Strolling MIll Valley with Natasha Kolenko, Floral Designer & Stylist

Photography by Ana Kamin

When Natasha Kolenko goes into her Sausalito-based studio, flower magic happens. The California native floral designer and stylist took our hearts by storm with her mesmerizing arrangements.

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ne glimpse at her Instagram and you will fall in love with her work, too. Thoughtfully curated, Natasha’s feed is full of soft color palettes, lively flowers, perfectly styled shots and bits of her life in the pristine North California town, Mill Valley. Every weddings season Natasha makes countless brides happy, but she also uses her creative skills as a prop stylist, working with renowned clients such as Sunset Magazine, Ten Speed Press, Bon Appetit — just to name few.
When she’s not playing with flowers and props, you can usually find her hiking along the coast, camping in the desert ( in winter!) or just having a relaxed time with her boyfriend. We spent a Sunday hanging out with Natasha in Mill Valley, and we might want to move to Mill Valley.
Read on and find out when Natasha’s day starts, how she unwinds from a busy weekend and where she finds inspiration.

 

*Natasha walking around El Paseo in Mill Valley. 

 

Since few years you call Mill Valley home base. And you just recently moved in with your boyfriend into a super cute house. Can you tell us, how is life in Mill Valley?

We love it here! We get to live near the city while being amongst nature. There are so many trails to choose from just outside the front door for hikes, trail runs, and for him, biking. We love the small-town community vibe, the great cafes, the weather, and all the beautiful redwoods that surround us! The only downside of living in such a beautiful quaint town is that it has also become a tourist destination and sometimes feels a bit congested with out-of-towners on the weekends.

We have been admiring your work as a stylist and floral designer. Your flower designs make us just swoon! Can you tell us a bit about your journey to where you are today in your life?

My current business and career was NEVER part of the plan! After studying biology and then interior design and trying out a few jobs in varying fields, this career path started to really take shape. I started working with flowers in college as a hobby. I was looking for a creative outlet, and my friends entrusted me to put together their wedding flowers (thank you!). After returning to the Bay Area and working at several residential interior design firms in SF, I branched out into styling working for Restoration Hardware where I learned some tricks and built up my “styling kit.” Today I (with the help of a rockstar team!) design and execute anywhere from 30+ weddings per year and have the pleasure of styling both editorial and commercial shoots for clients such as Lonny, Sunset, Food and Wine, and Outside Magazines, and Panera, Clorox, and Apple.

What is super cool about your job and what’s not so fun?

The two things I love most about my job are the people I meet; both clients and collaborators and that each day is different. I am fortunate to meet and work with clients for both wedding and shoots who through the process become lifelong friends. I also love that I am NEVER bored! Each wedding, event, and shoot brings a new crew together, comes with its own set of challenges, and stirs up inspiration and creativity. One of the biggest challenges I have is balancing work with my personal life. When you own your own business, you are never truly “off.” My brain often has numerous jobs and to-do lists buzzing around, and it takes persistence to learn to really turn it off (still struggling here!). I am often juggling shoots during the week and weddings on the weekends and am learning and starting to really appreciate the beauty of delegating tasks while building a killer team!

What would you do differently to make your work easier?

Delegate more and more! There are certain aspects of my job that I am hired to do, and I need and want to show up for personally, and then there are other behind-the-scenes work that I hope to continue to delegate more and more to teammates. We all end up learning from each other, and that’s part of the beauty of it! And this also helps minimize the painful 4am-10pm work days. :/

Any advice for someone looking to get into styling/flower design business?

I am completely self-taught in both fields, so I am not sure I am justified in doling out advice! I think there can sometimes be a misconception that working as a florist and stylist is all fun and games and beautiful all the time. This is FAR from the truth. The reality is that I probably spend no more than 10% of my time being creative and the other 90% schlepping, prepping, cleaning, and in front of the computer. There is a LOT of physical labor involved in both floristry and styling and the hours can be rough and expectations high. It’s not all fun and games, but the reward is great, and I am usually (although not always at 4 am) happy to do it all!

What is next on your to-do list? Can be anything from laundry to start a new business?

Learning and playing with growing my own flowers! We have a yard and have started a pretty fruitful veggie garden. I am working on a raised flower bed and have some roses, dahlias, and wildflowers in the ground. I can’t wait for them to all bloom!

What inspires you at the moment?

The outdoors. I am outside on the trails whenever I can be. Nature nurtures and inspires me. In both my floral arrangements and my styling, I like to keep things loose, organic, and uncontrived; natural. I like my flower arrangements to look as though they almost grew from the trees and my props imperfect and interesting, natural in texture and organic in shape.

And how can we imagine a typical stylist’s/flower designer’s day look like, from am to pm?

Up early and working late! The flower mart opens as early as 2 am, so when needed, that’s when my day starts. I visit my favorite vendors and gather up all my flowers and then head back to the studio. If I am juggling a shoot that same day, I will delegate the flower prep and some arranging to my team while myself and my props head to a shoot. Shoot days are often 10 hour days and require hefty loading and unloading. Pretty things are made and happen throughout the day, no doubt, but at the end of that kind of day, I am grateful to come home and plop on the sofa with my boyfriend.

We imagine being a whole day on the set or installing flowers for a big wedding is not all fun and yay! How do you keep your energy up during a busy week?

I don’t always; there are weeks that I bite off almost more than I can chew and I crash and burn by the end…needing a real recharge to get going again. I am getting better at pacing myself and reserving time for myself. Even 30 minutes in the morning to sort out the day’s to-do’s over my coffee can clear my head and get me motivated to tackle the list.

What is your way to unwind from a stressful day or week?

Spending time in the fresh air! I love waking up and having my cup of coffee slowly at home and then hitting my favorite trails, exploring new ones, and just wandering the hills for hours.

Ok, and now few questions about California…

The thing that makes you happy about where you live?

I think I probably went on and on about this in the first question! But additionally, California has all this outdoor girl could ask for; beaches, mountains, deserts are all accessible within a few hours drive. I’ve lived in CA my whole life, and there is still so much to explore!

What is your favorite road trip in California?

I love driving down to Southern California, specifically Laguna Beach, and then cutting over inland to visit friends and favorite places. I now call this trip the “auntie rounds” because a few of my closest friends in SoCal now have babies and I always try to visit these sweet faces on my treks south. I make sure to stop in San Luis Obispo, where I spent my college years. It’s always fun to revisit the old stomping grounds and explore new spots. And Palm Springs, although an hour out of the way from my childhood bestie, it’s also a must stop spot for a great meal, sunshine, and cacti hike.

Where should we go for a weekend getaway?

Palm Springs! Cool architecture, great (sweaty!) cactus hikes, hip restaurants/bars, the best pools, and all the sunshine!

How would you spend your perfect Saturday?

The perfect Saturday starts with coffee and breakfast on the deck before packing the day pack and heading out on a long hike up and over Mt. Tam to one of the beaches. It might include a picnic with a view, a beer break at Pelican Inn, or an ice cream treat at the finale.

We know you are a very outdoorsy person. Didn’t you spend New Year’s Eve in Yosemite in a tent? We are shivering by just thinking about it. Tell us your ultimate outdoor experience?

Yes! Jason and I backpacked in Yosemite to ring in the New Year. It was cold, and there was snow on the ground, and yes we slept in a tent! We hiked up and out of the valley and woke up to an epic view of Half Dome right in front of our tent. The further you trek away from civilization, the closer you start to feel to nature and earth. You get to see and experience things most will never. That excites me! My ultimate outdoor experience can be anything from an epic backpacking trip to an al fresco dinner with a view; strapping a pizza to the back of J’s motorcycle, heading to the top of Tam, and having a pizza picnic while the sun drops into the ocean.

Your three go-to restaurants in Mill Valley?

Playa! – Great new take on Mexican food! Really delicious inventive cocktails and inspiring decor.
Honeymoon Ice Cream – because, ice scream! And they have the most unique flavors! Brown butter plum, please!
Mill Valley Beer Works – I have a soft spot for this place because it’s where Jason and I met. 🙂 And the beers are great, and they make one of my favorite burgers. YUM.

Where should we shop in Mill Valley?

For interiors, Summerhouse is a must! From fluffy down sofas and one-of-a-kind kilim rugs, it’s all so beautiful in there. For clothing, I love Branded. They have a little bit of everything; soft tees, party dresses, and fun hats. And if you are shopping for a gift, Pollen + Wool has something for everyone; clothing, specialty homewares, and the cutest baby blankets and toys.

A hotel, you cannot wait to stay at?

Timber Cove in Jenner! Not too much beats falling asleep to a cozy fire and waking up to coffee with an ocean view, whale watching from the balcony, exploring nearby trails and coastline, and dining on all that local seafood. I’m coming for you asap, Timbercove! Can’t think of a better place to rest and reboot.

 

If we have only 12 hours in Mill Valley, what should we do … Where do you take out-of-town friends?

Start with a coffee at Equator…and while you are at it, get one of their delicious savory waffles! After fueling up hit the trail for a 12 mile (possibly longer if you detour!) round trip hike to Stinson beach and back. You will get the best of both worlds of what the area has to offer as far as scenic hills and vistas and coastline. Take a nice long lunch break on the patio of Parkside Cafe in Stinson and then head back up and over the mountain back into town. Pack a headlamp in case you get caught in the dark on the way back!

Best kept California secret…

I have some very secret special camping spots, but I am going to keep them just that way, secrets! You’ll have to come along to find out where!

What do you love most about California?

I love the variety of activities available, the amount of outdoor beauty to explore, and being close to my family and all my childhood friends.

Thank you, Natasha!

-as told to California Weekend 
*Photography by Ana Kamin

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