In launching our Liberty Floral Collection, we knew we wanted to tell a different kind of story. One that felt personal, not overly styled. Intro Studio Choo: the coolest flower shop in San Francisco. And just as cool? The founding florists, Jill and Alethea, who were so kind in welcoming us into their shop to let us capture a bit of their daily routine. We were so inspired by the space they’ve created and their ability to build the most swoon-worthy arrangements that we wanted continue the conversation. Today, they’re answering our questions on everything from what inspires them as small shop owners to the secret behind keeping tulips alive (how are we just now learning this?!). And be sure to read to the end for an exclusive flower arrangement tutorial from Jill and Alethea.
Photographry: Seth Smoot / Styling: Kendra Smoot
What inspired you to open Studio Choo? Is there a story behind the name?
Alethea and I became fast friends at a flower shop where we worked for several years in San Francisco. We always dreamed of owning a business together and merging our separate art and gardening backgrounds to create something really unique. Choo is our shared nickname for each other! It started with my small weird sneezes...Alethea started calling me Choo, then everyone started calling us “the Choos.” When we decided to open the studio, the name just felt right!
Why did you choose to open the shop in San Francisco? Could you see yourselves in business anywhere, or is there something special about SF that keeps you there?
We opened our first tiny shop in the NOPA neighborhood of San Francisco and quickly outgrew it (as well as the difficult parking!). Our spatial needs changed quite a bit as we started doing larger events and teaching classes, so we started looking for a studio with more square footage that we could customize. We ended up finding a space in South San Francisco with a huge workroom and garden but was still an easy drive to the San Francisco Flower Market. The SF Market is a very special place; the wealth of beautiful locally grown material available there year-round is amazing.
What are the challenges of being small business owners where you are?
There are lots of challenges for owning a business in the San Francisco Bay Area. The largest for us is pricing and being able to pay our employees and ourselves a decent living wage in an area where rents are so high. There is also a severe drought in California so growers are struggling everywhere to keep product alive.
What do you love most about coming to work everyday?
I love going to the flower market to visit my vendors and find new materials. There is always a lot of excitement around the change of seasons or when a new crop rolls in. At the "office" we have an amazing crew who bring so much good energy and talent to our everyday. Our business is constantly evolving and we are always looking to try out new techniques and ideas! I'll be making my way back to my home state of Rhode Island later this fall to start a new venture on the East Coast and we have lots of traveling workshops planned for 2016.
What are the best flowers to splurge on this time of year?
There is so much beautiful foliage appearing in the transition between summer and fall. We are huge fans of bringing in a single stunning branch, maybe with a subtle change in color from rust to gold to green, and placing it in an old bottle. Giant dinner plate dahlias and garden roses are totally splurge-worthy and look amazing mixed with autumn leaves and berries.
What is each of your favorite flowers?
Our favorite flowers tend to change with the seasons, but my favorite right now is columbine. Alethea's is honeysuckle. Close seconds are lily of the valley, crabapple, clematis and daphne.
Why can’t we keep our tulips alive longer than a day?
Tulips continue to grow and bend towards the light after they are cut so if you want them to stay put, make a tiny slice in the stem just below the bloom.
Liberty Floral Tutorial: How to create a lush arrangement with overflowing greenery and layers of pretty petals
3 stems of pokeberry
2 stems of geranium
2 stems of foxglove
3 stems of yarrow
2 viburnum branches
*Tips for making your flower arrangement last longer: use sharp floral snips and trim stems at an angle to allow better water absorption. Remove leaves that will sit below the rim of the vase to keep the water as clean as possible. Refresh the water in the arrangement every other day by “flooding” the vase; place it in the sink and use the spray nozzle to force out the old water. Keep flowers in a cool place and out of direct sunlight.
1. Fill a medium size vase with cool, clean water. Trim and add the pokeberry, geranium, and viburnum to form a loose and leafy base layer of foliage. The stems should be of varying heights with some of the leaves resting on the rim of the vase. This layer will help anchor the other blooms in place.
2. Trim and add the larger blooms next, starting with the foxglove. When working with spire shaped blooms try grouping two or more stems together to avoid an “antennae” look.
3. Trim and nestle the peonies on top of the layer of foliage at varying heights. Angle the stems so the blooms face in slightly different directions. Trim and add the yarrow stems so the blooms are clustered around the peonies.
4. Finish the arrangement with the poppies. Trim each stem and singe the end with a lighter for a few seconds before adding. Leave plenty of space around the blooms so the delicate petals don’t look squashed.