It’s a Floral Paradise Inside Alchemy Orange Founder Shahn Stewart’s Brunswick Home
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to Melbourne’s Brunswick, where Alchemy Orange founder and florist Shahn Stewart lives and works.
About five months ago, Shahn Stewart heard that there was a loft-style bedroom going in a Brunswick house where one of her best friends lived. Stewart, a Yorta Yorta woman and the founder of Alchemy Orange, a floral artistry business, jumped at the opportunity to move in. “I love the skylights in my bedroom and the way you can hear the rain on the glass at night,” she says. The high ceilings and natural light through the living areas were also a “definite upgrade from my previous, smaller apartment space."
Fast forward to now, and a lot has changed. Stewart’s housemates have had to move out - two new flatmates are about to move in – and, with the lease expiring on Alchemy Orange’s storefront space on Lygon Street in Brunswick East, Stewart made the call. She was going to move it all in-house, transforming the garage of her home into a studio in which to create her blossoming, blooming floral creations. “It’s been such a welcome change and the timing worked out perfectly,” Stewart explains. “It’s allowed me to focus on the important elements of the business, which are the floral designs and projects on the horizon.”
When it comes to home decor in her new space, Stewart jokes that as a matchy-matchy Virgo, she really isn’t the best person to give advice. “I have very strong, very big Virgo energy OCD,” she says. “Shoutout to all my Virgos out there!” For her, that means clear organisation in design, a warm and matched colour palette and an avoidance of blues and greens wherever possible. In Stewart’s bedroom – her favourite room in the house – she has kept it in theme, opting for a cosy pairing of Bed Threads Peach and Turmeric linen.
But it’s still early days. With new housemates moving in, Stewart is certain the design aesthetic in this comfortable home will slowly evolve over time. Right now, it’s still a blank slate, which Stewart adds is exciting. “I’d love to fill the space with artworks by friends."
Hi Shahn! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
Although my background is in floristry, through starting Alchemy Orange, which is more artistically motivated and conceptually driven, I like to think that what I have developed is best defined as organic architecture. Since formulating this idea I’ve gained a better understanding of how my works need to function, and my broader goals as an artist and business owner.
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
I think that with Alchemy Orange and the creations that have come out of it, a lot of what I do relates directly back to me reconnecting with my Indigenous heritage and finding ways to express that through my own lens.
Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?
I have memories of being five or six years old and playing with neighbours in our street, and I’d often return home with a foraged posy for Mum to place on our kitchen table. Looking back on this I feel like floristry had always been a potential career pathway I could take. However, I initially aspired to be a librarian!
It wasn't until Year 11 that I switched up the idea of the library for something more creative like floristry. Shortly after came the opportunity to leave school and complete a two year Traineeship. That was 11 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.
Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?
At the core, I feel like the inspiration begins with the materials I source. With each season brings a variety of new and exciting subject matter to work with, I love the eclectic seasonal nature of floristry, meaning I get to react with what the environment gives me.
Of course it also really depends on what I’m doing though, there are times where I’m creating purely for myself and in those times I can really make some wild and experimental things, but along with most custom projects comes a brief to which I adhere and adapt to. It’s always an exciting challenge taking someone’s vision and putting an Alchemy Orange spin on the work, resulting in something that’s distinctive.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?
Wanting to become more attune to Country, and by way of this, Aboriginal culture really carries me forward. Alongside my passion for growing my work and ideas further, building on the idea of ‘organic architecture’. It’s a term I created to describe the concepts that run through everything I create.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?
Things don’t always go the way you plan, but learning to be OK with that. It seems simple but it’s been a big learning curve, particularly when you’re someone who throws yourself into things headfirst and gives it your all. It’s been a big lesson in both business and life.
Shop Shahn's look with the Dinosaur Design's Large River Stone Vase in Pink Guava.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?
In over a decade of floristry experience but only one year of operating Alchemy Orange, I think one of the most meaningful things that has taken place has been the forming of new relationships. The community and mob I’ve met through my business have been incredibly important to me.
For example, having the opportunity to work alongside a mentor of mine, Aunty Narweet Dr. Carolyn Briggs for RISING Festival, even though it sadly didn’t end up taking place, was something I’ll never forget and a relationship we will continue into the future. Also, shoutout to Ngarrimili — a not-for-profit who has supported me from the ground up, along with so many other First Nations businesses with culturally informed support.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?
Absolutely go for it! I encourage anyone and everyone who has an interest in the botanic world to pursue it. It’s one of the most rewarding and life-enhancing career pathways there is.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
It's only been roughly five months.
Did you do any renovations or make any big changes after moving in?
Yes, there has been a significant change in just the past few weeks, in fact. Due to unforeseen circumstances, both my beautiful housemates have moved out but we’re in the process of two lovely new roomies moving in. I can’t wait.
What was the thought process behind the way you’ve styled the interior?
At this stage, just keeping it minimal and clean by letting the natural light, plants and art speak for itself. In time I think it’ll evolve and develop more of its own character, however, it's still very early days considering the housemate situation.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
My brand new bed set-up to be honest. I love my new mattress!
Shop Shahn's look with Peach and Turmeric in our Build Your Own Bundle.
Which is your favourite room in the house?
Definitely my bedroom… but I do like the communal living space, especially on the days where I'm able to sleep in, until about sunrise, and wake up to the warm morning sun creeping in through the main living room window, radiating up into my bedroom. Bliss!
What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?
Oh gosh, I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask about home styling! I have very strong, very big Virgo energy OCD – shoutout to all my Virgos out there! – when it comes to organisation and specifically colour coordination. I love everything to match. I'm very much a warm coloured lady and tend to steer clear from blues or greens where possible.
Also, this is something I have learnt over time: don’t go overboard, less is more. Room to breathe is important because a clear home/workspace equals a clear headspace. In previous homes, my bedroom was filled with every interesting branch, stick, nut or grass I came across. Even though I loved being immersed in it, it definitely felt cluttered at times. I guess that’s what my studio is now for.
Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?
There are so many exciting projects on the horizon for Alchemy Orange it’s hard to know where to start. A massively interesting project for next year will be the inclusion in the 2022 NGV Art in Bloom event, for which we will be making a floral composition to accompany a work within the NGV’s collection, that’s going to be a good one.
We have also recently signed on with Crown Ruler’s creative agency, an exciting collaboration, but will mean that we are creating floral arrangements for an even more diverse range of events and clients. There's no doubt it’ll be a match made in heaven.
There’s also a few weddings coming up in the near future — they are such a great opportunity to design within a theme and really make a statement. I’m generally just so excited for the near and distant future of Alchemy Orange — it’s looking bright!
Shop Shahn's look with Peach and Turmeric in our Build Your Own Bundle.