The Singapore-based botanical design studio This Humid House is best known for its sculptural bouquets. These are not the neatly trimmed bundle of roses one would expect huddled in impeccable symmetry in a vase at the centre of a table. Instead, they are unruly arrangements resembling that of still-life Dutch Old Master paintings. Often, its bouquets would intentionally break free to snake up a staircase, crawling up the wall and gathering above our heads, or to cluster into a shambolic garden within a room.
John Lim, 35, the founder of This Humid House, is a former architect who cut his teeth under the seminal architect-urbanist Ole Scheeren. Under Lim’s unique direction, flowers are transfigured into a sculptural medium — like clay or marble or steel — malleable in their organic ephemerality. “We try to be inventive with shapes, compositions, textures, colours and even with the ingredient selections as well,” says Lim in a previous interview.
Now that Singapore’s circuit breaker period, or partial lockdown, has been extended until the month of June, services deemed non-essential by the government, including This Humid House’s floristry, has had to hit the pause button. Lim and his team are staying creatively preoccupied, taking up new languages and navigating around the new restrictive measures.
As part of our T at Home series, Lim virtually collaborated with Carol Melbye, 33, the senior botanical designer of This Humid House, to create an unusual decorative arrangement for the table using fruits and vegetables that can easily be found in any market.
Above, watch the video to see how Melbye created her monochromatic arrangement, titled “50 Shades of Red”. And below, Lim and Melbye’s tips on making your own at home.
Work With What You Have
“[Outside the house], you’re only allowed to do two activities: you can either go to the market or take a walk alone,” says Lim.
Within these boundaries, Melbye sourced her arrangement’s ingredients. She went to a wet market in her neighbourhood and brought back whatever produce was available: red bananas, sweet potatoes, pomegranates, jambus, dates. On her way back, she procured branches, and picked several flowers — saraca, ixora, bougainvillea — from her own garden patch as well as her friendly neighbour’s.
Observing the limited ingredients she managed to obtain, Melbye says, “Red was the most predominant colour of them all.” The monochromatic approach was further heightened by the removing of leaves, leaving little colour beyond the red spectrum in the bouquet. “We felt it would be more impactful to have an arrangement that was entirely red.”
For the bouquet’s vessel, anything that holds water works. It could be a champagne bucket, a big bowl, a mortar.
Layer Different Ingredients to Create Textural Volume
The first step of building your arrangement: Build a foundation as your starting point. It can be sturdy twigs or bunched-up branches you stumble upon on your return trip from a grocery run. In the vessel, make a nest out of it and add water.
“If you watch the way I’m adding, I’m always adding one ingredient at a time,” notes Melbye. “I don’t jump from one thing to another.” It’s recommended that you progress from materials you have the most of, to those you have the least of.
The layers create variations of depths within the arrangement. (“We’re all about layering at This Humid House.”) The method allows you to build volume and evenly enhance the arrangement’s overall appearance as you move from a simple to a more elaborate composition.
Have Cable Ties on Hand
“A florist trade secret: We use a lot of cable ties,” Melbye admits. Black cable ties are chameleonic and come in handy when tying together different ingredients. For “50 Shades of Red”, Melbye uses them to bond the dates on the bougainvillea stems and to tighten the hand of red bananas.
Place Fruits and Vegetables as the Anchor
Bigger produce like bananas and sweet potatoes can occupy the core of the composition. Thanks to their heftiness, they can become a balancing counterpoint to the arrangement’s airiness.
Stop When You Want to
“You can stop at any point of the video and that’s it,” Lim suggests. If you’d like a more minimalist take on your table arrangement, you could.
“After you put in that nest [of branches],” says Lim, “you can add a few more things and you’re done.” Melbye agrees, “It would look really good just like that.”
Art direction: John Lim
Producer: Bianca Husodo
Video editor: Tung Pham
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