House & Garden Visit - Kathy Hoffman

Kathy Hoffman of Napa, California is truly one of the very best floral designers of all time. Her design ability, aesthetics and attention to detail go far beyond flowers.  She is creative in all facets of her life.  She comes from an incredibly talented family and is a legend in her own right.  Kathy's parents started The French Laundry in Yountville and she worked with them for many years.  After selling the famed restaurant to Thomas Keller, Kathy continued to be the in-house florist up until her retirement this year .  She and her husband, Bill Hoffman, a well-known gardener in Napa Valley are enjoying their house and garden that they have cherished for almost forty years before venturing out for a simpler life in Oregon where they are planning construction on their new house.

How did you get your start in floral design?  When I worked with my family in the restaurant business (mostly at The French Laundry) it fell to me to help my mom make the spaces feel welcoming.  We did that by changing the dining room on a weekly basis, looking to the garden for the week's color palette.  Then we would choose from our linen collection we owned, I would pull containers out and the foraging in the garden would begin.  So I really truly learned from the ground up - didn't know what a flower market was - it had to be growing in The French Laundry garden, my parent's garden next door, my garden or if were were hitting bottom, a neighbor's garden or an empty field.  I did that for sixteen years.  It was an incredible training ground.  Learning day-by-day, making mistakes and hopefully moving forward and learning what not to do the next time.  If I cut something at the wrong stage of growth or in the wrong weather conditions it hurt - we didn't have a lot of extra to waste.  Then when my parents decided to sell and move on to their apple farm project I had to decide to stay in the food and service business or take a leap and start a flower business - by that time you could say I was pretty hooked - it was all about the pleasures of picking, arranging, and transforming a space into something beautiful...

Her parents apple farm project is The Apple Farm in Philo, California now run by Kathy's sister Karen and her family.


What are your favorite times of year in the garden?  Some of your favorite flowers and plants?  Each season brings its own beauty and certain goodies - I'm always ready for that next change.  Again, it's my mood that decides my favorites - whether I crave a good dose of color, decadence in a full fat bloom, or just beautiful branches and foliages.  In the spring I love white dogwood, ranunculus, gold peonies, floppy open parrot tulips, the first of the late spring fragrant cabbage roses, green hellebores...   Summer it's all about bright flowers with blooming herbs, vegetables and fruit (I love all the endless combinations).  I'm always ready for fall - to ditch all the flowers in favor of beautiful colored leaves - Bradford pear, viburnum, maple, etc. with all the rose hips, berries and acorns I can get my hands on.  It's all about the textures.  Winter brings the pleasure of just enjoying the form of beautiful bare branches against a wall - hazelnut, birch, colored dogwood branches - I crave the simplicity of them in the winter.  But then that branch sits in a warm house in water long enough and those tiny little leaves start to come and I'm ready for spring all over again!!!  I have to admit that spring is my favorite - it's all about the thrill of watching spring come about, leaf by leaf - there's so much promise in that - of new beginnings... All those shades of green just do it for me.  The sheer vitality of it energizes me like no vitamins ever could...

How long have you lived in your house?  Since 1978 - which adds up to an amazing 38 years - hard to believe!

What makes a house a home for you?  I've always been a nester, started as a child with my room - watched my mom who I owe so much of how I walk through life to - as she has always had such a good eye.  Our houses growing up were so personal and lived in.  I've learned from her to fill your house with the things that make you happy - I love color, texture, form, organic things that bring the outside in - and it's got to be in a light filled space.  I get immense pleasure in handling and touching beautiful things in daily life, whether it's a blanket to cuddle in, a special glass to drink from, a spoon that feels good to stir with.  I see no reason to have something just to get the job done when I can have those objects also give me pleasure to handle and look at.  Our house has evolved throughout the years as our tastes and needs changed, our family grew, my business took off. "My stuff" as Bill has labeled it is part of my life - he is stuck with it beacue it is part of who I am.  Nothing makes me happier than making vignettes in the house - stirring up new combinations really just to please my eyes.  It's really all about feeling good in the spaces you live in...

Ceramic faces made by Troyce, the youngest of Kathy's three sons when he was a child. 

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your house?  The open, light-filled rooms with a garden view out every window and door.  Our second floor space that we designed just for us with our bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom with my tub to soak feels like a treehouse - it's cozy and spacious at the same time, with the views of the tops of the trees and that different perspective you get from looking down on things.  Outside, my studio is just a few steps away which I love - no commutes to work!  And, of course the garden, which has been a total work in progress as the growth of the trees and shrubs through the years has changed the things I can grow.  Many of the sunny spots have changed over to dappled and deeper shade, but that has given us the privacy and actually made it a fairly easy garden to care for.  So the garden has evolved.  My idea of a favorite day is to put my cell phone aside, escape to the garden and just do whatever calls to me - sometimes there are specific tasks, or I will start something and end up totally immersed in hours later, totally exhausted but in a good way.. It's so satisfying and stress reducing.  Then there are all the sitting areas and spots in the garden I can go to rest and recoup - a hammock, a comfy chair, my book or a snooze... and lastly, our dinner deck "in the woods" that has seen many good times - just the two of us or a rocking table of family and friends - I feel like I've gone somewhere when we eat up there, like time away...

Kathy's studio seen through the side garden.

