IT'S A JUNGLE IN THERE: this model and startup founder keeps 500 plants in her New York City apartment
Avery HartmansAug 7, 2016, 06.30 PM
Summer Rayne Oakes is neither a typical entrepreneur nor a typical fashion model, which is why her New York City apartment is anything but boring.
The author, founder of two companies, and model for brands like Aveeno lives in a loft in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood and has created a space that she says reflects her lifestyle: sustainable, eco-friendly and rooted - so to speak - in the surrounding community.
Oakes' home is currently filled with 500 plants, including a vertical garden, banana and sweet potato plants, and a kitchen herb garden. Oakes has essentially created a living jungle inside a third-floor walk-up, which she says stems from her childhood habit of spending every spare moment outdoors - which led to a degree in environmental science and entomology from Cornell University.
See inside Oakes' one-of-a-kind, plant-filled home.
Oakes moved into her Williamsburg apartment 11 years ago. She didn't know much about the neighborhood, but knew she wanted the place to be somewhat furnished and accepting of her pets (she raises exotic insects). At the time, Oakes was modeling and expanding her first company, SRO, which started off as an environmental communications and market research organization.
Having already worked in the modeling industry since college — she used to pack all her classes into three days then commute to New York on the weekends — Oakes wrote a book that tied together two of her personal and professional passions: fashion and the environment.
She launched her second company, Source4Style, in 2010. Now known as Le Souk, the company is an online fabric marketplace that connects designers to sustainable suppliers. For 18 months, her apartment served as the headquarters for the company.
"I don’t have a tremendous social life, but when you have the business in your house, you’re just constantly, always on," Oakes said.
The spare bedroom that used to house Le Souk is now home to a vertical garden. Once Oakes left the company for new projects, she wanted a fresh start and to both literally and figuratively "clear the air." So she built the garden and a sub-irrigation system for it, which means it waters from the roots up as opposed to top down.
That room is also home to more herbs, like thyme and mojito mint, as well as sweet potatoes and bananas. The plants are hydrated with a humidifier.
Oakes does a lot of father-daughter DIY projects, like building this mason jar garden alongside her dad.
The kitchen is now home to more hanging vines, potted plants, and some sizable leaves...
...plus an extensive herb garden.
A second bedroom is home to a massive fig tree, which was Oakes' first plant. "When I got my first fig, I think it just transformed the space so much and brought me back to my childhood self," Oakes said. "I felt at home, in a way."
Now, almost all the available shelf and windowsill space is covered in plants...
Vines are climbing out of their boxes and growing several feet long.
It takes about 30 minutes every day to water the plants, which is done with a 150-foot hose that Oakes keeps in a basket next to the hammock. She spends about an hour and a half every weekend pruning and snipping and figuring out how to quell a minor bug infestation in some of her plants.
Oakes has also recently become involved in the hyperlocal food scene, working to bring curbside composting to her neighborhood and trying to build a community garden. She worked for farm-to-fridge grocery delivery startup Good Eggs — which has since decamped to San Francisco — and now acts as an interim head of marketing for a startup called Foodstand.
After years of constant travel — sometimes up to 200 days out of the year — Oakes is happy to put down roots. She's now finishing up a book about detoxing from sugar and says that the house is just one piece of the sustainability puzzle. "This is my lifestyle. For me, what you get on stage and what you get sitting in my house is me."