Back Story: Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary designer Anna Sing started Greenhouse Type as her senior thesis project for her BFA in design at the University of Texas. Finding herself in a creative rut, forced to take classes online and work from home since this was in 2021 as the pandemic hit, she said “I needed a project that was just fun.”
Sing had long known she wanted to design a typeface, but didn’t know what to base it on. “I was spending most of my time outside at parks, filling my apartment with houseplants to keep me sane,” said Sing. “The idea to create a typeface about houseplants came to me as I was looking at some plant cuttings above my kitchen sink. I realized I didn’t know anything about the history of houseplants. I started asking myself all these questions about their origins and if there was a connection between houseplants and typography. I had all the curiosity I needed to start exploring.”
The Greenhouse Type project took off, evolving into a font family, which explores the history of houseplants through type design. Sing started work on Aureum having completed another typeface, Prune. Aureum was born of the designer questioning “where houseplants came from,” which was largely answered by her main reference point, the book Potted History by Catherine Horwood. “The book pointed to the Victorian era, houseplants were a direct result of British colonization and the invention of modern day materials like glass and steel, and possibly due the creation of greenhouses,” Sing explained. “Prior to reading the book, I had only really associated houseplants with the craze in the ’70s.”
Drawing on her assumptions around Victorian typography — “elaborate serif typefaces with large swashes and ornaments” — she combined these ideas with plant-like forms, taking inspiration from Victorian type specimens she found online. “The typefaces of this time can be incredibly intricate with organic serifs like Edison, the roundness of uppercase characters like Cabalistic, and moments of elongated descenders with thick contrast like Raphael,” said Sing. To give Aureum a more modern feel, Sing softened some of the stiffer elements of serif typefaces by adding some organic shapes, reminiscent of a houseplant.
Sing added, “The typeface’s form combines the serif typeface with the organic shapes of the devil’s ivy to create a growing Victorian typeface. I wanted to emulate the feeling of an iron gate with vines growing out of it.” French graphic and type designer Jules Durand helped to refine the final character set.
Why’s it called Aureum? When she started thinking about houseplants, the first that sprang to mind for Sing was Devil’s ivy. “It was perfect for my concept of beginnings. Aureum represents the beginner houseplant while paying homage to its historic origins,” she said. “I thought basing the typeface’s forms off this plant would be great as it could be a great beginner experimental typeface for someone. The parallels between the two was what made me decide to base the forms off of the Devil’s Ivy.”
Devil’s ivy’s Latin species name is Epipremnum aureum, and for Sing, ‘Aureum’ had a ring to it that reminded her of an “elaborate” Victorian woman’s name.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? As mentioned above, Aureum’s roots, as it were, lie in the ornate serifs of Victorian serif fonts, which are tempered by leafy, vine-like shapes that grow out of the letterforms’ terminals to connect some of the glyphs back onto themselves. “Certain glyphs wind back into themselves to create a single organic shape,” she said. “Each is grounded with an elaborate serif to pay homage to the Victorian era but also hold the idea of pathos vines through the roundness of the counters and bowls. Some of the uppercase glyphs have similar shapes to their lowercase counterparts to have a more round serif flow. The font is sprouting!”
What should I use it for? Thanks to its level of contrast, Aureum works well across most sizes (though Sing acknowledges that things can “start to get a little lost” at anything smaller than 15pt). Its elaborate, florid forms make it a beautiful choice for applications that can be a bit more ornate: think headlines, patterns, and even certain logotypes.
“I would love to see the font be put to use in this sort of revival we’re having for 1800s Britain aesthetics,” said Sing. “It’s a curious time period that draws a lot of parallels to what’s going on in the culture today and I think Aureum fits well in this context. I think the beauty of type is that there are so many different use cases for a single typeface that Aureum doesn’t have to be bound to its Victorian roots.” The designer has already seen Aureum used for YouTube brand content, newsletters, posters, and more.
What other fonts would it pair well with? Thanks to the gorgeously ostentatious-leaning feel of Aureum, it works nicely with something completely its opposite, like a clean, modern neo-grotesque sans. “I’m of course partial to matching it to my sans serif, Prune,” said Sing, adding that it also pairs well with a serif typeface like Ortica Light from Collletttivo if you’re looking to keep the Victorian theme going.