How would you describe your style?  I go a lot of directions with that, depending on my mood.  I can be very simple and minimalistic, happy with three stems of weeds in a vase against a certain wall or I can crave lots of texture and layers and groups of objects.  My house is full of color, but all mostly in warm tones - they make me happy.  But, I also get in the mood for all layered neutrals and I never tire of all shades of green - its so energizing and calming at the same time.  I thinks that's the fun of it, having no real barriers, I'll see something that stimulates my imagination and I'm off and running.  I've learned through the years to just let it come, trust myself and not overthink it - the best things happen that way!  I had a lot of art training early on in life and in college - that gave me a foundation to build with.  I used to feel a little disappointed with myself that I did not pursue that more, but to tell the truth I now feel that I'm in my best medium - living and organic things are three dimensional with texture, smell etc. - so much better than a painting or drawing.. I can always return to that and I will in my new life in Oregon.  My new surroundings will be great stimulation for being creative in new ways I hope...

What projects do you have on the horizon?  We are just about to start a whole new life with our upcoming move to the southern Oregon property we have owned for 15 years.  To leave California and our life here is a big deal for both of us but it's a leap we have been working toward for awhile now.   It's been such an amazing process, one with so many decisions that constantly make us think and reflect on what makes us feel good in a home.  It's a chance to make a statement on who we are at this point in our lives - this time around fitting it into a new natural landscape so different than what we are coming from.  I have had to come to terms with the fact I'll never have a garden like I've had here for 38 years - but that it's ok, it will be different and a step back to a simpler life.  We are going to work hard at embellishing nature without leaving too much of a stamp on it.  We've been nurturing the forest and meadow for the last 15 years - it's been so satisfying to watch it become stronger, more diverse, wildflowers and native grasses coming back strong, the constant surprises of all of that.  Being custodians of a forest is an amazing new challenge!

Flower Friends / summer - part two

For this summer post, Brooke and I were joined by another flower friend, Adrianne Smith an Encinitas based floral designer and artist.  Adrianne is always up for something new and three of us had so much fun putting together arrangements and bouquets with flowers from my garden, local zinnia from Sebastopol and the wonderful cutting garden at Valley Flora.  

Adrianne and Brooke, such good flower friends.

Flower Friends is an ongoing seasonal series between friends who love and work with flowers.  Our spring series with Laura Miller can be seen here (four parts total).

All flowers and styling in this post by Adrianne Smith, Brooke Harrington and Silvanie Farmar Bowers.  All photos by Silvanie Farmar Bowers. 

Flower Friends / summer - part one

Brooke and I are back with our Flower Friends for summer.  She and I both are inspired by nature and like to keep things as natural as possible and not too fussy.  We cut most of the flowers ourselves and used leftovers from Valley Flora that were headed for compost.   It was a beautiful evening in Napa and we came upon the best wild camomile that we added to this bouquet.  Here in California, summers are golden and dry with the amazing evening light.  


We thought this arrangement of flowering cilantro, Queen Anne's lace and feverfew looked pretty amazing just as it was, blowing over in the wind.   


Check out some of our spring Flower Friends here.

All florals and styling by Brooke Harrington and Silvanie Farmar Bowers.  Photos by Silvanie Farmar Bowers. 

House Visit - Mel McCallum

I met Mel and her husband, Jeff on a recent evening at their sweet waterfront home in Vallejo.  Built in 1924, there are plenty of original details with a newer kitchen and bathroom done by Mel and Jeff who is a builder and metal fabricator.  Their two story house is filled with abundant light and touches of collected vintage, family art and furniture made by Jeff.  This industrious couple has made their house feel so loved and lived in with great energy.

Their beautiful Persian rug that Mel snagged second-hand for a great deal.  Cool metal coffee table made by Jeff.

Their dining table made by Jeff is paired with vintage Danish chairs that Mel reupholstered.  Tillandsia and coral decorate the table.  

Sweet Cathrineholm teapot.

One of Mel's beautiful metal moon mobiles hangs next to the stairway.

Simple white subway tiles continued from the kitchen into the bathroom.

Mel's studio is a sweet light-filled room at the end of the hall with a view of her growing garden below.

In addition to their two cats, Cali and Marty-Pants, the neighbor's cat is a regular visitor seen here.


An avid skater, Jeff built a skate ramp in the larger of their two garages.

How long have you lived in your house?  We've lived in our house for almost 6 years.  When we moved here in October 2010 we discovered dozens of pumpkins growing in our new yard.   So, as a way to get to know our neighbors we offered fresh pumpkins to neighbors as they passed by.  We were also struck by our view of the stars from our new neighborhood, which has limited street lighting.  Prior to this house, we lived in an apartment in the Mission District in San Francisco that had a bright view alright, but of a 24-hour grocery store.  This new to us, unencumbered view of the night sky is one thing that inspired me to start making metal moon mobiles.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your house?  I am grateful for all of the windows, and the light that pours through them.  We enjoy our views of the water, where the Napa River meets the San Pablo Bay, and the view of Mount Tam.  On a clear day we can see the Golden Gate Bridge.  All of this to say I love all the visual reminders that we are in the Bay Area.  When Jeff and I began house hunting I felt a little ping of anxiety when we drove through neighborhoods that didn't have the immediate sense of place.  I'm also really grateful for our uniquely-shaped corner lot -- there are no houses right next to ours which gives us privacy in an urban area, which allows us to play loud music and skate the ramp without bothering our neighbors.

What are some of the biggest changes you've made to your house?  The biggest changes we've made to the inside of our house all happened in the kitchen.  When we moved here the kitchen was tricked out with a faux green marble linoleum tile floor, matching Formica countertops, a Giant with a capital "G" fridge, and cabinets that had jagged edges where they'd been cut apparently with a chainsaw to make way for the get the picture.  We've had a lot of fun modifying the little kitchen ourselves, on a budget, and it's now a room that we enjoy spending time in!  We added eco-friendly cork flooring, modified, painted and moved around existing cabinets, added open shelving, painted the walls, added butcher block countertops using wood given to us by a friend and lots of other little things.  

The biggest changes we've made to the outside area include removing a 6 foot retaining wall, and a 6 foot plastic dividing wall, we terraced the hill, put in a gate (made from skateboards) off the driveway, just to name a few things.  Of course we continue to add plants, trees and flowers.

How would you describe your style?  My style is easily described as vintage eclectic--I collect things that have stories, histories, and hold meaning.  For instance my card catalog once lived in a library at UC Berkeley and I like knowing it was once used as a learning tool by thousands of students; my vintage green tables and chest of drawers set were used by medics during a war!  Jeff's grandpa's 1960's portrait hangs in our living room; my late step mom's ceramics honor her memory; our bedroom nightstand was built by my late father when he was in hight school; and the theatre chairs were, you guessed it, once sat on by theatre goers.  As a librarian, I love stories, in books and about vintage and sentimental objects.  Also, we've filled our house with things we've made ourselves like our coffee table, dining table, art, vases, chairs we've reupholstered, and so on.  To sum it up, I'd say my style is story-filled vintage eclectic and equal parts self-made.  

What are some of your favorite places in Vallejo or the Baby Area?  Mare Island Brewing Company is a favorite destination in Vallejo, the waterfront taproom is easy-going, and the beer is great.  Vallejo's own Moschetti coffee hosts free coffee tastings on the weekends.  The owner is nice, and the selection is crazy big.  I like to hunt for treasures at Indian Alley and Yesteryear's antique shops on Georgia Street, and on the same street there's ValleJOYoga, the best yoga studio.  My friend and I both have garden boxes at a local community garden and sometimes we meet there.

The ferry from Vallejo to San Francisco makes it easy to get to the city without fighting traffic or hunting for parking, and as an added bonus there's a bar on the ferry.  Recently, thousands of Bay Area people flocked to Vallejo's waterfront area not far from our house for the Bernie Sanders rally, which was amazing, and that grassy area on the water hosts tons of various events throughout the year.  Since I work near Albany I like to go to Flowerland on my lunch breaks, and on my days off I enjoy hiking new trails throughout the Bay Area, and eating good vegetarian/vegan food in Oakland and Berkeley.  The "meatball" sandwich at The Butcher's Son on Univeristy Avenue is so freakin' delicious!


Flower Friends / spring - part three

Another in this series of spring florals done by Brooke Harrington, Laura Miller and myself.  All working in floral design, we love to do floral things when we get together.  Last week, we spent a few hours in Laura's beautiful garden in Oakland making vignettes using mostly flowers from our own gardens.


Flower Friends / spring - part one

I love to get together with my flower friends and have some fun.  Earlier this week, Brooke Harrington and I met up at Laura Miller's sweet house in Oakland.  You may remember Laura's house and studio visit I did last spring (here).  The three of us styled a few little vignettes in her beautiful garden.  All of the flowers we used were gathered by us from our gardens.  

Laura working on her tool alcove and potting bench.

We borrowed some of my mom's enamelware.

Laura beautifying!

All flowers and styling by Laura Miller, Brooke Harrington and Silvanie Farmar Bowers.  All photos by Silvanie Farmar Bowers.

Check out my visit to Brooke's garden and floral design studio.  Thanks to my mom, Lisbeth for enamelware and roses.  You can see a visit to her sweet house.



House Visit - Michelle Pattee

Photographer Michelle Pattee lives in Sebastopol, California with her husband and two children.  She and her husband, Bill a contractor, have lovingly revitalized their early 1900‘s farmhouse. Keeping things simple for easy country living with bright white walls, warm reclaimed wood and salvaged fixtures.  It’s no wonder their property is a popular location for photo shoots.

Michelle has also created West County California, a lifestyle blog about life in West Sonoma County with features on interesting locals.

After giving up a bedroom in the house for a larger bathroom, they got creative with space, converting an existing chicken coop into a slumber party room for the kids.

photo: Michelle Pattee

photo: Michelle Pattee


How long have you lived in your house?  9 years

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your house and property?  The majestic walnut tree. The constant backdrop sounds of horses, sheep, chickens, coyotes and hawks. The farmhouse has a solid sense of history, something lacking in newer construction.

After buying your house, what were the biggest changes you and your husband made to it?  Tore out a cluster of little rooms to create one large kitchen. Sacrificed a bedroom to create the house’s single bathroom. Replaced exisiting wood floor (made from thinner beams) with wide plank beautiful reclaimed Doug Fir. There’s so much happening within the wood floor, yet it’s subtle in the overall effect. Replaced all the windows - big investment because we chose wood windows, but worth it. Added a staircase to connect the two floors. Previously, the upstairs room could only be accessed by a ladder. Kind of a man cave, filled with bullets and whisky bottles.

How would you describe your style?  My style is eclectic, a mix of urban, country, minimal, abundant, vintage and modern. Many of my favorite pieces I purchased cheap years ago, before the clamoring began for farm tables, stoneware, industrial, patina, etc..

What drew you to become a photographer?  I liked the immediacy of the medium. Besides the darkroom hours (I learned on film), I could tell a story quickly with a single image. I do miss prints. They’re such an afterthought now. I also love the grace of black and white, stripping down to the bare essentials. 

Do you feel that being a photographer has changed how you view your living space?  I think my visual sensibility is reflected in everything I approach - photography, interiors. It gets a little out of hand. I’m seriously aesthetically sensitive. I can’t relax in a disheveled space, can’t get comfortable against synthetic fabrics, can’t linger in rooms painted off colors. I decant breakfast cereal or anything else that's packaged offensively. The list goes on. I used to apologize, but #sorrynotsorry.  

What are your secrets for keeping your house so clutter-free?  Don’t buy often. Filter media messages attempting to sell me things I don’t need. Reject damaging feelings of envy, keeping up on a material level with others. Curate. Possessions often require maintenance. Maintenance requires time. I’m old enough to be more mindful, question how I want to spend my time.

How would you describe the West County Lifestyle?  The West County Lifestyle is a life without much intentional focus on style. It’s authentic bohemian, an alternative culture. You can still feel the influence of the New Age Movement from the 70’s. It’s evolved, but there’s a throwback attitude. Our cars and boots are muddy, lots of dirty denim. During harvest, everyone seems to smell like weed, even if you’re not a grower. There’s a smugness, a sense of pride in not washing your hair for a week. I’ve seen the best hats up here, took me awhile to figure out. We wear thrashed outdoor gear. West County is gorgeous country, and we're engaged in the environment, for recreational and practical intentions. The lifestyle is slower. There’s miles of open space lacking cell towers, so it’s easy to find yourself among community who aren’t focused on their phones. 

House Visit - Tristan Lane Collinsworth

I spent a recent rainy morning with Tristan Lane Collinsworth in her cozy victorian apartment.  Tristan is studying history and has a penchant for collecting vintage clothing and clogs.  She also makes the coolest embroideries.  We spent much of the morning going through her closet to find some of her favorite pieces.  Every piece had a great story behind it.  Her great aunt was married to a member of Steppenwolf who styled and sewed pieces for them. She has given Tristan some really great clothes from that time, including a cobra skin jacket.   


Questions with Tristan;

When did you start embroidering?  I began embroidering at the age of 9 when my great-aunt (a powerhouse talented artist of many mediums) taught me. That very first project I made was a cross-stitched ladybug on a handkerchief, very sloppy and loose but she treasured it. I lost touch with embroidery for years until two summers ago--my heart was broken and I was lost in need of something to keep my hands busy and my feet on the ground. I already had sewing supplies at my parents’ house, leftovers from childhood craft projects as well as the near-constant mending of my vintage clothing so my exploration of embroidery happened very naturally. What had once been frustrating as a child seemed intuitive in those first few months, almost pre-programmed in my hands and I couldn’t stop myself from doodling. 

What elements do you find most fulfilling about it? And most frustrating?  When I’m embroidering my brain relaxes, my body loosens up and I decompress from all the other stress I might be experiencing. Embroidery is such an ancient, traditionally female practice and there’s something so comforting and purposeful about putting a needle and thread through fabric like millions of women before me. I draw a lot of inspiration from the artistic women in my family who preceded me with sewing and embroidery: my great-great grandma Frances, great-grandma Mary, and great-aunt Sharon. I like to think our work is connected by common threads; that I am continuing their legacies in some small way.

Rarely do I find myself frustrated by my work. At first it irked me how long it took to execute some of my more elaborate plans, since I can be really impatient sometimes. But gradually embroidering has made me more patient and more forgiving of myself.

As someone who collects a lot of vintage clothing, what do you look for in pieces?  I’ve been fascinated by fabric for as long as I can remember.  I’m really attracted to unusual textures, like nubby woven wools but I’m absolutely in love with rayon, gabardine, linen and cotton which are all very smooth, wearable fabrics. When I’m shopping for myself I’m drawn to clean, classic lines found in silhouettes from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s although recently I’ve startedto throw some ‘60s and ‘70s into my closet. In the past I would buy any random vintage dress I found at a goodwill and I’d plan to alter it or make something new but there’s not enough time in the world for all the projects I’ve taken on so now I look for items in good condition, although if something has an amazing print or fabric texture I have no problem patching up a small hole or replacing missing buttons. I’m a stickler for metal zippers on everything (modern zippers have nylon teeth) and am currently obsessed with abstract prints from the 1940s and the color green.

If you could be your age now in another decade, which one would you choose?  And why?  There have been times in my life where I wished I was born in another decade or century just for aesthetic purposes but the world we live in is where I was meant to be. The past affords us the perspective of history and while the modern world is far from perfect, I would prefer to live in it because at no other time in history have women been free to do as much as they can now. If time travel were possible I’d take a short trip to another time period to see whatit was like on a quiet afternoon but I’d want to return to the present.

What projects do you have on the horizon?  I’m currently working on a series of larger, abstract experiments in texture using a method called crewel work. I’m also in the process of building frames for my pieces with the guidance of my grandfather who is teaching me how to mill reclaimed redwood. 

While I love to use handwork as a solitary self-care practice it’s also a great way to interact with other people so I’m trying to plan a small handful of workshops for the near future and create a mending/ quilting circle with friends where we can make magic as a collective.


House Visit - Lisbeth Hansen

My mother, Lisbeth is one of the happiest and most creative people I know.  After a quarter century with three businesses and raising her children on an 1880's farm, she now lives in a sweet little cottage built in 1949.  She has always blazed her own trail and worked for herself.  She was a cut flower grower and designer long before any "farmer florist" hashtag became cool.  She doesn't follow trends and can't stand pretense.

As an avid collector of antiques and furniture, she had to find an outlet for her antiques moving from a large farm to a small house.  Since then has been selling antiques, textiles and her own handmade goods at Summer Cottage, in Petaluma.  

