Mandy is the Grand Prize Winner of the uBloom/Design Master Contest – wowing the uBloom Floral Experts with her exciting entry “Its Hip to be Square.” Co-hosting along side of J on a recent JTV webisode, Mandy re-created her inspiring design and revealed the secret of how she was able to manipulate those gorgeous, ruby colored mini callas into “dancing” on top of the hydrangea form base. Mandy is the owner of Hothouse Design Studio, an upscale wedding an events biz located in Birmingham, Alabama.
You are a third generation florist. Talk a little bit about growing up in the industry and your decision to continue your family’s floral legacy.
Our childhood is a road map to our future. My road map began by spending time with my Grandmother in her small town flower shop. I remember helping her process flowers, jumping in the dumpster to crush boxes and taking my afternoon nap in a flower box under her work table. Little did I know that I would still be doing the same thing today…well, I have upgraded to napping on the sofa in my office!
Upon graduating from college, I decided to pursue the challenge of transforming a small town flower shop into a premiere wedding and event floral studio. In the beginning I did it for the love of a family business, but now, I continue my journey for the love of design. Who knows what direction my road map will take me next!
Although you gained a lifetime of experience by working in the family biz, what other educational opportunities have you pursued that have helped to shape your floral style and business philosophy?
When I began exploring the world of design and developing my own style, I had the hunger to seek out all the educational opportunities I could find. I would read all of the industry magazines and I was given the opportunity to travel- exposing my eyes and ears to all of the knowledge different designers had to give at design shows. Ultimately, I attended my first AIFD Symposium in New York and realized that I had that talent – I just had to refine my strengths, creativity and bring that style and “wow” factor to my clients. After feeling comfortable and confident with my style, I began competing in local competitions and graciously accepting constructive criticism from the judges. I think that the best education we can allow ourselves is to listen. Others have lots to say…we can definitely learn from them!
What are the most important things your parents taught you about the floral biz?
You have to spend money to make money! You must be willing to sacrifice – not only money, but your time. I spend all my time and effort with thoughts running through my head about what I can do next to make tomorrow a little easier. Plan for the future, but don’t work so hard you miss making a memory today.
You took over the reigns at Hothouse…talk about the changes you made (and the stuff you kept the same) that catapulted your shop into floral stardom.
When I began to take over the family business, then called Bell Florist, I planned to change the business name to a more attractive, updated and sophisticated reference – Hothouse Design Studio. I wanted to get away from the “negative” connotation the new generation had of a florist – typically a coffee mug and balloon shop and introduce a studio – a trendy and cool place where flowers are designed and turned into art.
I then proceeded to relocate the shop into downtown Birmingham, closer to corporate clients and more accessible for wedding and event clientele to visit. In the new shop I created an experience – a fresh look, an attractive presentation. The thing I have kept the same is the personal connection with all of my customers. I want my clients to realize that they are working with a locally owned business and that I realize that not only is their name on the enclosure card of an arrangement, but mine is as well. Creating long lasting relationships, I have learned, is creating a long lasting business.
You seem very focused…with excellent design skills, great business sense AND are quite accomplished in the floral world (all at barely 29 years old!)….what is the motivating factor and inspiration behind your amazing floral success?
Anyone who knows me, knows I have always been an over achiever and devoted to what I set my mind to. I am blessed with a wonderful childhood, a college education and the opportunity to take over a business my grandmother and mother have worked in for over thirty years. I realize the value of a stable foundation and have set my mind to building my dreams and turning them into a reality. I know it takes winning competitions, becoming certified in certain organizations and most of all, having the self-motivation to keep going. Above all, I want to be able to give others opportunities, even in the smallest of things, that may encourage them to develop their dreams.
Speaking of inspiration…which designers do you draw inspiration from?
This is a very comical question to me! It is always a joke among friends that I should have been born in Europe! I love the techniques that Monique van den Berg and Geert Pattyn and several others use in their designs. Sometimes it is the most simple of things that make the most impact. I love learning from all designers – the one at the work station directly across from mine or the one directly across the ocean!
Do you have a favorite flower? What is it and why?
This must be one of the hardest questions for a florist, but definitely one of the most popular! As a floral lover, I find myself enjoying the beautiful nature and scent of a peony, but as a floral designer, I find myself having a love affair with a mini calla lily. I love the way that I can manipulate them into dancing in any direction. They are available in so many beautiful colors and can always add movement to any arrangement.
Your floral designs are so beautiful, like works of art or pieces of designer furniture. Talk about your personal style and what you look to for inspiration.
Like many, I keep up on the latest trends in the fashion and interiors market. I look closely to color trends and find myself being inspired by everything from an Anthropology store display to a mushroom growing wild in the yard. I always take a minute to notice my surroundings and how I can add my personal twist and incorporate them into my daily designs. I find inspiration from other floral designers, realizing that to recreate is simply flattery, but to redesign adding your own element or viewpoint is to create your own style. I always remember – you are only as great as your last photograph proves you are!
What would your “dream” wedding or event look like?
