It’s no secret we are huge enormous fans of the clever folks at Loose Leaf in Colingwood – namely Wona Bae and her partner Charlie Lawler. And whilst we have already profiled their lush plant store / studio in Collingwood, which opened last year, we didn’t properly introduce Wona, whose impressive training and incredible plant-based installations are well deserving of their own little moment in the spotlight.
Our gorgeous photos here capture Wona at work in her studio in Collingwood, but to be HONEST, you really need to check out Loose Leaf’s instagram to get a real sense of what Wona is capable of. Like THESE incredible stick sculptures at the Toowomba Carnival of Flowers, or THIS two metre wide Christmas Wreath created for Saint Crispin restaurant last year! Wona also created the amazing hanging plant installations at TDF Open House last year. I’m firmly convinced there is nothing green she can’t make.
After training in horticulture and studying the art of Kokozi (Korean style Ikebana) in South Korea, Wona undertook a masters of floristry in Germany. It was here she met Charlie (who is from Tasmania originally), and in 2007, the couple moved back to Australia together. Wona worked as a florist and floral designer for many years in Melbourne, but it wasn’t until she and Charlie decided to open Loose Leaf together last year that things started to get a little crazy! Having a retail presence, a versatile studio and a space to host various workshops exhibitions and events means Wona is busier than ever!
31 Sackville St
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 9.00am – 6.00pm.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to floristry originally, and to the launch of your own business?
I grew up in South Korea and was always destined to work with flowers and plants. My father’s passion is flowers – I grew up on his flower farm, and have lived and worked in different areas of the flower industry ever since. I rebelled for a while and studied a BA in Fashion Design, but ultimately my heart was with flowers, and after graduating from fashion I enrolled directly in a horticulture degree, followed by a master of floristry in Germany.
Having learned the art of Kokozi (Korean style Ikebana) in South Korea, I went to Germany and studied under the guidance of master florist Ursula Wegener. It was in Germany that I met Charlie, and in 2007 we moved back to Australia together. I guess I bring a unique perspective to Australian floristry, mixing the minimalist harmony of my Korean roots with the natural sculptural techniques I honed in Germany. This combined with the amazing array of local material available in Australia has allowed me to explore my style in an Australian context.
So far my experimental style has been well received in Australia, I’ve been blessed to work with some of Australia’s top brands, which has led to collaborations with L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and most recently with Akira Isogawa at The Royal Botanic Runway. I was also very honoured to win gold at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show, in 2010 and 2011. I have also been lucky enough to pursue my sculpture outside of floristry, the highlight of which has to be having my work displayed in the grounds at Heide MoMa.
Loose Leaf was the natural progression, and it finally gave Charlie and I an opportunity to pursue something that we are passionate about together.
Being a florist means notoriously early starts and big bump-ins, but amongst all the long hours there must be lots of super fun bits too! What are the projects or clients you love most?
There have so many great ones, I especially like working on photo shoots and weddings. A few of my favourite jobs have been the ongoing work I’ve done with Mimco, its always so fun and quirky! I have done photo shoots in a beautiful derelict mansion in central Victoria, and worked on projects for them during the last couple of Melbourne Fashion festivals.
Working with you guys on TDF Open house was pretty fun also!
What has been one or two favourite recent installations?
2014 has been a big year, I have done more installations than ever before, and probably had less sleep than ever before also! But I honestly love all the installation I work on, if I get to work with flowers and plants I’m happy.
The Christmas wreath I recently made for Saint Crispin restaurant was a favourite. Joe from St. Crispin was very trusting, he said he loved my sculptural style and challenged me to make a 2m wreath for the Christmas period giving it my sculptural twist. The wreath was so large in the end it didn’t fit in the delivery van and me and Charlie had to carry it down Smith street! It was a nice way to spread the Christmas cheer, we got a lot of smiles.
Another special installation we’ve been creating recently is Monstera Chandelier, the hanging balls of green goodness are actually a collaborative effort between me and Charlie. He came up with the design and we worked together to realise the creation of these. These have been so well received, and we have had them featured in everything from weddings to a rap video!