Growing up in Denmark, sewing and knitting is a normal part of childhood and done in school from an early age.  Before buying the farm, Lisbeth and a friend where thinking of opening a fabric shop in St. Helena.  Paths changed and she gave up sewing in her thirties to nurture the growing family businesses and her family.  Decades later, she has come back to her love of sewing.  She is constantly busy with her projects and is currently working on her website.

Questions with Lisbeth:

How long have you lived in your house?  I have lived in my sweet little house for eight years.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your house?  This is the first house I've chosen by myself for myself . I like it because it is small and very sweet, like a little nest . I like that it is compact, well built and solid. I love the original vintage kitchen that I just improved upon. It is cozy and was very loved by the family who lived here. I bought it from an older woman who inherited it from her parents. They bought it from a doctor when it was 1 year old. She moved into the house with her two children in 1961 and lived here withher parents and took care of them until they died. She lived in it for many, many years. Houses become imprinted with the energy of their owners so I feel it is important for me to live in a house that is well loved.  I like that I know the story of the house.

As a Dane, could you describe with Hygge means?  What does it mean to you?  Hygge is hard describe as it is a feeling . I can say that I feel that my house is hyggeligt and Danes say that too about it! It means that you feel good when you are here. Some of the elements of hygge are lots of candles, flowers, a fire and good company. Having something good to eat and drink and good company. I think it is a concept that originated in Denmark during the long and dark winter. People burn a lot of candles to bring in light and I always burn candles because I find it hyggeligt!

How would you describe your style?  I would describe my style as very personal and eclectic. I like to come into someone's home and see who the people are who live there. A house should tell a story about who live in the house.  Where you come from, what is important to you. I don't like houses that are decorated and just reflect a style. It is very impersonal and not hyggeligt! I like to see who lives there. Houses also have personality of their own and that has to be a match for the owner!  My style changes but some things are constant. I love light colors , wooden floors and good windows with plenty of natural light. I like airiness and not a lot of clutter. I don't like houses that are done but houses that are a loving container for the people who live in them.  I think the best houses just evolve and become living - breathing and dynamic .

You have lived in some great houses.  What are the most important things for you to call a house a home?  I think that the most important things for me to call a house a home is my emotional investment in the house. I have to feel a connection to it or it is just a house. I have to live the house for a while and have a relationship with it before it truly becomes my home.

You have had a very full and creative life and tend to forge your own path.  What keeps you motivated?  I guess what keeps me motivated is that I love to make things. It is very satisfying to me to make something that I or other people enjoy and use.  I am constantly inspired and love to try out new things. I especially love beautiful textiles and sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the things I want to make and all the beautiful and inspiring people and things I see.  I guess my motivation is that I want to continue to grow and change as a person and I look for beauty in everything. I look for beauty!

As a creative person, what are you working on now?  How would you describe your work at this time?  I am working on making "my making" a small home based business that works for me. I am mostly focused on making simple, beautiful and timeless garments that you can wear everyday and everywhere. Clothes you feel great in, look good in and don't have to think about. I feel clothes should just be the backdrop for the person wearing them. They should not take anything away from the person.

Anything else you'd like to add?  I am a graduate of the Western School of Feng Shui.  That I am a proud and happy grandmother.

Cooking with Anne Goffin

I had the pleasure of having lunch at Anne Goffin's house this summer.  She made a light lunch of fritatta and greek salad with a nectarine galette for dessert.  Anne has worked in many restaurants, done catering, cooking workshops (here) , cooking videos (here) (and here), is a private chef and food stylist (here), as well as her home cooked meals enjoyed by her husband and two children.

 Our boys helping scrub the veggies.

When did you know you wanted to cook for a living?  I think it was as far back as 10 years old that I knew I wanted to be a chef but the passion began much earlier than that.  I was so lucky to grow up in an environment that both allowed for and nourished my love for food.  I remember many long hours spent experimenting in my mothers kitchen.  

What are your favorite parts of professional cooking?  What are you favorite parts of home cooking? My creativity really shines in professional cooking. I'm a perfectionist and I take joy in executing a dynamic, beautiful meal. When I cook professionally I really challenge myself to create something unique each time.  I like that feeling.  I also like the feeling of really simple food.  Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken soup, apple sauce, pasta with cheese etc.  I usually relax a little more with my cooking at home. I try to focus on the veggies and aim for quick, easy and fresh.

Since having children how has your cooking changed?  Yes! I have always been interested in healthy cooking but now there is more of a focus on "How can I fit more vegetables in to that dish?".  My cooking has simplified in some ways.  I now have some quick, healthy, go to recipes, if you can even call them that they are so brief, that I rely on in order to keep the frozen pizzas IN the freezer.  I tend to cook vegetables in advance and have them ready.  I have successfully raised two young children who will eat just about anything or at least try it once; thus far anyway, knock on wood.  I am not shy about this fact, however I try not to lord it over anyone and I don't blame anyone for falling short here. I know what an uphill battle it can be. I'm so proud that I have succeeded in this way and would love to share my methods with other parents. The malnutrition in children in this country is staggering and we are paying for it as a community.

You have done classes and cooking videos.   What are you up to now?  I am currently working on projects as a private chef, food stylist, recipe tester/developer and I have started my own fledgling blog

What are some of your favorite things going on in cooking and food today?  There is a growing consciousness about simple cooking and a plant based diet.  Many intelligent people are pushing for a rebirth of traditional home cooking and trying to find a place for it in our modern world.  Weather it is cookbook authors focusing on quick and healthy meals or meal kit delivery services, bloggers, farmers markets, film makers, authors and newspaper columnists. There is evidence of an active movement which gives me hope for the future health of our species and planet.

House & Garden Visit - Brooke Harrington

Brooke and her boyfriend, Dan live in a beautiful oasis filled with plants, chickens, dogs and a cat in a 1930's house in Vallejo.  She is an avid gardener, covering nearly every bit of ground with plants, fruit trees, vegetables and vines.  After filling her own garden, she joined a community garden to grow more vegetables and talk to other gardeners.  Her garden is so inspiring as it is free and wild, and so well loved with bees and birds in mind, including a massive passion vine filled with hatching butterfly chrysalises.  There were bees and butterflies flying all about when I visited her earlier this week along with my mom and son who had a great time picking and eating strawberries, raspberries and peaches.  When Brooke is not in her garden, she is busy doing flowers with her mom Polly in their Napa based floral design studio, Valley Flora.  

Questions with Brooke;

How long have you lived in your house?  I have lived here since july 2011! So around 4 years.

What are some of your favorite things about your house?  When I bought my house the garden was depressing, the entire back yard was covered in crabgrass and had some dying pittosporum.  It took me close to a year to slowly cover and kill all the crabgrass which is highly invasive. I used black plastic, then sheet mulched everything to build up the soil and to help amend the dense clay. 

What was the garden like when you bought your house?  Right now the favorite parts of my garden are the ones I have to look after the least! I have several passion vines that thrive on neglect, they provide me with privacy and are great hosts for the gulf fritillary butterfly.  I really cherish my Michelia or banana shrub. When it blooms you can smell it a block away in the evenings. My other favorites are the mod lodge of succulents everywhere and when the mock orange is in bloom! I go through stages so this list will change next month!

What are some of your favorite parts of your garden?  My source for gardening advice starts with my mom. She got me hooked as a young child, so I always ask her first. After that I watch A lot of youtube videos, garden blogs, books and fellow garden nerd friends.  I have a love affair with watching all things about gardening on the BBC UK gardening channel. I could watch that shit all day.

Where do you look for gardening advice?  I pretty much don't like to follow any rules when it comes to gardening. I like to plant things that are pleasing to my eye, and look good with others. Kinda like a living flower arrangement.  If they don't work in one position I will move them. I have ripped out plants and changed color schemes many times! Since my yard is small, when I plant something it has to have multiple purposes. My main factors in this are, is it edible...can I use it as a cut flower, is it beneficial for insects,  will it bloom multiple times, fast growing, and if its fragrant all the better!  Its all trial and error, there is no right or wrong way as far as I'm concerned. I have plants that are labeled full sun, that are thriving in shade. My main goal with my garden is to make it my sanctuary. There is nothing better for me then coming home to something I've worked my ass off to create. Where I can sit, listen to birds, watch bees and bugs,  zone out and clear my mind, it is priceless.

What is your favorite (or favorites) time of the year in the garden?  I'm pretty sure that would be spring. I love when all the fresh new leaves start greening everything up. The light in spring is great too, it just makes you want to stay out in the garden as long as you can! I always forget how fast things grow, I love to watch everything evolve,  the garden will look different every day.

Studio Visit, VALLEY FLORA

Recently, I visited my friends Polly and Brooke Harrington the mother-daughter team behind Valley Flora, a custom floral design studio in Napa.  I tagged along as they delivered to one of their weekly accounts, The Thomas and headed back to their studio to finish orders.  We talked about what we always talk about, flowers and the flower world.  Polly has a strong background in cut flowers and a vast knowledge of plants.  To say that Brooke is into gardening is an understatement, she has such a deep love for plants, her garden is the envy of every green thumb!  Polly and Brooke are incredibly hardworking and dedicated to maintaining the inherent beauty of flowers, their work is simply beautiful.

Questions with Polly and Brooke;

How did you get your start in floral design? Polly:  I started working with flowers very young, when I worked at my family's resort gathering flowers from the garden, arranging them in cute little pitchers and placing them on the guest's tables.  Brooke:  I got my start in floral design when I was about fourteen years old!  As a teenager I was pretty naughty and as punishment for my episodes my mom took me to work at the butt crack of dawn to the flower studio to process flowers all day!  I guess it wasn't a punishment after all, I love my job.

How would you describe your style? Polly:  My style is loose, garden (natural) style.  Brooke:  I would say my style is garden inspired.  I like to take what's in season and looking great and use it in my arrangements as much as possible.

How is it working with your daughter/mom?  Polly:  Working with my daughter is a blessing and a joy, but like any relationship sometimes there are challenges.  Brooke:  Working with my mom is great!  Sometimes I feel like we read each other's minds. We do have the occasional bumping of heads but quickly get over it.  Even though I have been fired (she was pissed when I really didn't come in to work the next day).  Ha ha.

How do you feel the cut flower industry has changed in the past decade?  Polly:  The cut flower industry has changed with the economy.  For a while there was a decline in variety, a lot of the unique perennials were not available.  Now, they are becoming more available, lots of new choices again.  Brooke:  The floral industry has changed dramatically in the last decade.  Before it was all word of mouth or who you knew, now it is almost ALL social media.  It's my personal feeling that some people get by with a large following EVEN though they are not the best at design, just because they are good at marketing themselves.  People can take a floral workshop class and instantly think they are a designer!  On the other hand, I had to earn my keep!  I worked for five years with a very talented floral designer learning the basics without ever being about to design!

What are some your favorite flowers and plants that you would like to see being used more? Polly:  I love garden roses, peonies and most viburnums.  I also like a lot of deciduous shrubs: deutzia, weigela, fothergilla etc.  Brooke:  My favorite flowers (right now) are cestrum, nicotiana and nasturtiums.  All are really easy to grow and just so cute in an arrangement!  Strawberry plants are really fun and fresh in the springtime as well.

As avid gardeners, what are some of your favorite nurseries?  Polly:  Emerisa,  Devil Mountain,  Berkeley Horticulture,  Cottage Gardens and Sonoma Mission Garden  Brooke:   Where do I begin!  I spend so much of my free time hoarding plants!  I frequent Berkeley Horticulture, Annie's Annuals, Sonoma Mission Gardens, and Flowerland.  I also find treasures at Friedman Brothers (Petaluma is the best one) and my local Benicia Ace Supply.

Laura Miller, Floral Studio Visit

Laura is an Oakland based floral designer who specializes in weddings and special events.  She was kind enough to open her adorable house and studio to me this past weekend, which she shares with her dog Parker and cat Cleo.  With nearly two decades in the floral industry, Laura describes her design style as "inspired by nature, the way plants grown naturally, with layers of texture and dimension.  And as an avid gardener, I include unique blooms from my own garden into my designs whenever possible".  She has an awesome garden and a massive love for clematis and succulents.  Laura is also a collector of vintage ceramics and has wonderful vignettes displayed throughout her house.

Questions with Laura;

How long have you lived in your house?  Eight and a half years.

What are some of your favorite things about living in your house?  I've always been drawn towards older home and feel in love with it's character and charm, along with the garden space, at first site.  It's small, but has everything I need wrapped into a perfect package.  I love the diversity of Oakland, and the fact that it's so centrally located to many different areas allows me to work in areas outside Oakland.

When did you start your floral design business?  I started working in a flower shop in Los Angeles as a bookkeeper, quickly I was drawn into the "floral" environment, being a gardener at a young age in made sense. I worked in a few retail florists and gift shops as a sales person learning the ins and outs of the business, then I landed a job where I learned design, and that ended in my purchasing an existing business 16 years ago.

What are you favorite elements to design for a wedding?  Lately I'm enjoy creating centerpieces more and more, but I've always loved making bouquets and boutonnieres.

What would be your ideal setting and florals for a wedding?  Outdoors in a natural setting. Being a lover of nature and gardens, I've always been more attracted to including a wide array of elements in my designs.  Including textural foliages along with different sized and shaped floral blooms to create what we see in nature. I'm a sucker for a cool vessel.

What do you find easiest and hardest about having a home-based studio?  The easiest thing is NO commute traffic to deal with ever. The most difficult is motivating myself to get things done every day, to keep on top of the future work. When I do have a job I have a difficult time saying good night and not going back outside to work on something else after hours. 

You have a lot of collections and vignettes around your house.  What are some of your favorite pieces?  My doll parts and pottery collection are the overall favorites. I love the floral prints above my desk and the old sheers, but the current favorite is a wooden box vignette in my room.

What are some of your favorite places to go in Oakland and the East Bay?  Tail of the Yak (ribbons), Urban Indigo (gifts), Bocanova (food/drinks), Redwood Regional Park (hiking with Parker), Dona Tomas (food/drinks), Tattoo 13 (tattoos),  Esqueleto (jewels), The Fox Theatre (music venue), Farmer Joe's  (grocery store)

Indigo Workshop

Spent an afternoon at Rachel Blodgett's indigo workshop.  She showed us some techniques to use and then let us experiment with fabric and some garments we had brought.  The indigo breathed life into a pair of jeans I have loved but had faded immensely.  I had no idea what was involved in the indigo process or how labor intensive it is.  The color range is absolutely amazing and I loved watching the oxidation process - it really seems like magic!

In September and October, Rachel and her friend, Catherine Sieck (also pictured) will be inhabiting Turpentine Gallery in Oakland with their collaborative pop-up gallery.  While there, they will be offering dye-days, workshops and other events.

Look for updates from them -  Catherine // Rachel 

also here

Roy & Rachel

Brother and sister duo, Rachel and Roy Blodgett started Serpent & Bow Collective  which they describe as “The serpent and the bow are both fluid symbols, used to describe our wish for the collective to bend and contort, accommodating an entity that will be forever changing with the curiosities and whims of various artistic visions as well as our collective ambitions."   

I visited them at Roy’s house, where Rachel has been staying this summer as she relocates back to California from Rhode Island.  They both have a love for vintage and a strong relationship with the handmade, their father is a goldsmith and they have both worked (Roy currently) in their family's jewelry shop which specializes in estate and antique jewelry.  Their styles are their own but compliment one another well.   

Questions with Roy;

How long have you lived in your place?  I have lived on the general property since July of 2012, but only moved into my current space upon its completion in late December of 2013. Before that I had been living in the primary two-bedroom house at the western side of the lot, while my landlord was building the structure in which I currently reside. I didn't have the intention of moving out of the main house until the second structure was nearly complete and I realized all of the potential it had for a home and workshop space. 

What are your favorite things about living in this house?  The light in the second level is really wonderful, with windows on all sides, and I enjoy the way the room changes throughout the day based on the natural light flooding in. I also really enjoy the use of salvaged materials throughout the house, as they give the space a soul and character all its own and soften the sharp, shiny edges that usually come with a recent home. Perhaps most of all, I like how open and efficiently everything is laid out, with the upper level essentially a single room that serves as kitchen, bedroom, and living space - it's very comfortable, given that I live by my lonesome. 