Mother Nature would of course be involved setting the scene with a beautiful day fading into the evening. The location would be a beautiful private sculptured garden with highly manicured hedges and antique statuary. (Perhaps, Elton John, may let us use his estate?) Guests would be seated at tables adjoined as far as the eye could see. With repetition being a key element in the design working its way down the table, revealing itself through the use of candles and lavish florals of Lady Slipper orchids. Cloches, mosses, nests, herbs and other natural elements would give interesting accent and providing a bit of the unexpected. The mood would be set with sounds of strings in the background and the smiles of friends and family. The overall color scheme of florals would be a fresh palette including different shades of green and crisp whites all set on chocolate pintuck linens. With monogrammed dishes and personalized place cards, no detail would be overlooked!
What are your favorite flowers and color schemes to work with?
I love working with rich hues and incorporating different textures into my designs. For example, I would create an arrangement with rich red roses, deep purple Dendrobrium orchids, shades of pink Celosia and deep eggplant Cymbidium orchids accented with raspberry Amaranthus all grouped in a cast iron urn. Perhaps for added interest I would include some sort of unexpected element like plums, purple grapes or radishes nestled in. With my designs you never know what I will incorporate to draw your eye in!
Recently I created all of the Christmas décor in the Dining Room of the Alabama Governor’s Mansion. With the overall color scheme and design left to my creative eye, I was given the liberty of adding a bit of floral accent to the room including decorating the mantle, 24 foot dining table, buffet, hutch and all other details of the room. The overall color scheme was evident with the use of copper ornament trees, large copper glittered packages, green moss discs and moss garland moving throughout the design pieces. It was a new look for the mansion and caught the attention of the local paper and all the Alabama residents that toured the Mansion for the holidays.
Name the top 3 – 5 floral design supplies or products that you just can’t live/work without?
On my work station at any given time, you will find….a vase of lily grass, a bolt of Oasis Banding wire, a couple of butterflies, my favorite pair of clippers and of course a little bit of curly willow always allows me to sell more negative space in my arrangement. Along side my lazy susan would be a glass of sweet tea with a twist of lime – the sugar rush I need about 4:00 every afternoon! Most importantly, I always have a pen and piece of paper close – I never know when I may need to sketch!
Marketing is essential to building a successful business. What are some of the marketing strategies that you find the most beneficial to your business?
Social networking has proven to be a way that I connect to my customers. Every time I have pictures from an event, a quick pic of an everyday arrangement or the latest magazine article I always make sure to post it on Facebook. I am always incorporating fun ideas to invite people into the studio and making sure that people perceive the style we have through our print advertising. I always keep my customers wondering what I will do next!
Share with us a couple of mechanics tips or tricks that you’ve learned from your many years in the biz.
You can accomplish so much with Oasis cold glue! In many wedding bouquets and event designs, I add last minute/finishing touches to existing arrangements with cold glue. It allows me to add that bloom to the exact place and put it in the perfect position. The other tip is anytime you are looking for that last finishing touch, put a bird or butterfly in your arrangement and I guarantee it will fly out your door!
What are some of your short term and long range goals?
Recently, I set a goal for myself and applied for PFCI. A couple of days ago, I was welcomed to attend the induction ceremony in September in Arizona as the first floral designer from Alabama to ever be inducted! I have found that you can’t be intimidated no matter what your age! You have to strive to be the best and always accept failure as a learning opportunity. In the next few years I would like to have an event facility – who knows what trouble I might get myself into next!
When you aren’t designing flowers…what do you enjoy doing on your “down” time?
“Down” time – really?
If you could study floral design anywhere in the world, where would you go?
On a trip through Europe – stopping at local floral shops and spending time observing the wonderful designers in different countries – learning their tips and techniques.
Name a funny, unusual or interesting fact about yourself.
My monthly ritual is to visit my local Barnes & Noble to frantically search for the latest issue of Living Etc. magazine. Years ago, I developed a love of the publication and now I find it an exciting adventure to visit the store, get sidetracked by purchasing over 7 other magazines at one time and treating myself to a Grande Mocha Frappucino topped with whipped cream. ONCE a month….I steal a night to myself and get lost in the pages of inspiration!
What is the last thing you splurged on? OR What is the ONE thing you would LIKE to splurge on?
A 12 foot long, 4 foot deep, tufted brown worn-leather sofa. Possibly the most comfortable piece of furniture ever! Right now it is sitting in an Atlanta Americas Mart showroom, whispering my name…
Last question…Talk about the most unusual job you have ever done or the craziest customer you have ever worked with. We LOVE a good story!
My craziest customer is my mother. Even though she is fully confident in creating her own florals and tablescapes, she must always inevitably pick my brain about the next event she has or the next church ladies gathering she is in charge of. I love her with all my heart and I admire all she has done in her life including raising children. She is on site everyday at the studio and I have bestowed upon her the title of transportation engineer. She is a woman behind the wheel and never meets a stranger. I always know that my deliveries will be on time, presented as intended. She is my worst critic, my shoulder, my teacher, my mother – my craziest customer!