This is the latest in a series we call Plant PPL, where we interview people of color in the plant world. If you have any suggestions for PPL to include in our series, tag us on Instagram @latimesplants.
When Dynelly del Valle’s career as a fashion buyer went in another direction, she moved into spatial design. Next, the Miami native says she gravitated toward biophilic design for the simple reason that plants make you feel good.
“When people walk into an environment filled with plants, they instantly feel happy,” she says of the lush, plant-filled workspaces she created. “They are great for your overall well-being.”
The same could be said of Pippi + Lola, the Long Beach plant studio she conceived as a temporary pop-up after her commercial work dried up. It’s now a permanent fixture among the independent stores and restaurants located along 4th Street in Long Beach. (The studio reopens from a holiday break on Jan. 3.)
Populated with wreaths, one-of-a-kind planters, horticulture books and, of course, plants, Pippi + Lola strives to highlight a diverse group of makers, including women and people of color. “There are all these talented women out here,” Del Valle says. “Why not show their work?”
I caught up with Del Valle to talk about her recent career pivot, the historical significance of her Long Beach building and the one houseplant she will never get along with.
You joke that it took you 15 years to meet another Puerto Rican in Los Angeles. How has your heritage influenced Pippi + Lola and you as a designer?
As far as my Puerto Rican heritage, I definitely feel like it inspires the spaces I create. If I could re-create a tropical rainforest, I definitely would! Puerto Rico is a very beautiful, tropical place, and it definitely speaks to my love of whimsy. I think my admiration for world art in general drives my search for new and inspiring artists regardless of culture. I’m a world traveler and appreciate the differences in culture across all spectrums.
How did the pandemic inspire your pivot to plants?
The commercial workspace was no longer a thing. I ended up adopting a lot of the plants that I had been using so they didn’t die. I would go visit them in a Lincoln Heights mixed-use warehouse space and eventually I brought them all home. I had more than 100 plants in my home. That’s where my tagline “Lushy AF” comes from. I leave a trail of leaves behind me. Or they are stuck in my hair. I have plants hanging from the ceiling inside the store. You are going to get lost in plants here.
So your store is an immersive experience?
I want people to love it or have an emotional response. That’s why I don’t call it a plant shop. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s a plant studio.
You said the salon had good vibes. How so?
When we walked through the back of the building, the first thing I saw was a shower because it had been a salon. You could feel the love in there — the positive vibes. The building found me. It was a three-year lease, but I said, “Let’s do it.” I felt the need to jump. I felt more excited than anxious. I signed the paperwork on a Wednesday, got the keys on a Friday, and I opened on Valentine’s Day.
I learned the salon owner had kept her employees on for a year during lockdown to make sure they had food on their tables. Another day I noticed two gentlemen looking in the studio as I was closing up. I asked them if they wanted to come in, and they said it was a historical site for them. It used to be the headquarters for the Long Beach AIDS Walk. The reason the space called to me is that it represents everything we stand for. It was a community center and it was owned by a woman who took care of her employees and her community.
What’s the vibe of the store?
I like to curate the space with women-owned and BIPOC-made goods. I don’t buy anything commercial because that is not who we are. There have been times when I had three pots left, but that is just the way it is when you deal with small businesses. I seek out my vendors and make sure that we support each other as women, as people of color and as small businesses. I want to make sure our community knows that we are here.
What is it like to be on 4th Street in Long Beach?
We are a tight-knit group, which is not only awesome for us but for the community. If I don’t carry something, I will send my customers to someone else. People can plant hop in Long Beach! Every fourth Friday, the businesses on 4th Street stay open until 9 p.m., and we bring in food vendors, Disney characters, DJs, a VW photo booth — we all do different things.
So you view your plant studio as a community space?
Absolutely. Yes, I’m technically a plant store, but it’s not about the plants. I’ve made so many friends here. People come in and ask for a low-light plant and leave after telling me about an aunt who passed away. Conversations get deep sometimes. That’s why the events we host are so much fun.
Why do you call the store Pippi + Lola?
The name came from a few plants that we’ve named Pippi and Lola. My partner loves Pippi Longstocking and I love the song by Barry Manilow that goes, ”Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl,” so we’ve actually named plants and our cars those names and thought they sounded cute together.
I love ficus Alii and euphorbia white ghost cactus. And don’t laugh, but I love pothos. I really do. They are always happy and low-maintenance, and I love a low-maintenance houseplant.
There is a plant for everyone, but there are also some plants that you will never get along with. For me, it’s the spider plant. It’s one of the easiest plants to care for because it propagates itself, but we don’t get along. And that’s fine.
You said you are particular about the plants you choose. Can you give some examples?
It’s personal for me. I want my customers to have a great experience, so I tend to stock plants that are low-maintenance. More than half of the customers who walk in the door tell me they don’t have a green thumb. Or they don’t have a lot of time. So I like to focus on things that will be successful. I ask a lot of questions. I definitely have begonias and things that are not for beginners, some plants that are less conventional. I don’t follow trends. If people are looking for exotics, I’ll send them to stores like Foliage in Long Beach. At my studio, you will walk out with a beautiful plant and a kick-ass pot. Pots can really make a difference. Some of them are like art; investment pieces. I carefully curate them, and most of them you won’t find in any other store. That’s the point. I’m a destination spot.