Talking Shop: The Plant Room
The desire to provide a place people can connect with life, nature and themselves led Emma McPherson to open The Plant Room, a sun-dappled space on Sydney’s northern beaches that’s all about the spirit of growth and creation – and plenty of handmade, vintage and leafy goodness.
Please tell us about yourself, and The Plant Room. When I look back at my life, it has always been about growth, in some form or another. I have studied a lot, mostly spiritual and metaphysical practice and as a Gestalt therapist. I suppose to find out who I was as a person and what sort of life that I wanted to lead. I changed a lot when I had my little boy in 2011 and moved from psychotherapy into design.
In 2014, my husband and I decided to follow our bliss, to live every day in complete happiness doing the things we loved. For me, that was design. In doing that, I realised giving back was always a big part of me: both in my work in hospitality and in Gestalt therapy, I was in service to others. And that continues today.
The Plant Room is an outward representation of my inner self. For me, plants and handmade items are the soul of a home, they’re our connection with nature in our internal environment and allow us to maintain that connection whilst being removed from it.”
The Plant Room houses everything I love in one room… It has plants, handmade furniture and ceramics, beautiful artwork, with vintage pieces thrown in. These are all the things that feed me in my environment, they’re what I grew up with in my family home.
The store is filled with my favourite furniture makers and designers, and everything is made by the hands of someone doing what they love. The pieces hold the spirit of creation and it’s this energy and spirit that we then harness for our workshops, collaborations and events.
When and why did you start The Plant Room? As a designer, I felt uncomfortable filling people’s homes with stuff that had no meaning. It’s so easy these days to see a beautiful image, be it in a magazine, or Pinterest, and then decide to recreate it for yourself, but where do we exist in this image? And who are we if we continue to copy and follow trends without understanding the importance of the home and what it represents in our lives?
Our homes are important – they represent our inner selves. To live in environments without plants, that are decorated with furniture that is mass-produced and filled with chemicals, is firstly not healthy, and secondly, not sustainable.”
I wanted to provide a place that holds the spirit of creation, one that people could walk into and feel connected to both themselves and the environment, to provide a place for people to be free from excess and connected to life, themselves and nature.
I believe that Vedic meditation is the ultimate reason for The Plant Room’s existence. I have become more aware and connected since starting meditation a couple of years ago and it was through this practice and connection that the idea for The Plant Room was formed. There were a few pivotal conversations and moments that together created the idea for The Plant Room. The planning and learning started straight away, once I had tapped into the idea I couldn’t let it go, it seemed to become bigger than me and it was something that I had to do. I had no idea how to run or start a business so I started learning and growing the idea straight away… This was in August 2015, and we opened a year later in August 2016.
TPH: What does a typical day working at The Plant Room involve for you? On the perfect day, I’ll get in there about an hour before we open for a 20-minute meditation with the plants. I love this part of my day – it’s when I get to connect in and feel what is required, what direction we need to go in and where we’re at. I then usually wander around and take it all in, see what needs to be done and have a bit of a play. I move things around, check that the plants are happy, cut off any bits that need pruning, dust the furniture, and water if required.
We open the doors at 10, and then the fun begins. From there, it’s the conversations with the people that come through the doors that really make The Plant Room what it is. Every single one of them is unique, individual, and special. Be it sourcing the perfect plant to go with the ideal pot, stopping for a chat and a cuppa, building connections and friendships or uncovering new ideas. Each interaction – either with a customer, a maker or one of our team – brings an opportunity for relationship, laughter and growth.
It’s also always so beautiful watching people discovering the store and our makers for the first time… So much love and energy goes into what they do. It’s so nice to see others appreciate them as much as we do.
What do you look for when you source products? I look for pieces that connect with me on a deep level, they have to touch my heart. I get a feeling in my body when I find a maker that I want to connect with and usually this feeling follows through into the connection once we meet.
Ultimately, I’m not hunting for products, I’m hunting for that feeling and it’s not usually the products that provide it, but the people who are making them.”
It’s more a sense than a hunt for something unique, every one of our makers is following their bliss and doing what they love. We seem to cross paths, whether it’s through an article in a magazine or a journey into the depths of Instagram, it’s like we find each other. I definitely have a style that I like and then the rest is up to the relationship we build with the maker.
