Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Danielle Toronyi, and I run Biophilia here on Etsy. I believe that design can heal our land and sustainable landscapes can make nutritious food and medicine accessible to everyone in our communities. Biophilia — “love of life and living systems” — is my professional garden design company offering organic, edible gardens, garden kits, seed collections, permaculture design services, and lovely herbal goodies.
Currently I am an aspiring herbalist, a certified permaculture designer, and a landscape architecture graduate student at North Carolina State University’s College of Design in Raleigh, NC. I graduated from The University of the Arts in Philly with a BFA in painting and drawing in 2006. After waging a one-woman war against trends, scenes, and commercialism, I realized the art biz wasn’t all I had imagined while brooding away in art school. I somehow stumbled upon landscape architecture, and knew immediately this is what I was meant to do with my life, my ultimate calling.
Most people assume landscape architects simply determine where trees should be planted. The field is so much more! Landscape architecture has the potential to engage the spaces between all buildings, influence urban design and theory, analyze and design city and regional planning code. Landscape architecture brings together multidisciplinary teams of architects, ecologists, soil scientists, and environmental engineers. Through the study of systems design, the landscape architecture field has learned to design biological systems, not just plant trees. We have the ability to physically change the biological and developed world, remediate our destroyed and depleted ecosystems, and bring our world back to life. By integrating permaculture theory and methodologies into this larger context I personally hope to harness systems design thinking and work towards integration of high-tech industry with low-tech ecological concepts.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Apart from running Biophilia and being a full-time student, I also am a teaching assistant for the College of Design’s freshmen design studio, which has been an incredible experience.
When not at school, I tend to my flock of tiny dogs. Banana is a 5-year-old rescued Chihuahua and his new baby brother is a Boston Terrier named Mister Mochi (or Mister Mister). I also spend time with my fabulous boyfriend Wang, in the garden, playing video games, or cooking. (He took these photos of me, isn’t he great?!)
What would be the title of your memoir?
How We Survived. I used to be so incredibly obsessed with the apocalypse that it became a joke a long time ago. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book by the same name when I moved from Philly to Asheville a few years ago. After what I struggled through in that little town, I realized how strong I am, how amazing my family and friends are, and how important it is to me to never stop doing what I love, never be brought down, never stop fighting for the change I want to bring to the world.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The mystery of the natural world. Gazing at my lover, analyzing the planes in his face. The stars, atmospheric pressure, frost, ice, wind patterns, mycelia. Ancient mythologies, quantum physics, flashbacks, patterns in the natural world, botanical anatomy. Pleasure, textures, religious icons and rituals.
What does handmade mean to you?
Handmade is something that cannot be replicated. There will always be human error, no matter how slight, in the handmade. It also seems more transitory, more ephemeral, and therefore more precious. Maybe the preciousness is due to the maker’s mortality? The object’s worth is increased because the maker will one day cease to produce, unlike a machine that can produce indefinitely.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
Honestly, my momma. She has always encouraged me, no matter what crazy turn my life has taken. We both really respect each other’s strengths and see what we mirror in each other. My mom first told me about this magical place called “art school” where naked men stood around and you only had five seconds to draw them! She is there for me no matter if I am hitting an existential rock bottom, or I just need some good old retail therapy to soothe my soul.
When my sister and I were growing up, she’d pull the car over on the side of the road to inspect the structural layout of whatever new construction project was going up in town. She is an architectural drafter by trade, and instilled in me my love of good design.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is all over the place! I keep my home and studio as clean, minimal, and streamlined as possible because once I get going on a project all hell breaks loose. I work on several projects simultaneously. I might start making a new herbal tea recipe, and then start a new tincture. Then I will decide to make a salad and plant a new row of heirloom lettuce out in the kitchen garden. I’ll end up filling orders then decide to finalize a plan I had “finished” the day before. And as a relaxing end to the day, I will read from one of the four books I am in the middle of. Now, don’t worry. I always get everything in and completed on time, and I don’t leave projects unfinished. I just am so in love with everything I am doing that I want to do it all of the time!
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I most cherish my collection of paintings I acquired while living in Philly. While in school all of us painter kids would trade paintings, so happy to get rid of our own work, sick of staring at it and watching it take up precious floor/wall space. Years later, I am so happy to have these images from back in the day. I have several favorites but two stand out. One is a group of very small red-orange paintings by Jeff Baij and the other is a tiny painting of an airplane by Kathleen Eastwood, both alumni of UArts. I love them!
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
To get out of creative ruts, I allow myself time to do nothing. I used to feel so guilty for being unproductive, but I think everyone needs time for nothing. I don’t mean watching tv or being online, I mean drinking tea and chilling out hard and letting your brain loose. And I never underestimate the power of naps! They can be the most powerful sources for inspiration! Eating a sexy homemade meal works wonders, too.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’d like to be an accomplished landscape architect, permaculture designer, urban farmer, bioshelter-dweller, herbalist, mother, and aunt. I have big dreams of starting a medicinal plant nursery and continuing to expand my line of seed kits and gardening collections!