop a pin smack in the middle of Moorgate and Barbican tube stops, and there you’ll find an epic landscape of mammoth concrete structures, collectively known as the Barbican complex.
The colossal structure, 16 hectares (160 000m²) is an almost futuristic landscape of poured concrete and exposed brick, that sits squarely on the fence between awe-inspiring and formidable.
Indeed, built in the style of architecture known as Brutalism – it’s been voted one of London’s ugliest buildings – an opinion readily shared about Brutalist architecture. Not by me though. I find it bloody brilliant.
There’s just something quite remarkable about the Barbican. As an unqualified and unschooled yet VERY enthusiastic fan of the field of architecture – I can simply observe and judge by what I see and feel. And the feelings evoked by this majestic brute, are undeniably good.
I would even go as far as to say I love it. Certainly, I could visit the Barbican every time I’m in London. The complex itself is a residential estate built during the 1960’s by British firm Chamberlin. It has about 2,014 homes, a school, arts and drama centre, theatre and let’s not forget, the conservatory. The garden was closed when I was there, but you can see some beautiful photos of it on one of my all-time favourite blogs, Haarkon.
Since people tend to either hate or love the place; I thought it a fun activity to try to dissect why I think it’s so good. Here we go:
First of all – it’s massive. But even though you’re surrounded by huge buildings, it feels open and safe. This is due to the fact that you have wide raised levels and pedestrian walkways not accessible by cars. In fact, it feels like a sanctuary similar to the traditional Moroccan riads, where the structure surrounds a central garden. The inner square with its beautiful tranquil greenery provides a refuge from – while being protected by – the hardcore urban landscape around it.
Almost everywhere you stand you have the ability to look far – whether it’s across the lake, through levels and walkways or windows and translucent facades. All of these allow you to participate and engage with the structure and explore its entrails, as opposed to having a beast of concrete lying squarely in front of you.
At every angle there’s a vista to appreciate – be it the glass-like ripples on the lake, the bird life mixing with urban activity or the light bouncing off polished panes and tall round columns.
On a clear day there are plenty of spots to bathe in and enjoy the sunlight. In contrast to the harsh material quality of the concrete, the complex “feels” surprisingly soft. Possibly due to the vegetation of the sculptural gardens, glassy green lake and textural surfaces combined with rounded shapes like cylindrical buttresses, circular windows and curved edges of the tiles and the poured concrete.
Perhaps it’s the design principles I can discern that makes me love the Barbican so. The rhythm created by the repetition of horisontal and vertical lines in windows, panes, pillars and tiles create a sense of movement, texture and harmony. Super tall structures are offset by wide shapes and linear lines emphasise the sense of depth and space.
Or maybe it’s simply the fact that time seams to slow down a bit here. The hustle and bustle of the city falls away, and for a few moments there’s a perceptible quiet. The distinct modernist style reminds you of the past while the sheer weight and magnitude of it all brings you back to the ever lasting present.
Nestled in the valley of the beautiful Sondagskloof of Greater Hermanus, lies a breathtaking farm called Laughing Waters. The organic flower farm is an arresting landscape of beautiful fynbos – the natural shrubland endemic and iconic to South Africa’s Western Cape.
Here you have the rare opportunity to not only get away from the hustle & bustle and enjoy the thrills of nature, but to get a glimpse of and experience real farm life living (minus the hard work!). With comfortable accommodation, breathtaking walks, beautiful scenery and abundance of bird life it’s the perfect place for a proper retreat.
The farm is owned and run by Kirsten & Gerd, along with their friendly team and accompanied by their two lovely daughters and lovable dogs. As soon as we arrived, it felt like we had come to visit friends. With their warm-hearted welcome and relaxed nature, Kirsten & Gerd immediately made us feel at home. After a few hours of relaxing and exploring the farm I was enchanted by it’s beauty and therefore super keen to learn a little more about the owners, and how this wonderous place came about. So in true soonafternoon fashion I asked them to an interview and to share their story with us.
Tell us a little more about your farm and how you got started. What inspired you to farm with Fynbos and how long have you been going at it?
“Laughing Waters Farm is in the beautiful Sondagskloof, not far from Hermanus where the Southern Right Whales come to give birth each spring. It is land with mountains, wide open spaces and big sky. Every walk brings new surprises with an incredible variety of delicate colourful flowers and creatures that live alongside them.”
“Living in the Netherlands for 7 years, falling in love with Gerd and giving birth to a most beautiful daughter, I realised that I still deeply missed South Africa. Always having had a sense that being guardians of land would be fertile ground for developing work that we enjoy, we began looking at farms in the Cape area. We chose Laughing Waters, a Protea farm with many possibilities.”
“As an ecologist I was delighted to be able to farm with indigenous flower varieties and have always loved the joy that flowers bring. Proteas are like fruit trees, taking a good 6 years until they produce. Six and a half years since we’ve been on the farm, and we are just beginning to harvest a good quality and quantity of flowers. In addition to the Proteas, we also grow organic vegetables and produce artisan goats milk cheese.”
