UNDER AN OPEN SKY. Jin Ahn renovated the vast space defined by high ceilings and gaping skylights in an old ironworks, herself. Three years ago, she moved into the space together with her boyfriend and an infinite number of large and small plants - now the unofficial headquarter of her growing plant imperium Conservatory Archives.
Located in East London, alongside her two stores and a list of prestigious projects, she engages in decorating spaces with plants for clients. Growing with and against their surroundings, Jin’s vast exotic plant and cacti parks have grown into quite unusual indoor landscapes, vividly displaying just how far plants can transform space. This is more than a crowded windowsill; in this home, plants take up far more space than both furniture, humans, and even the little puppy Hackney. We visited the small family to get the story of trading fashion for gardening, and how it is to live in a self-made jungle.
Wandering around nature in England, Jin felt inspired. So, inspired, in fact, that what started out as a year off from work in the Korean fashion scene turned into a new course of life: a study of horticulture and a permanent move to London. Here, she started her own business, living out her new-found dream: plants, and loads of them. Today, Conservatory Archives counts two plant stores in East London and a consultancy service where Jin takes stores and office spaces under her careful counselling to enhance indoor well-being and cultivate them with more greenery. What today projects an overwhelming vibe and green landscape, in reality, and social media, alike was actually never planned for.
“Everything is quite dense,” Jin answers, as we ask her how it is to live such an inseparable life.”
She found her home in the old factory building three years ago. Back then, it was used as an artist studio, and although lacking electricity, water, and heating, Jin saw its potential and turned the space into a combined home and studio for her small business. A true paradise for indoor plants, otherwise forced to live in bad lighting conditions in small apartments, her jungle is an ever-changing landscape of plants, interweaving her private and professional life closely together. At times, she uses plants from her personal collection to style a large event or moves them to one of her two stores.
Connecting business and pleasure, she co-founded the company together with her boyfriend Giacomo. When she was opening the first store, he was only occasionally helping her, while finishing his PhD in mathematics. In the meantime, she convinced him to be a part of the company on a full-time basis.
“Everything is quite dense,” Jin answers, as we ask her how it is to live such an inseparable life. “Sometimes it can be quite stressful when our schedules become filled up, as we are getting even busier. I have thought about separating my personal life from my work, but I just can’t seem to be able to do it. This is just the way I live.”
A Success Story
When she finished university, she thought she was going to be a gardener, but as a child of the city, the rainy British weather and landscapes seemed less appealing to her. Hence came the idea of focusing on indoor house plants. When she finally found the perfect space for the store - which opened late in 2015, she had no idea of the prominent attention plants were about to get. Initially, the idea was to combine her love of great furniture and plants based on her background in fashion and graphic design, the but soon after the opening the plants bloomed, flourished and eventually took over.
“At the beginning, the shop was very empty, and we had more furniture than plants. Back then I had no idea that plants would become this popular. People went a bit crazy in my shop,” Jin laughs, as she tells how she experienced that her stock of plants in all shapes and sizes, selling out within the first week.
The overwhelming success was transformed to initial pop-ups and collaborations with brands to style stores or offices. Then, by 2018 the couple was able to open up a second shop - much larger than the first, with room to bring back furniture and design beyond that of the right plant pot.
“I think my background in business and design has helped me a lot. I think I didn’t quite realise that before, but today I can see that I got away with a lot, without any previous experience. I think people were surprisingly trusting when I proposed something crazy,” she says. And she definitely persuaded her still growing audience. Since 2015, plants have been bursting on Instagram thanks to Jin and Conservatory Archives, counting nearly 100,000 followers to date.
The Wild and the Natural
When captured in the iconic squares of Instagram, everything seems to be just in its right place. But Jin is no fan of perfection.
She lost count of the plants a long time ago and can’t even begin to name a single favourite amongst them all. Staying true to both the plants' nature and her own taste, however, she’s found her place in between the burgeoning greenery:
“My aesthetics are quite industrial, very open and very much about a lot of light. When I decorate with plants in that kind of setting, the green plants simply work better. I do like colourful plants with flowers, but it’s just not my style,” Jin says.
“If I have to name a favourite,” Jin says and gives in, “I would have to say that I really like cacti. But rather than the species, I’m fascinated by the shape of the plants. They can be very different. I like plants that grow into unique shapes and figures. Texture and shapes are a significant factor when we talk about plants because even if we start with the same Pilea, in time, they will look totally different.”
So, what happens when plants become less trendy, one dares to ask? “Plants are not a finite science,” Jin says and continues, “I’m still learning as I go along. It’s really been a journey, but I think it was meant to be like this. I do believe though, that plants will be more than just another fleeting trend – they will become our lifestyle.”