As a fashion and culture curator, producer, DJ and creator of HUNGAMA: East London's Queer Bollywood Hip Hop Night, it’s fair to say that Ryan Lanji is perhaps more attuned to his senses than most. So strong is his aptitude for style that he managed to win this year’s The Big Flower Fight, a Netflix show centred around floral design, without any prior floristry experience.
We spoke to Ryan about how he utilises each of his senses to make his home a haven, from displaying artwork to wearing natural fabrics.
How do you choose the right art for your home?
I have plenty of artists that inspire me to bring the outside in. A couple of them are Clare Halifax who does incredible illustrations of plants, and I am obsessed with Sarah Duncan’s capturing of water ripples and love love love her edition prints of the moon.
I think that art can be affordable to everyone, but I would always recommend you invest in work—I think you’ll appreciate it more and cherish it forever. Ultimately I would recommend that you buy work that are original works of art, buy from independent galleries or artists that you know need support (think like a patron) and get commissioned work. Art is so valuable to culture and there isn’t a better investment than helping an artist’s career grow.
I have an interesting relationship with the artwork in my home. I started as a guerrilla curator in London, which basically meant I worked for free for artists I wanted to see exhibited and we would split the commission on any projected sales—which often wasn’t a lot—but what I would do was ask every artist I worked with for a piece of art as a trade for my services. What exists now is a small body of work which is a canon of all the photographers, artists and designers I have worked with, so whenever I feel at a loose end about my career thus far, I can sit back and look at all the fabulous shows we put on.
Any tips on how to frame art?
Framing is up to you. I think it’s important to understand the types of frames and mounting available. There are classic ways of framing, the artist’s intentions and then how you would like to decorate your home. NEVER EVER go with a cheap frame, you’ll regret it and it won’t archive the piece properly—always spend the money and get it framed correctly.
When hanging work, it’s important to always hang at eye-line. The top of the piece should always be around 150cm (that’s average height), but always hang the piece where it feels right. As long as it’s not hung too low or too high you’re fine. I prefer hanging work salon-style, so that means work framed differently, in different sizes and shapes to make a more dynamic wall but I guess I am an eccentric!
Has The Big Flower Fight changed how you style your own plants?
House plants create a much more vibrant space that has life in it. I feel bad for someone who doesn’t see the benefit of green inside your home. It’s important to make space for nature.
When I was on The Big Flower Fight, I vividly remember being shocked that I was on a show working with a subject I knew nothing about (yes, I had absolutely no floral experience) but as the challenges progressed, I absorbed so much information from the other contestants and working with the plants.
A moment that I cherish is when I realised that I no longer looked at flowers and plants as colours like red, purple or yellow but started to realise the more detailed tones and palettes that flowers provide. It amazed me to learn that the human eye can distinguish over 10 million colours.
I respect plants (and always have) but after The Big Flower Fight, I’m not scared of them. I love them and watching them thrive makes me feel happy and alive.
What fabrics and colours do you feel best in at home?
Oh my, what a great question. I love sweatpants and matching jumpers or hoodies—I love them in all shades and colours. I recommend PANGAIA who make ethical garments with natural dyes, and the colour range is massive. When it comes to pyjamas, I opt for cotton pinstripes and love the sets that Desmond & Dempsey have created; they are opulent and very comfortable. I also love a pair of silk PJs... I mean, have you felt it on your skin?! Lush is an understatement.
How do you integrate scent into your home?
I am a HUGE scent fan. I prefer scents that transport people to places when they enter a room and always desire different smells during different times of the day. Other than sage and Palo Santo, I am a huge admirer of 19-69’s candle collection. They create scents reminiscent of moments in counter-culture. I became obsessed with Villa Nellcôte which recreates the scent of the mansion in France that The Rolling Stones famously recorded an album in.
When I opened FOREST LUNGS and smelled it for the first time, I think I entered a lucid state of existence. I felt like I was wading through a forest and didn’t have a care in the world; it felt like when I looked down, my hands were covered in soil and I was one with the earth. It’s scents like these that people can’t help but notice when they visit my home and as a curator, I love playing a hand in their sensory experience.
Does food help you feel connected to nature?
I think I am blessed to have a lot of incredible organic markets close to me in East London. There is always a variety of fruits and vegetables for all of my culinary experiments. I do have specific dishes that remind me of different times in my life.. when I make a salmon curry, I always feel like I am with my mom (who is of Fijian/Hindu decent)—the smell of coriander and cumin is incredible.
I must say that my joy of cooking and indulging in taste experiences has been galvanised by two people: one is Karen McAthy who is single-handily the best vegan nut-based cheesemaker and chef in Canada and the other is Amelia Freer. They both taught me that nutrition isn’t a chore, but to think of it as an adventure of flavour assembly and enjoy the process. Since spending time with Karen (and reading Amelia’s incredible books) I have not only become healthier but have a greater understanding of cooking and nourishing my body, mind and soul.
Which songs remind you of the great outdoors?
It’s funny that you ask which songs remind me of the great outdoors as I recently started listening to ambient electronic when I run and I keep finding myself returning to these three tracks:
I think it’s the ethereal sense that you are gliding through air and a beautiful reminder that we are a part of this world and everything we do and think affects its existence. As we breathe in and out, we are imprinted by it and it’s an imprint of us.