You have a lot of collections displayed.  What are your favorite things?  Well, I try not to collect anymore just for the sake of collecting, as I don't want to clutter my space with anything I don't need or use - but  almost everything I have in my home has one glaring attribute in common: they're all well made and serve a function. Starting at age eighteen, I began outfitting my home and wardrobe with an emphasis on quality. I don't want to buy anything twice, and I try to be the most considerate consumer I can. I'm very fortunate to come from a family of craftsmen and women that both recognize and value quality workmanship, and I inherited those values double-fold. My favorite things are those rare items that blend quality, function, and beauty; an old Swiss military backpack I've used everyday for years comes to mind. 

Your house is pretty great, but what would your perfect space look like?  Or, what kind of "improvements" would you make to your current place (if you could)?  I suppose my perfect home would be one of my own making. Like many of my generation, I dream of owning land and building my own small home, and I'd really like to take that to an extreme and make every aspect of that home myself - from framing, all the way to hinges and fixtures. I'd like to grow and learn alongside my home. Aesthetically, my taste is heavily influenced by Japanese architecture and the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. I envision exposed beams, stone, iron, copper, natural light, wood heat, and maximization of usable space. Everything with an intention to guide it.   As for improving my current place, I'm beginning to focus on the lower level of my home, which has been largely neglected these first many months. I intend to convert the space into a general workshop where I can pursue my interests in various arts and crafts, from etching to drawing to woodworking, leatherworking, metalworking - most of which I've only had the space and time to pursue at a very basic level thus far. If all goes as hoped, this next year will see a lot more time spent wearing in the space and investigating these pursuits further. I yearn for a more meaningful connection between my efforts and the results they produce, and it seems there's no better way to address that longing than to work with my hands and make mistakes and successes in equal measure. 

You collect and sell vintage clothing and wear a lot of Native American jewelry.  What do you think about men's fashion and what do you see changing as American men become more interested (in general) of men's style?  My own take on men's fashion is based on the principle of function over form. I have a basic wardrobe comprised of only a few items that are very well made and tend to to work well together in a number of permutations. I catch some flak once in a while for wearing the same items all the time, but they are items which have truly moulded to my form and become part of my character, and I don't see anything wrong with having less and meaning more. I used to care a lot more what people might think about what I was wearing, but it's become a non-issue as my values have changed. I also struggled for a long time to find sources for a style that felt like it represented my character and ideals, but with the trending surge of interest in 'heritage quality' goods, scores of brands have come up, most notably out of Japan and the USA, such that finding ethically-made, quality clothing is a lot easier than it has been in recent decades. It's no longer out of reach for the average Joe to find a his niche amid the fray.  I also really like to accent my wardrobe with small details that I feel have a certain mystical quality. I have a few vintage items I feel that way about, and my Native American jewelry definitely falls into that sentiment. On that subject, wearing it is something I've considered and reconsidered many times over. As a representative of a very privileged minority, being a twenty-something white guy in California, I feel it's extremely important to have reverence, intention, and understanding of cultural importance when wearing such pieces. It's too easy to simply buy a turquoise cuff with no idea of where it came from, or what it means, or why it's important. I try to research and educate myself on these matters. I don't think of these items as accessories, so much as talismans with significance and power. 

Questions with Rachel;

How did you find Indigo?  And what drew you to it?  I started using Indigo when I was a student at California College of the Arts. At first, I was not really excited about it because I figured it was just a single color and it would get boring, but very quickly I became addicted to the process and the mythology surrounding Indigo as a color and as a dye, historically. It is one of the oldest dyes and so it has collected a lot of symbolic meaning as well as technical variation within the different cultures that have used it. Lately I am especially excited about Indigo as a medium that connects me to other makers throughout history. The genealogy of a color.

What is your favorite part of the process?  I love the ritual aspect of indigo as it requires daily care. Working with an Indigo vat is an intimate relationship that evolves a lot over time. I am still learning about the little cues that the dye vat is always giving me, teaching me how to care for it. It is also really magical to watch the color shift from neon yellow to cobalt blue as a piece of cloth oxidizes before your eyes!

Who do you want to wear your clothes?  The process of designing the clothing is very personal; usually a way of physically manifesting my own desire for a certain garment. I consider most of the clothing to function as talisman, carrying a symbolic meaning that brings strength or helps to visualize a specific intention for their wearer. I have personally struggled with a lot of health issues over the past year, and have been making myself a custom underwear each month as a way to mark time and depict the changes I have gone through spiritually and mentally. I would hope that my level of care and intention is recognized by whoever wants to wear the clothing; I hope it makes them feel empowered. I think that treating yourself to handmade underwear is an incredibly empowering thing to do.

What is your ideal studio situation or studio/living situation?  I feel really grateful for the space that I have been occupying (at Roy's). I love that I have easy indoor-outdoor access. I am in town but the space feels like a rural sanctuary. I think the most important aspect of a studio for me is access to the outdoors because I prefer to keep the indigo vat outside, and I love to do the painting outside.

You are leaving Roy's at the end of the month.  What are your plans?  For the months of September and October, I will be subletting my friend Kate Klingbeil's storefront space in Oakland, with Catherine Sieck. Catherine and I are organizing some workshops and events (including dye days!) and we will also have open hours for shoppers to come in and see our work. I am really looking forward to being able to make something and immediately place it on a rack in the storefront to display and possibly sell. Beyond that, I am hoping to wind up back in Sonoma County. Santa Rosa has felt like a cornucopia. I am really grateful for the community of friends and family in this area, and excited to be a part of it. 

See more of Roy here and more of Rachel here and here

Also, this post from when my brother, Julian was working with them creating beautiful batik.