15 April 2015


A Creative DC is a weekly series showcasing all aspects of a creative lifestyle in the District. The city's full and part-time doers and makers, how + where they live, gather, and create, and what they do, make, and notice. For more about the project click here. Follow along here at Panda Head and at @aCreativeDC on Instagram, and hashtag your own DC lifestyle with #aCreativeDC. Your life looks good here.

Sill Life is a line of one-of-a-kind terrariums, handmade in the District by founder/owner Holley Simmons. I count Holley as a friend (we're in the same book club!), and I especially count her as part of DC's creative class. In this city of intense work ethics it's not completely unusual for a side hustle to look + feel as legit as a day job, and while a large percentage of those day jobs don't necessarily fall into the creative realm, Holley's – as Dining editor of The Washington Post Express – does. In addition to reporting on what's up-and-coming, re: FOOD in the Nation's capitol, she spends her downtime moments sourcing cacti + succulents, teaching classes, and contributing her own, exceptionally reportable vibes to the creative fabric of the city. With an Earth Day Terrarium workshop coming up at West Elm DC on 4/22 and commercial installations both in pocket and still TBA, Sill Life is a side project I've got all eyes on.

"I grew up in Toms River, NJ, and I've lived in D.C. for a little over three years. This is my second time living in the District: I moved here after college in 2007 and then bounced around to Phoenix, San Francisco and New York before realizing I missed D.C. and moved back in 2012."

What's the scope of the Sill Life project, and how did it start?
I'm very thrifty (read: cheap), so when I went to buy a terrarium a few years ago I balked at the expensive price tag. I did a ton of research, ignored most of it because the materials experts suggested were expensive, and killed a bunch of them because of that. I finally sucked it up and started doing things the right way, and - shocker! - the terrariums started flourishing.  Right now my main focus is classes. I've hosted workshops both small (couples looking for dinner-and-a-movie alternatives) and large (a team-building event for 30+ employees). I'm also ramping up my commercial work - so, doing the greenery for local office buildings, hotels and restaurants. Shout out to Aaron Silverman of Rose's Luxury for being my very first customer. 

Fave terrarium materials? 
If you're friends with me, you're getting a terrarium as a gift at some point. My favorite add-ons are items that represent a shared experience or memory with the recipient. When a friend of mine got engaged, I went to New York for her bridal shower. During my visit, I collected stones along our walks through the city (she knows me well enough to just not ask ...) and then used them to build her and her husband a terrarium. 
The short answer: Dinosaurs painted gold. 
"My terrariums (Audrey, Katie, etc) are all named after very special women in my life. Each container reflects their personalities (Audrey is cute, Mallory is unpredictable.) And the Rosemary is named after my grandma, who is my best friend in the world. I put that one in a more classic, timeless container because the woman is a fucking dame."

You cover lifestyle, food, and culture in DC. What one or two things/places/people going on right now are you especially excited about? 
The food scene in Shaw is about to erupt. By the end of this year (fingers-crossed) we're going to see new projects from some really exciting names, including The Dabney from Jeremiah Langhorne, another ramen shop from the Daikaya team, a concept from Tim Ma of Maple Ave, a frigging pizza place from the Red Hen and Boundary Stone crews, and a restaurant from Neighborhood Restaurant Group...I also think food incubators like Union Kitchen and Mess Hall deserve a tip of the chef's hat for giving aspiring chefs a platform to make, market and sell their products. It's hard to imagine what food producers did before these types of facilities existed.

After the jump: Holley's creative career path, a few Spring greenery tips, and MORE. GO GREEN.

When/how/for whom did you start writing professionally? 
I've worked in journalism in some form since graduating college. My first job was as a research assistant at NPR's Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman enforces an organization's code of ethics. I basically talked to listeners every day about their concerns — which may have included accusations of bias, inaccuracies and plagiarism — and tried to address them by reaching out to NPR reporters and editors. I loved it because I got to work across so many different disciplines with so many different NPR programs. At the same time, I interned with the D.C. edition of DailyCandy, a now (sadly!) defunct lifestyle website. I would spend my evenings and weekends meeting budding chefs, local fashion designers and anyone else in the creative realm. I once wrote a story about a local woman who wrote haikus. I loved the freedom and range I was given. I've held a number of different jobs since, but I'd say those two best shaped my career trajectory.

"I'd love to one day open a garden shop in D.C. where I can sell vintage vases and containers, rare succulent varieties, and host bigger terrarium classes. (Right now I teach them out of my home in Mount Pleasant.) I'd also love to expand the class offerings to include hanging wall gardens, macrame plant holders, flower crowns, etc."

There's a locally grown/sourced/foraged aspect of Sill Life that I LOVE! Share?
I'm a proud member of the NCCSS - that's the Nation's Capital Cactus and Succulent Society to you. It's through this group that I've met some of the area's most talented and prolific succulent producers. I prefer to go through independent local growers, because a) support local! and b) I know where the plants are coming from. A lot of the succulents you buy at garden stores are grown in California or Canada and shipped east. They're not acclimated to our climate and can buckle. Additionally, a majority of the rocks and moss I use is foraged locally while hiking nearby nature trails. I love the natural look of it versus the crispy, dried out craft moss you can find online. And there are so many color varieties that occur naturally!

Any Spring greenery tips that you can pass along?
 Succulents really are the perfect starter plant for timid gardeners. They thrive when left alone, can survive indoors and - even if you're absolutely killing them - will look beautiful for at least a few weeks. With the weather warming up and the sun intensifying, now is the time to bring a few of these little babies into your home. Just be sure not to over-water them! They need no more than two healthy gulps every month.




Blogger Stephanie Echeveste said...

I LOVE this! Great post :).

3:37 PM  

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