Snap, Crackle, Pop & Scott

A winding driveway bordered by fledgling Australian native plants and the odd sunflower leads you to the office of Pop & Scott in Northcote, Melbourne. But this is not just any old office. It’s a creative warehouse – complete with a smiling stonemason, darkroom, in-house guitar maker, heavy machinery and piles of garden pots half dipped in gold paint. Welcome to Melbourne’s brightest cooperative workshop … or Potland, as Scotty likes to call it! Sally Wilson chatted with Poppy Lane to see what designing for plants means to her.

Who are Pop & Scott?
Taken most literally it’s me – Poppy Lane – and my partner, Scott Gibson. But more broadly, Pop & Scott is a creative workshop in Northcote made up of furniture makers, ceramicists and fabric designers to name a few. We started the space so that we could grow our own small business alongside a group of likeminded makers. The concept is structured around the members of the cooperative all sharing costs. It’s costly for a small furniture business like us to rent or buy the basic machinery that’s needed and you also need quite a large amount of space! In answer to this we created the cooperative workshop.

Where did you start with botanical design?
My mum’s a florist, so my interest started quite young. I helped mum out as a little kid and always had a fascination with flowers. Afterwards I attended a design school in Western Australia run by a German family, where I was introduced to the principles of German floral design. That philosophy at the time involved very sculptural approaches and the use of natural elements to create vessels. Following my training I worked in boutique flower stores in Perth and Melbourne for many years and eventually as a freelancer with people like Katie Marx (of Katie Marx Flowers) doing big event work. Then Pop & Scott happened! I still keep floristry as part of the business by running floral workshops and doing the odd event and some editorial work. I never want to stop working with flowers, but I’m doing floristry in a different way now. And working on my own garden!

What is your philosophy for designing with and for plants?
Keep it simple. If I’m talking about an object, like a pot used to complement a plant, then I will keep it really simple with clean graphics and one or two colours because I want the plant to be the feature. In a floristry sense, I think it’s important to pay attention to the medium you’re using, that is, the foliage and the flower. I don’t want to turn those elements into something else, but I do want to express what they already are by using natural movement and grouping so that the eye is drawn in. I use instinctive shapes in floristry instead of forcing the flowers to behave in a certain way.

What are some good combinations for home floral arrangements in the last months of the Australian summer?
Go for masses of native foliage, like gum, grevillea and wattle foliage and pair it with garden roses. Recently I’ve been using loads of Australian natives because I’m picking from my own garden or local area, which is full of natives. If I go to the flower market I’ll always buy a whole bucket of garden roses grown by Soho Rose Farm near Geelong too.

Pots from Pop & Scott have taken over Australia. How did the idea come about?
Painting pots was something I did with my mum while I was growing up. We’d freshen up the garden each season by reviving old pots. A pot of dead parsley would be emptied out, filled up with fresh soil and a new plant and given a coat of paint. I started painting pots at the workshop purely as decoration for us. The business of selling them is Lucy Feagins’ (of The Design Files) fault. When she featured the workshop on her blog back in 2012 she took some photos of the first Charlie Brown I painted (an oversized pot with a black zigzag trim) filled with a great mass of pink rhododendrons. It looked incredible. Afterwards, Lucy really wanted to include the pots in The Design Files Open House. I kept saying “no” because I saw myself as a florist, not a pot person. Now I really am the Pot Person! But the pots chose me; I didn’t choose them.

What is your design inspiration for the pots?
The original design inspiration was from Mexico. On our travels through the west coast of the country we saw painted pots everywhere and of course a cactus sits in the pots so nicely. Now we get inspiration from loads of sources: from paintings, the Victorian beaches and even cartoon characters (i.e. the Charlie Brown).

What goes into making the pots?
Given the demand for our pots we needed to assemble a team to help us produce them! The pots themselves are made offsite. Each pot is hand painted to order and takes some time to create – from the initial pencil markings to the final coat of paint. All the guys and girls that paint for us are artists in their own right, and they treat the pot painting as an opportunity to practice their brush techniques. Making each pot is also a little meditation. As a team we have such a good time together.

Pop & Scott also has a furniture line, which uses a lot of wood. What goes into designing wood furniture?
Our furniture designs tend to emerge from personal needs and what we want in our own home. The first object we designed and made was the garden table and we did it because we couldn’t buy what we were after. Scott is a plumber by trade, so we’re both self-taught furniture makers. The design aesthetic we have is focused on simplicity and that’s partly because my style in fabrics and art is full on! The furniture needs to be paired back so that anything placed on it, whether it’s flowers or ceramics, stands out.

What types of wood do you use?
We use recycled Australian timbers like Victorian ash and blackbutt sourced from local timber yards. It’s great using recycled timber but it also involves a lot of additional time and work. We take the wood back to its original beauty and give it a whole new lease on life.

What triggers your creative spark when it comes to design with plants?
The inherent features of a plant always inspire me: everything from the colours, to its natural movement. Seasons are also very relevant whether I’m in florist, pot or furniture mode.

Where did you spend your summer and what examples of good design did you come across?
We spent the summer holidays in Perth and I found a lot of inspiration in what my family are doing there. My mum’s house was filled with fabric and art from her recent travels through Europe and my brother is in the middle of designing and renovating a house. I also loved spending time in friends’ gardens.

Is there something unique about the design culture involving plants in Melbourne?
Melbourne is a bit of a bubble design-wise. It’s a nice bubble! We have innovative people like those behind Loose Leaf and Glasshaus focusing on plants; we have Rooftop Honey reminding everyone of the importance of bees; and in restaurants there’s a focus on using local, fresh vegetables. I feel that there’s a newfound respect for the importance of floristry in Melbourne too, particularly in the context of events. People want flowers and foliage dripping off everything, which is great to see.

What’s in your own garden?
A lot of natives! We’ve got a beautiful old ghost gum in the front yard along with two massive grevilleas and a bottlebrush. Out the back we have a gorgeous flowering gum and a few fruit trees. We also inherited a strange jacaranda planted next to two yuccas. The jacaranda’s growing away from the yuccas so aggressively that it looks like it’s turned its back on them! Scotty and I did a bit of plant research and discovered that jacarandas in general hate being near yuccas. We’re going to separate them to keep the peace. Who would have thought?