Folk interviews Ro Co’s Rosie and Caro
Ro Co was founded by London and Sheffield based design duo Rosie Ray and Caro Langton. They have produced a collection of botanical products - from handmade objects to DIY kits - aimed at adding a bit of greenery to our urban living spaces. We recently visited the girls for a chat and a tour of their beautiful studio in Hampstead.
What are your backgrounds and how did you meet?
C: ‘We met at Nottingham Trent University in our final year and became great friends from the day we met.' R: ‘We both have a design background in fashion. After we left university I moved into set and costume design. I worked for Shona Heath who does a lot of stuff with photographer Tim Walker for British Vogue. But after a while I got this huge drive to do something for myself. In set design you get this feeling of creating something with your hands, which is fantastic. But I also realized I wanted to create things people could take home, whereas with set design everything just gets chucked after a shoot.’
How did you come up with the idea for Ro Co?
R: ‘I went on a trip to San Francisco and was really inspired by the great appreciation of wellbeing out there. Everyone is really into organic food and people spend a lot of time outdoors. Artistically it was such an inspiring place as well; I started finding all these amazing antique terrariums at flea markets and when I came back I wondered why no one was making them over here. It’s such a fantastic way of bringing greenery into the home. We started making things before we got a stall on Broadway Market, which is when Caro joined the business full-time. We had always hoped to work together in some capacity.’
How did that work out?
C: ‘We did our first stall at Broadway Market in August last year. At this time I was still working freelance, as a printmaker. Rosie – who is based in Sheffield for most of the time – came and stayed with me and I started helping her out with the market. People loved the terrariums and pots we were doing and it just kind of took of. It’s been great and we've met so many people from working on the market. Both customers and people with shops. We did a project for Tiosk - the loose leaf tea shop on Broadway market – which was lovely. The owner, Natasha, was one of the first people we met when we started doing the stall and when she opened her shop she asked if we could do the window displays for her. We created these bespoke copper mobiles for her, which gave us the idea to start doing them as smaller DIY kits.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
C: ‘Our style is quite linear but there’s an antique feel to it as well. For me the most important thing is that people are making something themselves. It’s the difference between an object you buy, that you can see is beautiful and that’s it, and having something that you have had some sort of involvement in creating. That element is a bit magic. It gives the object character and authenticity.’ R: ‘I also like the idea that the things we create are all handmade and therefore unique. Take the hand cast pots; they’re not 100% perfect and they are all a slightly different height. We love that 'imperfection' of each item, that’s the beauty. With our terrariums the idea is also that each one is different.’
Have you always been into greenery and did you grow up with plants?
C: ‘Both of us did, yes.’ R: ‘My mum was an interior designer and pretty much every family holiday we would visit somewhere with beautiful gardens. One of the most memorable garden experiences I had with my family was Tresco Abbey Garden in the Isles of Scilly, it’s this incredible tropical paradise just off the Cornish coast.’ C: ‘I think we both grew up wanting to explore that side, being outside and getting our hands dirty. Both my mum and my grandmother have always been into gardening. My grandparents' old house - where we have our studio now - was always full of cacti and it’s also right by the Heath, which I think is my favourite place in the world.’
Yes, you are based in this wonderful house in Hampstead. What is the history of the place?
C: ‘It was built in 1840. My grandparents happened to drive past to go to the Heath with their three sons. This was in 1964. They saw that the house was for sale and were joking that they would love to buy it. Then they realized they could organise a co-operative of people to come together to actually buy it. So they put an ad in the Sunday Times and did just that, and then split it up into different sections. This main part where we are now was the coach house and the room next door was where the stables were. My father grew up here and I used to come and visit my grandparents all the time. I moved in with my grandmother after I graduated and was interning in London. It was so nice living with her. My sister and I have lived here on and off for the last few years.’ R: ‘It’s such an inspiring place to work. It’s so quiet and tranquil and we can get on with making things without any distractions. Not only do we have the space to do it here but also the right setting. It’s so unique; every little corner has a beautiful plant in it or a picture that Caro’s grandmother Anne put on the wall.’
It must influence your work?
C: ‘It’s funny, we had a photographer come and stay who took some pictures for us and until that point we hadn’t realized how important the house was. She could really see the inspiration we got from this place. It was only then that we realized how much it had influenced us. We had just been so busy and focused on the market that we'd switched off from it a bit.’
Rose, you divide your time between London and Sheffield.
How does this work out with the business?
R: ‘We take it in turns to do the market. We used to do it together but because we now kind of know what we’re doing, we can handle it alone and give each other a break. Sheffield feels like a really good place to be; a nice escape from the craziness of London, it’s just a different pace altogether. And it’s a fantastically artistic city with loads of studio space and creative people. When I'm up there I also spend quite a lot of time in the Peak District which gives me so much inspiration and ideas of how to landscape the terrariums. I've also collected small samples of mosses and have started growing and cultivating them.'
So let’s talk plants. What would be a good place to start f
or a complete beginner?
C: ‘Cacti are great. Succulents are also easy to care for but cacti are seriously low-maintenance. You could leave a cactus for six months and it would most likely still be all right. A succulent would grow quicker as well, so you’d feel like you’d have to do more to it. A collection of cacti would be good to start with.’ R: ‘They need slightly more care, but air plants are also amazing. We are finding that they are really popular with people, just because they are so interesting structurally.’ C: ‘They are just bonkers. The ones that we have are native to South America. In the wild they attach themselves to other plants and trees and they absorb moisture through their leaves in the atmosphere, so they don’t need to be rooted. They flower and everything, they’re just amazing.’ R: ‘Apparently they collect the morning dew of the rainforest on their leaves.’
