One long and lovely mass of loveliness

I am a grateful man.  I look at a life that is filled with family and friends that I cherish.  I live in the most beautiful city in the world.  (That is San Francisco for those of you who may be, um, living under a rock).  My career is built on my love of beautiful things and the great privilege of brining beautiful things to clients near and far.


I was tasked with helping a cherished client in thanking the growers that make wine possible.  As the son of a landscape architect, who has been digging in the dirt for, um, decades, I am well aware of the work that goes into growing fruits and flowers.  Good land stewardship is essential.  Napa is, after all, first an agricultural region and I think it is important to remember how much goes into the flowers you see, the food you eat and the wine you drink.

Using berries and nuts and fruit and pods and then moving into flowers, primarily the most wonderful white anemone, I took to the studio for hours, creating a 20 foot long never ending centerpiece.


It is a challenge, as one creates piece after piece to keep the dimensions perfect.  (I used pre-oasis’d plastic 12″ containers, built one at a time)  After all, it is like putting together a puzzle, one that must be absolutely perfect.  Thankfully, I am a bit obsessive and so I measured each and every one and “tweaked” where necessary.  Here is a close up.


The candles are wrapped in bark, the linen is Mushroom linen and the attitude is all gratitude, all graciousness.  I love what I do.

Wishing you all a life full of gratitude.  And yes, one hears about gratitude a lot.  I am often not in the mood to be grateful as I make my way down Divisadero en route to Oak en route to the Bay Bridge.  I may not always be ready to be grateful but what I can say for sure is that my life is bigger, fuller and richer; I am attracted and attractive to the finest people when I take a minute to remember for how much we all have to be grateful.

Get some flowers!  Get a sustainable block of oasis and shove it into a cute vintage coffee cup.  Get a vase and fill it will the oasis and start plugging in any flowers you can find.

Have fun!



Chickening out on Scorpions? Or Making the Right Culinary Decision.

The inimitable David Gingrass and his beautiful and super smart partner Julie were having a cozy company lunch at the fantastic Spruce restaurant on Sacramento Street.  Spruce has a small, intimate and very beautiful private dining area, replete with fireplace, with a wonderful view of the street.   (That is a good thing on the 3400+ block(s) of Sacramento Street.  This ain’t 23rd and Mission yo.)


So what to do?  What to do for successful financial management folks who go to all the parties, see all the talent here in the Bay Area, who see the endless parade of beautiful flowers available in our fair town by any number of super talented artists?  Well, I took a look in my shed, (I love having a shed) and saw this wonderful palm sheath.  The rather phallic sheath appears in Spring, loaded with dates and after it splits open to reveal the fruit, it often dries in the most fabulous shapes.  Because the table at Spruce is narrow, so must the centerpiece be.


As you may know, I do a lot of interior design and after working with Kyle Minor on a fabulous table for a client in Clarendon Heights, I decided to employ the same brilliant technique of dipping the sheath in fine gold paint, like we did the legs of a custom hand carved table.  It turned out quite chic.  The rest is pretty self-explanatory.

But then as I stared at what I thought was a lovely and unique expression of beauty, I thought too of how it might have been a touch too beautiful.  I wanted to compromise it a bit, I wanted to destroy it.  Actually, I just thought of adding highly venomous black Scorpions as a deliciously naughty and highly unexpected compliment to all of this sickening beauty.  I loved it but then realized it may not suit the guests as they munched on say, mollusks or anything crunchy.  So I chickened out.  Though I secretly love the look.  Where is my goth bride!!!!





The set up and execution was super easy.  You all can do this with Oasis foam and a bit of protection with any number of plastic products.  Think of the oasis as coloring in between the lines and you could use a hallowed out orange (also a good way to make use of another fine bit of foliage) as a centerpiece.  Love me some oasis for SHORT TERM flower arrangements.


With our without the Scorpions?  I would love your thoughts.





Have fun, and remember fresh cuts and warm clean water.

Bright Coral, Suede, and a Lily the Color of Pink Washed Cement. i.e. a flower arrangement

There is a marvelous woman, a beautiful talented marvelous woman for whom I adore making flower arrangements.  Margaret is an internet guru and one hell of a karaoke-er.  I have been known to grab the mic, dazzling onlookers with a Broadway inspired rendition of “Afternoon Delight”, but I digress.

Margaret’s colleagues at Facebook asked me to create something for her birthday.  Initially I thought of getting out the glue gun and going for it.  You know how I do.  But instead, I thought of something more elegant, a touch reserved and super luscious.

How delicious is the view from my studio!
How delicious is the view from my studio!

Margaret likes orange, as do I (OH!!! the David Austin bare root roses are filling the local nurseries and I highly recommend Princess Margaretta-a rich orange rose that stinks to high heaven of classic old rose.  I just bought two along with some super-duper fabulous Claire Austin roses and of course the inimitable Barbra Streisand rose.  (Don’t even try it-she and it are sublime.)

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Fabulous Wine Cave and the Never Ending Beauty of Harlan and BOND Estates. (Oh, and a rose the color of a Sham-wow!)

Let’s celebrate fine living.  Let’s also celebrate my new favorite rose, one that is a touch overpriced but worth it.  “Combo”, a modestly named hybrid, is the color of a dry Sham-wow and feels like leather.  It lasts forevz,  goes with everything and opens to a heavenly spiral of firm, suede-like petals.


But first, fine living.  I welcome you to go on a walk with me to a tasting area in the caves at the fabled BOND estate in Napa Valley.  Of course you are met with a glass of Krüg as the large and heavy iron doors open to a maze of barrels hung by special mechanical arms created just for the winery by  engineers in Italy.  The caves are perfect in every way.


We stroll through the slightly macabre but nonetheless striking hallways of the caves and come upon a clearing.  Here we are greeted by winery staff, and we sit to taste the wine whose cult following speaks not only of the beauty of the wine, but how difficult it is to get, and how precious the juice.  And yes, the lighting is indeed that low and that sexy.


Now up to dinner in the tastefully appointed living room of the winery.  The solid 27 foot table is perfect for entertaining and here, along with oodles of wine glasses, carefully selected to accompany the outrageous food of Chef Kostow of Meadowood, one finds simple wooden boxes of “Combo” roses designed in a pavé style, (fancy talk for “in a row”) nesting comfortably in wooden boxes adorned with antique brass handles.  The tablecloth is wheat colored linen with a wonderful carbonated metallic underlay.  The linen has been pressed to perfection.


There is something so wild about Napa in the winter.  It is a bit like enjoying a 25th year of Christmas and New Year’s in San Francisco.  What I mean by that is that there is a thinning of the population that seems to correspond with a swelling of the landscape.  The moss on the trees, the green of the grass and the absence of tourists driving way to slow taking photo of themselves next to that silly wooden sign welcoming visitors to the “greatest wine region in the world”.  It gets quiet, it gets local, it gets naughty.  Delicious!


Box:  Container store

Hardware:  Purchased on-line and hot glued to the cylindrical holes cut out on either side of the “IN/OUT Box” box that I bought at the Container Store

Roses:  Any will do, these are “Combo”

Quantity:  Depends on the spread and petal count of the rose or flower you choose to.  I would stay with roses.  These took 20 stems per box as they open to about 4 inches.

MECHANICS:  I placed a double layer of black plastic (UNSCENTED!!!) trash bags, enough to drape over the entire box with excess-one trash bag folded in half should do.  I used 3 blocks of Oasis foam and lightly trimmed the last block with a thin knife to fit snugly into the box.  Trim excess plastic bag and discard.


Now simply push the roses into the foam being careful to check the rim of the box.  You do not want the roses to look smashed and you also do not want to see the green foam between the roses.  This can be tricky and often I will pull out a rose and replace with another.  Think of it as a puzzle of sorts.



Place in a single row along the table and use a measuring tape to be sure the distance between each box is the same.  I start with one in the middle of the table and then I place arrangements at either end.  Measure the remaining space and do all sorts of rudimentary math to figure out how much space you have and then place the remaining boxes.  At this extraordinary dinner there were 7 boxes.

What is so good about this style of modern but traditionally tailored flower arranging is that it is so easy to do.  Once you have all the yummy foam to work with, you just start poking at it with flowers or fruits, vegetables, grasses, whatever your heart desires.  And should you not like the placement of the flowers you can simply pull out the stems and try again.  Do be mindful however, not to poke to hard or often at the foam.  From this foam the flowers get their water.  In short, try not to trash the foam and if you do, simply replace with a new block.

OH!!!! I almost forgot the most important part.  When using Oasis foam, a marvelous invention that gobbles up many more times its mass in water, be sure to have a sink or a bucket larger than the length of the Oasis block filled with water.  Very gently drop the block from about 2″ above the water and let the block slowly drink.  This is essential.  Should you try to push the block into the water or you rush the process in any way, air bubbles with form and your flowers will perish mid meal.  I will often fill my studio sink with dry blocks and then slowly fill the sink with running water that does not make contact the the blocks.  This way I can get many blocks hydrated at one time.

