New York is a city full of interesting smells, many pungent, but Tula House gives the nose some relief. The Brooklyn plant shop is filled with lush greenery from corner to corner. No space goes unfilled by some sort of budding plant or blossoming flower — a stark contrast to the concrete jungle outside. Tula House was opened in 2018 by Christan Summers and Ivan Martinez. The couple both have backgrounds in advertising but they decided to get their hands dirty and pursue the idea of opening up the plant shop.
For Summers, opening this plant shop has allowed her to connect to her childhood. Both of her parents were farmers, her mom in the suburbs and her dad in the city, both in Boston. Growing up she learned a lot from her mother and the importance of nature. Her mother ran a farm where she rehabilitated animals and conducted programs for developmentally and physically disabled children and adults who would often interact with the animals on the farm.
“It was a really beautiful program, I just witnessed and watched the care that was put in and what came out was extraordinary. That has always stuck with me,” Summers says. “My mom raised us with a lot of focus on respecting and appreciating the natural world. Really considering our footprints and just taking care of Mother Earth.”
Summers always had the passion for nature and gardening but ended up pursuing a career in advertising. She was an entrepreneur and her work took her to Paris for an e-commerce business. In 2015, she decided she wanted to pursue a career she was truly passionate about and decided to open a plant shop.
“I started exploring what was happening in the market and the industry. I quickly recognized that there was room and space for a new brand that was focused on education, creativity, design and experience,” she says.
Launching a small business in New York City can be very difficult to get off the ground and then grow. Summers and her husband did not want to go into debt, so they began Tula House with a plant truck versus a storefront.
“Marketing [for Tula House] was different, it was a lot of guerilla marketing because the truck was cool and it was different. Nobody had ever seen anything like it — it was the first plant truck of its kind,” Summers says. “It was really out of necessity, but also a lot of curiosity around starting a retail business that’s different from the status quo.”
The truck allowed them to connect with and build their customer base. By 2016, they launched a plant showroom and by November 2018 they renovated an abandoned warehouse in Brooklyn to create the space where Tula House is today.
Tula House’s design is inspired by Martinez’s Cuban roots — it’s meant to replicate a Cuban courtyard. When you walk in, you’ll see a bright red wall, showcasing shelves of vivid green potted plants ready for purchase. On the wall are two colorful posters and perched on the plant stand is a red parrot (it’s fake but you can’t tell). To the middle of the shop stands a very tall, large circular stand covered in plants that will force you to tilt your head all the way back to see the top. On the other side of the store is a wall filled with beautifully decorated tiled shelves that hold pots for plants and flowers — also available for purchase.
Tula House had only been opened for two years when the pandemic began. Summers and Martinez had recently had a baby and were just learning to balance parenting and with their business when Tula House had to close its doors.
“That time was scary. We just had a baby and all of a sudden our business was closing. It was a shocking time but that shock could not last too long because we needed to keep our business alive,” Summers says.
To their surprise, the pandemic changed business for the better. Stuck at home, many people became plant-parents or looked for ways to redecorate their home, and the couple’s products were in high demand.
“It was incredibly challenging, but it was life changing for me as a business owner. I learned so much, so fast and I am really, really, really proud of what we were able to accomplish and that we stayed in business,” Summers says.
Now the demand is normalizing and customers are lucky to have a beautiful space to shop for plants. The aesthetic, yet purposeful design of Tula House seamlessly feeds from the main area to a back room where customers can find all kinds of cacti and succulents. Despite it being winter, the inside of Tula House feels like a warm summer day.
Ramia Rosalie was searching for a gift for her friend when she visited Tula House for the first time.
“It feels like a magical fairytale in here, like it would be the inside of a hole in one of those big trees where you walk in and you find out this special secret world,” she says. “There is so much life in here with all of the greenery, and then the way the light enters.
Carole Dessinger was strolling by the neighborhood when a flash of color from some of the flowers for sale at Tula House caught her eye.
“I entered because of the beautiful orchids that were in the front. The colors that they put in front and the light falling on it caught my eye,” she says. “It’s a place that is very warm, it feels good. This feels like a bubble [in the middle of the city] , a bubble of life.”
Every plant at Tula House comes from greenhouses and from growers all over the country. Whether you are an expert at raising plants or you are just getting started, Tula House will have a plant for you. Pothos plants are available for sale which require low maintenance, but then there are also dioscorea plants that require more attention. You’ll also find pretty gems like pink orchids and blue candle cacti. Regardless, the staff at Tula House will be there to answer all of your plant-related questions. Customers who have a plant that’s struggling can bring it to the shop to get some advice on how to turn it around.
“If you bring a plant that needs pest treatment or needs cleaning, we offer that treatment for a small fee. We also just launched a new program called At-Home Care. We stopped during the start of the pandemic, but we are continuing it,” Summers says. “[For a fee] we come to your home and we’ll do a general care regime and give you tips.”
Summers believes it’s important to have a place like this that New Yorkers can turn to.
“It’s important to have a shop like this in the middle of a concrete city because it’s an escape. It’s a place where people come and chat with our staff, learn, and just feel at ease,” she says. “Plants are very important for people and plants really do calm people, so I think our shop, the experience of our shop is beautiful, calming and very unique. Our staff are just so friendly and knowledgeable.”
Summers recommends plant ownership. Even if it is a low maintenance plant, seeing what happens when you care for it can be fulfilling.
“I think that when you start taking care of something outside of yourself, there is a very important thing that happens. There is a level of compassion and understanding that grows. When you put care into something and you are able to see what happens it is really rewarding,” she says. “When people reconnect with plants something magical happens.”
Visit Tula House at 59 Meserole Ave. in Brooklyn.