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Interview Interiors

Scouting green interiors


Words by Margot van der Krogt

Photos by Marta Vargas

From New York to Barcelona, green living has spread all over the world in recent years. Antwerp-based creative duo Bart Kiggen and Magali Elali have attempted to capture this trend in their new book ‘Greenterior’. The duo travelled the world to document the plant-filled homes of creative people they met through friends or found through searches on the Internet. They, too, are plant-loving creatives, living in a three-story home in the centre of Antwerp. “The bigger the better,” says Magali, of her plant collection, referring specifically to the eye-catching Strelitizia plant in the corner of the living room, its imposing leaves almost grazing the ceiling. We talk to Magali about the book, the couples’ life-long passion for plants and flowers, and how they hope to inspire urban green living.

Can you tell us about yourselves?

I was born and raised in Antwerp. Bart is actually a farm boy from Limburg – he moved to Antwerp 13 years ago for his studies. We met while I was working as a fashion journalist and collaborated on a series of interviews with graduates from the Royal Fashion Academy in Antwerp. We started working together on our own series of interviews, meeting creative people in their homes over a cup of coffee, which later turned into our blog, Coffeeklatch.

Have you always been interested in plants and flowers?

Yes. We noticed that so many of the homes we were visiting for Coffeeklatch had amazing plants and flowers. And it so happened that even the plants had incredible stories (i.e., they were gifted by friends, passed down from one generation to the next, travelled the world). I guess plants and flowers had always intrigued us but it was really after garden architects Bart Haverkamp and Pieter Croes helped us to build our own garden that our general interest became an obsession.

Living in a city, do you think it’s important to be surrounded by plants and flowers?

Yes, definitely. It’s the easiest way to bring nature back into the city, to live outside but be inside. I also find it quite therapeutic to be around plants and flowers – I’m a very busy, and you could say nervous, person and taking care of plants and flowers can be quite calming, soothing even.

With plants and flowers, it’s the easiest way to live outside but be inside.

What inspired the book?

Bart and I started writing a column called ‘Trek uw plant’ (or ‘Pull your plant’) for the Belgian newspaper De Morgen; every week we would highlight a different plant or flower to inspire people to purchase more green for their homes. Our publisher Luster, saw the column and decided to contact us. We hit it off immediately and before we knew it, we were making a book, inspired by our work for Coffeeklatch. In just three months time, we travelled from Brussels to New York to Ghent and Barcelona to photograph and interview people in their plant-filled homes. We published the book in December last year.


How did you find the people you featured in the book?

We had already met quite a few of the people featured in the book through Coffeeklatch. They tipped us on friends who shared their love for plants and flowers. We also found inspiring photographs of green interiors on Pinterest and tried to find the people who owned those homes. It just kind of happened by chance, really.

Are there stories that have stayed with you or that you find particularly inspiring?

All of them have actually. One story I found really intriguing was the one of Shabd Simon-Alexander, a textile artist living in New York – she’s someone I found through an image on Pinterest! She was interested in plants but didn’t have many in her home until she was introduced to 90-year-old sculptor Hanna Eshel. She was moving into an old folks home and giving away all of the plants and the art she had collected, and Shabd was one of the first people to take her plants in her home. She now has plants that are more than 70 years old and way too big for her apartment [laughs]. It’s amazing that plants can live on in this way. Another example is the Belgian furniture maker Antoine Vandewoude. He lives not so far away from here and his home is amazing. It’s incredibly tiny with a garden of 40m2 but he’s obsessed with plants. He has collected more than 19 different sorts of wisteria and more than 50 different kinds of roses. He’s this person who can grow just about anything. We still call each other regularly to ask each other questions about plants we’re growing or flowers we want to buy.


I’m getting the sense that there’s a community of plant and flower enthusiasts.

You’re right, I think a community is starting to form. It’s also not a taboo anymore to fill your home or your workplace with plants and flowers. I used to feel like such a plant nerd – that I went to the market to buy flowers every week. But then, I noticed some of the same people every week, people who were also into flowers, and we started talking, exchanging ideas about taking care of them, and when our favourite flowers were in season. Now, with social media like Instagram, it’s not something you have to do by yourself anymore. People are more open and are willing to share information. I think living with green is the new cooking – it’s definitely ‘cool

Living with green is the new cooking.

Is that why you included a plant index?

We noticed that people were asking us questions about the plants we had in our home or the photographs of flowers we posted on Instagram. I know I ask similar questions about the flowers or plants I’ve seen online or in magazines. In the book, we wanted to make buying plants and flowers even more accessible by providing a list of the favourite plants of the people featured in the book. In the plant index we explain how you can best take care of them. With the book, you don’t really have an excuse anymore – you know what you should buy and how you should take care of it. We just wanted another way to encourage people to bring more green into their homes.

How do you hope these kinds of ideas will develop in the future? What are your hopes for the future of living green?

I hope the trend will evolve into a constant and natural care for plants and greenery in our environment. Everyone knows the perks of living near a park or trees, so why do we have so few green spaces in Belgium? Everybody loves nature, or least they should. It’s good for you. In fact, it’s good for everyone, and it influences our well-being.