The inner city woodland on a cold winter afternoon: hibernating trees, their barren tendril-like branches reaching towards the grey sky and the silent, leafy mud embracing the wind’s icy breath. We met with Robi at the North Road entrance to Leigh Woods and, bracing ourselves for the moody weather, we joined her for a walk along the muddy paths and among the melancholy, leafless trees. Appearing by turns fragile, spontaneous and introspective, Robi opened up about her fight against depression and anxiety, how Loof started in the summer of 2016 almost by accident both as a platform to express her creative energies and as a soulful and empowering healing journey and how her partner, David, encouraged and believed in her all the way.
Having finished our walk in the woods, we headed to Clifton Village and stopped by Tradewind Espresso, one of Robi’s favourite coffee shops in town, where she told us about her dream to open a multi-layered shop fusing all her creative passions, about her favourite plant shops and why photography, coffee and dogs make her happy. Spending quality time in Robi’s company, we swiftly understood that Loof is not just about cleverly crafted miniature gardens with a hint of funky Dutch green design but, more importantly, about the genuine expression of a different way of life and the invention of quiet inner spaces that belong to the light.
Tell us about Robi, the founder of Loof Terrariums. What is your story?
Where do I start? Born and raised in Bristol, well almost. Just outside in a small seaside town called Clevedon. I've always been creative from what I can remember. I excelled at artistic subjects at school and college. My main passion when I was younger was to be a photographer. At college I finalised my Art Foundation in graphic design receiving an Honours. After college I didn't want to pursue studying further, but was pressured into University by my peers. I decided to get out of Bristol and head to London where I started a year of Fine Art Photography at Camberwell.
After failing my first year, I spent most of my time depressed and drinking, my parents convinced me to stay studying and I ended up at LCC doing a Graphic Communication course. I dropped out of that course after the first semester. Well, I was rushed to hospital to have my appendix removed and whilst recovering I was having anxiety attacks about returning to London to study. Once I moved back home, I wasn't really being creative and I didn't see the point in trying to work towards a creative career because I felt it was too difficult and I wasn't worthy. I ended up working as a barista and fell into speciality coffee. I was doing that for a few years but it wasn't making me truly happy. About two years ago I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but this time it wasn't just affecting me but also my partner. Loof started in the summer of 2016, it was a hobby to help with my depression and something to take my mind off of things. I never thought I would be where I am today with it. I've been on antidepressants for about 6 months and packed my secure job in about 4 months ago. Loof has really helped me with coping with the darker side of myself, but it means I get to create beautiful pieces of art for people.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
There's a couple that jump out to me. A lot of my childhood I spent cycling around country lanes in the summer or spending summer holidays in Plymouth with my Grandparents. I loved being outside, going on coastal walks, taking the dog for a walk, just being a kid really.
What was the most unusual thing about the place where you grew up?
There isn't really anything unusual about Clevedon, it's a traditional Victorian seaside town. Nothing really happened. What I did like about it was the 'hidden' coves. I would sometimes just go sit on the pebbled beach by myself and just reflect upon thoughts.
How did your journey into the world of terrariums begin?
It was a complete accident. A couple of years ago we went to Amsterdam and found this secluded florist that had small terrariums in light bulbs. I wanted one so badly for our flat in Bristol. But on the last day we tried to find this florist again with no avail. Once back in Bristol I was looking to get one but couldn't find any. This is when I started making them. I literally just went to IKEA got some small glasses, bought gravel, sand and soil and ordered the succulents off Amazon. I studied the best way to make them and the rest is trial and error really. I began just making them for myself then for some friends and family. I really have to give credit to my partner, David, for really pushing and believing in me. It was his idea that I start selling them and to start pursuing it.
What is the most frequent question people ask about your terrariums?
How do you keep them alive? ‒ Without fail. Any market or just in conversation it's always about how to keep the plants alive inside.
What are your top tips for keeping plants alive?
Monitoring them. I check my plants pretty much daily. I live in a basement flat which makes in pretty inhabitable for most plants, but I constantly worry about them. Are they getting enough light/water etc. I move them around my flat to work out what is best for them. I've had a lot of casualties, especially now that it's winter.
What is your favourite plant shop?
Oh, that's a tough one. In Bristol I'd have to say Wild Leaf or Mighty Quinns. They're both really small independent shops which is why I love them. In London I really admire PRICK as it specialises in cacti and succulents only. Also Conservatory Archives blew my mind when I visited.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I don't know if this really constitutes as advice but my dad would always say: “Would you rather be happy doing something you love with no money or have all the money you wanted in a job you hated and be miserable?”. This plays in my head a lot more now that I'm striving to be happy and doing what I love. It's not worth it being miserable in a job that you're not putting your whole heart into. Find what you love and do it. Get involved and surrounded by it. Breath it.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
This might be corny but love. Growing up you are given this concept about love, that it's fireworks going off constantly and it's all happy. But it's not that. It's unconditional and being completely and utterly comfortable with someone that no matter how vulnerable you may be, they will stick by you no matter what, with no judgement and accept you for you. It is literally finding your partner in crime so you can go on endless amounts of adventures.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I go for walks daily. I work from home and I have to get out of the flat or I go insane. I love walking through woodland and connecting with nature again. It relaxes me and brings me back to reality. I live near the Downs which is where I go on a daily basis but I really like to go to Leigh Woods or Aston Court.
