Suzanne is married to Alan and has 2 boys; Ian, 26 and Nick, 15. She owns and operates Suzanne M. Smith Designs , a wedding and events design business located in Huntington Beach, CA.
I seem to attract all the creative, artsy clients (I do live in California!) that want something more than your typical church wedding.
I like to create an overall atmosphere for events, not just flowers, but textures, fabrics, lighting and more if the budget allows. I am not for the couple who want a by-the-book, pick-a-number wedding or party. I try to give each bride the most WOW factor that can be had in accordance with their budget. Even a basic bride can have a theatrical, finished feel if the colors and textures are right. It’s all about listening to their vision and translating it into a tasteful display. I’ve done everything from an elaborate Early Spanish style wedding to Goth style weddings. I can create mini “sets” for my weddings and events, and can even make costumes if my clients want. With my background in costume and set design, I can make anyone’s “fantasy” celebration a reality.
My company has always been environmentally friendly, even before it was “popular.” I use eco-friendly and organic materials whenever possible.
How did you get your start in floral design?
My main inspiration was the fact that my own wedding flowers were less than stellar and a big disappointment. I had ordered this unique, 3 section, 70’s creation that looked like 3 kissing balls on ribbon, but what I got was a pink rose cascade! I swore that if I ever did flowers, I would not disappoint a client like that.
My family was in the Bridal biz in Los Angeles for over 35 years. My Grandmother was a fashion designer and knew many of the LA crowd, so I was raised in the family business and knew everything about weddings and running a business from an early age. It was ingrained I guess.
Of course being a creative kid and teen, I didn’t want anything to do with the family biz and set out to be a photographer and costume designer, which I worked at for a few years. Yes, spandex for the big hair bands in the 80s and flamboyant ice skaters!
The man who did most of the floral decor for the local bridal salons asked me to help him with some window displays and I was hooked! I loved the idea of taking my art training and using it to do sets and scenes for marketing. The flowers soon followed.
I took a few basic skills courses. I also attended seminars as well as read and devoured every book and video I could find. But mainly I learned by doing and asking…the School of Hard Knocks! I was lucky enough to have past costume clients that knew I was creative and would allow me to design parties for them. It was a great way to expand my portfolio. I later fell back into weddings and used the family business training I had rebelled against earlier. Surprisingly, I found that I loved this part of the floral business.
What is your favorite flower?
I love Orchids…Phalos, Aranda, Dendro and Cymbidiums. The more exotic looking they are, the more intrigued I am.
What has been your favorite venue to decorate?
Rancho Los Lomas is one of my favorites. It’s a sprawling location with multi levels that include gardens and a zoo. My crew LOVES the tigers and zebras we get to see as we design.
The wedding pavilion is an open stage area under spreading oak and willow trees. I hang hand braided garlands and add in ferns and branches to soften the Spanish architecture. I also add lots of up lighting on the trees and buildings for the evening festivities. Plus, this place can handle color! Wrought iron pedestal stands with Garden Roses in gorgeous tones with hanging Amaranthus enhance the Spanish feel. Fall here is the perfect season for this location.
What would be your “Dream” wedding/event to decorate?
Actually, I’d love to do a wedding in a romantic theme. LOTS of mixed Roses in lush pinks, greens, orange and plums, as well as Callas, Hydrangeas, Orchids and Butterflies, possibly overlooking the Pacific Ocean at a private estate. Yards of silk swags and ribbons and gorgeous, huge garden containers spilling with foliage and flowers.
I did get to design a destination wedding on Kauai and that was one of my dreams come true. The wedding took place at sunset on the sand with just hand carried flowers and leis, but it was breathtaking!
I’d love to design for one of the Hollywood award shows or celeb after parties. But, Christmas at the White House would be a dream job too!
How has being in the fashion industry influenced the way you design flowers?
I like to use form and color in flowers, just like fabric. How a Garden Rose looks next to a Calla Lily can be as delicate as a fold of silk on a kimono.
It’s not about counting stems and formulas, it’s about the overall feel of the designs. It needs to be pleasing to the eye and a compliment to the person who will wear it.
Who is your favorite designer?
Wow, that’s tough, there are so many. I love J and his fun uBloom projects. In event design, I think Preston Bailey’s concepts are amazing. I also love Paula Pryke and Colin Cowie.
In your opinion, what is the best new floral design product and best new cultivar?
