Green and serene – Anna Robinson & Mark Vetch’s home
We got so carried away chatting when we popped round to see florist Anna Robinson and designer-builder Mark Vetch, that we almost forgot the reason for our visit. We could have happily hung out in their living room drinking coffee and munching on croissants all day. Anna and Mark have lived in their Hackney flat for almost six years, and it’s now home to their seven-month-old daughter Sunny, and a lurcher called Blue, too.
Side-stepping the usual rental constraints, the couple have turned a their two-bedroom Art Deco apartment into a warm and personal home that features beautifully crafted bespoke joinery by Mark throughout, a peaceful colour scheme and greenery in every corner.
As Anna specialises in incredibly realistic faux flowers and foliage, the abundance of green is actually an artfully styled mix of real and fake plants. “It’s a really quick and easy way to transform a home, particularly a rented one,” she says. “I tend to treat plants like furniture and move them around to create structure, shadows and light. I can’t imagine a house without them.”
Reluctant urban dwellers, the pair are doing their best to live a little of the rural dream in the city, spending as much time outdoors as possible, whether walking in Walthamstow Marshes, escaping to the country to visit family, or jetting off on regular Moroccan adventures. After having a little snoop around the flat, we sat down with Anna to find out more.
How did you and Mark meet?
Ten years ago, I went to help a friend decorate his flat (incredibly hungover) and there was Mark, with no top on, on a skateboard and carrying a bag of cement on his shoulder. I was like… “Who is this guy?!” Anyway, there was a lot of flirting over grouting that day, and then we ended up getting together.
You’ve made this rented flat into a really personal space. Did you do a lot of work to it?
Mark built all the shelving and a lot of the cabinetry, he also tiled the kitchen and sanded back the horrible orange worktop. We’ve tried to keep any work affordable and just make the best of what we have, but when it comes to your home, we both just think that if you don’t love it, it’s totally pointless. So yes, we have spent money on a rented property, which goes against conventional advice, but we thrive off design and aesthetics – it’s our passion.
Your landlords are lucky to have you! What type of space did you want to create?
I wouldn’t say that we have a particular style, we’ve just got lots of stuff that we love. It’s a rather a hodgepodge mix of things we’ve collected. Mark is a bit of a hoarder, whereas I like clean, stripped-back spaces. I do a lot clearing away and Mark does a lot of getting things out.
You mentioned a few trips to Morocco. Have you brought back much from there?
Yes, we both used to go there before we got together and we’ve been twice every year for the past four or five years, either to Marrakech, or the Atlas Mountains, where Mark goes climbing. I couldn’t love it more. It’s really affordable, the weather is great, and it’s easy to get to. We always take a big empty bag and fill it with things for the house. Much of our glassware and crockery is from Morocco, and some of the rugs. Each time we go, we bring back a few more pieces.
The house is also filled with greenery… real or fake? We can’t tell.
It’s a mix of both. I knew nothing about house plants, but like everyone else, was swept up in the green trend, so would go to Columbia Road Flower Market and get completely sucked in buying pretty ferns, only to watch them slowly die. So, I stripped away all the sad brown plants, left the hardier ones, and added in some fake foliage for a more verdant look, which is now a lot easier to maintain – particularly handy if you like to go away a lot.
A brilliant solution. We’ve killed a fair few plants ourselves. How did you get into working with fake flowers?
I used to work in book publishing as a press manager, where I organised lots of launches, and I also worked briefly in live events. I wasn’t that happy in my work and I couldn’t believe the waste in the events industry, where vast amounts of beautiful flowers were thrown away all the time. One day, around five years ago, I spotted some really good-quality fake flowers at my parents’ house. I realised that, if styled in the right way, they could work brilliantly for weddings and events. So, I whacked a load on my credit card, quit my job and just went for it.
That’s quite a bold move. Was it scary?
It was really scary, and a big risk. I had no income for the first three months, and I was racking up massive credit card bills buying plants and flowers as I didn’t know anything about business loans back then. But, my family was very supportive and encouraging. My mum just said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I got a part-time job to pay the rent, and then very slowly – through Instagram, bloggers and wedding fairs – the business began to take off.
Well, the risk certainly paid off. Tell us about some of your favourite projects to date.
I created a summer garden installation at Harvey Nichols, which I loved doing, and I’m super proud to do all the faux planting and arrangements for The White Company window displays. The way the business has grown from a garland hire service to what it is now has given me so much confidence. It’s been a steep learning curve.
And what’s the best thing about your job?
I love working for myself, and having ownership of a business. Now that we have Sunny, I can spend as much time with her as I want and I’m very grateful for that. I really want her to grow up seeing that you can combine work with being a mum. We’re also lucky that both of us have freedom and flexibility in our jobs, so we’re able to pretty much go away whenever we want to.
That’s the dream. Where do you go when you need a little R&R?
Mark is from Herefordshire, I grew up in Gloucestershire, and my family lives in Somerset, so we tend to head west. He’s also a keen surfer, so we spend quite a bit of time in North Devon and Cornwall.
Do you find yourselves hankering to get out of the city longterm?
We’re very lucky to live here as we’re so close to the marshes and the river. Even though we don’t have a garden, I know I can go down there and pick some wild grasses to put in a vase at home, and that makes me very happy. But yes, the dream is to buy an old farm building or industrial space in the countryside and do it up, and then surround ourselves with chickens, ducks and dogs. Mark is brilliant at doing big refurbishments and coming up with a vision.
If your current home is anything to go by, we’re sure it will be beautiful. What are your favourite memories here?
We had a lot of parties before Sunny came along… I think we probably annoyed our neighbours! We loved having a roast on a Sunday and muddling through a big gathering with people squeezed around the table sitting on odd chairs and laundry baskets. This flat was never meant to be a long-term base, so it’s funny to think that the room that was my studio when I started out is now our daughter’s bedroom, and how life has changed since we’ve been here.
And, we have to admit to being more than a little envious of your current job, but if you could do anything else, what would it be?
I’d love to branch out into interiors and prop styling, I wish I’d know that it was a job that existed when I was at school! My mum has a great eye for design and ran a beautiful B&B for 15 years, so I think I must have got my love of interiors from her.
Wherever it came from, we’re pretty sure Anna’s style could see her doing exciting things in the interiors world. And, we’ll definitely be keeping in touch to see how the rural dream evolves. Want to know more about her glorious greenery and faux flowers? Check out friendoffaux.com. And, if your own home needs a little bit of love, then Mark’s your man. Find him on Instagram at @vetch_co.