Silka Rittson-Thomas’ Tuk Tuk is many things. It is a flower shop, yes, but it is also a gallery space that showcases collaborations with some of the art world’s brightest talents, both emergent and established. Finally, there is an in-house studio that crafts larger-scale projects for corporate clients, weddings and beyond. Ultimately though, Tuk Tuk is about flowers: the finest and freshest seasonal stems from the most meticulously sourced sellers, brought together via Silka’s uniquely honed curatorial eye.
For some reason, its very difficult to write about anything flower-related without introducing a whole host of plant metaphors that are sure to have the reader rolling their eyes by the third paragraph. Occasionally however, they just work, so let’s try to get them all out of the way early on. The seeds of Silka Rittson-Thomas’ Tuk Tuk were sewn in the fertile creative grounds of the contemporary art world. However they didn’t really burst forth until the German-born curator traded in the madness of the art scene for the altogether more bucolic joys of the country house she shares with her husband in the Cotswolds.
“So many people buy art and you never actually see it - it’s such a big, longterm investment. Whereas with flowers you can’t invest into it, there’s nothing that can be gained apart from beauty and happiness really.” It’s clear from chatting with Silka just how important this uniquely temporal type of ‘beauty and happiness’ is to her. She talks dotingly of the Cotswolds, and how she has tried to capture its qualities in the Mayfair location that Tuk Tuk now calls home: the richness of countryside nature, the simplicity of its way of life; an openness to slowing things down and appreciating luxuries that whilst quietly impressive are less grandiose than one might expect from the studio’s postcode.
Framed in this context, the studio’s centrepiece, a ‘staircase to nowhere’ that has become the de facto gallery space for Tuk Tuk, becomes all the more wonderful. It sits beyond an unassuming set of black, wrought-iron gates and an entrance that hints at the interior’s delights via an abundance of potted plants, foliage and flowers. This staircase has provided the backdrop for a whole host of artistic pleasures, from Milena Muzquiz’s sculptural vases that announced the studio’s opening during Frieze last year, to the recent Tulip Fever, which saw Turner Prize nominee Nicole Wermers presenting her specially crafted tulipieres alongside a selection of antique Dutch textiles. Beyond the artist collaborations, Tuk Tuk is fast becoming known for the altogether more egalitarian but no less striking paper flowers that Silka began developing last year - that perfect midway point between the short-term delights of cut flowers and the long-term investment of an artwork purchase.
The assured refineries of present-day Tuk Tuk, however, belie a beginning forged in the uncertainties and setbacks that colour all the best origin stories for labours of love such as these. For starters, that name, Tuk Tuk, wasn’t simply plucked at random from a shortlist meant to conjure images of whimsical other-worldliness. Silka’s first foray into the flower-selling business literally involved selling flowers from an archaic Thai tuk tuk. Stationed outside the train station, she began wooing weary commuters as they returned from London to the Cotswolds. This seemingly savvy idea proved far from plain sailing…
“It took forever to get the license for the tuk tuk so by the time we had it, it was already Christmas. Complete disaster! It poured down with rain most days and we didn’t realise that people wouldn’t buy flowers in the dark… Of course in winter it’s dark by 4 o’clock. It’s pitch dark and people are practically running away from us!”
The benefit of time-passed lends this origin tale a streak of romanticism: of lessons learned and hardships overcome. But if the early days were framed in struggle and the present by an assured stability, then the future of Tuk Tuk is all about ambition. When asked about her long-term goals for her still young venture, Silka fires off a scattershot of hopes, dreams and ideas for the direction Tuk Tuk might take her in. Whether that involves further immersion in the art world or plans to take on the big, corporate online flower-sellers at their own game is still up for debate. The one thing Silka stands firm on though above all else is that, like everything she’s achieved to date with Tuk Tuk, “it has to be special.”