FLOWERS : Grace & Thorn, London

Florist Nik Southern has made a name for herself with whimsical and romantic arrangements. Bringing the wildness and rusticity of the English countryside to her busy London shop in Hackney, her naturalistic designs have made her one of the most in-demand florists today. To see the Corriere della Sera Living interview in full, read below.

Often displaying her flowers in unexpected ways; in Kilner jars for example, Nik steers clear of traditional bouquets for a more natural style. Here, a velvety Grand Prix red rose is paired with the contrasting paper-like petals of Astrantia.

Often displaying her flowers in unexpected ways; in Kilner jars for example, Nik steers clear of traditional bouquets for a more natural style. Here, a velvety Grand Prix red rose is paired with the contrasting paper-like petals of Astrantia.

The inner-city borough of Hackney in east London might seem an unlikely place to stumble upon a secret garden. Yet among the council housing and hipster hangouts of this rapidly changing, creative and dynamic place, Nik Southern has transformed a former tailor’s shop into a botanical haven.

Founded in 2011, Nik’s bespoke flower design company Grace & Thorn was born out of a love for naturalistic flower design and a desire to bring back influences of the wild, rustic English countryside to the capital after a decade living in the country. Her romantic, sumptuous displays of ethereal and off-beat blooms - no two bouquets are ever the same - are a favourite among fashion circles, with clients including JW Anderson, Diesel and Markus Lupfer. Recent projects include an installation of succulents at The Violin Factory in south London to celebrate the launch of Whistles’ men’s collection, the windows of the Hugo Boss Sloane Square store for Chelsea in Bloom and a dinner for LK Bennet. The English actress Rosamund Pike who attended the event sent an email to Nik saying how much she loved her ‘surprising, off-beat and cool flowers. Hope to see your work again.’ Compliments, indeed.

Florist Nik Southern in her Hackney studio and shop. The limited edition elephant print is by American artist John Murphy.

Florist Nik Southern in her Hackney studio and shop. The limited edition elephant print is by American artist John Murphy.

We offer a lot of variety, textures and different colour combinations’, says Nik of her plants. When it comes to making bouquets, she likes to start by grabbing a few flowers at random and laying them out on the table. ‘When I’m teaching my girls, I tell them to close their eyes. You can look too much at what you’re doing - and I hate the over manipulation of flowers.

Describing the interior of Grace & Thorn as ‘unexpected’, Nik deliberately steers away from a typical rustic style where apple crates are used as props. Instead, she favors the contrast of smooth concrete where the plants create the environment instead.

A series of cement units and a simple wooden floor create a raw industrial vibe in this terrarium-like space. A giant glass amphora filled with air plants and driftwood hangs from the ceiling and all manner of sculptural ferns and tactile succulents are dotted around. In amber glass jars, scented soy candles are by the Pommes Frites Candle Co. in California and the sculptural metal wall sconces are by product designer friends, RV Design.

When asked to name her favourite flower, the plant Nik comes back to time-after-time is the rose. ‘But I never use too many’, she hastens to add. ‘Two or three at most. With the rose, I like that there are so many different varieties - and that they are large and create an immediate focal point.’ It was the rose that was also the inspiration for her choice of business name. ‘Like the style of the shop, we wanted a name, which had contrast’, Nik explains.  ‘I love the rose. It is graceful and lovely but then it has this thorny edge. Like my Italian gran. And she was called Grace too.’

Nik's guide to creating a winter floral bouquet

1. Select contrasting flowers

2. Strip any from leaves the stem

3. Begin with foliage

4. Follow with the largest flower

5. Layer with smaller flowers, berries and thistles

"First of all, choose your flowers. Go for a couple of large and sumptuous blooms, which will be the focus of your arrangement. Follow with smaller flowers, berries and foliage that will create texture and interest to the display. Before you go any further, tidy up your flowers by stripping all of the leaves from the stem. This will prevent them rotting in the water and make for a tidier finish. Only now you are ready to start. Begin by placing foliage in the jar. This will be your ‘skeleton’ – your base or the arrangement. Next, position the largest flower and layer all the other, smaller flowers, berries and thistles all around it. The result? A full and wild garden effect."