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
I have big aspirations for Loof. From the beginning I wanted more than to sell just my terrariums and I've always wanted Loof to be collaborative. I knew I wouldn't be able to complete some of the concepts I had and I wanted to work alongside some great talents. I'm aiming to open up a multi-layered shop fusing all my passions. It'll be a plant and homeware shop, with an espresso/brew bar for coffee with seating for people to relax and a workshop where people can come build or watch me build the terrariums.
And now a Max Frisch question: What do you need in order to be happy?
David, dogs and plants. That's it. Maybe coffee as well. Those four things and I'll be content forever.
Can you recommend us:
A book: You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero. This really helped me to just go for it, it's helped me to understand myself a little better.
A song: Not a song, but Calvin Harris' album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 ‒ it never fails to get me in a happier mood.
A film: Burnt ‒ we just watched this on Netflix. It's about a chef going for his third Michelin star. I love programmes and documentaries about fine dining. Another one would be Chef's Table, it's a series that tells the stories of these incredible chefs and how they got to where they are today.
Robi answers Éric Poindron’s Weird Questionnaire:
1. Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
There was a foul smell in the air but nothing could stop them from devouring what was in front of them.
2. Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
3. Look at your watch. What time is it?
4. How do you explain this ‒ or these ‒ discrepancy(ies) in time?
Watching Pointless and assumed it started at 18:30.
5. Do you believe in meteorological predictions?
6. Do you believe in astrological predictions?
7. Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?
If the sky is clear.
8. What do you think of the sky and stars by night?
It's amazing to think how far away the stars are and how vast the universe is. How we're just this tiny spec just floating around in the Milky Way.
9. What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?
Just finished unwrapping some presents with the TV on in the background.
10. What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?
I wouldn't necessarily say they inspire me, but I'm intrigued by the architecture.
11. What would you have “seen” had you been blind?
I'd imagine it to be darkness.
12. What would you want to see if you were blind?
13. Are you afraid?
14. What of?
Death, darkness, I don't really like heights either. Being alone.
15. What is the last weird film you’ve seen?
It was about a man dressing in an ape suit and people believing it was Big Foot with Furries involved. It was pretty weird.
16. Whom are you afraid of?
I guess the government, Trump being in power is slightly terrifying and everything with Brexit.
17. Have you ever been lost?
Like a little lost.
18. Do you believe in ghosts?
Skeptical. I haven't seen anything.
19. What is a ghost?
An unexplainable phenomenon of sound or movement.
20. At this very moment, what sound(s) can you hear, apart from the computer?
The lounge TV is on with Pointless, I can hear the TV from the kitchen and people moving around.
21. What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard – for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?
I find silence more terrifying.
22. Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?
My brother gave me a cooking slab of salt and the first thing I did with it was to lick it.
23. Have you ever been to confession?
24. You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.
25. Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?
I imagine it to be a cabinet of interesting and unusual collectables, for example taxidermy, wet specimens and other culture oddities.
26. Do you believe in redemption?
I guess in a way. You can always right your wrongs in most cases.
27. Have you dreamed tonight?
28. Do you remember your dreams?
Sometimes, it depends what happens. Usually I have anxiety dreams.
29. What was your last dream?
The last one I can remember had something to do with two women trying to escape something and ending up killing people. It was pretty gruesome with a lot of violence. But that's sort of what I dream about the majority of the time.
30. What does fog make you think of?
Dark country lanes.
31. Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?
We're always discovering new species.
32. What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?
There's a feature wall with wallpaper with white magnolia flowers with a green background. There's Christmas cards pinned downwards and along the top of the wall is wooden star bunting, with a large gold star hanging from the centre.
33. If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?
34. What is a madman?
Someone who isn't sound in mind.
35. Are you mad?
Totally, but aren't we all?
36. Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?
The likelihood is that they're around.
37. What was the last weird book you read?
I listen to books on self help and business, most of my physical books are artist or cookbooks.
38. Would you like to live in a castle?
39. Have you seen something weird today?
40. What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?
41. Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?
I'd like to explore it, not live.
42. Can you see the future?
Not at all.
43. Have you considered living abroad?
I've never felt so at home when visiting. It's a beautiful city that I would love to have a property there to run away to.
46. What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?
47. Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?
Not at all.
48. What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
49. Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?
50. Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?
Antique magnifying glass.
51. What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?
Algae and little lake creatures.
52. Do you like taxidermied animals?
Yes, I have some roe deer skulls and framed butterflies and moths hanging on my bedroom wall. I would love to have stag heads and maybe a few other pieces of taxidermy when I have my own house.
53. Do you like walking in the rain?
54. What goes on in tunnels?
55. What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?
Presents and Dinner Date is now on TV.
56. What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?
Facing your demons one way or another.
57. Without cheating: where is that famous line from?
58. Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?
Not by night, that freaks me out way too much. Dusk I could handle.
59. Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
They'll never know what it was exactly.
60. Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
61. Look at your watch. What time is it?