Can the disruptor culture invigorate a vocation as conventional and well-established in Singapore like floristry? It really depends on who you ask. If that person is John Lim, the floral stylist-slash-artist-slash-designer-slash-architect (it’s difficult to slap a label on him as each of them are applicable to what he does), then the answer is more of a why not?
The 33-year-old is the newest kid on the block when it comes to the floral scene here. His botanical design studio Humid House has been catering to events since 2014 and was officially incorporated last October. Since then, it has become the in-house florist to hip private members club Straits Clan, and the go-to floral design firm for some of the coolest and luxurious weddings and events in town. Their clients range from the Bayswater Kitchen to Bvlgari.
Recently, Humid House branched out (no pun intended) to cater to everyday customers who crave for “non-conformist” creations which they can gift or enjoy at home. These can be purchased via an e-shop or from Straits Clan’s floral concierge on the first floor of its Bukit Pasoh building. Customers on the site can also shop for other merch like a cotton twill apron from its tie-up with Singapore-born designer Peir Wu or a book on flowers and mushroom by Swiss artist duo Fischli/Weiss. “We take every opportunity to expand the conversation with artists, designers, botanists and researchers,” he says.
Indeed, there are a few ways in which Humid House stands out from the crowd. For one, the architecture-trained Lim is a male creative working in an industry here that’s dominated by women. While customers here are more accustomed to traditionally-skewed bouquets and arrangements, what Lim and his core team of nine do borders on the avant-garde and surrealist.
Visualise a floral bouquet that looks like a cross between an ikebana design and a graphic Jose Davila sculpture, featuring exotic blooms like the draping Amaranthus or claw-like Fire Lillies. This elan towards working with flowers in a modern and more artistic manner echoes the approach in floristry that has flourished abroad of late.
Take for instance the Dutch still life photographer Bas Meeuws who marries his M.O. of digital photography with Dutch genre of flower still life painting. Then there is London florist Simone Gooch who has garnered fans for her minimalist and abstract floral confections. In Singapore, Lim and his team are the champions of such a movement.
Even the way Lim packages the flowers is discreetly tasteful (PS: shop somewhere else if you’re looking for hampers). Besides the option of hand-tied bouquets and clear glass vases, the floral arrangments can be packed in something more industrial and arty: the folks here can decorate the florals in small vases that are placed on cardboard plinths and wrapped in a clear plastic bag that’s fastened with a binder clip. The effect is something that looks like a Maison Margiela creation.
Despite the unconventional approach, Lim stresses that what he does is essentially creating beautiful floral designs. “We are experimental not in a way that challenges the conventions of floristry. Every day we experiment with contrast, form, line and texture in the hope of bringing surprise and delight,” he notes. Here, he shares more about what the Humid House is all about.
Why settle on the name Humid House?
“We live in the tropics. It’s sweltering, it’s uncomfortable, it’s getting hotter and hotter. Most of the flowers and plants we work with are cultivated in this climate. In a way, we’re exploring a set of paradoxical impulses, creating beautiful things inspired by – despite the discomfort – living in this humid house.”
Humid House is defined as a botanical design studio. What’s that really?
“We’re a botanical design studio because we work with botanical elements across different disciplines that include, but not limited to, art, fashion, floral and landscape design.”
How does your background in architecture shape the way you work with flowers?
“I’m trained as an architect and have always had an abiding love for plant life. I’m doing this because I think I can do things differently. The Humid House specialises in botanical installations and is particularly sensitised to designing for spaces.
For instance, our design for a wedding at the Fullerton Bay Hotel had large hanging garlands in the shape of the inverse of the roof trusses. We also focus a lot on the forms and shapes of our designs. We judge our arrangements formally like we would with sculpture.”
What do you want to bring to the local floral design scene with Humid House?
“Floral design with a (deep understanding and use of the) sense of place.”
How would you describe the Humid House aesthetic?
“Feverish and non-conformist… We aim for the sublime.”
What are your inspirations and the ideas that shape your creations?
“Our inspiration comes from everywhere. A lot of it comes from happy accidents – we’d look at our waste heap and have an epiphany about things that we wouldn’t think of putting next to each other but somehow they’d work together. We also love looking at how nature presents itself and find ways of representing and/or subverting it by giving it a different context.”
What are the sort of blooms and flowers do you work with a lot, and why?
“We are drawn to the weird and wonderful. Flowers that look artificial, alien, are weirdly furry, et cetera – the list goes on. Check out Allium schubertii and Anthuriums for their crazy forms. We have a soft spot for Heliconia vellerigera (we call it hairyconia). ‘Antelope’ orchids are one of our favourites – they have petals that end in spirals.”
Were those Humid House headpieces we spotted at this year’s Pink Dot event?
“As a company that celebrates differences, we are aligned with the values of the Pink Dot movement. We created floral headpieces for the photo booth of photographer Leslie Kee. It was really the best excuse to go crazy with what we do.”
What’s on your playlist to get your creative juices flowing when you work?
“We take turns to play what’s on our individual Spotify playlists. We have been listening to a lot of indie electronica, folk, improv jazz and afro-futurist beats.”