With more than 170k Instagram followers, Kiana Underwood has become one of the most in-demand floral designers in the US. We spent a day with her in San Francisco, starting at the flower market and ending in her beautiful, light-filled Potrero Hill studio.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATHALIE MARQUEZ COURTNEY
ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY BY CORBIN GURKIN
The sun is barely peeking out over the horizon. Cars whizz by, their lights bright against a dusky sky. Bleary eyed, I stand in what looks like a car park surrounded by low, industrial, unremarkable buildings. This is the life of a floral designer. It’s 7am, and I’m at the San Francisco flower mart to meet Kiana Underwood, possibly one of the most-beloved floral designers on Instagram. Her designs are distinctive, recognised by their lush, loose, asymmetric arrangements and unexpected colour combinations. In the short five years since she started, her work has featured in international bridal publications and some of the most popular design and wedding blogs. And it all starts here, with an early morning at the flower mart.
In person, Kiana is warm, quiet and unassuming. Her low, soothing voice is mirrored by calm, considered movements and she walks through the market, pointing out noteworthy flowers, stopping to chat to vendors and carefully selecting the candidates that will make it into her arrangements.
Back at the studio, which is all white walls and long, wooden counters, Kiana gets to work. With the tranquil hum of classical music filling the air, she begins to pull together a striking centrepiece.
Kiana likes to follow the curves and shapes of the blooms, creating a look that’s both refreshing and timeless, the natural flow of the flower from the vase highlighting its fleeting, evanescent nature. “I like to think about my arrangements as if I just picked them from the garden and dropped them in the vase,” she explains. “While it’s a bit more complicated than that, I think that my use of asymmetry, as well as unique floral varieties and fruits, is very natural. True ‘garden style’.”
Lush and vibrant, many of her pieces are inspired by paintings from Renoir and Degas. Her compositions look organic and effortless, and it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been doing this her whole life. “I started Tulipina in 2011 as a second career,” Kiana explains. “I grew up around flowers and always loved them, but pursued a career in international relations after receiving my Master’s degree in 2001.”
“Once I had children, I left my job and focused on being a full-time mother but, once my youngest started school, I realised that I needed to pursue a passion.” For Kiana, that passion was flowers, and, with some help from her husband Nate, she got a website up and running and Tulipina was born.
“It has been an amazing journey over the past five years,” she reflects, “and I am very thankful that I now get to work on something every day that I truly enjoy so much.” As well as creating pieces for weddings and events, Kiana leads sold-out workshops around the world and has even begun working on a book. “For both a literary agent and publisher to see value in my craft was a true career highlight of the year,” she smiles.
Watching her work is fascinating. It quickly becomes clear that the artistry lies in how she studies and reacts to each piece as it’s placed in the vessel. “It is rare that I have a specific ‘recipe’ in mind before I start creating,” she explains. “I often have a colour theme, especially for weddings, but I really allow floral availability to guide me.” She loves to mix non-conventional colours to create bold, striking works of art. When it comes to weddings, she loves that brides are beginning to move away from “traditional ‘cone-shaped’ bouquet and arrangements” and towards a looser, garden-style aesthetic.
What do her favourite bridal bouquets have in common?
“If I have my way, they are colourful, they probably have eight to ten different floral varieties in them and have a strong element of asymmetry.” In her own home, Kiana practises what she preaches. “I usually have several arrangements in various parts of my home and, I have to admit, I really enjoy the things that I create just for me.”