A stone’s throw from south London’s congested Old Kent Road is a colourful little haven for people who love plants. London’s only terrarium shop – aptly called London Terrariums – began life on owner Emma Sibley’s kitchen table, before migrating to a studio in Bermondsey and finally putting its roots down in one of London’s most urban corners. The shop interior is worlds apart from what’s outside and Sibley’s fresh colour scheme has a lot to do with the soothing atmoshere she’s created. Her set designer friends Isabel + Helen helped her to translate an inspirational Instagram fashion photo into what’s here today and the space must function as a place for Sibley to lead workshops as well as sell products day to day. We popped in for a quick chat to find out more about the brand.
What you were doing before and how did you end up with London Terrariums?
“I worked at Heal’s, starting on the shop floor and ending up in the design area on the digital side. While doing that I started doing terrariums with a couple of friends who, all the way through Uni I’d been swapping house plants with and one day we just thought ‘let’s make some bottle gardens’. Then my friend opened a cafe on [Peckham’s] Rye Lane and asked me to decorate it with terrariums, someone wanted to buy one…I was doing it with my friend Tom then and one minute we were working at the kitchen table and the next we decided to get a studio.”
How did you end up with the shop and what did you do to change it?
“Last summer I did a pop-up shop out the front of here, which was at the time a Japanese clothing shop. Then the owner emailed me at the beginning of the year to say they were leaving and ask if I wanted the shop – I jumped at it. It was completely white at this point and I was so sure I didn’t want that white Scandi-esq look which is quite oversaturated at the moment. I got the keys and then went to America for two weeks – the worst timing, but it did mean I had some time to think about it. The two girls I was sharing a studio with at the time – Isabel and Helen – are set designers and asked if they could do the interior. I found a photo of a woman and got the colours from there and while I was in New York I visited a shop that was all pink – the floors were pink, the plinths were pink and although I’m not a pink person I loved that the colours followed all the way through like that. I was also inspired by the Eames summer house.”
Can you explain more about the creative process of terrariums?
“We mostly work to order, but now we have the shop more people come in to buy something off the shelf. That’s one of the challenges of the shop – we’ve got a workshop next week for 60 people and I’ve got vessels coming in today for that – where am I going to put them for the weekend?! Mostly we use green in the terrariums but some of the Fittonias are bright red or pink. Sometimes it’s ‘I need to put this in there, this in there and this in there…’ for a client but a bit of ivy will grow at a different rate to a bit of Fittonia and a lot of the time the plants will do exactly what they want so you just go with it. ”
Do you have a demographic that you appeal to?
“It’s a really mixed customer. A lot of young professionals come in and a lot of people come in to buy for their parents, because terrariums were big in the 70s. I had a guy recently who said he’d had one in the 70s and had read about us so wanted to come and get another one – he must have been in his late 70s.”
What sort of commissions do you get?
“Nice shops etc. It can be tricky as where they are going to, they can have low light and you have to account for that. An ad agency we’ve worked for recently wanted loads of little people in them – normally I like them to be self-sustaining so I don’t tend to do that a lot.”
Tell us more about the design of the shop and how the colour scheme evolved?
“The wall of shelves is a reddy-terracotta and for the next wall we decided we needed a different colour. They [Isabel and Helen] suggested pink and I wasn’t sure, but I’d seen Plants on Pink on Instagram and knew it would work. One [green] side of the shop is quite warm and on the other side of the room the light comes in and looks great against the pink. The yellow drawers are full of corks – I used to keep them in a big bucket in the studio and it was a nightmare to sift through them – and everything is on wheels so it can all be moved around. The whole aesthetic is quite neat and not ‘come and get your compost’.”
Do you see the colours changing in future or did you choose something to last?
“The colours feel part of the identity now. We had a strong brand identity before, but the colours have helped to bring it together – I’ve just ordered tote bags in the main green and red. If I was to open shop number two it would be different, but along the same rich vibe.”
How does the space make you feel?
“It’s really calming. Being on the Old Kent Road you walk in and think ‘this is lovely’ and because it’s a shop I have to keep it neat. When I was in the studio there was moss everywhere – this is a very nice space to come and work.”
Find out how to sign up to one of London Terrarium’s workshops here.