The Bay Area has long been a mecca for creative spirits captivated by its natural beauty — the mountains, the sea, the redwood forests, the bay. Talk to most makers in the area and there’s a collective sense of gratitude to be able to do what they love in a place as idyllic as this one. These local women embody that maker spirit, each of them brave enough to take a leap to follow a labor of love, and fortunate enough to find their niche.
Take a stroll down San Anselmo’s San Anselmo Avenue and you might spot milliner Laurie Berliner in her shop window, crafting one of her made-to-order hats. Perhaps it’s her popular Panama hat, made of Toquilla palm woven in Ecuador, or a felt fedora, or likely one woven from wheat straw on a 1914 Bulasky machine. No matter what she’s making, she’s doing what she loves.
“I pinch myself every day because of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place, surrounded by the natural environment and community I love and grew up in,” Berliner says.
A San Anselmo native, Berliner wasn’t always a milliner. She spent 25 years as a deputy public defender for Solano County before returning to her sewing roots to study millinery in San Francisco and then at the London College of Fashion (taught by Philip Treacy studio alum Chloe Scrivener). Berliner eventually perfected her craft, selling original hats at craft fairs, including the Mill Valley Fall Arts craft fair. Just six weeks before the 2020 shutdown, she opened Madge & Me, named after her 11-year-old Cardigan Welsh Corgi.
“Madge’s dog friends and their human companions stop by for biscuits and to chat,” she says. “I never tire of customers, as well as visitors, coming to the shop just to marvel at my tools and hats being made by hand.”
Two years in, she has surrounded herself with a creative community, collaborating with local craftsmen to design silk hat liners, a signature feature of her hats, silk-screened at A & G Screen Printing in San Rafael. She also collaborates with San Francisco-based couture gown maker Suzanne Hanley of Atelier des Modistes to create hats for her gowns and resort wear.
“I love the process of working with my customers to make their special, perfectly fitting one-of-a-kind hat,” she says. “I love working with my hands, shaping the material on the handmade wood blocks made in England by Owen Morse Brown. It’s truly a labor of love.”
Inspired by everything from Japanese tea houses and wabi sabi to Swedish minimalism, designer Tina Frey has found her niche creating perfectly imperfect vessels: sculptural vases, bowls, cups, plates and other household objects. “I really appreciate the simplicity and minimalist aesthetic of useful objects that reflects the handmade nature of the item,” she says from her San Francisco studio.
Tina Frey is another creative at heart who took a leap. Starting out in corporate finance, she had spent most of her free time on creative pursuits, having grown up in a design-centric home first in Hong Kong, and then Canada. “Since I was a child, my most fluent language was a visual one: colors, shapes, the details no one else notices,” she says. “But because creating was so fun and came so easily to me, it never occurred to me that it could be my livelihood.”
A pause in her career led her down the path where she started: art and design. “I enjoy being able to gather all the inspiration from my travels, nature, architecture and fashion,” she says. The Bay Area, where she moved in 1997, became an instant muse. “There is so much inspiration everywhere you look. The ocean and it’s powerful force with the waves is awe-inspiring,” she says. “You don’t have to go very far outside of the city to feel like you’re a world away from it all.”
Sold at Clic in Marin Country Mart, Tina Frey designs are also featured in hotels and restaurants around the world, as well as the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Her spring 2022 collection is blooming with color: grass green, pinks, yellows and translucent colors that radiate a happy and cheerful vibe.
”It’s important to follow your heart and create things that resonate from deep within your soul,” Frey says. “When this is the source of creativity, it truly comes from love and joy.”
Kimberly Baltzell and Lucy Price
Best friends Kimberly Baltzell and Lucy Price were bound to start a business together. Since meeting at an ashram in Calabasas, California, more than 25 years ago, they have both become mothers, both survived breast cancer, and together taken what Baltzell describes as “insane back-country ski trips among other challenging physical adventures.”
Baltzell, a professor at the University of California San Francisco focused on infectious disease in Sub-Saharan Africa (during a pandemic), who lives in Belvedere, and Price, an interior designer, might not seem the likeliest duo to start a shoe company. But in fact, they were the perfect pair, launching Kiki Price in the fall of last year. “Lucy is an amazing designer of interiors and hotels, plus has a knack for wearing the most perfect but unique outfit every day of her life,” says Baltzell. “We work really beautifully together; she brings the design visual talent and my science brain contributes in other ways.”
The two set out to find a more comfortable designer shoe that could take them from a remote adventure to a really great party. They connected with friend and foot surgeon, Dr. Richard Jay in Philadelphia, who had designed pediatric footbeds for Dr. Scholls. “He spent the last year and half developing a custom footbed for us that is absolute perfection,” Baltzell says.
Handmade in Italy by artisans who crafted the first mold for Prada, Kiki Price shoes are designed to be more shock-absorbent than your typical high-heeled shoe, thanks to a patented technology that gives some relief to the ball of your foot.
Baltzell and Price weigh in on every design detail, down to the placement of embellishments, buckles and zippers. “I like to say the heels are so comfortable you don’t need your car, you can just walk to your destination,” jokes Baltzell. Their most popular shoe is a metallic, multicolored pump with the words “Alternative Energy” embroidered on it. This spring, they’re coming out with a low-heel line. “My personal favorite is our heel called ‘Love Wins,’” says Baltzell. “Every bride in the world needs to be wearing those shoes as they walk down the aisle.”
Baltzell says the physical beauty of Marin inspires her. “It inspires our colorways, naming, and why having beauty and something easy to wear are not mutually exclusive things,” she says. The natural beauty of women in Marin guides their designs, too. “Nothing too fancy or showy, just a radiance that comes with the incredible luck of being able to spend so much time outdoors year-round,” says Baltzell.
More from Marin:
- The Gourmet Roots of Star Route Farm
- Meet the Farmer: Sierra and Blake Miller, Paradise Valley Produce
- Meet the Cheese Maker: Donna Pacheco, Achadinha Cheese Company
Theresa Gonzalez is a Bay Area-based writer specializing in interior design and architecture. She is the author of Sunday Sews (Chronicle Books) and has contributed to San Francisco Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Visit California and more.