One afternoon in sunny Potero Hill in San Francisco, this small shop Bell and Trunk Flowers caught my eye. I couldn’t help myself when I walked in to see the vintage decor filled with crocheted and knitted baby clothing and blankets that peppered the front area. Upon chatting with the owner Vanessa, I found out that most of the items were handmade by her mom and 11 year-old daughter. You can see a photo of grandma and granddaughter knitting away in the picture frame inside the trunk. Most of the goods that decorate the space inside her shop are all handmade or from indie designers. The former newspaper journalist decided to open up the shop a few years ago and shares with us her creative life as proprietor of Bell and Trunk Flowers.
Bell and Trunk Flowers
1411 18th Street
San Francisco, Ca 94107
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Read on after the jump for my Q&A with Vanessa and more photos!
Natalie: Please tell me more about your shop, Bell and Trunk. How did you get interested in starting your own business and flower-arranging?
Vanessa: I was a reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle before I got into this business. People’s stories compelled me to become a journalist and it’s the same reason running a flower shop appealed to me. It’s exciting to be a local florist when people share their intimate moments — from a second marriage to a childhood sweetheart, to the long-anticipated birth of a baby, a friend’s recovery from a mastectomy, or the job loss of a longtime colleague. I love the inherent beauty behind simple gesture of giving flowers.
There were also tons of other practical reasons to start a business. Being my own boss gives me a lot of flexibility. As a single mom, I can stay home if I need to or take my daughter with me and put her to work! Also, I love being a merchant in the community I live in. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else but in Potrero Hill. Having a business here is a great way to connect to this wonderful, tight-knit community.
Natalie: The decor in your shop mixes a lot of vintage items. How do you find these gems and what sorts of items are you always on the look out for?
Vanessa: I often don’t know what I’m on the look out for until I find it. I visit SCRAP, Urban Ore, and the Alameda Flea Market occasionally. When I bought the shop I wanted to deck it out with salvaged items rather than buying new. I didn’t have an exact vision but it somehow came together nicely. Generous friends have also given me antiques that they’d rather see appreciated in the shop than collecting dust in their garages and attics. The most recent (and cherished) gift was a victorian wooden trunk, a family heirloom from my friend, Claudia Bushee. It belonged to the great grand-daughter of Myles Standish, one of the early pioneers. It’s in perfect condition and I use it to house all of the hand-knitted baby blankets that my grandmother, mom and 11-year-old daughter make.
Natalie: Speaking of your mom and 11-year-old daughter knitting and crocheting… how did this come about?
Vanessa: Just before I bought the shop, my mom, Karen Blyth, and grandma, Dorothy Osland, were in town for a visit. For nearly two-weeks, the four generations just sat around knitting and crocheting for the shop. We made booties, sweaters, hats and blankets. Although I haven’t knitted a stitch since, my mom and grandmother are always working on something. I get a box of goodies every couple of weeks from either grandma in Fairmont, Minnesota or from Mc Murray, Pennsylvania where my mom lives. My daughter, Elise, doesn’t knit as much for the shop anymore. She and a classmate have branched out and started their own knitting business at school.They take custom orders from teachers and friends and that has been keeping her busy at the moment.
Natalie: You also sell a lot of goods made by indie designers. Why is this important to you?
Vanessa: As a the sole proprietor of a tiny flower and gift shop, I have limited space to fill and have be to very selective in what I carry. And since I’m here all day, it helps to be surrounded by lovely little things that have a good story. For example, I sell shadow puppets made my a young woman with a quirky sense of humor and a laser-cutter. She cuts out all kinds of unique designs from owls to yettis to mermaids. She even makes Valentines that say things like “You had me at Health Insurance” and “Ohhh-bama”. Like me, she has the backing of her wonderful family ( her grandmother glues the sticks on the puppets!). It feels good to be supporting people and the quality work they do, as well as the community they’re in which is something that my customers value too.
Natalie: Do you have a tip on how to keep flowers lasting longer at home?
Vanessa: Sure. Keep them away from heat, trim the ends once or twice, and change the water every other day.
Natalie: With Valentine’s Day coming up, do you have any tips on flower decor that crafters can do at home?
Vanessa: As much as I love beautiful flower arrangements, I keep it pretty simple at home. I’m in a loft so I like to maximize the vertical space with tall branches. Right now fruit trees are blossoming so you can find the most beautiful apple, pear and cherry blossoms. You can also find branches with interesting fruits on them like kumquats and olives. I’ll pick up a few at the San Francisco Flower Mart and fill three or so cylinders using a different bunch in each one. It’s like bringing an orchard inside! Very romantic if you ask me.
And for just us CRAFT readers, Vanessa is giving us a special deal! Take 15% off your order of $60 or more just by mentioning that you saw the promotion in CRAFT. (Not to be combined with any other offer).
See more of my photos of Bell and Trunk in the slideshow via my Flickr set.
Here’s my daughter Chloe wearing a crochet flower beret made by Vanessa’s mom.