Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Native Creative #4: Aggelige Spanos

My absolute favorite place to buy a gift is Organic Designs by Aggelige, located in one of the Airstream trailers at The Camp in Costa Mesa. Owned by Aggelige Spanos, the shop boasts an amazing collection of succulent arrangements planted in unique, handmade ceramics, vintage cans, and driftwood, along with terrariums, air plants, and art. Aggelige is usually there, and I always enjoy seeing her smile when I walk by! She is always delightful, whether I am in to buy a gift, or just to browse (which usually leads to buying a gift... for myself). I started this series of interviews to showcase creative people in Orange County, but also kind of for selfish reasons. I want to know more about what they do! Aggelige was at the top of my list.

Please introduce yourself!

Hi, my name is Aggelige Spanos and Iʼm the owner of Organic Designs by Aggelige at THE CAMP in Costa Mesa CA. As you may or may not know, my shop is housed within a 1968 Airstream trailer. Iʼm originally from Pennsylvania. I was a Fine Arts major at Penn State University and I worked in the Fine Art gallery world for many years. That career enabled me to live in San Francisco, Hawaii and now Orange County. When I moved to OC from Hawaii, I was a bit depressed having left behind a beautiful, lush, tropical garden in my backyard that I tended to daily. Now I was faced with not having a yard period! Then I discovered succulents and loved the sculptural qualities of these plants. And paired with an interesting vessel they looked even more like a piece of art. So I taught myself everything I know about succulents and created my own oasis of succulent filled containers around my house. Later on I began giving some of the smaller pieces away as gifts and soon realized there may be a demand for this sort of thing. I loved the feeling I was experiencing when I saw the amount of joy that this living piece of art brought to the person I was giving it to. And the world could certainly use a lot more of those feeling on a daily basis. So I ended my art gallery career and decided to dive into pursuing this passion with no business plan whatsoever. Just a desire to start living my life as an artist instead of selling other artistʼs work and hopefully people would be receptive to what I was doing........and luckily they were.

Have you always worked with plants, or are you someone who worked a day job and quit to follow your dream?

I have always loved plants and yes, I quit a day job to follow a passion. I was in the art gallery business for a long time as a sales consultant and gallery director. I started experimenting with succulents and container gardening about 7-8 years ago as a hobby and then began giving succulent arrangements to my clients as gifts. Then the other girls at work started buying them from me to give as gifts. So I started hosting holiday parties at my house where people could buy the arrangements, did a few art walks in San Clemente (where I live) and then opened a small storefront in an obscure shopping plaza in San Clemente. I kept my job at the gallery part time and had that location for a year. It was not an ideal location so I decided to look for another space and thought that THE CAMP would be a good fit for what I was offering. That was in 2009.

You sell succulents exclusively in your shop. Do you work with any other types of plants on the side? 

No, I donʼt work with many other plants on the side. My own home looks very much like the shop. Itʼs filled with succulents and air plants but I do grow a variety of herbs year round and tomatoes when I can.

Do you do designs for events?

I do design for events on a case by case basis. Mostly smaller events ie....weddings, baby and bridal shower favors and some corporate events. I prefer smaller events because my pieces are very meticulously arranged by me with the help of an “as needed” assistant.

What is involved in creating an arrangement, and how long does it take?

My process in creating an arrangement is pretty organic in the sense that I like to design on the spot. Iʼm not much of a planner and seem to channel my creativity on demand. I determine what Iʼm going to plant based on the container, itʼs color and texture. Some pieces require more preparation time like creating drainage holes by drilling into the pots which is my least favorite part of the process. Some ceramic and metal containers are incredibly difficult to drill into and I am not a fan of using power tools but it needs to be done. As far as the time it takes for the actual planting, it can be anywhere from 20 mins for small things to hours and sometimes days for the larger pieces and terrariums. Sometimes Iʼll start a piece, live with it and watch it for several weeks and then add some changes before I feel itʼs completed.

You sell a lot of your designs potted in ceramics by Andrea Luna Reece. How did that partnership come about?

My partnership with Andrea came about shortly after I opened my shop at THE CAMP. I was looking to add some locally made products into the shop and found Andrea at a craft fair.......Patchwork to be exact. I thought her aesthetic was an excellent compliment to the look and feel that I was trying to create within the shop. Her work is awesome and I love creating arrangements in her lovely little planters. Itʼs been a great collaboration.

You also make arrangements in found objects, like vintage soda cans. Do you look for those yourself?

Yes, I search far and wide for found objects. Itʼs a lot of work, travel and dealing with strange people and their junk but itʼs worth it. I try to buy as much as I can when I find something good because chances are Iʼll never see it again or the person who was selling it. Searching for all of these random objects keeps me from getting bored planting the same thing all time. Plus I like the recycling aspect of bringing a new use to something old or discarded. It also keeps the shop from looking stale with the same stuff over and over. People always comment on the fact that they love seeing whatʼs new because itʼs always different every time they come in.

Do you grow any of your succulents yourself, or do you use a dealer?

I do work with several growers and hand pick each succulent which can easily take up to 3-4 hours during a buying trip because Iʼm so picky! I maintain the plants in my studio/greenhouse until I use them. I do grow some things. Usually the harder to find succulents as well as some of the baby succulents. I also try to grow certain succulents throughout the year until they reach a much more mature status for some of the larger containers that I plant. In the beginning, I thought I could grow my own plants, make my own pots and also create arrangements! I quickly learned that that was pretty much impossible. I use a lot of plants in a short amount of time so there is no way I could also keep up with propagating and growing all of them too.

What are people who come to your shop looking for?

People who come to the shop are usually looking for a gift. They like my stuff because they know that the recipient has a fighting chance of keeping it alive and possibly making many more plants from the arrangement they are purchasing. They also appreciate the meticulous nature of each piece. I have a lot of people who like coming to the shop simply to feel inspired and that makes me feel good.
What are your best sellers? 9. My best sellers are the tiny pots with lots of tiny plants in them, driftwood planters, vintage cans and vintage pottery pieces.

How do you balance owning your own business with being creative?

That is the toughest part of it all. Honestly I spend most of my time being creative and not enough on the business end. For one thing, there isnʼt enough time for one person to do it all but nevertheless I try. Ideally, I would like to have someone(a partner) handle the business end of everything and I just focus on the creative aspect. I donʼt even have a website right now!! Thatʼs insane in this day and age! But thatʼs one of the many things I need to take care of on my business “list of things to do.” Thank goodness for FB, Yelp and Instagram!

I have some friends who can grow veggie gardens like it's nobody's business, but can't keep their succulents alive. What are they doing wrong? Can you give some tips on caring for succulents and air plants?

I feel like with any plant it is a lot of trial and error. You really have to pay attention to your plants and be on some type of general watering schedule. Succulents will always thrive best outside....in a part sun/part shade environment. If you have them inside itʼs best to have them near a window. The worst thing you can do is overwater a succulent because they have so much water in their leaves. Therefore, they will rot if overwatered. But if they are a bit dry and thirsty they should plump up after a good watering. Always make sure that you are using a cactus mix soil when you plant succulents. The cactus mix is much more porous than regular potting soil which tends to be dense. The dense soil holds onto water and the succulents stay wet for too long and rot. Also, always create a drainage hole in your planter. As far as air plants, my general rule of thumb is to mist them weekly or soak them every 2 weeks. Not all air plants like the same thing and everybody has a different environment in their home. You just have to tune in and see which of those options works best for your plant and stay committed to some type of watering schedule. Yes, these plants are low maintenance but not no maintenance.

What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?

Luckily I still enjoy working in my own garden or on my own arrangements when Iʼm not “working” because it has always been such a great form of therapy for me. I also love to cook, bake, road trip, spend time at the beach, hike, go to comedy clubs, see live music and of course spend time with my family and friends. Iʼm an extremely curious person so I love exploring period!

Can you share some of your favorite local Orange County spots?

The Village Mediterranean Rim restaurant in San Clemente (super cozy atmosphere and great food). The Cellar in San Clemente also (great wine bar and cheese shop.......I feel like Iʼm in Sonoma County when Iʼm there). Splashes Bar at the Laguna Surf and Sand resort. I feel like Iʼm in Hawaii every time Iʼm there because itʼs one of the few places thatʼs right on the beach!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!

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