How is your business structured? How many people do you employ, and do you outsource any significant tasks?
At the moment we are a small team and have between 3 and 5 people working for us. We are a relativity new business and still learning the ropes, I’d say we are still very much in the phase where we are learning new things everyday and the structure is constantly evolving to fit new projects.
Loose Leaf is the retail arm of your business, which you opened a year ago with Charlie. What were you intentions for the business when you first opened it, and how has it exceeded your expectations?
Correct, it’s actually one year this week since we opened! We wanted to create a place that combined our skills as designers and our botanical knowledge, and hopefully inspired people to interact and create with nature, while also hoping to make a living along the way.
The reaction both locally and from abroad has been beyond our wildest expectations, we are so happy people enjoy our space and being able to share plants and flowers with so many beautiful people has been a real pleasure.
You also regularly teach workshops at Loose Leaf, can you tell us a little bit about this? What can students expect from these classes?
I’m a trained teacher in both German and Korean styles of floristry, my classes draw on both these styles. At the moment I offer classes for beginners and advanced florists. For beginners I try to deliver classes that are easy and useful in life. I hope they can enjoy flowers! For the more advanced classes I share deeper techniques and theory, and encourage these students to develop their own style of floristry.
What are your top floral picks to say thank you, sorry, or I love you?
My top picks are always seasonal flowers! You always get the best quality that way! I love mixings flowers and materials and like to tailor my creations to each client, no one type of flower suits everyone, and I like to learn a little about who is going to receive the flowers before I create something.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
After market and a coffee from the boys at Everyday Coffee, it normally starts with a check of plants and flowers conditions. I like to make sure everything starts the day happy and healthy! Typically I’m working on several different projects at once and usually have works set up through out the space at Loose Leaf and jump from one to another during the day. The beauty of having such a large work space means I can do some of my more time-consuming creations over several days!
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
Botanical artist and teacher at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens – Mali Moir. Mali’s work is exquisite, the detail she puts in her botanical and scientific illustrations show her audience a world the might not have seen before.
Artist and designer – Stephen Baker. Steve is a prolific creator, his illustration and paintings are inspiring. I can’t wait to see his upcoming show later this month at Modern Times.
Floral designers Katie Marx, Melanie Stapleton/Cecilia Fox and Jardine Botanic. There’s so many great talents in the Australian Floral design and I couldn’t just pick one, but these dear friends and talented ladies are making some amazing creations!
Can you list for your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of a bolt of creative inspiration?
My top resources for creative inspiration would be Fleur Creatif – Floral Design Magazine, Cereal Magazine , and reading old books, magazines and browsing through Instagram and Pinterest.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Opening Loose Leaf with Charlie has been my proudest achievement to date, it’s provided the ultimate platform for us to create together! It continues to allow us to work on new and interesting projects together.
What would be your dream creative project?
A dream creative project would be to take all the pruning/sticks from a winery at the end of season and create a massive sculpture on site!
What are you looking forward to?
We’re off to Japan next week so that’s pretty exciting! We will hopefully catch a bit of Cherry Blossom season and I’m super excited to explore the Gardens of Japan with Charlie. The use of greenery in architecture there is really interesting and the established traditional gardens look amazing! Also I’m hyped to visit the Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome in Tokyo.
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
It’s got to be Collingwood, partly because I never leave here. But mostly all the great things happening. There are so many great people making, creating and doing spectacular things here. When it comes to food, drink and shopping I’m literally spoilt for choice!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
I often find myself craving a little bit of home cooking from Korea and the chef at Bistro K in Collingwood looks after me. They deliver sensational Korean and fusion dishes! The lamb ribs there are amazing!
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
On a typical saturday morning I’m up early either at the flower market, or in the studio preparing for weddings.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
I’m not sure if it’s a secret or not, but The National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda are a magical place. When in full bloom the colours are sensational and as you desend through the valley there are so many unique plants and flowers to discover.