Plant Life Balance

Pottering-about with Evi O

Interview by: Maggie Scardifield
Images by: Rowan Jackson

To potter (v): to spend time in a pleasant, relaxed way, often doing small jobs in your house.

Evi O talks about blind debossing and colour with all the fervour of a kid in a candy store. O is behind the good looks of some of the country’s best cookery, design and art books, and has designed titles for green-enthusiasts including The Planthunter, Jamie Durie and William Dangar, to name but a few. Naturally, her Hecker Guthrie-designed apartment in Sydney’s Waterloo, is just as pleasing to the eye, with its light-filled open-air corridors and grids for climbers that bring the outdoors in. Pottering-about with O and her pet whippet Henri at home, we got a behind-the-scenes look at the designer’s stunning art collection, thoughtful curios and cactus garden.

Evi, can you give us a brief rundown of what you do for work?

I started my career as a book designer for Penguin Books. While I was there, I started painting for leisure and my curator friend, Amber Creswell Bell, asked me to contribute some small paintings for a group show. It went really well and kickstarted my humble art practice. At around the same time, my time at Penguin Books came to an end and following that I freelanced for a bit, before deciding to start my own design practice, Evi O. Studio.

What does the Evi O. Studio specialise in?

These days we do a lot of publications and brand work: a fun mix of books, packaging, websites, stationery, homewares, art direction, animation and much, much more. The studio is a melting pot of creativity. At the moment I’m also preparing for a big solo show in September and have been dedicating my weekends to this. To me, 2019 is a year of being productive. I can sleep in 2020!

What are some favourite features of your apartment?

The apartment design is clever. The living room slash kitchen came with a central bench and a platform stuck to the wall that makes it very livable with minimum furnitures. It could be annoying to some, but I don’t mind: Hecker Guthrie can tell me how to live in and maximise a small space any day! I guess my next favourite things would be the objects and furniture I have found for the space – lots of artwork from friends, a specially made bed. Each of them has a story.

Secret’s out: Plant Life Balance shot one of the looks – Desert Dreams at your apartment. Did the process inspire you to get greening?

Totally. I knew that I wanted a structured array of plants for the balcony, slightly inspired by the sparseness of Japanese zen gardens. I have an infatuation with cherry trees and initially, I wanted one cherry tree to take up the balcony (perhaps with a few mini plants so it wasn’t so lonely). My friend Georgina Reid (of The Planthunter) said that I’d just be wasting the tree’s life as the balcony gets a lot of wind. For a long time the balcony was empty until we did the Plant Life Balance shoot on the balcony and one Aloe (which we christened as Debbie) stayed on. Following Debbie, it took me a while to populate the balcony, partly because I didn’t want to give up the cherry tree idea, and partly too, because big cacti can be hard to find. But I’ve succeeded, and now have a whole crew living on the balcony!

I love that you named your first plant, Debbie. Do any of your other plants have names?

I have named a lot, especially those who survived the propagation stage. My whippet, Henri, has a special relationship with my (not so leafy anymore) Monstera, Young Don. He tends to eat all the new shoots that Young Don grows!

What’s your secret for keeping your plants alive and happy?

At the studio, my secret is Daniel Shipp, a photographer wizard and THE BEST specimen of a plant-man. Daniel checks in on my plants (his are all healthy) and if things ever get dire, will take some to ER (a safe happy spot in the studio). At home, it’s a bit of a survival game.

You designed the Planthunter’s book, Truth, Beauty, Chaos and Plants. What was the best part about working on this project?

Georgina, Daniel and I have been friends since before the book, and had been talking about doing it for a good while. It’s one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved with – purely because of what initiated The Planthunter, the mission the book has, and the rich process we went through to create this baby.

You’ve also worked with people such as Jamie Durie and Will Dangar on interesting green-themed books and projects. What have been some of the takeaways working on such planty projects?

Things take time to be good. Gardens don’t mature overnight. Things need nurturing to grow. Neglect is never good. Deep life stuff! I also learnt a lot of botanical names, enough to impress a friend or two.

Do you have any #plantgoals?

I am envious of a picture of Matisse’s studio with the most enormous Monstera. I’ll get there one day.

What role do plants play in your life?

They bring nature closer to you. They’re nice to have around – caring for them reminds me to be nice, rather than ignorant. They certainly make a room feel more positive, too.

Where do you go in Sydney for a bit of Plant Life Balance?

Definitely Sydney Park. I walk there with Henri pretty much everyday. There’s lots of trees, plants and animals, and it’s a nice way to start the day.

How would you rate your own Plant Life Balance?

I’d say good. I’d like to fit in more nature walks in my life. In spaces, I can be a better carer, but at the same time I have kept a lot of plant living longer these days! Not bad, right?

If you could spend the day gardening with anyone in the world, who would it be?

I reckon my grandma. She lives in Indonesia and has the most vibrant garden. She’s always gardened her whole life and I think I’ve only just started to understand why it’s so important to her.


Recreate Evi O’s Desert Dream look in your own home – the complete plant list of suggested plant species can be found here.

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