Blooms are more than just pretty in the hands of San Francisco floral designer Natalie Bowen Brookshire, who is known for her playful arrangements celebrating natural textures and silhouettes. With their own unique personalities, “flowers are a bit like people,” she explains. “We have memories associated with them, and they become the thing that brings us closer together.”
To Brookshire, flowers have always felt like part of the family. Her grandmother ran the flower shop at the Fairmont San Francisco in the 1940s, and her mother was a garden designer. Tagging alongside her mother on projects, flowers became “the background of my childhood,” recalls Brookshire. “Some of my first memories are of crawling around in someone’s garden.” Though Brookshire initially toyed with industrial design as a student at San Francisco State University, her garden memories proved too alluring after graduation. “I wanted to see where that interest took me,” recalls the designer. So she opened her own floral studio, Natalie Bowen Designs.
Brookshire’s free-flowing style embraces the individual qualities of each flower. In her bouquets, feathery ferns, wild grass plumes and elongated branches hang like tree boughs. Blossoms need not stand crowded at attention; she lets heavy-headed peonies and roses breathe, and naturally arch or dangle. Fluffy buds like mimosa flowers and bunny tails also add a cloud-like quality to her airier arrangements. “It’s all about the profile of the design, creating asymmetry and negative space,” she explains.
Finding the right flower is only part of the story. Brookshire also engages with the location, pulling color moods from the surroundings. For example, she favored the subdued hues of dry foliage to complement the soft organza dresses at local boutique Kamperett, while jewel-toned blooms and cascading vines suit the jewelry at Metier.
For her destination projects, flowers have taken her to truly special locales, from the beaches of Tulum, Mexico, to remote ranches in Montana, where the designs “gathered inspiration from the colors of the mountains and the sky,” says the designer. “I relate my work to the space that it’s in. It’s not about just making an arrangement, I want it to move in the space with intention.”
When conjuring this sense of atmosphere in Brookshire’s projects, scent often becomes the most powerful element—another way she makes flowers intimately connect with clients. The designer’s signature gardenias never fail to summon her own childhood remembrances. “So many people have a scent memory of something growing in their grandparents’ garden,” she says. As a floral designer, “It’s such a special thing to be a part of, continuing that memory for people.”