Flowers Got This L.A. Photographer Through 6 Months in the Hospital, So She Made Her Home an Ode to Them
Living life in full bloom.
Published Mar 22, 2023 2:26 AM
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Sunflowers. Poppies. Wildflowers. Teeny-tiny, blown-up big, textural. Framed by piped edges, splashed across beds, painted. Flowers spring up everywhere in the home of photographer Nicki Sebastian; her husband, Roni; and their two daughters, Cami and Cece.
The blossoms aren’t only meaningful in their exuberance. For Nicki, they’re a symbol of community and healing through what she calls the darkest part of her life. Following a routine checkup just three weeks after moving into their circa-1940s ranch in L.A.’s Westchester neighborhood, Nicki was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer that meant she would immediately have to decamp from their dream scenario. “I was plucked out of my life and put in a hospital in a bubble for six months,” she remembers. “My new home became UCLA.”
Over that stretch of time, “flowers became the way in which people supported me through the cancer experience,” Nicki says. Friends and followers would share photos of blooms on Instagram and tag her. Since she wasn’t allowed to have visitors, a group of her closest friends even dressed up as sunflowers and held up signs outside of her window that read ”Nick This in the Bud.“ “It was both heartbreaking and beautiful and wonderful and just intense all at once,” she recalls.
Through it all, Nicki remained thankful for the home they had found after a two-year-long hunt. Reconciling her and Roni’s taste in interiors took time—he leans modern; she is drawn to traditional bordering on cottagecore—but as soon as they stepped inside in January 2021, there was no need to draw up a treaty. They not only loved its proximity to the beach and the quaint character of the neighborhood, but the price for the square footage wasn’t bad either.
“I could just picture our family growing up here,” Nicki says of the warm, light-filled interiors. It also surprisingly reminded her of the house she grew up in on the other side of the country, in Pennsylvania. The curved doorways, doorbell nook, and long hallway with a coat closet—all were characteristics she didn’t know were so familiar to her. She initially wanted whitewashed walls and to figure things out from there, but after finishing treatment, the home took on an entirely new meaning, becoming a sanctuary.
While the ample natural light had initially driven her to keep things airy and bright, joy took the steering wheel in the aftermath of her illness. And after so much time in a bare hospital room (“That’s all I stared at for six months”), Nicki wanted vibrant, abundant energy. “I wasn’t able to get out and about for quite some time because of my compromised immune system, so it was really important that I was surrounded by color and cheer and positivity, and things that reflected my girls,” she says. So she turned to a powerful sign of rebirth: flowers. By infusing the family’s everyday objects and spaces with botanical patterns, whether on art, bedding, or wallpaper, Nicki says she’s always reminded of the support she received.
In many ways, the interiors are as much a study in collaboration and friendship as they are family. Nicki notes that the brands she works with regularly on shoots—Jenni Kayne, Heather Taylor Home, Dôen, Everhem—have been influential in how she decorated. “Being around all of these elements and photographing them for so long, it just seemed like a natural progression to have them in my own living space,” she says. Surrounding herself with the creations of people she knows and loves only contributes to the happiness factor.
Nicki mixes in secondhand finds from Facebook Marketplace or vintage stores to round everything out. Her eclectic touch is especially felt in the couple’s second-floor bedroom; she refers to it as the nest, where she says she has “spent more time than I ever imagined.” Their bed is piled high with patterns: floral sheets and pillows by Nicki’s friend Hillary Justin from Bliss and Mischief; gingham pillows by Heather Taylor; a patchwork quilt from Nickey Kehoe. The neighboring armchair adds to the cozy, collaborative feel. After thrifting it, Taylor sent her a few monochrome gingham tablecloths she had in stock; instead of saving them for dinner parties, Nicki smartly had the seat reupholstered with them.
But perhaps her favorite object is propped up on their vintage dresser. Designed for Nicki by Jimmy Marble to mark the beginning of her remission, the Every Yes Ever print holds a significant place in her heart. “The first light from sunrise just happens to hit the piece square in the center, which I know to be Jesse,” she says, acknowledging her friend and Jimmy’s late wife, Jesse Chamberlain Marble, who passed away in June 2021 due to lymphoma.
The girls’ rooms are drenched in colors—pink and “dinosaur green,” Cece’s request—that Nicki says reflects exactly who they are right now. That is, with a little help from Mom. “I gave them the Farrow & Ball palette to choose from,” she says, laughing. The brilliant trick of turning two closets in Cece’s room into a reading spot and storage corner extended the square footage with very little effort. “As a kid, I was obsessed with forts and nooks and little hideaways. I would always claim corners of closets and make them my clubhouses,” Nicki says of her inspiration for the change. Another kind of obsession also factored in: throw pillows. “You truly cannot max out on ruffled gingham pillows,” she declares, laughing, as evidenced by how many Taylor creations are scattered around.
The statement embodies Nicki’s current mentality. She insists there hasn’t been a minute that she hasn’t had fun giving life to their space. “It could be because of what I had been through, and just feeling this immense gratitude for having a second chance and the opportunity to create a haven for my family to grow into,” she says.
Finally at a stage where the family can host, they do so regularly. (There were many months, due to both the pandemic and Nicki’s recovery, when they had to restrict guests.) Now she loves to encourage play for both adults and little ones alike. There’s almost always a 1,000-piece puzzle on the dining room table; a Lego spread has taken up residence in the living room’s bay window; and the back couch (RH by way of Facebook Marketplace) acts as a “big foam pit” for kids speeding between point A and B. The energy that the home radiates is life-giving for Nicki.
“I find myself just taking moments away from my laptop and looking around and smiling to myself,” she muses. “I know that sounds so cheesy, but it’s 100 percent true.” And wherever she is, she’s never far from flowers.