What are the 3 products from The Plant Room you’d like to have at home? The Plant Room is filled with my favourite items and makers so this is really hard to answer. People always come in and say how they’d love to live in here and I feel the same way. Choosing a favourite product is like asking me to choose a favourite child…
Okay, first up: a piece of JD Lee Furniture. I loooove JD Lee and the beautiful furniture he creates, he’s such a humble soul and his work is exquisite. I’d love to have space for the Tate Dining table, but in the meantime, I’ll settle for the Finley sofa… I can’t go past the tea holders on the sides.
Also: The Potter x The Clay’s plates, dishes and platters make my heart sing. My goal this year is to serve my family a Christmas feast on her ceramics.
And, Alessandro Di Sarno’s ceramics are divine. His ceramics are strong and masculine, and his soul is gentle and warm. They have a big following in the store and never hang around for very long.
Do you mind if I do 4… I’m finding it really hard to choose… So, finally: Lisa Lapointe’s The Earthing. Each of Lisa’s works is a journey, a spiritual pilgrimage, the feeling of a very distinct moment. You don’t just see her works, you feel them. They’re something you resonate with, understanding. The Earthing, for me, is a talisman, a depiction of life as a mother and the personal journey that it entails.
What plants thrive in the neighbourhood around The Plant Room HQ? We’re smack bang on the Northern Beaches, and here you’ll find all you can expect from a beachside suburb: plenty of strelitzias, palms, agaves, succulents and cacti.
What are you fascinated by at the moment? Right now, I am extremely fascinated by privilege, by over-consumption, by excess and by the fight that exists between the environment and capitalism. I don’t know if it’s the climate at the moment, but I feel really affected by the lives we lead at home in Australia: we don’t want for anything.
Water is plentiful, food is abundant and nutritious… But then, we bleed our land dry of resources, we destroy our water sources, and heat the planet without a second thought for the natural environment and the generations to follow. Why are we like this? What needs to happen for us to change?”
This is probably not the answer that you expected, but I find our consumption really intriguing and our inability or desire to change even more so…
Do you have any special plants in your life? If so, tell us a bit about them. My most special plants are my Ceropegia Woodii and Hoya Carnosa. My grandmother had both in her home. The Hoya sat on the windowsill of the toilet and the Ceropegia in the bathroom. We recently went away for the weekend and came home to the Hoya in full bloom. When I opened the front door, I was transported back to holidays at the bay in my beautiful Gran’s home. It was like my heart cracked open with joy and broke at the same time. She passed away years ago, but in that moment she was here.
Do you describe yourself as a gardener? Why? I’m the gard-in-er and my husband is the garden-er. We have an unspoken deal that I look after the indoor and he looks after the outdoor. My everyday is filed with tending to plants, potting, pruning, watering and loving… I can’t live without them, they feed me, they make me happy, they calm me down and I don’t exist without them, they’re my family, my life and my soul. So, I think that’s a YES.
What was the last thing you cooked? Well, we’ve been travelling around America for the last five weeks, staying in hotels and Airbnbs so don’t judge me on this one… I made burrito bowls in a small desert hideaway in the middle of Joshua Tree. We ate them outside as the sun set over the desert, and they tasted amazing.
What are you looking forward to over the next few months? I’m really looking forward to getting home to The Plant Room. I’ve been so inspired on my trip up the west coast of America and have met the most beautiful souls along the way. I can’t wait to open the boxes of ceramics that are going to be arriving over the next couple of weeks from some of the makers that I met on our adventure.
We also have a new venture on the cards which I am keen to share and lots of exciting workshops and events coming up over the next couple of months. I’m also excited to take my team out for a beautiful dinner, they have been so amazing while I have been away and I’m looking forward to celebrating them and showering them with lots of crazy, beautiful love.
If you were a plant, what would you be? I think a heart-shaped philodendron. They’re twisted… A vine of love that’s pretty hard to get rid of and grows profusely in the right conditions. They can go up or down, and look best in a scene from the ‘70s.
All images by Nikki Malvar.