Merje Shaw

StyleNest chat to Merje Shaw, founder of Scandiscapes, the UK’s first dedicated online platform for Scandi design lovers seeking to reconnect with nature – and all its wellbeing benefits – through stylish biophilic decor.

Scandiscapes first launched as a Facebook group, how did you transform it into an online shop?

Scandiscapes started as a discussion in a popular Scandi and mid-century modern Facebook group. Some of us were finishing decorating our indoor spaces and starting to look outside.

We found two problems with this:

  1. We weren’t exactly sure we knew what Scandinavian outdoor spaces looked like
  2. It was incredibly difficult to source garden equipment that looked the part

With my background in technology and startups, combined with some plain old foolhardiness, I decided that it would be a good idea to set up an online store myself. Initially I had thought about setting it up as a curated marketplace but this proved to be tricky as convincing brands to join an unlaunched marketplace is pretty hard.

After trying several platforms, I built the website myself as well as designing the brand and worked out how to source the stock. Handily, the staff at my first company are not averse to sharing the office with greenery, so storing the plants and non-living items was relatively straightforward – so off we went.

What is the ethos of Scandiscapes?

Scandiscapes is firmly rooted in the belief that the creation and nurture of a natural environment within our living spaces helps us to relate to all living things on our planet – and that humans and plants benefit from each other’s company. We want to help design lovers reconnect with nature – and all its wellbeing benefits – through stylish biophilic decor products while staying true to a Scandi aesthetic.

How do you source sustainable products and brands?

This is quite challenging as we are keen to maintain a reasonable price point. We don’t always succeed but are slowly phasing out products that don’t live up to our standards. We prefer to work with smaller suppliers that already have sustainability as part of their ethos. For example, our Christmas tree candles and firelighters come from a supplier that only uses recycled wax from candles used in restaurants and hotels, thus saving it from landfill.

From what age did you become interested in nature and the environment?

Being Estonian, living with nature is in my bones. I think a lot of Nordic people are more in touch with the natural rhythms of the planet by default as the changes in seasons are very dramatic. Personally, I first learned about planting things when my mum finally allowed me to plant something when I was six. It was a row of potatoes in our garden and from then I was hooked.

Who is the Scandiscapes customer?

The Scandiscapes customer is anyone who appreciates Scandi design and that wants to reconnect with nature. On the whole I find that the people who are drawn to us are those who have already finished decorating their house in Scandi style and are now trying to add those final finishing touches with some greenery. I find that our customers are located all over the country which is great since we ship throughout UK. This means everyone can have access to stylish nature-connected products at reasonable price points, even if they’re nowhere near a large town centre.

Do you have any top tips on how to create an outdoor oasis with small spaces?

  • If you have a small space utilise all of it. Don’t just look to create an oasis on windowsills and shelves – use your walls, ceilings and windows too. Not only does this look stylish but it ensures you don’t use up precious space. For window displays, try placing various sized plants that love direct sunlight in bell jars on shelves by windows. If you have a blank wall, attach air plants (tillandsia) to some wire, poke them through a peg board and hang the board up on a blank wall. If the idea of an urban jungle coming from your ceiling is your bag, it’s as simple as putting a hook on the ceiling that’s sturdy enough to take the weight of your plant and pot. If you don’t have a handy ceiling beam, you could get a £2 shelf bracket from Ikea and use this for hanging planters.
  • Group plants together in trays and crates. This will create a microclimate that helps the plants thrive while also looking Instagrammable – win-win! Try combining plants that like similar growing conditions; a group of cacti is always a good thing in our book. In fact, that’s why we started our succulent subscriptions.
  • Turn your houseplant display into a piece of statement art. An old step ladder is a fun place to grow and display multiple house plants, especially if you have limited space in a place like a bedroom. Simply add several wood planks on ladder steps to create shelves and place house plants on the shelves. One thing to keep in mind is to make sure to place houseplants that have similar light requirements together, for example succulents and cacti. When combining plants, try to go for different shapes. For example, combining cascading strings of pearls with more upright plants like the chinese money plant, or even the mini sansevierias gives an interesting look.