What did you do before you started Laughing Waters?
“I worked for a non-governmental organisation managing a programme called “RAIN”, our focus being water provision through rain water harvesting in rural settlements. A burn-out redirected me and motivated me to follow that which gave me energy and joy. I became apprentice to a special man who offered horse assisted therapy and coaching and loved the immediate and powerful benefit this had for people. Here at Laughing Waters, I and my herd of seven horses facilitate workshops and coach for insight and growth.
What were your biggest obstacles when you started out?
“The state of disrepair of the farm and the challenge of nurturing our optimism to continue cleaning up, repairing, renovating, growing, investing. Financially it has been an enormous drain and this sits heavily on all our shoulders. A farm like this takes a good seven years to become productive. We’ve not far to go and the spark of optimism is bright.”
Running your own business is a tough endeavour no matter what the business – do you have a philosophy you live by that keeps you going when the going gets tough?
“It really helps to share joys and frustrations. Gerd and I encourage one another and appreciate what we and our team are doing. We share a common vision of where we’re going with the farm and the route to getting there. We both have our means to process and recharge from any frustrations, Gerd and his cycling, me and my horses, and exploring the farm.”
What has been the most rewarding part of running this farm?
“Seeing it grow as years of rubbish and poor management were cleared away. Seeing the bird life increase as we planted trees where there were none. Being inspired by our guests’ enjoyment of the farm and enjoying my herd of wide-roaming horses and the rest of our Laughing Waters family.”
Any advice you can give to fellow eager organic farmers out there? Perhaps there’s something you wish you had known before you got started.
“It is obvious that a healthy living soil is the most important element. Do your market research and then grow what you love. If you are passionate both you and your crop will thrive.”
The cottages are really cozy. You’ve done a great job at transforming them into the comfortable guest quarters they are today. Do you have any stories to share regarding the renovations? It must have been a huge job!
“It was! One of our units, Laughing Under the Oaks, was an oily garage. We joined this to a store-room, a pump-room and a tomato processing room to create this lovely wide-open studio/apartment beneath two ancient oak trees. This unit doubles as a venue for workshops and retreats. The other two cottages were labourers cottages which the farm’s previous owner would not show us. When we did have a chance to see them we were shocked by their condition. There was no running water. There was a crumbling long-drop toilet far from the house and too close to the river. Surrounding the cottages plastic, glass, old carpets, metal, was piled up to a meter in height. Worst of all, upon entering the house, we were confronted by smoke, heavily blackened walls as staff cooked and kept themselves warm with a fire inside the house. A lot of renovation later and there are now two super and characterful cottages.”
We loved the little dam on the hill. It’s well worth the walk there. Do you have your own favourite spot on the farm?
“Good taste, you picked ours too! When we are at this secluded top dam with wide views and the sense of protection of the Tafelberg mountain, it is as if we are on holiday from the ongoing work of the farm. My 8 year old daughter chooses this as our camping getaway spot over and above any other. We also love walking on the other side of the farm, always amazed at the ever-changing myriad of Fynbos species and the golden red, always incredible, sunsets.”
Do you have future goals for Laughing Waters? What would you like to achieve in the next few years?
“Our wishes are to put in new Protea fields and varieties and to continue growing healthy soil, delicious organic veggies, happy animals and sharing all of this, together with the peace and beauty of the farm with our guests. Being able to pay back our loans would roll the stress off our shoulders. To set off in our new yet very old land cruiser to finally enjoy some wonderful camping holiday time.”
Name your favourite spots in the Western Cape for:
Breakfast or coffee: “GRAZE Restaurant in Stanford, Betty Blue and The Tulip Café both in Hermanus, and in CT the Gardeners Cottage at Montebello – in amongst incredible trees and talented wood sculptors.” Spending a hot summers day: “At my favourite beach, De Plaat Nature Reserve, De Kelders.” Spending a cold winters day: “Out walking on the farm, returning to snuggle up next to the fireplace with a good book and my family.” Finding inspiration: “On a day (or three) solo journey. Can be to anywhere. Most important item to take with me is my diary.” A night out with friends: “A delicious dinner at one of our houses with lots of good conversation and free laughter.”
For more information about Laughing Waters, bookings, and getting in touch with Kirsten & Gerd, check out their website at laughingwatersfarm.co.za
It’s early December, the Swartland a golden yellow in its post-harvest glory. I’ve come to visit my sister Almarie (about whom you’ll get to learn loads more later) at her new home in the Riebeek valley. Together we’re on our way to visit Jenny Parsons – a South African artist and urban landscape painter. Almarie met Jenny at Solo Studios earlier this year, and implored me to visit her at her beautiful home-based studio in Riebeek Wes.
Jenny shares her home with her partner Mark, their two lovely dogs and a charming grey tabby. Mark and Jenny have done a remarkable job of renovating the 1860s “Nagmaalshuis” into the spectacular residence that it is today. The first floor, which houses the living quarters, used to be a dark labyrinth of rooms leading from one into the next. But the space has been opened up entirely, allowing ample light to flow into the house. Upstairs, the thatch roof has been replaced by a bright and airy studio where Jenny now spends most of her days painting.
The couple’s home is a welcoming space filled with colour and light. Before jumping into our interview though, Almarie and I first wander from room to room, guessing artists’ names, as we admire the multifarious pieces of art adorning the walls.
Have you always been a landscape painter? What inspired you to pursue this subject?
“I’ve played with quite a few different subjects, but I always return to landscape. The relationship of my body to the physical world is why I keep painting landscapes – I want to share my experience of light, space, colour and shape.”
You mentioned Richard Diebenkorn’s art as an inspiration. What is it about his work that inspires you?
“Diebenkorn’s approach to landscape is incredibly nuanced. His paintings seem to fit together with the perfect balance of abstraction and representation. His sure hand and direct brushwork also inspire me – he avoids ‘pretty’ in the most remarkable way. I take great inspiration from his ten rules for painting.”
How would you describe life as an artist in South Africa? What in your experience are the biggest obstacles and rewards?
“South African art is at a very exciting stage and the industry has grown over the last ten years. We now have art institutions like Zeitz Mocaa and the Norval Institute, as well as numerous art fairs. So there are more and more opportunities for South African Artists. Obstacles and rewards can be self generated – my philosophy is “keep the faith and keep making’.”
Do you have a favourite piece of artwork? Tell us the story behind it.
“My favourite work is a painting of swimmers by South African artist Clare Menck. When I was in the process to moving to Riebeeck, she lived in my house in Cape Town for a few months while she played a singing role in a musical. So we swapped accommodation for a painting.”
As a landscape artist – your work must be largely influenced by your immediate surroundings. How has it changed since the move. Do you see a big difference in your style from when you lived in Cape Town, versus the Swartland valley?
“Yes, there has definitely been a shift. I tend to paint the landscape of my immediate environment, so I’m currently working on the vast wheat fields and mountainscapes of the Swartland. At the moment I’m fascinated with edges and how the different crops describe the lie of the land.”
Mark mentioned that you’ve lived here for four years. How did you find the house? What inspired you to move to the countryside?
“Well, it wasn’t just a simple move! Mark sold his business and decided to take some time out and move to the country. I was less than keen and felt very resistant to moving away from my studio and community. So he chose a town that was close enough for us to be able to spend weekends together either in the city or the country. We went house hunting together and when we saw this house and garden, we both fell in love. On weekends here I found that I never wanted to leave! I lasted eight months in the city before I moved here for good. The whole event was really good for our relationship too, giving us space and autonomy to make our own decisions.”
How do you and Mark manage your combined styles in the decor of the house? Do each of you have an aesthetic you follow or emulate?
“Regarding decor, Mark and I have always had the philosophy, that if we really like something, it will fit in. And over thirty years of homemaking together, this has proven to be true. Ours is an eclectic mix – Mark loves a mid century modern aesthetic, and he has an eye for quirky detail. I’m a fan of the comforting effect of soft furnishings. We both collect art and have our own distinct taste, yet somehow it all hangs together.”
You have such a wonderful art collection – Mark told us plenty of it was exchanges he did with artist in turn for a website. Do you have a similar stories of exchange?
“Yes, most of the art that I own has been acquired from fellow artists, usually by exchange.”
Do you at times – if ever – suffer from the so called “fear of the white canvas” or a period where creative inspiration is low? If so – how do you get yourself out of that?
“Yes, definitely. I have suffered from artists block to varying degrees. When it’s bad it can be very frightening. I have developed many strategies to remedy the block, some of which are: Writing morning pages, going outdoors to draw or paint, going sketching with a friend, listening to a podcast while painting intuitively, doing pranayama breathing before starting to work, tidying the studio. Essentially, one has to drop the idea of a desired outcome and just show up at the easel.”
Have you ever done a piece that you have a deep connection to and as a result have found it hard to let go or to sell?
“I love it when my work finds the right home, so I seldom keep paintings. The paintings of mine that we have in our home are owned by Mark. Sometimes, if I make a breakthrough in a painting, I keep it for a while to learn from it.”
Do you have any 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.”
Tell us about your latest exhibition – where can we see it?
Do you have any future exhibitions coming up or happenings you’d like to share with us?
“My next showing of work will be at my studio during the Solo Studios event in the Riebeek Valley in August, 2019.”
Name your favourite spots in the Western Cape for:
Breakfast or coffee: “Beans About Coffee, Riebeek Kasteel.” Spending a hot summers day: “Under the umbrella next to my pool.” Spending a cold winters day: “Fireside with a good book or my crochet.” Finding inspiration: “Books on other painters.” A night out with friends: “Thursday nights at Harrington’s Cocktail Lounge for music and dancing.”
If you’d like to see more of Jenny’s work, you can visit her online gallery at jennyparsons.com. She also has a beautiful collection of archival prints available for purchase on jennyparsonsprint.com.
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.
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.”
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…”
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.”
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…”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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!
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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!”
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!”
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!”
“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!”
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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