I’d say that the Floral Gels and Gems are a big hit and I love LED lights from Acolyte. Crystal pins are also a big item with me this season.
As for the best new flowers and greenery, some of the newer Hypericum berry color varieties are fun and I really like the latest David Austin Garden Roses.
What is your favorite way to add “bling” and “zing” to your designs?
Our signature Monarch butterflies. It started out as a fun Spring display addition, and soon, if we didn’t add at least one in somewhere, my brides would call to ask where my signature butterfly was! Who knew?!
I love to add in tiny hidden “whimsies” to table designs…LED lights that show up as the room lights dim, shells and sea glass, pearls and crystals. We hid tiny fairies and elves in an English garden wedding last year and it was a huge hit.
Where/who do you draw inspiration from?
My client’s vision is the primary place I get my inspiration. I also gather ideas from fashion, cultures, locations and nature.
What is the most unique design you ever made?
Recreating Alice In Wonderland’s garden and tea party complete with half painted white to red roses for a birthday event at an estate.
I did a haunted house room display for a charity event. I used a gypsy fortune teller and lots of purple and red flowers with cobwebs and candles.
The most dangerous design was a wagon wheel located on a hillside at an estate that I had to add a swag to. I was lowered with a repelling rope and harness to do this…NEVER again!!!
Any favorite music you like to work to?
I’m eclectic. One day it’s the Gypsy Kings, the next it’s Reggae and Rock or even Opera. I do love to set a mood for certain jobs. So if I’m doing a Rock- a- Billy wedding, it could be Stray Cats blasting in the studio.
When you aren’t designing for weddings and events, what kinds of hobbies do you enjoy?
Photography, painting, traveling and off road dune buggy drives. I own a hot pink mini buggy!
You have SO MANY fun stories about your “floral design adventures,” can you share a few?
Sure! When I first started doing weddings in Orange County (before the Goth Movement we all know now), a couple wanted to reproduce an English country wedding. They selected the Waverly Chapel, which is situated in the center of a very Gothic cemetery. Here in California, we don’t have the large statues and monuments found in many cemeteries, ours are very park like…similar to a golf course view. But this one had all the bells and whistles with mausoleums, weeping angles and looming iron gates. We arrived at the appointed delivery time for set up with baskets and garlands of beautiful, English inspired garden flowers and entered the chapel. There, sitting center stage near the altar, was a HUGE coffin! Memorial candles were lit all around and organ music was playing. Thankfully, the casket was closed! We had to search for a chapel attendant to see if we were in the right place and were told that they just “forgot” to wheel the casket into the back. But the kicker was when they said, “Oh, just start setting up.” (I guess they figured the person inside wouldn’t complain, LOL!) But, I was so freaked out that I started decorating the back pews near the church doors and kept one eye on the coffin as I worked. And yes, it was near sunset! What a Goth moment!
And speaking of spooky, we design the Queen Mary cruise ship in Long Beach on occasion. It is known to be VERY haunted, they even do ghost tours there. My assistant, Terry, makes me pay her hazard pay if we book an event there.
We do a lot of Art Deco era themes there since it has the decor and history. It’s a great space to design, but logistically, it’s a nightmare with it’s ancient lifts and minimal vendor access. I haven’t seen any spooks, but we did have a strange experience during a wedding set up 2 years ago. We had just finished securing several votive candles on a mantel area when we watched in amazement as they suddenly started to move several inches on their own. Nothing else in the room moved near them, so we’re still wondering how those candles became mobile. We also have experienced cold spots and that “hair standing up on your neck” feeling in the main ballroom. So, now I charge extra for the Queen Mary!
What do you think will be the next new trends in floral design?
With the economy as it is, I think clients will want streamlined looks that still have WOW, but can be created with scaled back budgets in mind. I personally will be suggesting many Asian inspired Ikebana designs for receptions that will highlight gorgeous trays and focal flowers.
Color is still a first concern with my brides. Chocolate, Lime and Pinks are tops, followed by Tiffany Blue and Crisp White with Yellow.
If you could invent a product for florists, what would it be?
Clone a Designer, LOL! Yes, one spray and you would have an assistant with all of your skills and training on hand whenever you need them!
On the serious side, I would love to design a Bouquet Holder Design Center. It would be flexible enough to hold any shape bouquet holder or several at once, allowing you do angle, tape, fasten or spray and design; from the smallest tussy to the grandest cascade without having to have 3 arms.