Lotus roots lying in a tub of mud don’t quite inspire thoughts of beauty. But when architect-turned-florist John Lim chanced upon this sight at a wet market, he immediately decided he would use those muddy roots, more commonly eaten as food, in a future arrangement.
The 34-year-old founder of botanical design studio Humid House has been shaking up Singapore’s traditional floristry industry through his avant-garde meets tropicana approach to his craft. While floral arrangements here typically come either in tight bouquets or minimalist ikebana arrangements, Lim’s designs often have a sprawling, sculptural quality that stem from his architectural training.
“I’m concerned about the lines, form and shape. We go about (floral arrangements) in a way that’s very intentional and treat it as though it is a sculpture,” he says. “Our approach is raw, visceral and stylistic.” One of his most popular creations, dubbed the Armadillo, features palm leaves arranged in a spherical manner so the fronds curl in on one another.
He also has a penchant for incorporating tropical or unusual plants – or parts of plants – into his work, even to the point of foraging for them. For instance, a recent creation for private members’ club Straits Clan, for which he is the in-house florist and where his ground-floor floral atelier is located, included a bunch of coconuts nestled within an artistically arranged heap of palm fronds.
He began creating botanical installations for events on the side in 2014, but, after he officially incorporated the business last year, the tables have turned, with architectural projects now being his side hustle.
Besides providing lush installations for events by luxury brands including Franck Muller, Hugo Boss, Kenzo and Dries Van Noten, he is also the floral stylist for The Warehouse Hotel, as well as for restaurants including the Prive chain, and Zen by Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen. Humid House also does landscaping for private and commercial clients.
“We are obsessed with things that look weird,” says Lim, arriving at this interview holding a few branches of rare, hanging, furry heliconias, which one of his suppliers purchases for him whenever they are available. “We love quirky elements and the thrill of working with these alien-looking plants.”
“WE ARE OBSESSED WITH THINGS THAT LOOK WEIRD.”
He rattles off a list of his current favourites, including the rothschild anthurium; flowering onions from the allium family and the passiflora, which he says gives off the fragrance of passion fruit perfume.
While Lim is known for his large scale, architectural installations – for instance, for a wedding at Shangri-la inspired by the hanging gardens of Babylon, he built car-sized cages to hold the plants before they were hoisted and fastened to the ceiling – he is not afraid to scale down either. “When we did a shoot with (Japanese jewellery brand) Mikimoto using berries that look like pearls, every flaw showed because it was on such a micro scale. That was a different experience,” he says.
Ultimately, Lim aims to challenge common cliches about what floristry means in the tropics. “I want to expand on what this notion of tropical means, as you either see market flowers or a caricature like Hawaiian garlands. We want to create things that look and feel familiar but still surprise people.”