Debra Prinzing

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Santa Barbara Style – indoors and outdoors

April 26th, 2009

A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

A tapestry of showy succulents, designed by Botanik

Erin (Keosian) Taylor’s  cool plant and design emporium called Botanik was one of my very first garden discoveries when I moved to Southern California in late summer of 2006.

I have Gillian Mathews, another awesome garden retailer who created Ravenna Gardens in Seattle, to thank for the introduction.

In September 2006, Gillian and Theresa Malmanger created and led the “Los Angeles-Santa Barbara Garden Tour” for the Northwest Horticultural Society. So I piggybacked on that trip and joined all my Seattle pals only 3 weeks after I moved here. I was in for a treat!

It turns out that I needed Gillian and Theresa to be my “guides” to begin to understand my new backyard.

It was the best gift they could have shared. The three-day garden extravaganza gave me a front seat tour to some amazing private gardens, public gardens and retail outlets. It fed my spirit and soul as I got to pal around with several very special, dear friends.It made me begin to realize that I was going to be “okay” living here because I started viewing SoCal’s horticultural and garden design world through the eyes of these savvy Seattle folks. That began my long education as to just how cool my new environs are.

One of our stops was the coastal village of Summerland, where Botanik occupies two cute cottages. Created by Erin Taylor, a fresh, young talent who has an amazing eye for design and a solid footing in horticulture, Botanik captured my imagination for gardening with succulents in a whole new way.

Since then, over the past few years, I’ve visited Summerland whenever I could (it’s only a few miles south of Santa Barbara off of Hwy. 101). Erin is inspiring, creative, and refreshingly casual in her design approach. She and staff designer, Molly Hutto create succulent displays like I’ve never before seen. Their creations are oft-copied but never surpassed in composition – with delicious succulent textures, colors, forms and patterns.

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

Botanik's entry porch converted into a potted plant display

botanik7In 2007, Kate Karam and I produced a story about Botanik’s luscious succulent designs for a future Cottage Living story. We had such a great time working with Erin and Molly that day. The designs they came up with were to die for! Sadly, as you all know, Cottage Living ceased publication after the December 2008 issue and we all miss it (we miss garden editor Kate, too!) Who knows where that film will surface or whether it will at all (I’m hoping Sunset picks it up, since it’s a sister magazine).

Not one to sit around and wait, I was recently fortunate to interest another editor in Botanik. Well, that’s not fair to say because I haven’t met an editor or publication yet NOT isn’t interested in Erin and Botanik!

But, earlier this spring, Erin graciously agreed to let 805 Living create a story around her natural design philosophy for interior and exterior spaces.

My story appears in the April issue of 805 Living, with photographs by Gary Moss. Here it is for you to read and enjoy. And for those of you planning a Garden Pilgrimage to Santa Barbara (Lotusland, Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, etc.) don’t leave town without stopping in Summerland to visit Botanik.

You’ll thank me (seriously, those succulents don’t take up much room – and you can buy a lot of 2-inch pots of them to stuff inside your handbag to carry home on the airplane!).


By Debra Prinzing | Photography by Gary Moss

A sweet birdie perches on the cover of 805 Living, photographed at Botanik by Gary Moss

A sweet birdie perches on the cover of 805 Living, photographed at Botanik by Gary Moss

Erin Taylor has an affinity for sea, sand and sky. It’s a fitting design philosophy, given that she has spent the past decade as proprietor of Botanik in Summerland, a pair of home and garden boutiques just a seashell’s toss away from the ocean’s edge.

Taylor’s interior and exterior designs are natural and organic, and they reflect the textures, patterns, silhouettes, and finishes of her coastal California lifestyle. “The more rustic, unfinished and minimally processed, the better,” she insists. “The palette that inspires me is weathered teak and driftwood.”

Taylor favors displaying such eclectic elements – like the timeworn treasures you discover washed up on the beach – as a way to enliven any space. These pieces, with a sun-washed, slightly distressed patina, are made more beautiful by her understated way of combining them.


Taylor likes to work with a soft spectrum of French gray, unbleached white, indigo blue and cocoa brown. These colors become a room’s canvas, upon which she adorns and embellishes with found objects, personal collections and mementos from her travels.

The talented and lovely Erin Taylor (center), amid favorite botanical ingredients

The talented and lovely Erin Taylor (center), amid favorite botanical ingredients

She likens this natural palette to having a classic wardrobe that one updates with a few key accessories. “I like to keep the foundation really neutral and avoid falling into trends,” she explains, then “you can build with layers, accessorize with new pieces, and change an entire space with throws, pillows and plants.”

Taylor selects furnishings made from recycled or unfinished wood (think sun-bleached driftwood, reclaimed elm or weathered timber). Exotic accents, such as side tables, benches, and picture frames, hail from Indonesia, India or France. Upholstered pieces are cloaked in soft, neutral cotton, vintage linens or hand-printed textiles. “I like to blend patterns, textures, shapes – layers. I take inspiration from my travels and from all these different countries,” she says.

Elements of nature are embellishments, too: Rustic branches, lush foliage, swelling buds, and delicate blooms represent the ever-changing seasons. “I find beauty in cutting naked gray branches of liquidambar trees and in the beauty of their structure as they fill up a container,” she says.

Graceful sprays of flowers are ever-present in Taylor’s rooms, displayed one bloom color at a time. “It changes the atmosphere. I might use all white orchids; or create a different mood with all chartreuse flowers,” she suggests. This philosophy is just as appealing with other singular blossoms:  pink-flowering Prunus branches, daffodils from the farmer’s market, California wildflowers or the summer roses in sunset hues.


Erin and Molly designed the tabletop, complete with echeveria place card holders

Erin and Molly designed the tabletop, complete with echeveria place card holders

When Taylor created Botanik in 1999, she renovated side-by-side beach cottages (a turn-of-the-century Victorian cottage and a 1920s beach bungalow) to house what was originally her floral design and wedding business. Over time, especially in the past five years, Botanik has grown into a retail “resource for designers, collectors, and plant enthusiasts” reflecting Taylor’s eclectic interests. Nature-inspired furnishings, pottery and glass, textiles, artwork, lighting, and gifts are displayed side-by-side with flowers and plants. The floral shop has become a thriving landscape design studio and specialty plant nursery (Taylor has a degree in environmental horticulture from Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo).

The mood here is straightforward, easy, simple, and uncontrived. Each design decision reveals another facet of the narrative. As style director and buyer, Taylor selects everything from reproduction botanical prints and bud vases to pillows and mirrors with the spirit of a curator. She asks only that a piece is beautiful, unusual, made with integrity and above all, functional.

“We’re telling a story and it has to feel cohesive with the cottages and the setting,” Taylor says. The overall feeling is relaxed and unpretentious. She likes spaces to have welcoming atmospheres, perfect for the owner to feel like coming home from a walk on the beach, brushing the sand off her bare feet, and emptying her pockets of bits of broken pottery, colored glass, shells, and driftwood. Ideally, such displays, whether on a tray, or windowsill, or patio table, should immediately transport someone to the ocean’s edge.


Use living plants in unusual ways:

A collection of miniature vases, just the right size for grape hyacinth stems

A collection of miniature vases, just the right size for grape hyacinth stems

Botanik is known for its stunning succulent displays that look lush and vibrant even on dry, hot summer days. The alluring tapestry-like succulents, clustered in a spectrum of blue-gray, green, gold and purple hues, spill from Botanik’s bowls, trays, troughs and saucers.

When she has to trim back the plants, Taylor saves the clipped Echeveria rosettes to decorate her tabletops. They can thrive out of water and soil for a considerable period of time. (In fact, the cuttings may soon develop hair-like roots so they can be replanted).

“I use them as napkin embellishments or for place card holders,” she says. “You can also insert place cards in camellias, gardenias, a little pile of rose petals or a slice of fruit from the garden.”

 Clip a single stem for dramatic impact

Coming from a noted floral designer, it’s refreshing to hear that humble sprigs and sprays – and even lone flowers – have a role in decorating our homes. To show off fresh-picked blooms, Taylor arranges them in a cluster of petite, hand-blown vases. “This is a little collection that can sit on a night stand or as a vignette. You can add a few stems from the garden or make little posies to display,” she says. Each vessel is only a few inches in size. But when several are grouped together, they can serve the same purpose as a more substantial floral arrangement.

Make a bold statement by repeating basic shapes

805april006805april006Botanik’s beach cottages are intimate in scale, so every design decision has to carry its own weight and more. Taylor decorates using geometric forms in different sizes, repeating them for drama. Spheres, globes and orbs are particularly appealing.

Rounded plant forms, such as clipped balls of boxwood, myrtle or other evergreen shrubs, are paired with non-plant orbs, such as stone, concrete, or wicker balls. A recent find – preserved boxwood in the classic sphere shape – is appealing for its durability (they measure 8- to 14-inches in diameter). The preserving technique ensures that the foliage doesn’t fade. Yet the material looks better than living boxwood on a dark, covered veranda or indoors. “Use them where everything else dies for you,” Taylor suggests. “You can even spritz them now and then to keep the material from drying out.”

Borrow from nature and bring it indoors

“I love finishes from nature, rather than something that has a high lacquer,” Taylor says. “I design not so much by bringing an unexpected plant indoors but by selecting the textures and materials you’d find in nature.” Whether it’s a trestle table fashioned with elm planks salvaged from a riverbed or textiles block prints created with natural indigo dyes, Taylor seeks authenticity. Against all this grounded, rough and organic materials, she juxtaposes small gem-like accents. “Delicate, feminine shapes balance the rustic,” she says.

 Botanik is located at 2329 Lillie Ave., Summerland, California; (805- 565-3831 or



3 Responses to “Santa Barbara Style – indoors and outdoors”

  1. Living in the Garden Says:

    I wasn’t planning a garden tour to S.B but NOW I am!
    Lotusland is another garden on my list of must see…
    Thanks for the itinerary.

  2. Dee/reddirtramblings Says:

    Can’t believe you’ve been in California since 2006. I have the sweetest little pot which just cries for a succulent mixture. I wish I could fly there and go with you for a visit. We would have so much fun.~~Dee

    Dee/reddirtramblings’s last blog post..Rain Music

  3. Mary Ann Says:

    well, that is just gorgeous. GORGEOUS! I want a copy of that article. That mag.
    .-= Mary Ann´s last blog ..Dear Friends and Gardeners, Week 24 (24???!!!) =-.

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