So you want to be a floral designer?


Courtesy of Jose Villa

Kiana Underwood arranges a summer floral piece with pink, beige, orange, green, and red accents. She grew up surrounded by flowers, including the garden of her grandfather.

by Gloria Zhang and Sara Yen

Kiana Underwood’s favorite flowers are ranunculuses and gardenias. Ranunculus’s organic movements and colors embodies her style as a nature-inspired floral designer. Unlike many florists or floral designers, she often uses fruit, such as apples and tomatoes, to accentuate texture.

Born and raised in Iran, Kiana Underwood grew up surrounded by flowers and beautiful gardens; her mother and grandfather tended luscious gardens. A big part of her culture encompasses flowers, and there was no expectation of a career in floristry or floral design because flowers were everywhere.

Underwood initially wanted to be a diplomat and travel the world to meet different people around the world. She went to Johns Hopkins University for her masters and also went to school in Washington D.C. for a year, and Bologna, Italy, for a year. She left the East Coast to be with her family in the Bay Area and later found a job at the Think Tank Institution at Stanford University; however, it was never her passion. Years later, when their children were old enough to attend school, she and her husband decided to explore floristry.

“I thought it was ridiculous to be a florist; who’s going to want me to do flowers for them? But, we didn’t have anything to lose,” she said. “I looked into social media, and started just experimenting with different styles and . . . what different styles and type of flowers I liked.”

The first year I didn’t have much business. I went to the flower market every week and explored what flowers were interesting for me. This was in 2011, and, six years later, here we are.”

Courtesy of JungIn Lee
Kiana Underwood poses with fresh bouquets of peonies. She wakes up at 5 a.m. to find a variety of newly picked flowers that interests her in San Francisco’s flower markets.

Underwood launched a boutique floral design studio, Tulipina, in San Francisco in 2011. Her work is showcased in many local and destination weddings. In addition to holding wedding banquets, she instructs international workshops with hundreds of students from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Italy, Russia, Ukraine and more.

“When I’m not traveling, I usually get up early in the morning and go to the flower [market]. This is before anyone in my household gets up, at around five a.m. The flower mart opens up early, so I’ll get to choose the best flowers,” she said.

To Underwood, the best part about being a floral designer is piecing her art together and making flowers. She loves three aspects of her career, in particular: having a creative outlet, working in weddings, and traveling all over the world to teach and meet new people.

“It’s a lot of cleaning up flowers in general. There’s a lot of work. It’s kind of hard, because you’re moving buckets and filling buckets with flowers, and then you’re lifting the buckets. But, I love my job so much that it doesn’t seem as bad to me,” she said.

Magazines and news sites, such as New York Times, Brides, Elle Décor, Elle Spose, Country Living, Marie Claire, Flower Magazine, French Country Style and Luxe Interiors have showcased her floral designs.

When Underwood spends time in the Bay Area, one of her favorite nurseries to go to is Annie’s Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, in the East Bay. She likes the unique design and the variety of flowers of the store. Underwood also visits her favorite vendor in the San Francisco flower markets, SF Brannan Street Wholesale Florist, for their freshly cut flowers.

“For me, I wanted my job to take me all over the world, so I can deal with international people. What amazes me today is that even though I could’ve pursue diplomacy, here I am doing something completely different. It’s a creative thing. It’s like a second career for me,” Underwood said.

Courtesy of Corbin Gurkin
A model, modeling summer-themed floral designs by Kiana Underwood, stands in the corner of room of Paisley and Jade in Virginia. She travels around the world to host workshop for different students.

A shorter version of this piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on October 12, 2017.