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Meet Allen Vo and Cristina Lucas of Ochre in Los Feliz

Today we’d like to introduce you to Allen Vo and Cristina Lucas.

Allen and Cristina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
We’re Ochre’s founders — Cristina Lucas and Allen Vo. Ochre offers interior and exterior plant design, installation, and maintenance services for spaces around Los Angeles. We started Ochre because we know being outside inspires people, and we also know that plants, now more than ever, are a powerful way to keep us all feeling relaxed, grounded, and inspired as we shift to more time at home.

We first met in 2016 while working on a big sustainability project for Los Angeles. In between meetings and over lunch, we shared ideas on where to buy aging terra-cotta pots; which plants can handle low light and prefer aloof parenting; and creative ways to get rid of pests. We talked about plants — a lot. Soon our coworkers started asking us for plant parenting advice and ideas for which plants would work best in their homes. We became the weird plant people at the office and made a commitment to each other that one day we’d build a business around it.

Three years following that commitment, after five months hiking from the border of Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cristina headed to the olive groves of Croatia. It was there Cristina sent Allen a message that it was time to finally launch our multi-year passion project into Ochre.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We’re doing work we’re passionate about and inspired by every day. Because of that, professionally it’s felt like the smoothest road we’ve been on. But that does not mean what we’re building comes without challenges. We formally launched our business in February of this year — right at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. We were launching a business geared toward commercial and residential spaces, as well as events, at a time when all offices were shutting down, inviting strangers into our homes was highly irresponsible, and gathering in groups was out of the question. We even already had a few conferences and fundraisers lined up — exciting, early wins that were all suddenly canceled.

However, now we find ourselves in a moment where restaurants are working hard to transition parking lots and sidewalks into inviting dining areas, homeowners are spending more time than ever on traditionally neglected patios and balconies, and wedding planners are being asked to pull off intimate, bespoke gatherings. Plants, ranging from potted olive trees and lavender to desert cactus and the more common houseplants like the fiddle leaf fig and pothos, have a crucial role to play in making these spaces and experiences feel more comfortable and inviting. We’re inspired by these challenges and how we can contribute our passion and knowledge to creating spaces for our clients that feel grounding during all this uncertainty.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Ochre – what should we know?
Ochre — a nod to the color of the earth we walk on and the groundedness we feel when we’re connected to nature — is a plant design studio focused on bringing the inspiration of the wilderness to interior and exterior spaces around Los Angeles. We collaborate with a range of commercial and residential clients, including apartment dwellers, homeowners, event organizers, interior designers, architects, and business owners. In order to support the immediate needs of our community, we’re currently focused on using plants to help restaurant owners create inspired and comfortable dining experiences; homeowners transform sterile-feeling rooms and neglected patios and balconies into spaces that feel more vibrant and alive; and wedding planners design intimate, bespoke experiences in backyards and other outdoor spaces.

But for us, starting Ochre was never just about plants and creating beautiful spaces. It was about finally having the chance to align our values with the work we do every day. We wake up each day feeling excited and proud that we get to build something that truly represents who we are and what we’re about as people. As professionals who have dedicated their careers to sustainability, we’re committed to practices that support a more resilient planet. It’s foundational to our work and is as important to us as the way the plants we select for our clients look and feel. Plants are inherently about the long-term. This business is not about constantly buying the new hot thing, but creating connections between our clients and nature that actually create more value the longer they exist.

Additionally, at the start of the summer, we made the decision to donate 20% of all proceeds from our services to organizations that empower black communities in Los Angeles. When you work the typical 9 to 5 for someone else, it’s easy to care about these things but very hard to actually feel empowered to do anything about them — and that’s a hard way to work. So, in many ways, Ochre for us was the way out of feeling powerless. It’s become a way to live our values.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
The short answer is Ochre absolutely would not be a business right now without the support and enthusiasm of lots of different people — family, friends, and even mere acquaintances who caught wind of our vision and wanted to help make it possible. When we launched earlier this year, the support we received was overwhelming. And it wasn’t just words. Old bosses and friends of friends were booking us actual gigs. We’ve both felt particularly grateful for the role former coworkers have played in our courage to venture into unfamiliar territory and get Ochre launched. Starting new things can be scary, especially when that means leaving behind projects and people you care about, so the support from our coworkers was huge.

All this support also came in a window of time that felt almost too good to be true. Cristina had just finished nearly a year of traveling and was ready to reground herself in LA, while Allen had just finished supporting a big project and was ready to explore a more entrepreneurial and creative path. It only took a few brief discussions — and an even more brief text message from the olive groves of Croatia — to realize all the love, good vibes, and timing were on our side. And we still feel that way. We knew it was time to move beyond the daydreaming and turn our passion for plants into Ochre.

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Allen Vo

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