As an avowed environmentalist and minimalist, Simpson Strong-Tie marketing copywriter Sean Krainert was excited to have the opportunity recently to visit in Oakland, California, where he met with owner and lead designer Pilar Zuniga. Built on a foundation of making beautiful things while factoring the health of the environment and community into every decision, her green business has flourished into a beacon for sustainable floral design.
Tucked neatly away in the rear parking lot of a busy Oakland neighborhood, the shop is entirely housed in two 8′ x 20′ shipping containers arranged in an L-shape.
Painted bright chartreuse, the containers provide a vivid backdrop to an artfully designed space where Pilar creates her beautiful arrangements. In fact, the entire space was mindfully designed and landscaped by Pilar, right down to the plants around the containers. Most of the landscaping can be clipped as needed to add to the arrangements she creates for her beloved clients.
Pilar makes full use of all her space, both inside the containers and outdoors. Between the containers, she’s tied the whole area together with a beautiful wood patio covering that features our Simpson Strong-Tie Outdoor Accents® decorative connectors and fasteners. The elegant black powder-coated finish on the connectors provides just the design touch Pilar was looking for to stand out against the bold color of the containers.
In addition to being a beautiful focal point in the yard, the patio covering provides a lovely shaded area for Pilar to work in as well as meet with clients.
“Sometimes we have up to 50 or 60 bunches of flowers to process, and the pergola provides the right amount of shade to protect the flowers while we arrange them,” said Pilar.
The patio covering was built using free DIY plans on the strongtie.com website, and the connectors and fasteners are so easy to install that it was built in a single day. The build is featured in a new Simpson Strong-Tie video on YouTube.
Throughout our conversation, Pilar occasionally added to the arrangement of flowers she was creating for one of her longtime clients, Pixar. Her additions to the art form were added with such ease that it seemed to come as naturally as breathing to her. As we continued to talk, I was able to take in the visually stunning space. And after hearing more about this truly sustainable and eco-forward business, it was no surprise to discover that this magical area under the beautiful wood patio cover serves a much greater purpose.
“This space was meant to be,” she said. “There is just something special about working outdoors. Once the shipping containers were here, and the pergola was built, the space came together and created an ideal working environment that is perfect for the type of work we do. But the space also serves as a gathering spot for the people involved with the other businesses on our property.”
The Gorgeous and Green business shares a property with Mama Dog Studios and Corduroy Media (both run by Pilar’s husband, Carl Brown). These two creative production businesses take up over 5,000 sq. ft. of warehouse and office production space on the property. Pilar’s flower business comes in at just under 320 sq. ft. While that may seem like an impossible amount of space to run a business in, I was intrigued to see the efficient use of the space.
Pilar and I quickly connected not only over our shared love for the environment and our Earth, but also over the boundless feeling of using a small amount of space to do big things. I let Pilar know one of my interests in coming to see her space was that I was a minimalist and that my entire home is the same size as one of her two shipping containers.
“We are all about keeping things simple, because that is how eco-friendly works. The simpler we are, the less we use,” said Pilar.
Living or running a business in minimal space means making every inch of real estate count. Pilar has gracefully mastered this skill while at the same time naturally displaying how a bustling business can be run sustainably. The two shipping container spaces are wired into the larger warehouse, which itself runs on solar power. If that isn’t enough for energy-saving efforts, locally ordered flower arrangements are typically delivered via bicycle courier or in Pilar’s own electric vehicle. And to my surprise, one of these solar-run containers includes a walk-in cooler! A tech-enabled gauge along with superior insulation keeps an approximately 40 sq. ft. closed-off portion at a cool 35 degrees for flower storage.
The cold water (never hot) used when rinsing hands, soaking stems or cleaning up is saved into buckets. This greywater is then repurposed into the flowers and plants in the tiny plots under the pergola. Not a drop wasted! Pilar also shared that having a small space doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of stuff. As artists, she explained, they are focused on creating and definitely need “stuff” to do so. I was still very impressed, though, by the use of the space and organization of their “stuff.” They had a clearly designated container of rubber bands, a large bin of plastic wrap, sections for bubble wrap and built-in shelves for every kind of vase and container imaginable (all of which were recycled from past projects or salvaged from the community).
When asked more about her sustainable efforts and challenges, Pilar said that the flower design industry is sadly full of plastics. While she cannot control the materials used by the local farmers who she purchases from, she makes sure that nothing is ever wasted. Her collection of plastic wrapping from the flowers she purchases either is reused or is returned to the farmers in hopes that they themselves will reuse it.
In fact, giving back is a huge part of Gorgeous and Green. Keeping track of an individual’s carbon footprint is hard enough. But Pilar puts in the work to do just that for her business. The business is able to offset its carbon footprint by physically planting trees and by making donations to Earth-loving organizations whose reach expands even further.
As I stepped back from the space, I couldn’t help but notice how the design of the space energetically stood out, while also naturally blending in with the surroundings. When asked about the vibrant chartreuse color of the two shopping containers, Pilar and her assistant Jessie immediately pointed to almost a dozen examples of the color in flowers, plants and stems they had on hand.
“Chartreuse is my favorite color,” said Pilar. “It is everywhere in nature! And it really is the color of new growth.”
Visiting Pilar and Gorgeous and Green was a transformative experience. It was amazing to see how a pergola tied together two small spaces to create a thriving, sustainable, indoor/outdoor business while also serving as a shared business community area.
For more information about Outdoor Accents decorative hardware or to download a copy of the free patio cover plans, visit strongtie.com.
Products used in pergola build: