Gena Winter's thumb hasn't always been quite so green.
In fact, the San Francisco-based florist and co-founder of Mission favorite Marigold, believes there might be such thing as too much love, particularly when it comes to keeping your plant babies alive and well.
"I always find that over-caring kills plants way sooner than occasionally forgetting to water them," Winter admits.
Although these days, Winter's Ashbury-Heights apartment is a space filled with fresh flowers — on any given day of the week — a fragrant blend of Marigold's best in bloom. Cross the threshold and step inside this florist's Art Deco home — measuring in at a solid 1,000-square-feet — and you can't help but let out a little sigh of relief.
Sprigs of green, cuttings foraged from the workshop floor, and delicate arrangements, varying in size and stature, bring the plaster walls to life. Yet something that even the best designer will tell you, is that you can't fake good light. Try as you might to cultivate a bright, beautiful space through considered placement and thoughtful design, if it's lacking in light, it's impossible to hide. For Winter, sunshine streams through factory windows trimmed with brass, year-round, it's a space worthy of the fresh flower arrangements and colorful clippings on display throughout.
"I like to bring a little something home from work, every day, and put it in a bud vase, usually on the nightstand," smiles the flaxen-haired florist, secateurs in one hand, a single stem in the other. On this particularly sunny San Francisco afternoon, Winter is in full Marigold mode, rearranging, repositioning, and livening up a shallow vase of blossom. It becomes abundantly clear that flowers make Winter feel most at home, and in this apartment, they're never in short supply.
"Having a space that feels like a personal oasis is really important to me," Winter begins. "Investing time, energy, and money into my apartment as a renter was definitely scary at first, but after every project or purchase there was never any regret. The return on investment is the feeling of comfort I get every day when I come home to a space that feels uniquely me." Winter and her partner, Andrés Barraza, gave the tired deco walls new life with a crisp wash of Benjamin Moore paint. The couple replaced baseboards and added plaster ceiling medallions to the living room and bedroom ceilings, subbing out heavy light fixtures for rattan pendants — sourced at IKEA. In a bid to stay true to the apartment's quirky charm, Winter retained architectural features that fit the '20s style code — like the original cotton candy pink tiles in the bathroom.
"I really loved the bones of the apartment and knew I wanted to live here for as long as I could," admits Winter, whose tenure now marks a decade. "Painting and changing light fixtures, sourcing custom rugs and furniture to fit certain spaces within the apartment has also been worth the investment, because everything feels intentional and personal. Even small things, like a new splash of white paint, better light bulbs, and a new shower head has made a huge difference."
Upon entry, it's the west-facing casement windows that really take your breath away. Dappled light casts a playful shadow on refinished, hardwood floors, peeping through an enormous and artfully bent tree. It's a vista truly fit for a florist. Winter realizes that an uninterrupted, treelined view from your apartment in San Francisco is a rarity, and it's something she's particularly proud to call her own. In a bid to break up the living and dining spaces, the duo anchor the room with an ivory rug by Unique Loom and a CB2 dining table, neighboring the window and finished in a high gloss burl wood. Mid-century style, recycled paper armchairs — by IKEA — decorate the surrounding space. A CB2 sandstone bowl houses plump and juicy pears, worthy of a still-life.
There's an undeniably romantic appeal to Winter's home, a space the couple fill with treasured local ceramics and sentimental works of art. As the sun begins to move, plastered walls reveal tiny imperfections and an uneven finish, like soft peaks on whipped cream. Original — very deco — archways offer an ease of flow, as the chipped brass radiator begins to crackle and pop. Winter decorates open shelves and low, raw oak crates with bud vases and vintage vinyl, wedged between neatly stacked back issues of the well-thumbed Sunset magazine. It's a charming space, a true deco darling, that serves as the sweetest nod to old San Francisco — the kind of city that lured the likes of Janis Joplin — the kind of city they wrote songs about.
