In the heart of San Francisco is a power couple who put their passions into making every couple’s special day memorable and in the process, reliving their own passion and love for each other and the creative wedding industry.
We sat down with Nancy Liu Chin and Kevin Chin, the floral design and photography duo that have been in the creative wedding industry in San Francisco for years! This couple is at the top of their game with Nancy’s floral designs featured in weddings on Style Me Pretty and Brides Magazine while Kevin (KC) has been an established photographer for over 20 years in the Bay Area. We talked about their own love story, their inspiration, and their passions in their beautiful loft home (that doubles as KC’s photography studio!).
Please tell me us a little about your backgrounds in creativity.
N: I’ve been really lucky in life because this is actually my second dream job. My first dream job was in retail buying. I was a fashion buyer and I really enjoyed it and in 2001 I started my second dream job. I guess in my younger days, I really wanted to be a fashion designer but my whole life I just knew I really wanted to be a buyer. When I was very young I discovered Town and Country Magazine I would take all the issues and take out all the fashion and plaster my walls with them. I picked up Elle and Vogue and had no idea at 10 years old what they were but I really loved clothing and Barbie Fashion and loved making clothing for my Barbies. My first job was at the House of Fabric and so at a young age I really gravitated toward something in fashion. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever end up being a floral designer. If I really think about it, it could be when I was maybe 6 years old, I was a flower girl in a pink dress and I remember that it felt really special and wonderful. I even remember one summer my friend Amy and I watched Princess Diana on TV and just awed over everything, so I’ve loved weddings since I was young.
KC: I was an Economics major so I don’t have formal training in photography. I believe that for photography, it’s not necessary to have a formal training especially with the Internet. It’s pretty easy to learn the basics but what is important is more so having the eye for photography. Most of my experience comes from doing it myself - I started out on my own and have been in business since 1990, 25 years of professional experience. I always thought photography was going to a hobby or side-gig, and it was fun and extra money and I had my day job in retail at the time. I never thought’d I want to do it full-time because I thought if I had to do it full-time it would take the fun out of it. When I finally went into photography full time, it was sort of an epiphany because by doing full-time I got to hone my craft because I spent more time doing something I enjoyed and loved. So I sort of wish I started earlier because things just totally changed once I did.
What is your love story?
N: I think what’s really lovely is that we actually met at a wedding. So when we do weddings together or if our paths do cross at the ceremony or reception it always reminds us of our own special day. I think weddings are something symbolic of our relationship.
KC: Yes, we met at a wedding and actually didn’t see each other for 3 years. But then we had a mutual friend who suggested Nancy as assistant photographer for a wedding. And after a while we started dating and then finally here we are happily married.
How did you become a wedding florist? How did you transition from being a buyer into being a florist?
N: I got really burnt out from my buying job, it’s a natural process, even if you love your job. At some point in time, the process and the product wasn’t inspiring me anymore. It was a really good time for me try something else. Retail is very difficult - 5 years in retail is like 10 years in another job. I notice that KC always came home after a wedding still positive and loving it while I came home during the weekday tired and not wanting to talk about work. Job satisfaction is a sign, and when I saw that he still had so much joy from his work, it inspired me to reexamine what I wanted to do. We spend our lives more hours (more than you spend on yourself or family) on work, and you really have to love and find meaning and purpose in it. I thought maybe I should venture out and do something else. So I tried a couple different things: calligraphy, invitations, wedding dresses. My friend said to me “You always like the pretty part of the wedding!" so I started apprenticing and going to school for florals and I liked working with my hands which I missed.
KC: She knew she wanted do something in wedding but we thought maybe catering or wedding planning.
N: I really saw in KC how he enjoyed owning a business and I knew I wanted to own my own too because my background is in marketing and finance. I liked managing businesses and KC loved his craft and enjoyed the business aspect of it. It took time because I love doing so much but I finally found it in floral design.
What makes floral design an essential part of an event?
N: I see floral design the way interior decorators see the house. The flowers are the beauty, the accent, the decor. They make it personable, lived in, colorful, and they make it your own. A wedding without decor doesn’t have personality. What you put in your house says a lot about your values and who you are.
KC: It creates the mood. If you go into a venue like The Bently Reserve, it looks cold and cavernous, but once you put flowers and decor in it totally changes the whole mood of the space.
N: the flowers to me is like a house that’s staged or not staged, and when yo go there it’s like someone’s personality and you see it unfold. the flowers are that final touch. kind of like the clothing you wear, the jewel, the little thing that gives the outfit you! because I’m around flowers all the time, it brings joy to people, it’s a very emotional product, like a great plate of food it speaks to your senses.
What is your favorite flower right now?
N: I’m a big lover of peonies, there’s a coral blush peony that I particularly like. I’m also very much in love with greens like hops vine.
How did you become a photographer and what inspired you to photograph?
KC: As a kid I was always creative so at school I was the one picked to finish an art project. During family vacations I was the one who photographed the pictures. I think it just having an artistic love as a kid and natural talent.
What is your absolute favorite subject to photograph?
KC: Definitely people, because they are most challenging and the most rewarding, just like the first embrace at a wedding, you can’t pose that or have a do over. With still and landscape because they aren’t moving you can take your time, but with people you have to get it as it happens. I view wedding photography like sports photography because you have to anticipate it. You have to know where the action will be or else you will miss it entirely and the moment is gone.
Do you work in film or digital? Which do you prefer?
KC: I do a cominbation of both, but my love is film. For me I use black and white film and don’t do digital conversions because nothing compares to the grain of film negatives. My clients love it as well and you’re not distracted by the pretty colors, instead you look at the emotions and what’s going on in the photo and it also adds a more dramatic touch. I embrace digital as with anything, but I will ways want black and white flim.
What’s your favorite part of shooting a wedding.
KC: The relationships that we make with the couple, because you’re with them from the beginning to the end. You see them planning, interacting between themselves and with family and friends. For me it’s a privilege to document such an important today, and even after 25 years it’s so fun and happy and it reminds us of the time when we got married. It never gets old for me and I’m lucky that I’ve loved all my clients.
One piece of photography equipment you can’t live without?
KC: I don’t think I can answer that because there are so many elements involved in terms of lenses, software, camera bodies. I can’t live without shooting with prime lenses because the depth of field you capture has no comparison.
What inspires you both every day?
N: The whole word 'inspiration' is very interesting, because it’s one of those words like 'love' that feels a bit overused but I think the key to longevity in this business is always being inspired and the only way to be inspired is to always want to learn. After designing 600 events, some people would think you know it all and you don't need to learn anything about this business. But I feel the opposite. Why I'm still inspired to do this is because the longer I do this, I realize GOSH there's still so much to learn.
KC: I think you have to have passion for what you do, because if you are passionate, you won’t be satisfied, so you’ll keep moving, and grow as an artist. For me, I’m also doing cinemetagoraphy, because it’s another tool to tell the story of a wedding, wanting to be better and try new things keeps me inspired. Passion is key! A lot of people aren’t passionate but happy with what they do but eventually their work and personality starts to suffer. You really have to love what you do.
N: KC’s absolutely right, if you really love what you do, you’ll be inspired by the product and the way the people around you respond to it. I'm still inspired because I'm stilling learning about new products whether it's a new color or bloom or new materials. So it's lovely! Like a chef who discovers new techniques or flavor combinations, I'm inspired by my clients - they are ever changing. Their tastes, their age group, their demographics may be constantly changing but you get an opportunity to help them with their story, their wedding which is a unique chapter in their life.
What is it like working in the same industry? Or when you work on the same wedding?
N: I think it’s really awesome because you’re married to someone who can totally relate to all the stress and business issues that you have but you can also have all the fun with. You can work mutually within your own craft together and feed off each other. Marital spouse competitiveness is also kind of nice and it really makes you better! Another thing is having the same wedding, because you know both your standards are equally high, like if KC is shooting it, I want to make my best even better.
KC: So true, like I will have to use my imagination to wonder if the flowers will look good, but with Nancy I know the flowers will look good. So she’ll point out to me what’s the most important visual to the wedding.
N: We have a little recap of our weddings over dinner and if it happens to be the same couple then we can share what we’re working with. It doesn’t matter who it is, if you’re working with a team you love, it’s almost easier for you to work better than your best.
KC: You know how the other people work, so you know where to put certain things, how to shoot particular things.
N: And you want your clients to be relaxed so there’s a comfort in knowing two parts of your team live together and can work together well.
Do couples come to you as pair, wanting both floral design and photography?
KC: Our businesses are completely separate, but once people find out we are a couple, they feel there’s a sense of security knowing that we are husband and wife and work well together (assuming they like both of our works). Couples do like and appreciate that fact.
N: I totally agree, there’s a piece of mind. They love it when vendors to know each other. There’s confidence when you know every person is on board and has the same values and work ethics.
How do you balance work life with personal life?
N: KC’s probably better at it then I am!
KC: I’ve learned you can’t let yourself burn out. We love to travel and do other things. At the very least Monday’s are our date nights because weekends we’re often working on a wedding so we guarantee one day a week where it’s just us.
N: For work life, I think I’m really at my best when I spend some time just decompressing and not thinking about work or weddings because I think your mind has to shut down. If you want to be an artist or someone creative, you’re mind has to stop, you have got to empty your brain so that you can retain information and grow. I try to eat lunch and just take a walk maybe not every day but at least 2 out of 5 days, for example. I shut my phone at night and try not to answer emails at ridiculous hours. You’re never off the clock but you have to have boundaries. I say "no" to more clients then “yes" but I think that keeps our work at a higher level and we do a better job. I try even on wedding day to laugh as much as possible and give myself lots of time to enjoy the day. Make sure to take care of yourself and have healthy habits, that will lead people to really love their job and be passionate. For longevity, you pace yourself well and be smart with your off season. So we travel as much as we can because we’re inspired by other cultures. My staff likes to say “We don’t burn the midnight oil” because we are much more organized and plan ahead. Your staff sees how you live and feed off of that.
