Anyone who has worked extensively as an artist or maker is probably familiar with long hours spent alone in a workspace with just a dream and maybe a pet or ficus plant for company. Whole days can pass without human contact, and if the mailman or a UPS driver happens by, the eye contact and exchange of words is like a glass of cool water after getting lost on a remote desert trail in July. Solitude can be a crucial ingredient for bringing a project to fruition, but it can also be an artist’s greatest challenge—a void where conditions are prime for loneliness and self-doubt to take root.
When Julie Martin of the floral design company Willi Wildflower outgrew her garage and signed a lease on a well-lit corner space in Soquel Village, she knew she’d have to get creative to manage the overhead—especially with the seasonality of her business, which offers organic flower arrangements to order, as well as living arrangements and a specialty in container gardens, home styling and decor consulting.
What she didn’t realize was that she’d create not only a storefront brimming with rustic boho chic, but also an antidote to artistic isolation. In less than a year, her Craftsmen Collective has blossomed into a platform for artists to connect, collaborate and create. There is workspace in the back for both Martin and Lauren Rhodes of the custom letterpress outfit Waldo Press (with room for one more resident artist), while the shop displays a rotation of art, jewelry and home decor crafted by 11 local female artisans.
“It wasn’t intentional, that’s just the way it happened to unfold,” says Martin of the all-woman lineup. “As the collective began to develop, I’ve found I really enjoyed sharing space and showcasing other female artists. I think it’s important for women in our community to be represented and have a workspace to gather, inspire and support one another.”
The collection of quality crafted items Martin curates fits her impeccable design aesthetic—from ceramics and furniture to textiles, glassware, a smattering of vintage bags, and so much more. “One of the best aspects of this process has been discovering all the talent within our community,” she says.
And while the retail aspect of the collective is rewarding, Martin most loves to see what comes out of the regular workshops held there. “My dream would be to evolve into a collective workspace that hosts art and craft events, and have the shop become a showroom for our resident artists,” she says.
But at the convergence of art and nature, the living, breathing wares remain a vibrant and top-selling attraction, and include an assortment of houseplants ranging from succulents and tilandias to ferns, fiddle figs, pothos and more.
“We want our customers to have happy, healthy plants, so we always have some easy-to-care-for, low-maintenance plants in stock,” she says. One of her current favorites is the ficus elastica in the less-common blush and cream-variegated versions. “They are foolproof and fill out a space nicely while adding a subtle pop of color. Anytime we find something unusual or different, we snap them up, so check the shop regularly for unique varietals, like our recent dark-purple hanging lipstick plant.”
The Craftsmen Collective has come a long way since its inception last May, and Martin couldn’t have done it alone.
“When I first started, I just had flowers and plants,” says Martin. “I was hustling to try to get my doors open in time for Mother’s Day, and had placed some orders with artists, but nothing had arrived yet. My friend Kristina Costanzo came by and helped me with the buildout and just started making things to help fill out the shop—furniture, jewelry, pillows.”
When I stop in on a sunny Friday afternoon, Martin is sitting at the counter that separates the workspace from the treasure-filled storefront. Bits of moss and driftwood, soil and air plants, and a pallette of wet paints litter her workbench. Behind her, Rhodes sets the wheel of her antique wrought iron printing press into motion. Martin’s cell phone rings. “Hey Kristina,” she answers, “you comin’ down to work?”