Interview with Poppy Flora Studio founder Sarah Lim: “I only knew that the floral bouquets in the market were not what I wanted”

Poppy Flora Studio

Sarah Lim is changing how people view floral arrangements and bouquets one whimsical masterpiece at a time

When Sarah Lim quit her job in 2000 to set up her floral business, she had no idea what aesthetic she was going for. Neither did she know how to put a bouquet together. All she knew was that she loved flowers, disliked how bouquets in the market were designed and that something had to be done. And then she did it. “I didn’t even know what I wanted,” laughs Sarah Lim. “I only knew that whatever was in the market wasn’t what I wanted”.

With that in mind, Lim set up Poppy Flora Studio. There was little direction, and while she couldn’t articulate it, there was a method to her madness. She didn’t try to reinvent the wheel – can you really in floral artistry? – but instead did a stellar job in making it roll a little smoother.

That was 18 years ago. Today, Poppy Flora Studio stands out with a voice of its own. Lim’s designs are quite unlike what you’re accustomed to seeing and that’s exactly the look she’s going for. The flowers aren’t arranged in an orderly fashion – you’ll find leaves swaying to their own rhythm at the side, a single floral stalk peeking from behind and a lone flower emerging from a forest of greens. It looks haphazardly put together at first glance. But it’s anything but that. Those with an eye for detail and a spring of whimsy in their step are quick to vouch for Lim’s talent.

You started your business because you disliked the floral bouquets in the market. But I’m sure you received numerous bouquets prior to that. What was the turning point?

My husband sent me a bouquet of lilies wrapped in paper with heart-shaped prints on my first day at work. The florist stacked the lilies all together; they were squashed and flattened. The bouquet didn’t look right at all and was made worse with the tacky wrapping. I felt so embarrassed that I hid them beneath my table. I took the flowers home and rearranged them. I also complained to my husband! I think that was the last time he gave me flowers.

What’s your design aesthetic?

It sounds vague and cliched, but I take my cues from Mother Nature. I study the leaves, stalks and flowers and see how they move and grow in the wild. Flowers don’t grow in clusters, unless you’re talking about hydrangeas. In a rose garden, you wouldn’t see a bunch of nine roses growing together; that’s not natural at all. So why should the flowers be arranged in that way? At Poppy, we design our bouquets to mimic a natural garden setting.

Are there certain rules in floral artistry that you bend?

There’s no significance attached to a specific flower; they’re all beautiful and can be used for celebrations, too. I’ve used lilies for celebratory bouquets when they’re in season. But if a client feels that using a certain flower is taboo, then I wouldn’t use it.

How would you advise your clients on getting the right bouquets for their other halves during special occasions or festivals like Valentine’s Day or the Lunar New Year?

I’d suggest leaving it to my staff and I. You’re paying us for our expertise, we’ll do the thinking for you. I ask clients to show me arrangements they like and what effect they’re going for. I’ll also pass them a piece of paper with adjectives such as ‘polished’, ‘classic’ or ‘cheeky’, and ask them to highlight the words that speak to them. From there, I’ll interpret the list of words in my way and show them a mock-up. They’re usually happy with it.

What about clients who’ve never seen your bouquets and want something a little more typical?

There are always ways to go about it. I had a client who gave me a brief of surrounding a yellow rose with 11 stalks of red roses. That’s what he wanted, but that’s not Poppy Flora Studio. We don’t just bundle things together, throw in some baby’s breath and call it a day. I took the 12 stalks and placed them rather erratically, similar to the designs I usually do. The client was very surprised, but he and his giftee loved it.

Have you designed anything for men?

We get one out of 30 requests for men now. We’ll do something more masculine – there’ll be a little more branches, textures and colours such as brown, deep purple and shades of green. Instead of feminine blooms, soft colours or petals, we use something from the protea family, maybe pin cushions or king proteas, or even safari sunset blooms. These flowers look slightly stiffer and exude rather masculine traits.

Poppy Flora