Florence and James’ home kind of defies categorisation. It’s a house, a workshop, an event space, a roof terrace, and it’s all put together like a never-ending warren, so that every time you think you’ve seen it all there’s another bit you definitely haven’t. Florence runs flower delivery service Petalon (go check out her bouquets – they are beautiful) and James builds bikes. They share the rented space with their daughter, Clover and their gentle Great Dane, Huxley, who is easily the biggest dog we’d ever seen. When they’re not running their businesses, you’ll find them hiring out their space for TV shoots, or plastering, or mending the roof, or being general all-round doing types who make us feel as though we could really be packing more into our days. We went and nosied around their AMAZING space and vowed to one day be as cool as they are.
Emma: what a space! How did you end up here?
James: we used to go past this place all the time on the way to the marshes walking the dog. It’s such a strange building, in its shape and the fact it’s two buildings bolted together. Well, a friend, Marco the 6ft 9 yoga teacher – who looked like a really tall Jesus – lived here. We fell in love with the space and one day he got in touch and said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m moving to Portugal, would you be interested in taking on the last four years of the lease?’ So, we did.
** Short interlude in which Clover tries on many sunglasses**
Robyn: and how did that work out for you?
James: we spent that first year working out how to do It. Marco was doing a few yoga classes but used it mainly as a shoot space – the show Tattoo Fixers came in three times a year and that covered their rent. We pay a LOT in rent, so for us it’s about working out what concessions we’re willing to make for money.
**Short interlude in which Clover does some phone calls and considers her belly button, then sings a song and does the splits**
Robyn: in here it feels like Clover is living in the countryside in the middle of the city
James: like a barn conversion on the middle of Hackney, yeah. I grew up on a farm too and this is the closest thing to it. And it’s falling apart. I spend about a day a week working on it.
Emma: where are you originally from?
Florence: Bath! I lived in the centre. I’ve never lived in the countryside, so could get excited about that
Robyn: what would moving mean for the business?
Florence: well, I don’t need to be there every day – the team take care of the day in, day out and I’m the Fat Controller, basically. But, at the same time, one of the florists is on holiday at the moment, so I had to make 75 bouquets yesterday…
Robyn: that’s intense – do you get ‘the claw’?
Florence: ha ha – my hands are fucked anyway!
**Short interlude in which Clover breaks her toy car and can’t find her scooter. Then James fixes it but Clover Hulk-smashes it**
Robyn: you buy your flowers online – do you miss the markets?
Florence: I like the romance of going to the market and getting in the van and feeling part of secret London in the morning – this whole part of London that’s awake before anyone else.
**Short interlude in which Clover does a big shout**
Robyn: how long have you been running the business?
Florence: this is our sixth year. I used to work for a trend and marketing consultancy
Robyn: what made you feel like you could make that leap?
Florence: well, James had started his bike business. So I was living with someone who was following their dream and found myself racing home to see our new puppy, and James was already there, already playing with the puppy. I felt like such a mug. So, I was always looking for something to do, then James sent my boss a shit bunch of flowers to say thank you for a birthday surprise and I thought, ‘I could do that better’.
**Short interlude in which Clover waters the plants and then gives everybody a high-five**
Robyn: do you work here in the space?
Florence: we’ve got a little workshop around the corner. I would always say to florists starting out: do it in your house for as long as you can because you don’t always need to have the cost of an actual workspace.
Emma: and on top of being a florist and managing a space, you have a little Clover too – how has it been adding a baby into the mix?
Florence: when I had Clover, I didn’t have post-natal depression per se, but I wasn’t a basket of rainbows. She cried for three months solid. And because I didn’t have any younger siblings as a reference point, I just thought I was rubbish at it. So I am looking forward to the new baby, but I’m prepared for the start too.
**Short interlude in which Clover reveals that Florence is pregnant and sings us an excellent song about peanut butter**
Robyn: James, your workshop is here too, right? How does that work for you for you being in your workspace always?
James: I do 2.5 days in the workshop and 2.5 days on Petalon. We’ve worked in much smaller spaces than this and done work-lives before – Florence and I can share space for a pretty sustained amount of time!
Robyn: and how is that?
James: it’s exactly what you’d think. Everyone’s colleagues annoy them and everyone’s partner annoys them so it’s learning to deal with each other in a slightly different way in those two situations. That’s then different when it’s the two of you to when you have a team around the whole time. You can’t act like a couple ‘cos it makes people intensely uncomfortable… We did four weeks travelling around the world with Clover to Hawaii and Australia and Singapore and if you can do that, you can absolutely work together. Working together is hard but it’s nothing on travelling with a child.
Robyn: you sound like a dream team
James: we’re very different in the way we think, but the businesses are better for it and it means we respect each other’s strengths. There’s almost nothing we compete on it terms of ability. Like, in terms of design, Florence is on different planet to me whereas, you know, she can’t do long division.
Robyn: what did you do before bikes?
James: I did Psychology, Anthropology and Behavioral Economics as my university thing and then worked for YouGov doing their election forecasting, and then I worked for the Future Laboratory doing their quantitative research. I finished a PHD in Behavioral Economics that ran aside this so can now refer to myself as The Doctor in inappropriate situations.
**Short interlude in which Clover shows us her bag of imaginary pies**
Robyn: how long have you guys lived in London?
Florence: we came here after we graduated. I did part one of an architecture degree and then did an interior design grad scheme, but the business dropped all ten graduates after three months.
Emma: is that a rocking Hippo?
Florence: yeah, my Dad made it. He rang me the week before her first birthday and was like, ‘What do I get her?’ so I told him to make her something. He said ‘Like a rocking horse?’ and I said ‘Sure, or any other animal’ and he went for Hippo! He painted him in old Farrow and Ball paint.
Robyn: I LOVE it! What are your family like?
Florence: my Dad has this amazing old farm house that he’s doing up, and then my family are all medical. My Mum did an art degree, but was a physio, and my brother has two toddlers and is about to have twins in June. So, four children under five.
Emma: was your family home a million miles away from this?
Florence: it still had that thing of my Dad constantly doing things up – it was a bit of a wreck. Dad was always plastering a wall. James has also got an element and his Dad has it too – he made our dining table.
**Short interlude in which Clover starts gently poking James with bamboo sticks**
Emma: who plays the instruments in your bedroom?
Florence: I played the violin and James never learned an instrument in school, so started learning the cello last year.
Robyn: how did you meet?
Florence: we knew of each other when we were teenagers, but I thought he was a knob. Then we went to the same university and I saw him queuing up for the cashpoint in fresher’s week and thought, ‘Oh god, it’s that guy’. I once saw him with his girlfriend at Bristol airport and hid in the toilet. Then a mutual friend introduced us, though I had a boyfriend at the time and… I can’t really explain it
James: it was sexual magnetism
Florence: it wasn’t sexual magnetism
Emma: how long have you been together?
Florence: 10 years this year! We got Huxley after four years and James was like, ‘This is basically a proposal’.
Emma: Huxley’s a very sweet dog
Florence: yeah, he’s so good with Clover. The only thing I worry about is him sitting on her, or he gives everyone his paw but it’s heavy and it’s scratchy… Sometimes I see her messing with him and he just swipes her out of the way with his paw.
** Short interlude in which Clover takes us out onto the roof terrace to her gathering of teddies and miscellaneous animals**
Robyn: how has a project like this been for your mental health – does it make you happy living somewhere like this?
Florence: it makes me super happy. When we decided to take this place, we’d just found out I was pregnant. It was derelict before the other people moved in and they made it functional, but there was still so much to do. So basically, if we were going to do it, James was going to have to do the work like concreting the floor that was like a school canteen with chewing gum all over it. It’s not a relaxing place to live if you don’t like DIY.
Robyn: is there anything you won’t DIY?
Florence: when we got Clover’s new bed, James put Clover’s old cot on the mezzanine and when took it up the ladder he fell off and nearly broke his back. I rang from the train I was on and he didn’t even tell me. I was like, ‘It’s very quiet, you alright..?’ and he said he was working from a café. He then sent me to the pub with his brother and turned up with blood all down him and told me what happened.
Emma: how is it having people coming in and out of your house?
Florence: it’s ok as we can close a door. When people are filming it’s tough as Huxley can bark and Clover can be loud so sometimes we end up eating dinner in the bedroom… That’s why we went to Australia – because Tattoo Fixers was filming.
Emma: it’s so quiet up here.
James: yeah, that’s why we can have so much filming here.
**Short interlude in which Clover asks for a black torch and a blanket**
Robyn: do you ever feel like you can’t invest fully in this place because you’re on a rolling contract?
Florence: if this was our own place we’d do things like getting the bathroom tiled, but there’s no point if we’re not going to be here forever.
Robyn: are you excited about going somewhere you can go to town on?
Florence: yeah! I’ve got a Pinterest board and everything…
Emma: would it be similar to this space?
Florence: well, I think we’ll go to Cornwall, so it’ll be wherever there’s a derelict place.
Robyn: will you be that person living in a caravan for nine months while you do up a shell, like Grand Designs?
Florence: James was that person growing up. It’s exciting ‘cos I’ve never lived in the country, but it’s a weird set up because it’s a business and a home. So, do you do something similar somewhere else, but then how many shoots do you have in Cornwall? Do you do a wedding destination or a flower farm..? It just depends what comes up. James has a google alert for properties for ‘derelict’ and ‘acre’. There’s a lot in Stornoway but we’d never see anyone!
Emma: you don’t need anyone, you’ve got the dog! Are you getting ready to leave London?
Florence: I’ve got lots of friends who are ready to go. Obviously, this place is big but still in London, which gets claustrophobic. I’m not ready to leave but I’m excited to leave when we go, does that make sense?
Emma: that’s a great place to be. It’s nice to have a vague end-game and then find your own way there.
**Final interlude in which we all nod and smile in a meaningful way that suggests this might have been life-changing for us all**