Welcome to the jungle

Step inside Brooklyn-based textile artist Shabd Simon-Alexander’s light-filled loft, where giant pot plants crowd the rooms, creating a retreat-like secret garden.

An indoor jungle. There is simply no other way to describe this industrial loft with gigantic houseplants in New York’s Williamsburg. With large south-facing windows, the home of textile artist Shabd Simon-Alexander is perfect for keeping plants. She knows she’s fortunate to have this home and adjacent studio, and hopes she’ll never have to leave.

Shabd Simon-Alexander and some of her leafy charges, including stick yucca (front), Ficus barteri (far left), lacy-tree philodendron (centre right) and fiddle-leaf fig (far right).

“In New York, you’re always worrying about being evicted. People like to demolish old industrial buildings to make way for expensive, generic new-build apartments. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to stay here as long as possible,” she says. “Just imagine if we had to move – what would happen to my plants?”
The artist Hanna Eschel asked herself the same question when she moved from her New York loft to a room in a nursing home at the age of 90. Most of Hanna’s plants now decorate Shabd’s home. “Unfortunately, I never met her,” says Shabd, “but I think she knows that her little plants found a good home. I say ‘little plants’ because some of them were huge, and almost pierced the ceiling of her giant loft.”

“I sit in my armchair and admire my plants to relax and unwind.”

Hanna’s plants have indeed found a great home. In Shabd’s capable hands they’re thriving and enjoying the sun that streams in through the windows. “I sometimes wonder whether a tall houseplant is the new status symbol, because if you’re wealthy, you can afford a large space with large windows. And if you have large windows, you can have large houseplants. But money probably has nothing to do with it. In New York, finding a place to live is simply down to good luck.”
Shabd feels blessed with her indoor garden, especially because she doesn’t have a terrace or balcony, and being so busy, barely has time to enjoy the outdoors. Her gardening style is laid-back. She takes care of her plants when she’s on the phone or taking a break. “I always try to find out which plants work best for me. I find it important to know whether our personalities match.”

Lacy-tree philodendron (far left) and fiddle-leaf fig populate the bedroom.

This exploratory approach is also apparent in her work as a textile artist. Besides creating her own clothing line, she regularly collaborates with other brands, architects and artists. Here too she looks for the right fit and prefers large-scale work. The lushness of Shabd’s garden may make you think she was born with a green thumb. In fact, she only became interested in plants when she moved to this loft. “I used to buy a plant now and then, but they would never live that long – until I moved here and decided to try something different. The bigger, the better, and the more, the merrier.”
Shabd is gradually adding to her plant collection. She buys them herself, “because they look cool” and receives them from friends. She tries to observe the plants’ evolution and is gradually honing her skills.
“It’s heavenly here. I like to withdraw in my jungle and isolate myself from everything. I sit in my armchair and admire my plants to relax and unwind. That’s when I realise how lucky I am.”


Edited extract from Greenterior: Plant-loving Creatives and Their Homes, by Magali Elali. Published by Luster. $65.

Words Magali Elali
Photography Bart Kiggen


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