"When I first saw the apartment, it was nighttime," Winter begins, when asked how she first discovered her space. "I knew there was a little view from the twinkling lights outside, but when I came back during the day to move in, I could see the ocean! My heart sang. On a clear day, we have an uninterrupted view of everything from the Point Bonita Lighthouse to Tiburon, the stacks of the Golden Gate Bridge and St. Ignatius in between. Outside our west-facing windows, we have a gorgeous canopy of spruces and other greenery. No two sunsets are alike — and every morning we have a stunning view, from almost every window."
Follow the dappled light through to the couple's bedroom, and you'll be equal parts impressed and struck by the tidiness. Winter admits her mother "kept a very clean house" and perhaps that's where she got it from. A clean-lined, teak CB2 bed frame sits beneath a Noguchi paper pendant light and an inky blue-gray ceiling — reminiscent of the night sky. It's a space kept refreshingly minimal, while the neighboring walk-in closet boasts swaths of print and pattern, stacks of Freda Salvador boots and an artfully organized, Konmari approach to storage.
"My day always starts with coffee in bed," Winter recounts. "No matter how early I have to wake up, Andrés always gets up before me, makes coffee, and brings it back to bed. And yes, I know how lucky I am," she smiles. "I’m usually out the door pretty early for the San Francisco Flower Mart — so any days that I’m not at the market, we’ll take our coffee to the den, read the newspaper, and take in the view. Our evenings progress from wine to sleepy tea fairly early — maybe a game of cards, a bath, and the obligatory face wash and moisturize, as part of my wind-down routine."
Nowadays, Winter's routine is structured around the major floral holidays — Christmas rules supreme, she explains, with Valentine's Day as strong as ever. As the art of floristry continues to democratize, Winter and her business partner, Marigold co-founder Aubriana MacNiven, rent out their Mission-based studio and offer workshops, for the full spectrum floral experience. With a string of elopements, weddings and milestones occupying most of her calendar year, it's the little moments of respite that Winter truly revels in. The quieter pockets where the entrepreneur can hit reset, settle in with a good book, or fill the original 1920's bath tub with gardenias, to soak away the day.
"My home is the space to unwind and relax," Winter advises. "My days are absolutely non-stop from start to finish, so having a calm place to slow down is crucial. I’m also a super neat-freak at home because having a space that’s tidy and clutter-free allows my mind to be at ease, allows me to rejuvenate, and start with a fresh, clean slate — each and every day. This space enables and inspires me to create the arrangements I want to see in my home — be it in our den, dining room, or on the dresser in our closet."
On livelier evenings, the couple play host to friends and family — Barraza can also cook. The tiny, nook-of-a-kitchen does the trick, with the duo often opening up their home for dinner parties. If they opt to eat out, the string of eateries along Divisadero is a convenient walk away. Retro appliances, a floating stainless steel shelf, and sentimental photographic prints — a very Wes Anderson-esque portrait of Barraza, taken by friend and photographer Chris Behroozian, and a black-and-white photograph of his great-grandfather horseback in Patagonia — decorate the surrounding spaces. In typical Deco fashion, counter space is limited and the lack of outlets means creativity is key, yet Winter and Barraza wouldn't have it any other way.
"I’ve worked on my green thumb over the years, but always err on the side of neglect when it comes to plant care," Winter advises, gesturing to the plants perched on top of the couple's refrigerator. "My best advice is to water them once every one-to-two weeks and never let them sit in water. I’m always bringing flowers home from work and find the best way to keep them alive is place them far from the heater and clip an inch off the end of the stem when you change their water, every few days."
"The afternoon sun creates the most amazing dappled light, shadows dance around our apartment right until sunset, which we get to enjoy setting over Ocean beach," Winter explains, wide-eyed. "Foggy days are equally charming, in their own way."
Tomorrow's clippings will bring something different, something new, allowing Winter to dream up a fresh, textured and tactile arrangement, in keeping with the style that Marigold has become renowned for. When asked if she'd ever leave her character apartment, Winter is adamant.
"An acquaintance who lived in the building let me know that a unit was opening up across the hall from him," the florist explains. "He told me it was rare to have anything open up — as most tenants have lived here for decades. I’ve now been here a decade."
As the light begins to dance once again, the living room basks in that aforementioned glow that Winter was talking about — it's clear why nobody wants to leave.