Okay, so here is a piece of an extraordinary life.  Go grab some for yourself.

Have fun!


Super Simple Arrangement For Your Table After a Trip to CB2

Despite the constant desire to achieve perfection with flowers and design, there are times when a simple approach to flower arranging, a quick and easy arrangement is just what the doctor ordered.  In this particular case, an idea sprang to me after eating a salad, and staring at all of the vases in my studio that needed to be washed.  In short, I was a touch irritated that my regular lunch routine, one full of bready carbs with a cozy Diet Coke and a cupcake, had been supplanted by a modest bowl of lightly dressed greens and a trifle touch of skinless chicken breast.  Such is the price for an end to an increasing waist line and a metaphorically shrinking wardrobe.  In short, I was not at all in the mood for anything complicated.  This particular arrangement was going to be simple, easy and beautiful.

So let’s get started.

All that you need is a cozy vase.  Sometimes that is truly the best inspiration.  In this case I used this super easy to work with, versatile, and attractive vase from my friends at CB2.  Take a look at it.  Think about it for a sec.  For those that cook, I would imagine the same things comes from looking at a pan or the inside of the fridge.  For a gardener it is a patch of dirt.

Off to the flower mart where I purchased the always lovely and abundant Dusty Miller along with some gorgeous claret/purple calla lilies.  I was going to work in twos this time.

So I simply placed a full bunch of the gray Dusty Miller in the vase and let it fall to the left.  I took a stem or two out of the bunch for accents and then “filled” the empty spaces with Calla Lilies.  Then, I went back and filled in again with the remaining stems of Dusty Miller and voila!

Now I know I make it sound easy and I do not want to discredit the frustration that comes with working with a wider mouthed vase.  However, if you simply plop a full bunch of greenery in the vase and then look for the blank spots, you may find you are doing just what you did when you were a kid and first learned how to enjoy a coloring  book or a piece of construction paper.

Have fun, treat yourself to a good pair of clippers (NEVER use scissors) and Happy New Year again to all of you!

Seedaholic and the Quest to Grow the Elusive Blue Poppy

I just received my super cozy, and decidedly well packaged package of seeds from a delightful nursery in Ireland.  (God bless the internet.)  Seedaholic is a place that I found in the wee hours of the morning, as I dig deeper and deeper into the world of rare and exotic flowers from across the globe.  The seeds came stapled to handouts citing nomenclature, habitat, sowing instruction and photos.  SO COZY!


My garden has long since been amended, as the soil in SF tends to be heavy clay.  Trusty Reynaldo got out the shovel and with 30 bags of compost he dug the entire garden down 12″ creating a fluffy but still a touch dense canvas of soil in and on which I have been planting like a madman.  Yes, this is indeed an obsession of mine, planting bulbs, corms, seeds, tubers, rhizomes, etc etc etc.  (No veggies as I have yet to satisfy my thirst for a garden resplendent with blooms, accented by fine conifers.)


The only problem with this obsession. (Is there not always a troublesome quirk that irks when one is obsessed?) I cannot remember where I planted all my 1,240 bulbs.  So I gently raked the soil into a fine tilth and after sitting quietly and staring at the open spaces, trying to remember where the Casablanca Lilies and daffodils and fritillaria and hyacinths were planted, I began to sow the seeds.  And while many of these may not make it as I am unwilling to follow the oft tiresome instructions of constant temperatures and thrice transplanting, I am confident that the soil is in a sufficient state to nourish the likes of Himalayan Blue Poppy, Bunny Tails, Windflower, Sunflowers (YAY!) and the ever fair and super easy White Cosmos among other fantastic varieties.

I am super grateful to have a garden.  And while it is not the best look, I often find my hands blissfully beaten up and callused from work in the dirt.  I never wear gloves.  When I need gloves for roses and blackberries, I, well, I call staff and have them take care of that part.  I just hate the feeling of gloves on my hands, but I digress.

  I know not everybody in our fair city has access to the ground.  But I guaran-damn-tee you that there are plenty of places in town that could use a quick planting of say sunflowers or nasturtiums.  Additionally, there are many beautiful plants and flowers that one can grow in containers INSIDE and outside of your apartment, condo or home.  Surprisingly to most, the number one and two killers of indoor plants are overwatering and lack of fresh air respectively.  So should you choose to keep plants and or flowers in your home, and to grow them yourself, please remember they are tougher than you think, and like you, they like a bit of sun on their face and fresh air.

