Friday, May 8, 2009

Interview - Joost Bakker

Love these stools created by Joost from garden stakes! So simple and so great.

Birdcage installation at the GPO in Melbourne

More work at the GPO

One of Joost's most recognisable designs - these freestanding plinths are used to display vases/bottles of single stem flowers en masse You might have seen these at Journal cafe in the CBD... or the windows of Aesop stores?

Very exciting interview today! If you've been reading for a while you'll know I've been chasing an interview with Melbourne florist/event/installation superstar Joost Bakker since his incredible sustainably-built pop-up bar/cafe The Greenhouse was installed at Federation Square over Summer. If you didn't get a chance to visit, you might remember my coverage and photos here. It was SUPER amazing. Like, Milan-Design-Week-style amazing, or Marije-Vogelzang-style-amazing...! Temporary design projects on this scale rarely happen in Melbourne, which is why The Greenhouse won my heart (and so many more!).

Anyway as you can imagine, at that time Joost was super busy, but luckily things have calmed down slightly and he has kindly taken the time to do an interview! Yay! It's great to learn a little more baout Joost - he's been featured a lot in the media (remember that Vogue Living feature earlier this year showcasing his beautiful home?), but I feel in this interview Joost has really given us a more personal insight into his motivations and the passion behind his work. :) Aren't we lucky!?

For more background info about Joost check out his website - lots more photos of his stunning floral pieces and larger scale installations.

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Migrating to Aus at age 9 had huge influence on me. Learning the language and culture, but the most profound impact was from learning, watching and being involved in our family business- growing flowers. My father tried planting all sorts of different varieties of flowers, this was important to watch, this way of trying to make different things work, testing assumptions. They became successful and the business quickly evolved, I observed sheds, greenhouses, glasshouses being constructed around me. The most complex construction happened in '97 it was a glasshouse from Holland. That set my thoughts in motion about different housing, more efficient ways of doing things.

You have gained an incredible reputation and received many accolades for your unique approach to floral design and installation. What were you initial plans when you first embarked this career? Did you ever expect to be working on the great variety of projects you are now so well known for?

No I definitely didn’t expect to be working across the different variety of projects that I am now, and I definitely didn’t plan to be working as a florist. For as long as I can remember I've always questioned how florists worked and always thought about different ways of doing things and being true to the product/materials. Having an understanding of the effort that goes into growing flowers makes you aware of their total beauty. I began wholesaling flowers and the whole journey evolved from there.

What have been some of your favourite or most memorable projects in recent years?

Without question my family (Jen and I have three beautiful girls) and building our family home- the prototype for the Greenhouse project. I was away for 7 days on business over Christmas and all I wanted to do was be back with the girls in the space we’ve created. We bought our block in 2001 just before Jen and I were married. We then spent 3 months traveling, dreaming about what sort of home/structure to build. In 2002 I spent a lot of time on the bock understanding the winds, light, soil, rhythms, clearing dead trees, composting, planting grasses and 15,000 trees (I hate to think how many different species) and thinking again about what sort of home we would build. We began building in Dec 2006 and the house was finished in Aug 2007.

The Greenhouse by Joost at Fed Square

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

For me my main inspiration comes from nature. Things that inspire me are plants growing out of crevices of buildings (I love how ferns are growing out of Queensberry bridge above peoples heads at Riverland). How quickly disused spaces in cities are transformed into bird and plant filled oasis'.

Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, magazines, your environment, travel, your family and friends?

National Geographic - I have almost every copy from the last 50 years. Passionate growers, builders, architects, photographers- people like Earl Carter, he makes me view my own work in a different way.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Early starts (which I love).. I have a little more time these days (post Greenhouse Melbourne). Last Wednesday is was up at 4am picking Sedum flowers, I had noticed that by the early morning these flowers are covered in bees making them impossible to pick, so I had to pick them lit by the headlights of my truck. I then did my Wednesday route… Wall, Batch, Riverland, Rockpool, Vue de Monde and some private clients. At 10am I had a meeting to discuss Greenhouse Perth, at 12pm I passed by Waste Converters to look at some timber for flooring that I can possibly use for the next Greenhouse. By 2pm I was on the property again weeding, maintaining and cultivating our trees. At 5pm I’m a family man (showing the girls how to weed!).

What are you most proud of professionally?

The relationships I’ve developed with my collaborators.

What's the best thing about your job?

The best and the worst: that my job is forever changing and evolving, I have to remain adaptable to all possibilities.

And the worst?

I never seem to be satisfied with my work!

What would be your dream project or creative collaboration?

In all honesty I’m living it. I love the people I collaborate with, my clients, the diversity of things that I do and the freedom to express/ create what I believe in.

What are you looking forward to?

Holidays with my family! Hopefully after Greenhouse Milan is installed (fingers crossed!) we can tour around Italy together.

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Now you've got me going.. I’m very fortunate that one of my good mates is also a fantastic chef. He’s always experimenting with new tastes and textures and on occasion, when I’m doing the flowers for his restaurant (Vue De Monde) Shannon will call me out the back and ask ‘what do you think about this?’ as he hands me a morsel of something incredible. This is how lucky I am: this week alone Jason Chan at 'Batch' made one of his childhood favourite dishes, Johnny at 'Journal' gave me some amazing prosciutto with olive oil great bread and some fontina, down the road Aleks at 'Mille' (named after his beautiful father who helped me with my bookkeeping for years!) gave me some Mozzarella di bufala de Campana sliced with fresh tomato and olive oil (un-fucking believable), then to top it all off Shannon made a tart with fresh cream and the biggest blackberries you've ever seen! Every second Thursday I head off to 'Innocent Bystander' early to do their installation- I came home with Pip's fresh casalinga and strawberry and aniseed jam from the 'Jam Lady'... life doesn't get any better than this!

Which Melbourne people/companies do you like to collaborate with?

As mentioned I’ve been extremely lucky to have such an amazing circle of people that I’ve worked with for a long time. People like Nonda Katsalidis who I regard as having one of the most beautiful minds (when I asked him why all his buildings were on La Trobe St he replied:"I'll only do buildings within walking distance" so progressive - as a city I wish we would realize what a creative talent he is, truly original). I would also have to say though that Georgina O’Connor is one of my favourite collaborators we work together seamlessly.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

In amongst the trees on the block.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The people.. and their willingness to back an idea. I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to people from other cities about the Greenhouse project and they all consistently say: "Wow.. how amazing that Melbourne supported your idea and that you were able to get the project up."

A huge thankyou to Joost for his time, and to his colleague Viviana for facilitating this interview!


  1. Hey Lucy!

    Wow - brilliant interview! I really enjoyed reading it. What an amazing person.

    I miss Greenhouse.

    Keep up the awesome work!

  2. I wish MY job had perks involving amazing food!! Ahhh drooling on keyboard...

    Seriously though, I hope there is a permanent Joost structure like Greenhouse in Melbourne very soon! It was a summer 08/09 highlight.

  3. What a lovely down-to-earth soul!

    Thanks for the interview - immensely enjoying.

    Can I suggest though that you don't ask people "what they studied" but perhaps "did you study".
    You assume that everyone has had the opportunity.
    It sounds elitist to me to assume a creative person must have studied.

    Anyway, no malice intended because I love your blog!

  4. Whenever I see a Joost creation (always amazing!) I go a little off track thinking of the behind the scenes logistics that are involved! the birds at the PO still bamboozle me!!