What makes it so special to have greenery in the house?
C: ‘It think it’s about nurture. These sorts of plants generally grow slowly but you do see them change and see them flower, see them behave differently in each season. And it’s about things simply being beautiful as well. Seeing something flourish.’ R: ‘I think especially for people in London, they often don’t have a garden, that space to have a sense of greenery. Perhaps when they were growing up they had a garden and now they don’t, they’ve just got a little bit of room on a shelf. I think it’s great being able to offer a small pocket of wilderness, which feels so special and focused.'
Can you give us some advice on how to best take care of cacti & succulents?
R: ‘Terrarium-wise, If a plant gets long and stalky, a really good way to deal with that is to prune it right back so it will regrow again and reform within the terrarium. In general we say that cacti and succulents shouldn’t be in an enclosed environment, so we recommend a terrarium with the lid off. You can use a terrarium with a lid on for any kind of tropical plant and they will create their own little ecosystem. But we have seen a lot of people using cacti in lidded vessels and they just don’t do very well. They go a bit brown. It’s because they get too much consistent moisture.’
What about propagating?
R: ‘Oh, it’s really easy. You can take any succulent, take the dead leaves off at the bottom, pluck off any healthy ones – do this as cleanly as possible – and then leave the leaf to dry out for a couple of days. After this, place the succulent leaf on some cactus soil - which has got lots of draining agents in it, which is good for the succulents - and it will start to grow roots out of the end of the tip of the leaf and then a new bud will grow. So it’s really easy to do and a really fun way of playing with planting.’ C: ‘It does take a while - months - but as long as you’ve got the patience, you don’t really have to do much to them. It’s that easy.’
Where did you learn about all of this?
R: ‘I definitely think that growing up, we’ve both picked up things from our parents. Apart from that I also did quite a bit of reading into it, so it’s self-taught. Because we both come from a design background I guess we have that attention to detail and that ruthless need to produce something that is as considered as possible.’ C: ‘When it comes to the terrariums; they’re quite technical. You really have to focus and spend time planting them. But when it’s done, you know that it will take care of itself to an extent and that it will last a really long time. We both love the thought of creating things that live and last, and stay with you.’
You also add crystals to some of the terrariums?
R: ‘Yes, mainly quartz and pyrite, because they are quite inactive. The way that light affects a terrarium is obviously important, and crystals create an unusual dimension. We went to this crazy rock, gem and mineral fair in Bakewell last year and it was the most mind-blowing thing. It was incredible. It showed us which crystals we could use for the terrariums and we think they look really special.'
The pots that you do are a mix of concrete with coir. What is coir and is that what makes the pots so surprisingly light?
C: ‘It’s a natural fibre extracted from the husk of a coconut and yes, that is why the pots are so light.’ R: ‘We liked the idea of producing something that was slightly different from the standard concrete pot. We had heard about these pots made from a mixture of something called perlite, moss peat and concrete but quickly realised that the harvesting of peat moss is really bad for the environment. As we both try to be ecologically aware, we had to think of something else.’ C: 'A friend of mine who has worked in garden design suggested we should use coir instead and it actually works really well. After polishing, it gives this beautiful grain as well which we liked.’
And where do you make them?
R: 'Here in the studio and in Sheffield as well.’ C: ‘It’s a shame we can’t show you right now as we actually need to make a new batch. We cast them all in individual pots and then polish them after they've cured.’ R: ‘It takes a lot longer for this blend to dry. A normal concrete mix would dry in a couple of days. Our blend takes about two weeks. So it takes a lot more time to produce but we think it makes them much more special, and also means we can make them bigger if we need to without them becoming too heavy.’
Where did the idea for the Himmeli DIY kits come from?
C: ‘It’s actually a traditional Scandinavian craft. They were originally made from straw as Christmas ornaments. As we love copper, we decided to make a few copper versions. We did try to make some really weird asymmetrical ones but people seem to prefer the more geometric ones. And everyone loves copper. I think it’s the combination of the copper with the green; they just really complement each other.’
You have also started doing workshops on how to build your own terrarium. How has the response been so far?
C: ‘It's been brilliant. We were quite nervous for the first one we did at Folk but it went really well. I think the free gin helped! We've got more dates coming soon. Especially now that it’s getting sunnier and we could potentially do them outside. For now it’s mainly terrarium building workshops but we are thinking of maybe doing some macramé ones, too. We think we may have just found the perfect location.’ R: ‘It was amazing and we really loved doing it. Through that first workshop at Folk we’ve had lots of requests, so we now need to find somewhere where we can do it regularly.’ C: What was so nice about the workshop, was that people really invested in it. It was a bigger vessel and everybody wanted to do it properly. It was such a pleasure to do because everyone was very focused and at the end every single terrarium looked completely different.’
Do you ever get to see how your products look in people’s homes?
C: ‘We’re trying to encourage people to share their photos with us. We’ve even put a request on the instruction leaflet of the Himmeli DIY packs. It’s lovely when people do share pictures and we’d love to see more! Instagram in particular has been amazing for us to meet new people.’ Girls, thanks so much for a lovely afternoon and showing us around your beautiful studio. A selection of Ro Co products is available at our Folk stores or online here. Don't be shy and share your pictures with @rocoshop on Instagram. Rosie and Caro also designed a special window display for our Soho store, so make sure you pop by when you’re in the area. Photography: