You may remember the luscious, indoor jungle home of Andrew (Maxi) Walker and Gabriela Holland from our visit earlier this year, when we learnt the DIY recipe for ‘kokedama’ or string gardens. Pino Demaio makes a return visit to this cosy, art deco apartment in East Melbourne to find out more about the plant-obsessed duo behind Pop Plant.
“Melbourne is not our city exactly. Maxi is from Sydney and I grew up in Peru. We both moved here to study, and have now adopted it. Maxi, Leo and I live here. Maxi and I do freelance work: I edit and teach and Maxi works in production and building. We also run Pop Plant, a small business from our apartment and workshop. Living right next to the MCG (it’s literally on our backdoor) means there is quite a lot of commotion and excitement on weekends and also makes for some pretty fascinating people watching. This is the first time Maxi or I have ever had our own home. In the past, we had always lived in share houses and for nearly two years, Maxi was living out of four panniers on his bike and sleeping in a tent, as he was riding his pushbike from the top of North America to the bottom of South America. I too have spent a lot of time travelling and ‘living out of a suitcase’. So home right now is the space we have created together – where you can surround yourself with your things and have them just the way you want them. Throughout my life I have moved around a lot, and the first thing I ever do when I arrive somewhere new, is to unpack and to put everything in its right place… for some reason that order gives me a sense of home and security. Maxi’s idea of home is somewhere he can be surrounded by clutter, which is why he spends so much time in the workshop!
Despite having lived in apartments in Europe, this is the first time both of us have lived in an apartment in Australia. At university, we were always spoilt and lived in spacious share houses with small gardens in the inner city (an amazing attribute of Melbourne life). We fell for this place as soon as we saw it. It is in a classic art deco building with intricate cornices and character, not to mention the spectacular views of the city skyline from our kitchen window and the rooftop, which we never tire of. Despite initial reservations about lack of space, living in a small apartment has actually been great, mainly because of the sense of community. Maxi keeps the workshop door open while working and is always having a chat with someone from the building. This has resulted in two communal worm farms being installed (we use the juice to fertilise the building’s front garden).
First thing in the morning, Maxi loves to sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, where there is a perfectly framed view of the city. As the sun reflects off the glass of the skyscrapers, it creates an intense orange glow. My favourite spot in the house is the living room. It is the cosiest room in the apartment and is where we spend most of our time. It is where we eat, where we read, where we work, where we hang out and where I paint pots. Admittedly, we don’t have much of a routine. No two days are the same for us, (which is kind of how we like it), as we both freelance, have a 15 month old and a new small business! However there are a few constants; Leo is our alarm clock and always wakes us with a cheeky smile, pity he doesn’t have a snooze button. Then we usually go our separate ways, whether it be to the workshop, to the city for a job, or to the park. In the evenings, we always try and have dinner, just the two of us, once Leo has gone to bed, so we can plot and plan.
When we returned from living in Peru, we thought that we definitely would try and get a place with a little garden in Melbourne. Then the opportunity to take this apartment came up and we couldn’t say no. It just felt right. We decided to make up for the lack of garden by collecting indoor plants. Eventually we had an apartment full of plants and so we started experimenting with making our own planters, mainly using recycled building materials. After many trials and failures we ended up with some concrete planters and hanging string gardens wrapped in polyfelt. We took them to a design market to see how they would go and we got a really good response, so we kept going. We also wanted to encourage others to green up their small places, as it was making such a difference to our quality of life.
The first time we realised the significant health benefits of indoor plants was when we watched a TED talk by environmentalist Kamal Meattle, who was literally able to ‘grow his own fresh air’ in his office, using three common house plants. The effects of these plants in his office were remarkable. Plants are amazing at detoxifying the air, regulating temperature and reducing humidity. UTS has a whole research lab dedicated to this study: they have proven that plants are actually great for increasing productivity in the workplace as they relax workers and make them feel comfortable. Australians spend 90% of their time indoors and if all it takes is a few plants to improve the air quality, then it seems worth our while to help people achieve this.
We are basically a foster home for plants. We care for them until they are adopted and go off to new homes. We do, however, have a few permanent fixtures, that have been with us since the beginning. These are the twelve Mother-In-Law’s tongues in our bedroom. These are great at producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide whilst you sleep at night. They are faithful, friendly bedside companions. We also have Xena the Xanadu in the living room who watches over us elegantly and prettily while we go about our business. I think we are most proud of Ivor the Devil’s Ivy, who lives in the bathroom. In the year and a half we have had him, he has climbed up the wall and is now making his way across a beam that runs along the ceiling. He is certainly a fast grower. We give all the plants we sell a name and a bit of a personality so people are encouraged to take good care of them and to make the whole green thumb thing less daunting and little more friendly”.
Thanks to Gabriela and Maxi (and little Leo) for welcoming us into their home. Currently, you can find this little family in Sydney – Pop Plant has hit the recently reopened Paramount House. They’ve set up shop for the whole of September and October, open 11am-6pm Wednesday to Friday, 10am-5pm Saturdays and 10am-3pm Sundays. For info and updates, visit their website: popplant.com.au
Giuseppe (Pino) Demaio is known for the creativity he offers high-profile clients through his agency Local Peoples and as a founder of NCDFREE, he is also famous for his beard – one of the most coveted face-warmers in Melbourne.