I will be sure to keep you posted about progress and germination.  Many of you reading this will be the lucky recipient of some of the jewels in my garden in forthcoming arrangements.  Others will have the opportunity to be part of a fundraising Easter Egg Hunt I am planning for friends and clients to benefit organizations who are dedicated to brining musical instruments into classrooms.  By then, the garden will be an embarrassment of riches-the perfect backdrop for my weighty French toast and fluffy cheesy eggs.  Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s of course.

Get in the dirt!  Smell it and touch it.  Find yourself wiping a dirty hand across your forehead and breathe in the deep sweet air that is all around you.


John James

Merriment Post Mortem

I am only partially glad that the holidays are over.  There is indeed an ennui that permeates the season for me though it is also a time of great abundance-friends getting together for dinner, quiet time by the fire with my precious Kitty Pies, and of course the opportunity to work with my fantastic clients, those that are willing to step a touch out of the box for holiday décor that is simultaneously appropriate and dazzling.


Yes, I am glad to be rid of the glitter, but truth be told, there is something wildly satisfying about glitter and glue.  I collected some wonderful and unique species of cones from local confers and found this natural touch, completely adorned with the unnatural glitter to be a striking combo for the Christmas tree.


In no real order, here are some photos of the installation at the Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences. Special thanks to Kathi Lee Mayer and to Becky Follo for their expert help (and delicious wine for staff) as well as to the concierge and valet at this fantastic institution.

The trees, as evidenced by a previous video of my trip to the Emerald Forest on 19th and Sloat, were beautiful Silver Tip Firs.  These are perfect for hanging ornaments and of course for pining over 200 Papillio Ulysees butterflies.



On one of the floors there is a lounge for the residents.  This exclusive area has a handsomely stocked bar with wine lockers, a delightful coffee machine, TV, lounge chairs and a cozy patio. Many a’ time one can find good friends laughing and chatting over a bottle of Screaming Eagle or sipping on a fine whiskey.  In this somewhat cool area, (I am speaking of the color and fabric), I opted for a classic topiary completely covered in glitter as well as hanging chocolate silk satin ribbons with glittered dove tails to adorn the fireplace mantle.  In a slightly austere but nonetheless sophisticated environment, the look worked quite well.

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Good match to the floor huh?

And so we say goodbye to another holiday season, one that I found to be delightfully full of friends and laughter, a touch of irritation at the downtown drivers during “The Storm of the Century” and a whole lot of Chinese food at the inimitable Mama Ji’s on 18th and Eureka.  I am a grateful man.







How cozy is this lobby!


To all of my good friends, most valued clients and my gifted and much appreciated staff, I wish you abundance, peace and adventure in this new year.  And remember, fresh cuts and warm clean water for the flowers I know you have resolved to keep around you at all times.


John James

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

The Ritz-Carlton, a company known for the repetitive and never tired “my pleasure” as an answer to any request, is a place where making things pretty comes quite easily.  Two 12″ trees flank the entrance to the Ritz Residences on Market Street here in our fair town.  I decided on tall structural Silver Tips (my fave), carefully decorated with bronze ornaments.

Initially I had thought about going all au naturel, using nothing but glittered cones and pods and seeds, and then covering the trees with hundreds of Papillio Ulysees butterflies.  Then, as the days progressed, I realized that people really do like a bit of bling on their trees.  So I visited my favorite Long Island madame at the Kurt Adler showroom and purchased some really beautiful gold and bronze ornaments to compliment the cones and nuts I did use.

So I want to introduce you to this very simple and SUPER CHIC little ornament, one that can be made quite easily.  All you need are:




Chestnuts (fresh)

Brass eye hooks from the hardware store (preferably mixed sizes in a cozy plastic box)

Elmer’s Glue (with a touch of water)

A ramekin

GOOD glitter (see and a spoon

A paper plate to catch the additional glitter that does not stick to the nut or cone

A blotter, paint brush or a lightly wetted clean sponge


Prepare a hanging area which could be something as simple as a shish kabob skewer that is weighted down at one end.  You will thread the skewer with the chestnuts after you apply the glitter.  

First you take the eye hook and gently screw it into the top of the FRESH chestnut (or at the bottom of a pine cone)

Then you carefully pinch the eye hood as you dip the nut into about 3/4″ of glue that you have in the ramekin, slightly watered down.  You can use your fingers or a pair of rabbit ears. Lift out of the glue and let the extra glue drip away and blot the “tip” of the nut with a wet sponge but do not wipe away the glue.

