RWC Locals: An Interview with Aili Ice Designs

 Photos by  Natalie Whearley .

Photos by Natalie Whearley.

Aili Ice Designs is a shop filled with flowers, greenery, artwork, and other lovely odds and ends. The owner, Aili, is a florist and an artist. You can see her creativity in her designs and the curated space she showcases them in. She has an infectious energy and a laid back vibe and she chatted with us, designed an art piece out of driftwood and moss, and joked around with her team, never missing a beat. We talked about the draw to downtown Redwood City, decorating with flowers for fall, and flower bombing the courthouse square. Next time you're downtown, definitely pop in and check out her beautiful shop on Broadway.

Can you tell us a little about your floral design style?
We lean towards a contemporary look. We also have more of a found and natural aesthetic. We do all the classics, we can do pretty much anything. But we really like to work with succulents and things that are unusual shapes and whatnot; unusual flowers that you can’t find in your typical flower shop. I think I would describe our style as unique. But it seems to work, you know? It’s a clean, nice aesthetic.

 AIli's shop features flowers, artwork, jewelry, and all kinds of beautiful things. 

AIli's shop features flowers, artwork, jewelry, and all kinds of beautiful things. 

What’s the inspiration behind your designs and your artwork?
It really comes from all the color that’s around us, so basically, nature. I’m a very outdoorsy person, so I go out to the beach and out to the forest and do a lot of hiking. My people are very much into that too. We do a lot of found items. I love whatever is out in nature, and try to translate that with some contemporary form in my work. In terms of artwork, I do a lot braiding as part of my art aesthetic. I’m a builder and a tinkerer and I like taking layers and layers of things and putting them on top of each other and seeing what happens with it. Especially with light and seeing what kinds of shadows are cast. We have art installations around the shop. We also have installation at Peacebank Yoga.

We also have a gallery and show artwork by a lot of young artists. We have a show coming up in about two weeks. We’ll be showing work by Erin Ashford, who is a photographer in town, Christie Smith, who owns Unleashed Art Gallery, and others. We’re trying to promote what others in the community are doing. But really, I just like to show art. As an artist, I’ve always wanted a gallery.

My biggest inspiration though, is making people really happy. We try to have that moment of empathy for what they are doing and what they are ordering for. If someone is ordering flowers for someone that passed away, we don’t do anything morbid. We try to do something cheerful that’s rejoicing for life. When it comes to births and stuff, we don’t do typical baby things, we rejoice for life. Let’s bring in more color. Let’s bring in some things that will lead to conversations about their flowers.

And our flowers start in one place and then translate after. Instead of lasting three days, you get about a week and a half with our arrangements. So it grows with you in a sense.

  “Why don’t I show you an example?” Aili darted around the shop picking up this and that and designed a beautiful centerpiece.

“Why don’t I show you an example?” Aili darted around the shop picking up this and that and designed a beautiful centerpiece.

Any advice to readers for decorating with seasonal flowers for fall?
Look around in your yard (or come here!) Some neat things right now are novelty kale and cockscomb. There are so many oranges and so many deep levels of color, rather than just the regular bright crayon orange.

I feel like there is so much variety for fall. I just did a demonstration for the garden club and I showed them how to get creative and take  elements like antlers or branches and lay them out on your table. You can also take cut succulents and just lay them in there with fall leaves.  The succulents will hang out and root, just spray them with water once a week. When you’re done with them, you can put them back in your yard. You could also add things like fall leaves, oranges, tangerines.

 The finished centerpiece featuring succulents, mushrooms, and antlers.

The finished centerpiece featuring succulents, mushrooms, and antlers.

What is your all-time favorite bloom and why?
My favorite? I have three: tuberose because they smell like Hawaii, gardenias,  and cymbidiums. I just like flowers!

I’m always so amazed by what’s available to us, especially when new stuff comes out that’s from across the world and you’ve never seen it before. When I see something that surprises me, then I’m like, “That’s hot. That’s very cool. We need that.” (Within reason, of course!)

 Aili stocks unusual and hard to find blooms. 

Aili stocks unusual and hard to find blooms. 


