An architect of flowers

It was a busy morning for Indonesian floral designer Harijanto Setiawan, having just two days in Petaling Jaya to share his knowledge with his Malaysian fans.

“I wish to show them as much as I can. I love to share because as I’m sharing, I’m also learning,” says Harijanto, the first floral designer to receive Singapore’s President’s Design Award in 2013. The Award recognises the significant achievements of design talents and the contributions they have made to Singapore’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.

Currently based in Singapore, Harijanto is an architect by training. He also holds a master’s degree in real estate from Australia. However, his fate diverged from the expected path, and Harijanto is today better known as the founder of Boenga Pte Ltd and recognised as one of the top floral designers in the region.

Eunice Teo from Amtrol Flower Designing - the floral designer that made Malaysia proud for her work in the Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians, invited Harijanto to Malaysia to conduct a two-day flower arrangement demo and workshop entitled “An Inspirational Journey in Floristry” on April 15 and 16.

“After about seven years in the property and real estate industry, I felt like there was nothing to look forward to. I had the same day every day. I felt like doing something warmer and more emotional than a cold building,” says Harijanto. That was in the year 2000, the beginning of his journey into the world of flowers.

“I saw flowers every day when I was young because my mother tended to several gardens. I love flowers but I did not have a great interest in flower arrangement then. The first and only time I ever arranged flowers was for school homework when I was 12.

“I cut different flowers from my mom’s gardens for the homework. And you know what, the teacher only gave me five out of ten marks for it. She thought my piece was very messy because I put all types of flowers and colours in the vase – it looked just like my mother’s garden. She said flower arrangement should be cleaner and simpler, something like one stem of orchid with leaf.

“I did not take her comments to heart. I thought maybe I’m really half-past-six at flower arrangement so I moved on,” Harijanto recalls. He never touched a flower for some time after that.

He grew up at a time when the Indonesian economy was taking off, so he decided to enrol in an architecture course at a local university.

“That was the time when everyone wanted to build big houses, shopping malls and offices. It was a very promising occupation then. I pursued a master’s degree in real estate after that because I wanted to learn how to sell a property after designing and building it,” he explains.

The Yin and Yang

After seven years in architecture and real estate, Harijanto decided to explore other interests. “That was in early 2000 and Indonesia’s economy was slowing down. Some projects did not even move. I was thinking maybe it was about time to explore a new industry that involves creativity and brings joy,” he relays. And that was how he ended up doing floral arrangements.

Initially, he taught himself for one year followed by a professional course in Australia. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“I love it because your work brings joy and happiness to people. They will remember your flower decorations or arrangements at their weddings forever. This is unlike the time when I was an architect where angry clients would call me after three years to ask me why the roof is leaking,” he quips.

Harijanto believes, that as a floral artist, one should develop one’s own style. 

“I’m grateful that I have an architectural background. My architectural knowledge is very useful in my current career. It helps me to plan the structure of a piece better. My work is complicated because I combine flowers with architecture — the soft and hard. It is more masculine. A different style in the industry,” he explains.

However, as a professional floral designer, one must work around the client’s event.

“For example, you cannot use flowers and plants with a lot of thorns at a wedding because it is too fierce for the occasion. However, you can always add your signature style, for example, by building a floral structure, but you must be able to explain the design and the piece. Some people do it because he or she wants to do it, it doesn’t have a meaning behind it,” he says. 

One of Harijanto’s most unforgettable works was for a four-day three-night wedding celebration in India. Besides all the flower arrangements, Harijanto also made the client’s dream come true by designing and building a three-window floral arch spanning eight metres to greet guests.

Nurture young talent

After receiving the President’s Design Award, Harijanto holds an ambition to start a floral arrangement school, to nurture young talents.

“Some people are very good but they never share. I think it is important to share, especially with the younger generation. You can choose to keep it to yourself but your skills and knowledge will not be passed on to the young, they will just stop with you,” he notes.

His love for sharing has made Harijanto a popular speaker on floral design not only in Singapore, but in the region.

Moving forward, he hopes his dream of setting up a flower arrangement school for kids will come true soon.

“A kid’s art sense is different from an adult’s. It will be interesting to guide kids in flower arrangement, I can also learn from them!

“Some people say a kid’s class has no potential, but if there is a Junior Master Chef, I don’t see why there can’t be a Junior Floral Designer!”

This story first appeared in the pullout on May 24, 2019. You can access back issues here.

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