Spoon a fine glitter (fine as in texture and quality) over the nut as you gently turn it for full coverage.

Thread the skewer with the nut and let it hang dry.

The next day you will be free to gently brush away any additional glitter and thread with a thin ribbon.  Voilá, you have a beautifully scaled and very elegant ornament for your tree, or frankly with a cute cap sleeve T-shirt, good jeans and good shoes, you have a very elegant necklace.  (Too big for earrings)

I made 40 of these in 2 hours.  Wrap in soft tissue paper (not paper towels) and store for the following year.  They will last forevz.

HINT:  Should some of the glitter fall away over the years, use an even more diluted glue “solution” and gently, and with a small fine brush, apply a thin layer of glue over the affected area. Gently apply a fine and gentle stream of glitter.  (You do not want the ornament to appear chunky or sloppy-heavens no!)




Last photo courtesy of the magnificent and delightful Antonette Streeter.

Have fun!!! and Happy Happy Holidays from John James Designs.  May abundance and peace and gratitude be comfortably yours for now and always.  YES!!!!!

Monsieur Benjamin

Never been here, and for some strange reason I am not compelled to go.  Perhaps one of you can convince me that the food is good and I will give it a go.  But for now, I am not so much concentrating on the food as I am the cozy table and the flowers on it.


My dear friend Laura, who works with Silicon Valley Bank and WeWork, the co-working space start-up (now valued at 5B) in the TL here in town were having a birthday dinner for a colleague.  They wanted something sexy, a touch dark but also whimsical and pretty.  So off to work I went.

I thought it would be nice to have something at each setting-something that made the guests feel special, a trifle that could rest on the plate.  There is something so wonderful about going to a restaurant and seeing that one table amongst all the others that has been decorated thoughtfully for guests.  It makes people feel special and does not have to be a very elaborate affair, (though I love me some elaborate affairs).



These cozy Dusty Miller leaves were topped with a plant with the most wonderful pale yellow trumpets whose name escapes me at the moment.  I have so many plants in my garden now it is hard to keep track.  I will ask my friend Shiloh and get back to you all.  This particular plant does very well in the Bay Area and makes a delightful, albeit short stemmed cut flowers.



The flower arrangement, small enough not to be disruptive to conversation (IMPORTANT) and large enough to be exciting for the recipient (EVEN MORE IMPORTANT) was made of black calla lilies, dusty miller and Monarch butterflies in a simple 6″ glass cylinder.  Of course the guest of honor had one of the butterflies magically fly onto her place setting.  And while I am a bit on the fence about paper tablecloths, in this particular setting it worked.



Even if you just pluck some greenery out of your yard and add a touch of flowers to it, there is something so nice about bringing a floral centerpiece to a birthday table.  (It is also nice to keep a cozy box perhaps lined with some paper towels for the guest to use in transporting the flowers home.)

So there you have it.  A touch of floral coziness for good friends celebrating another good friend’s birthday.


Sherlock Holmes and the Place Card

I cannot take credit for this SUPER CUTE!!!! idea.  It is good for the kids, (especially) and for the kid at heart.

Okay, so these are photos from a birthday party for an older gentleman.  The stunning environment of BOND estate needed little to no amending.  However, the beautiful antique dining table just screams for flowers, food, friends, and fun so off to work I went with rich brown, orange and caramel colors.  Sounds simple enough right?


Well, in comes the one and only Kathryn Fowler with a party favor of magnifying glasses.  At each setting was an old fashioned paper ball in which lies a trifle, good fun, and the addition of the glasses was truly delightful.  Each magnifying glass had a different handle, good weight in the hand and so we set about placing them as well as the place cards.  I always wait, as I am sure others do, to put the place cards down last.

EEK!  The place cards were nowhere to be found.  We all looked at each other, knowing that no one’s handwriting was “good” enough to mimic the pros and suddenly Carissa asserts, “We should right the letters super small and have the guests use the magnifying glasses to find their place at the table”!!!  How cute is that?  (Granted this was a group of good friends totaling only 14.  I would not suggest this for a group larger than 30).



I wrote the smallest letters I could possibly write without making it impossible to see and though it does not show up well in the photos, when one scans the place card with the glass, POP!, the name becomes crystal clear.  Without the glass, one was, as my father would say, shit out of luck.


Any manner of magnifying glass will do.  I suspect one could order a less expensive version on Amazon.  So much fun!



Get inspired!!!

Have fun and don’t forget that the old wived tales are in fact not true.  Fresh cuts and fresh water, no additives, are all that flowers need.  (Just don’t forget to change the water every other day)