Where do you see Scandiscapes in 5 years time?

Overall, I want to do more in the outdoor spaces to help us make the most of the relaxed Scandi gardening style that allows you to both grow your own food and use the garden as an extension of the house, whilst still allowing for the seasons of nature to shine. In five years I also hope to be able to start dispatching little Scandi teams to come and help you design the perfect garden.

How do plants benefit us?

Although they undoubtedly make our homes look stylish, plants aren’t just pretty, They also do amazing things such as improve air quality, help deter illness and bring us a greater sense of wellbeing. I think that many of us are realising this and embracing houseplants for this very reason. The way we live now can leave us feeling a bit down; we are connected to the wider world through our devices yet have fewer human interactions and spend a lot of our time inside. Indoor plants can help counteract this by making us feel connected to nature and the world around us once more.

How do you keep your price points down, affordable for all?

My margins on everything are quite low. I am more interested in bringing nature to more people rather than having the style and connection being restricted to the few. It is a constant struggle as it would be very easy to only stock the gorgeous well-known Scandi brands that are well-loved for a very good reason. As a company, we are very lean – true startup style. At the moment we work out of my first company’s offices and use any and all resources that are free of charge.

Do you have any gifting tips for Christmas?

In 2018 there has been a shift in focus towards being more sustainable and care more deeply for the health of our planet. My gifting tips keep this in mind.

  • Less is more. Forego an excess of stuff that will end up being thrown out or unused. Instead, make every gift count by purchasing things with value, purpose and meaning. Start by making a list of the people you will be buying a gift for and really think about what they would love – rather than panic buying!
  • Send gifts that will last – a houseplant, for example, will last forever (if cared for properly) and spark joy again and again.
  • Shop locally and support small businesses.
  • Consider handmade gifts such as food; most Grandparents would love handmade cookies and a card from the kids, for example.
  • Choose recyclable wrapping paper and use last year’s Christmas cards as tags.
  • Or use brown paper and twine with a few twigs of spruce or eucalyptus tucked into the string – it’s both sustainable and beautiful!
  • When it comes to extended family and large group of friends, why not do a Secret Santa with a set budget so everyone gets one lovely gift rather than 10 small ones.

Do you have any tips on how to integrate the Scandi trend into your home?

  • A Scandi design staple is white walls. Introduce pops of colour with accessories, furniture and art.
  • Make sure you take advantage of natural lighting. For example, if  you have large windows, don’t cover them up; let in as much light as possible.
  • In addition to incorporating natural light, Scandinavian style also connects the indoors with the outdoors. Greenery such as houseplants are a big part of this, and so is using natural materials such as wood, wool and rattan.
  • Mix and match different textures – for example scatter cushion in different materials or a sheepskin rug on a wooden floor.

What is a typical day for you at Scandiscapes, if there is one?

Oh goodness no! Running two companies whilst also physically running after two kids is extremely unpredictable! It is also quite fun but I won’t lie – large quantities of wine get consumed too…

How would you spend your perfect day off?

I would have a leisurely brunch somewhere lovely like Bread and Butter cafe which is near my home, then take a stroll along the canal to a lovely little day spa in Angel to have a relaxing massage. I’d probably find something nice for lunch whilst up there and bring a book to read and linger over dessert and coffees. I’d then pick up the kids from school early and mess about with them in Haggerston Park, before coming home to a lovely warm meal cooked by the husband.

Living in London, do you have any favourite family friendly restaurants or hidden gems

Bread and Butter I mentioned before is an absolutely gorgeous place – they are so good with children and they have the most divine brunches. I also love the newly opened HARA that does seasonal food in a comfortable and homely setting (which is obviously covered in plants!) as well as a tiny cafe at the other end of the same road called 52A.

When heading ‘out-out’, I do love the cocktails at Map Maison which has a gorgeous botanical exterior. I’m a real Hackney-ite so I never venture that far!

And finally, what is your life motto?

This one is easy: leave everything better than how you found it.

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