Natalie Brookshire, Floral Designer, Natalie Bowen Designs
What was once commonplace in the world of professionalism and craft is now unusual. Today, we seldom find a person with family ties to their career that span several generations. Natalie Brookshire, ńee Bowen, is a rare bird. The granddaughter, daughter, and niece of women with majorly green thumbs, Natalie is more than a natural in the plant world. Honing her expertise and business acumen has been the major lesson. Today Lisa Says Gah romps around Natalie's SoMa studio for a chat about blending creativity and career, never looking back, and top tips on how to compose the perfect flower arrangement! Enjoy!
LSG: Hi, Natalie! Can you tell us about the events leading up to the launch of Natalie Bowen Designs?
When I look back at my path, it seems pretty direct. I chose a career out of college and just went for it. I’m grateful for this sense of direction, as not all paths are this clear. In college, I was in the Hospitality Management department and then the Design department. When I graduated, I had a dream of having a flower shop one day like my Grandma did, and I quickly got a job at a beautiful store in Hayes Valley (Rose and Radish). Once I worked there, I realized that I love flowers, but the retail life is not for me.
LSG: You are three generations deep in the world of plants and flowers. What was growing up in that environment like? Can you share your first memory of feeling connected to flora?
My Grandmother, Mother, and Aunt, were all avid gardeners and at some point, each had a career in the plant-based world. Being around women who connected over their love of flowers, meant that our time together was spent visiting botanical gardens and talking about flowers. Every year on our annual trip to Mendocino, we would walk around the quaint town, and I would overhear them talking about the beautifully looked after gardens. At an early age, it was impressed upon me that some flowers are more special than others and that it takes dedication to have a garden. When I was little, it all seemed a little boring, but now as I get older, I find myself falling in their footsteps.
LSG: When did you know this was the career for you?
When I was in college, I had a very unrealistic idea of what being a flower shop owner looked like and decided I wanted to give that a try. I have never looked back. Not for one day. I’m 100% committed to this, and if it does not work out, I’m screwed. There is a saying about putting all your eggs in one basket, but I’ve never followed that philosophy.
LSG: Describe the first event you did flowers for professionally.
The very first event that I did flowers for was a wedding for a friend of a friend. I remember that my Mother came and helped me work on the wedding and packed her car with flowers from her yard. I was insecure about making the bouquet, so I insisted that the bride order her bouquet from another florist. I then made her tossing bouquet (such an old tradition) and realized how much I adore making bouquets. Since that day, it is one of my very favorite parts of doing flowers for a wedding. I lost money on that wedding but gained a lot of confidence.
LSG: What does a typical work day look like for you?
Each day varies a lot for me. The one thing that is the same from day to day is that I drink at least two cups of tea, and I pack my days in and don’t stop moving from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep. On market mornings, I try and arrive no later than 6:30 am to the flower mart, and I never get out of the market without spending less than two hours. Most days I spend some time at my SOMA studio where I do flower production, have meetings and work on projects. I’m also super social, love to cook, do yoga, workout, garden, scheme, meet, plan and do it all!
LSG: What do you have to say to those trying to “make it” in creative fields? What does it mean (to you) to combine creativity and work?
To those trying to “make it” in a creative field, I suggest that they identify what that actually means to them before anything else. Does this mean making money? Does it mean having 100K followers on Instagram? It is also important for a person who is starting off to know if they are embarking on a passion project or making a career move to support themselves. For me, combining creativity and work means making a career out of my passion, but this isn’t just for fun. I have to work; I have to earn money to support myself, and I have to feel creatively inspired while doing so. I often weigh decisions to see if they are supporting me creatively or financially and decide which I need most in my life at that time. Luckily, the two overlap often enough. I sometimes find myself being envious of those I know don’t need to make money while following their path, yet being able to support myself doing what I love is something I am very proud of.
LSG: Where do you find inspiration and how do you organize it?
I find inspiration all around me, and I don’t organize it very well. It’s all stored in my brain, which is pretty funny when I say it out loud. I have a lot of very creative friends, so I often draw inspiration from something as simple as a conversation with a pal. My husband is an architect, so many of our social activities involve art and nature.
LSG: Tell us about your studio space. What was the process of fixing it up like? Do you host events here?
I had a studio in the Dogpatch for years, back when nobody knew where the Dogpatch was! After years of schlepping up to the third floor, I started looking for a space that was on the ground floor. When we found this space, I was smitten with the fact that it had an outdoor space and were only three blocks from the flower market. The space was in total shambles, and I had a hard time imagining it ever not being a total dump. Luckily, my husband is an architect, and he came up with a plan to make it as good as it could be while doing the bare minimum. We don’t own the building so a complete gut and remodel was out of the question. We covered the wood paneling up, painted, wallpapered, streamlined the doorways, pulled up the linoleum, painted the facade and planted a garden. Building a space from scratch that we can be creative in is the true dream.
The garden is one of my favorite corners of the studio. I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have that space. We love to have impromptu cocktail parties back there, and I’d love to do even more hosting in the future. It’s a special little secret garden, and I want to share it more often.
What is your relationship with fashion like? How do you see fashion intersect with your craft?
I love fashion but sadly being a florist is not a glamorous job. Doing what I do is rough on clothes, and they often get stained easily, but I love to feel good in what I am wearing. My go-to for market days is a pair of white jeans. I think they look crisp and put together, and all I have to do is bleach them to get them sharp again. I buy them two at a time from Zara. What I really love is dressing up. I recently realized that my closet is filled with more formal clothes than anything else. If you asked me to a cocktail party every day this month I’d have a new outfit, but I can barely find something to wear on a daily basis. Other than white jeans, of course.
LSG: What are requirements when it comes to an article of clothing? Do you have separate wardrobes for work and life, or are the two one and the same?
I have at least three wardrobes. I have my work clothes for studio and production days which are casual, durable, practical outfits (insert white jean look here). I have my weekday clothes for meetings and non-production days which include a lot of loose fitting clothes and always flat shoes (Freda’s on repeat). Then, I have my cocktail and dress up clothes which consist of pieces I have been collecting over the years. I swear I will always have a place to wear a backless orange jumpsuit!
LSG: Five things for an inspired day.
1. A good night’s sleep. I wake up before the sun rises most days.
2. A matcha tea latte with cashew milk. Made at home.
3. A great flower market morning. Spring is my favorite season.
4. Good hair and red lips.
5. Seeing someone who inspires me and having a moment of connection with them.
LSG: Favorite public green space or garden?
The Berkeley Rose Garden. It reminds me of my childhood.
LSG: What are you reading at the moment?
A book called “The Presence Process.” I have been meditating consistently for over a year, and I am trying to deepen my practice. I’m also always reading Vogue, W and Bon Appétit - and the website Mystic Mama.
LSG: Next vacation plan?
Palm Springs, Cuba, and Mexico City are on our Spring travel list. My husband says travel is my biggest indulgence, and he isn’t wrong.
Natalie's top tips for at-home flower arranging!
(Check out the slideshow below!)
1. Find the right size vase for the flowers you have to arrange.
2. Clean your flowers. Remove the leaves below the vase line.
3. Give your stems a fresh cut at an angle.
4. Arrange with the idea that you are creating little moments within your design. Let your eye rest and move throughout your arrangement.
5. Make sure your arrangement has enough water and refill it every few days.
6. As the flowers die, remove them, and enjoy the remaining blooms!
INTERVIEWED BY OLIVIA LA ROCHE