You have such a lovely space here. Can you tell us a little about how it was designed?
I can’t actually take any credit for any of the aesthetics of the space. Our landlord did it all himself. He actually was a contractor at one point and he blew out the ceilings, sandblasted, built the loft, did all the tile work, and refinished the original hardwood floors.

This room just translated really well for what we wanted it to be. When we came in, we wanted to add some warmth and make everything flow. I started yanking my found items out of my warehouse and realized that we had enough to build shelving, and my art.

 The view from the loft at the back of the shop.  “When I first came here, I felt like it was kind of like a ship. It’s long like a ship galley." AIli tells us. 

The view from the loft at the back of the shop. “When I first came here, I felt like it was kind of like a ship. It’s long like a ship galley." AIli tells us. 

What brought you to Redwood City to open your flower shop?
I’ve been in the business for 12 years now, and I had a shop in Rosewood in Palo Alto for two and a half years. We opened Rosewood around our 10th anniversary and I was trying to figure out what we were going to do. We were in a warehouse for a long time before that.

I decided it was time to push forward and see what would happen with a retail space. I called up one of my friends and asked her if she knew anybody who knew the city really well. She put me in contact with Dana, who owns Pickled Clothing and Peacebank. She immediately emailed me back and was like “I heard that you’re possibly looking to do retail. I have a space.” She gave me the address and told me to go check it out and that if I had any questions to give her a call. So I went to check the space out and peeked through the window. I was like, “Oh my gosh, are you kidding?! This is exactly it.”

So I called Dana and she was the one who gave me the push. She was like, “If you believe in what you love and you have a lot of passion -- and it sounds like you do -- you should take that leap of faith.” So I did, and here we are.

And it happens to be that we have great landlords. We love them. They’re very cool. I don’t see us going anywhere. If anything, I see us expanding. The city has been super friendly. And the community is awesome, you know? We, like all of us, my whole staff, love the fact that we’re right here on the strip, not far from the courthouse. We’re a fun group of people so we like the social aspect of getting to know our neighbors and having repeat customers come back to us. We just hear nothing but praise.

I’ve been watching the city go through this transition over the past few years, and it’s kind of weird. My family and I grew up in this area, and my Great Uncle was a judge. I feel like everything came full circle, rooting back into this area. I don’t think I realized it until I got here. I was like “Whoa!” I’m totally in Redwood City, and this is where we’re going to set our roots. No pun intended! But really, we’re really rooting into this community.

The people that we’ve met in this neighborhood have been awesome. All of my neighbors are super supportive. We think we have the best block in town! We have Brick Monkey just across the street; we work with them all the time. Broadway Masala is right next door. Mahrz Salon is also next door, best neighbors ever. Pomegranate Seeds, Pamplemousse, Kristi Marie’s. Martin’s West is owned by another friend of mine.

It really comes down to the community. I think this town has energy and an essence about it and the people here are really striving for community. There’s an endless amount of people who are all really cool. Everyone is just finding themselves investing in Redwood City. It feels like there is this really cool buzz and energy here. That definitely makes a huge difference in coming to work every day.

 Plants, found items, and artwork all blend seamlessly. 

Plants, found items, and artwork all blend seamlessly. 

I remember when I picked up flowers here last Valentine’s Day, you guys were doing something out front?
We were serving hot dogs, cooking all kinds of food, and designing outside. We were also flower bombing the city by putting hearts all over the sidewalks and in the courthouse square. We took a bunch of petals, and made hearts, and happy things for people to enjoy. It ended up all over Facebook. People were taking pictures with the flowers or taking pictures of their dogs in the middle of a flower heart. It was awesome to see people so happy. That was the Valentine’s Day thing.

On occasion, you’ll find us out on the sidewalk designing. Sometimes we’re feeling frisky and go out there. And it’s super fun because people just smile, and dig it and like to see art in motion. I think we’re a good addition to the city.


What are your favorite places to hang out around town?
We go to Yokohama for happy hour all the time. We go to Margaritas and Talk of Broadway. We like going to Backyard for coffee. There’s also Kristi Marie’s, Underground, the beer garden, Bobby D’s, City Pub. We really try to switch it up. The fun thing about being downtown is that there are so many cool places. Every single place in this town is just rad. We like our RWC! We’re very grateful to be a part of this town.


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