Where are your favorite places to travel to?
KC: We love everything and anything from just a beach vacation to cultural exploration.
N: I feel really at home in Cabo, that’s our go-to getaway because it’s close by.
KC: We also love doing cooking classes when we travel, so we can see other peoples’ passions. We went to Prague this year, Thailand was fabulous, and we were recently in Puerto Vallarta.
What do you think has been most important to you success so far?
KC: It’s definitely trying to stay current and relevant in the business. It’s easy in photography to become stale and outdated but I’m going to stay relevant. You can become obsolete if you're not looking forward and not evolving. I’m open to meeting new and young photographers because I learn just as much from them as they do from me. If I can make their career better it’s good for the overall business. Also knowing the fact that you can’t do everything as a business owner - hire someone to do what you’re lacking in. Lack of success or downfall is because people don’t pay attention to the business part, especially this day in age where it’s very competitive.
N: The key to why I've been able to succeed is due to the fact that I've alway had, from day one, a great staff.
Not only a great staff but also a very consistent staff. When you have the best people working for you, you're able to mentor them. You can measure success by the seeing if your staff has become successful and grown. One of my first office managers, is now a successful bridal gown designer. I’m so blessed to have met so many great people. It’s the most important thing for why I’ve been able to stay, if it weren’t for all the people who contributed. Every single person is why we do 600-700 events. The longer I do this, the more I realize, I wouldn’t be here without them. People forget that it’s those who have been doing this long enough, have trained good people and mentored good people that have been the most successful.
The key to success, is to set yourself apart, especially in the wedding industry, and do whatever your signature is and do it well. When people instantly recognize your work, it means you have done something right. If you want to succeed and have your own voice, even if you do something someone has done, do it 10 times better. Originality is so important.
K: That’s so true, I use my black and white film to distinguish myself. I’m not the only one, but it sets me apart from those who use only digital.
N: When I see other sites that are starting to look similar to me, I start from scratch! You don’t want to be the follower you want to be the leader!
K: I like to think of it as if people are going to zig, then I’m going to zag! So when I see a trend, I don’t do it because then I’ll just be like other photographers. Do what makes sense with your style.
N: You gotta be true to yourself and more than anytime ever, people can see if you’re not being authentic. There’s something about being authentic and being yourself that people really appreciate.
Why San Francisco?
KC: I’m a native here so throughout our travels, we’ve been to so many great places, but nothing beats San Francisco because of diversity, food, culture, geographic diversity, etc. so I definitely love SF versus anywhere else I’ve been before.
N: I’m native Bay Area as well, this is my home. When you think of events, we are in this central place of growth and incredible energy in the Bay Area. What I love is that San Francisco weddings are set apart, we have incredible resources. We have a plethora of venues, stately mansions to golf courses to beautiful ballrooms, penthouses to urban restaurants, it’s just incredible. Great venues, plethora of vendors, and for me as a florists, I’m located right in the Flower Market where some growers have flower areas within 15 miles of SF, it’s incredible. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere as beautiful and great as San Francisco. We have the best temperature for flowers. It’s awesome and I couldn’t be happier.
Favorite date spot in San Francisco?
KC: Usually we find new restaurants we haven’t been to or we just like going to movies and get away and not think about weddings for a few hours.
N: We really love eating on the Embarcadero! It’s so beautiful to sit outside. Our ideal setting is an outdoor table with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We’re also baseball fans and love watching the games!
You’ve already mentioned so much great advice, any final words for self-starters?
KC: Defintely, finding your identity. It’s hard at the beginning, to find what your specialty and voice is and stick to it, especially for new people there’s so many things you can do. So find what you want to do, your voice, and signature and stick with it. Take advantage of learning from other photographers, and connect with photographers you like and shadow, intern, or work for them.
N: If I was going to say something to my younger self, I would say, “Practice, practice, practice". Nothing is going to come easy without hard work. You really have to put in a lot of hours because hard work should come before success. Be patient, keep at it, and persevere. Find a mentor, you may need two or three along the way, for different reasons, but mentors are essential. I can say I have two floral mentors I look up to that helped me and I loved my buying mentor to death. It’s very important because every phase in your career you will stumble and you will need to go someone for advice, and going to a peer is great but there are larger issues that you’ll need to go to someone with more experience to talk with. There’s always someone who’s been doing it longer than you that can impart some great wisdom.
KC: Something I did 15 years ago was start a group of about 20 photographers. We met on a regular basis and talked about anything business or photography related. When you own your own business you feel like you’re on your own island so it’s very helpful to come together. Knowing you have a support group is great because we can bounce ideas off each other, support each other, or refer each other for work.
Nancy and Kevin shared so much great insight with us in their beautiful home, accompanied by their adorable dog Rocco. Add some simple joy into your life by checking out their websites today for their beautiful and passionate work!
See their work: