Coming to the US from her homeland of Jakarta, Indonesia right out of high school, Tanti attended college and graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point with a B.S. in Computer Information Systems. Owner of Papertini, a wedding & events floral business, Tanti happily resides in Philadelphia, PA with her husband & business partner, Neal, and her chubby & very spoiled kitty, Jake.
When did your interest in flowers begin?
The first year I moved to Philadelphia (2005-2006), I lived alone because Neal was still finishing up his Master’s in Wisconsin. So I got bored a lot and that’s when I picked up my first floral design “bible” – Paula Pryke’s Flower School: Mastering the Art of Floral Design. So floral design, at that time, was simply…curiosity. I was more into doing paper crafts (card making/scrapbooking/stamping).
What compelled you to start studying floral design?
The level of curiosity heightens significantly when I first competed at the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2007. It was such an eye opening experience! To be able to see flowers being used ABOVE AND BEYOND “weddings” and “regular arrangements” was like…the “Eureka” moment for me. I wanted to do those “art exhibitions”. I felt like I found my canvas. The possibilities become…endless! And that excites me and pushes me to study and learn more via books or talking to people.
Money is always an issue, so even until this day, I still cannot afford to go to a floral school. I’d like to one day though…but it’s not a priority at this point.
Your floral biz is named Papertini…what an interesting name. When did you start your biz and how did you come up with the name?
Papertini started out in 2006 as a handmade invitation/card business. I am a simple person, or at least I’d like to think, so…I came up with the name because well…I like paper and I like martinis! Even after I stopped the invitation side of the business, the name stuck because it was going to cost me more money to change name, so I thought…what the heck. Recently, I did consider changing the name, but a couple of my wedding planner friends told me that they like the name, they find it catchy and that I should keep it. So there it is. I am keeping the name. I would like to say that at this point in time, my niche is budget brides. A very tough niche money wise -BUT- a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things. Most of my clients have been generously flexible with me. So my portfolio consists of a lot of “random things” – there isn’t a particular design style.
I try to combine other materials with flowers like candles, interesting containers, options such as potted plants, basically any designs that help them stick with their budget. I don’t know how to define my style per se, but I can tell you things that I like -IF- I get 100% freedom to do whatever I want: WIRES, feathers (all kinds of feathers…), fruits, herbs, and vegetables. If I can blend in some steel/iron works that will be awesome!
Staffing, at the core, is Me, Neal, and Mandy Duchesneau, my right hand woman. She has been with me since Day 1. We met when working for the same company back in 2005. She is a crafty jewelry maker and just like me, she has zero floral design background. I pretty much dragged her into this and thankfully, she never looks back. Besides Mandy, I have about 7-8 lovely and talented ladies who work for me part time/on a need basis. Most of them are pretty much my friends (2 of them are actually my past clients who become friends – who I then dragged into helping me out. LOL! I like to tell that story a lot.), only 2 actually went through a “normal” hiring procedure where they sent me their resumes and I had to interview them.
Let’s just say, I have been nothing but lucky and blessed in how I get my staffing built. I wasn’t even looking around, they just pretty much came to me at the right time.
I identify which staff members have the highest interest in pursuing the field further and I try to sponsor them going to workshops together with me. So we all can be educated and learn together. I think sharing is great and sharing a learning opportunity is even better. If one day they decide to leave me, at least I know that I have prepped them well so they can do great on their own.
In addition to running Papertini, you enjoy participating in floral design competitions as well as teaching DIY bridal workshops. Tell us about these floral activities.
I started Papertini as a side/part time business and at that time, my day job had a lot of down time and was quite boring. I started browsing around looking for inspiration online and I came across information on the Philadelphia Flower Show… AND the best thing about it was… ANYBODY could compete! I was like, YEAH! I had no idea what I was doing, but decided to compete anyway. For a first timer, I was considered nuts because I competed in 2 classes. My first piece was horrible – it was a design I entered in the Small Arrangement Class. Everything was off, it was just not good. BUT….my advisers from that class were so generous in that they told me what I could have done to make the design better. I learned pretty quick that day and for my next class, I got second place (a dried arrangement/mini competition class). Last year, I was asked to be an adviser for the Dress Class (which I got a blue ribbon the year prior). I was so shocked that they asked me, that I had to check with the Chair a couple of times to make sure that she was absolutely sure about her decision. I was a newbie…I mean, I had less than 3 years of experience and all these ladies and gents have been with PHS for over 10-15 years!! It was such an honor. So yeah, I’ll be doing the same position again next year and am looking forward to it.
I really like to encourage people to compete at the Philadelphia Flower Show – at least give it try once. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about grabbing an awesome opportunity to learn! It’s truly amazing what you can learn from Philadelphia Flower Show. So if anybody at uBloom is interested to compete next year, you know where to find me! I teach DIY bridal workshops through Mt. Airy Learning Tree. This opportunity came as a suggestion from one of my vendor friends whose venue is being used as a classroom option. I just started this Spring and it was a hit. So I’ll be teaching again this Fall. I really do enjoy teaching. It feels good to share! Some people may disagree with teaching DIY bridal workshops, but here’s my take on the issue. DIY is NOT for everybody and most DIY projects (particularly wedding projects) need to stay SIMPLE. In Philadelphia, about 30,000 are married every year on average. Even if 10% of that stat are all DIY brides, there’s still enough business to go around. So why are we worried? I also think it is better to educate people because through this workshop, I help them realize how much WORK gets put into doing flowers and they’ll get to appreciate the value even more. AND…hopefully, they’ll share the valuable information with their friends.
You are originally from Jakarta, Indonesia. How does your SE Asian culture influence your personal floral design style?
Hmmmm…I don’t know if being from Indonesia influences my floral design style per se.
BUT what I do know is that being from another culture really helps broaden my horizon. It becomes helpful mostly when doing client consultations because I have an awareness of certain traditions in the Asian cultures (although mostly Indonesian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese). For example, I know that no Chinese/Korean/Japanese client would want MUMS (any kinds of mums) in their wedding flowers because it’s their “flower for the dead” – it’s a huge no-no.
I am also bilingual (English and Indonesian), and although it’s rough, I do speak/understand Mandarin Chinese and am learning Korean at the moment. So, sometimes it is helpful particularly when the bride brings in her mother/mother-in-law whose English is not the best – they feel included when I converse with or at least greet them in their respective language.
What is your favorite flower and why?
WHAT A TOUGH QUESTION!!
Hmmmm…I have to think a lot to answer this question… BUT…Here’s what I finally find out from deep inside my heart:
In general…I am very much drawn to anything that’s pokey, furry/fuzzy and gray. LOL! So that would be things like Eryngium, Globe Thistle, Safflowers, Celosia, Cockscomb, Veronica, Dianthus Tricks, Dusty Millers (this is my FAVORITE PLANT), Lambs’ Ears, Poppy Pods and Succulents (although they’re not pokey or fuzzy, they’re one of the coolest things)
How did you find out about uBloom and what are some of your favorite things about the site?
I actually have heard about uBloom since 2006 – when I started my company. But didn’t join until the end of last year. Let’s just say I was “burned” from my past experience with another online community, that I simply stayed away. HOWEVER… Meeting J last year had a HUGE impact on me and I cannot believe such a nice floral community exists! It’s like… too good to be true! But it’s true!
What I LOVE the most about uBloom is the sharing of knowledge. They say that there are so many ways to Rome, and uBloom shows just that. I mean, there are so many different ways to do things and it’s amazing how these talented and highly experienced floral designers would share all this information for FREE! And of course, J’s tutorial videos are just AWESOME!! I encourage all my staff to be a uBloomer (I think a couple of them are…) because it’s just a great learning and networking opportunity. Everybody is just so nice and welcoming. It really feels good to be a part of this wonderful community!
Where do you draw your floral inspiration from?
Hmmm… technically…a lot of random things but, I guess, mostly nature. What I mean by nature is not limited to only mountain, beach, “trees” and “forests” or “plants”. It seriously could be… anything from nature. Like….For example, the current project that I am running (just have to find time to update my blog) is called “Sea Slugs Project ”
When I first spoke of the idea, my assistants looked at me like I was a weirdo (they do that a lot…haha!), but I told them to have faith in me and I’d show them what I meant. What do you think? Not bad for a “slug” huh? LOL!
Another thing that I often look to for inspiration is… SILLY SIMPHONIES cartoons. THEY MUST BE the old school ones like “Water Babies”, “The Cookie Carnival”, “Music Land”, “Flowers and Trees”, etc. -AND- of course, any works by Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”, “Ponyo”, etc.). So when I’m stuck and feel like I’m in desperate need of fresh ideas, I just go to youtube and watch all these cartoons!
Your mentors are J Schwanke and Susan Rowell of Fairy Flowers in St. Paul, MN. Describe their influence in your life.
I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t think I could ever thank them enough in this lifetime…
Susan Rowell (she’s a uBloomer too!) is my first mentor. I did a wedding flower gig for a family friend in St. Paul, MN a couple of years ago and had to rent a workspace (and cooler). So I rented the space from Susan. As we worked on our weddings (she had 3 that weekend!), and while we chatted, she taught me how to value my work and told me that I am worth more than I thought. She was the first person – who was a professional floral designer – who told me that I had what it took to be in this field. To get an acknowledgment from an experienced peer at that point of my floral career meant so much to me and still does. We keep in touch and every so often, I will email her questions on technical or business stuff. She shares pictures of her recent work. So it’s super cool.
I met J when he did a presentation at the AC Moore that I worked part time for. I remember when I saw him, I was like “OMG…A FAMOUS PERSON is here and I get to hang out with him?!”. We chatted before his presentation started and I still find it amazing how real and down to earth he is. I mean, he is in every single edition of Florist’s Review magazine, for crying out loud and he’s talking to me just like…a friend! I was really embarrassed when he asked about my company and stuff, cuz I’m like a little bee tucked in somewhere over the rainbow… but he was very kind about it. From our conversations that day, J taught me to just continue doing what I love. Not having formal training doesn’t mean you are not qualified to be in the field and play nice.
If you could design flowers for the “perfect” wedding, what would it look like? (describe materials, colors, design style…the sky is the limit!)
- The colors would be gray, black, white, green and purple/lavender.
- Contemporary design – minimalist, clean for the base, wire provides texture.
- Must have long table so the design can be continuous.
- The wires would be in purple/lavender and black.
- Containers used will be in gray – so to bring out the industrial look.
- Different height and shape (combining square, rectangular and round, tallest would be about 10″h)
- Fresh flowers – Phalaenopsis Orchids, Tulips, Poppy Pods and Hypericum Berries
- Veggies – Artichokes and Asparagus
- Candles in square containers and everywhere on the center of the table.
If you could work with ANY floral designer, who would it be?
Hmmmm…this is quite a difficult question, because I actually don’t know names. Can I just say anybody who has contemporary design style from Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and UK? I find that most of the designs I love are most likely created by folks from those countries…
Describe the most unusual design request you’ve ever had from a client.
Hmmm…Don’t think I’ve ever gotten one yet…usually if they are considered “unusual” by others, I am all for it…so they become usual for me! LOL! I had a groom who requested that I make his boutonniere as manly as possible. LOL! Is that considered an unusual design request? What I created for him was a mini calla bout, and instead of ribboning the stem, I wired it. He was pretty content with it. SCORE!
What is the most important piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
The one core piece of advice that I think both J and Susan agree on is… Sharing is Caring. And that philosophy, I will always carry with me because I do truly believe that knowledge is meant to be shared.
What are your top 2 or 3 marketing strategies that are the most effective?
I would say Word of Mouth is the ultimate marketing strategy.
This year I am starting to network with fellow wedding vendors (fellow independent floral designers, wedding/event planners, photographers, venue coordinators, etc.) and so far it’s been fruitful. It goes back to J’s advise…play nice. If you play nice, other people most likely be nice to you.
I LOVE Wedding Wire…my clients can write reviews there and unlike the Knot, they give the option to do your online profile for free! They may not be as big as the Knot, but they are affiliated now with Martha Stewart and Wedding Bee. So being the “cheapo” entrepreneur that I am, I’m sticking with them, for now!
If you could create a floral design for someone famous (dead or alive), who would you design for and what would it be?
It would be awesome to do an “industrial” look combined with contemporary floral pieces as the STAGE SET for “Into The Woods” Broadway musical production as a tribute for Stephen Sondheim. This would be a total opposite of what their current stage set looks like now.
What is your favorite flower to design with and what is the one floral design “tool” or accessory (rainbow foam, oasis wire, etc) that you enjoy working with the most?
Favorite flower to design with…I think the answer would be the same as “my favorite flowers”.
The ONE favorite tool ever…for me, is…WIRE!!! The sad thing is…I haven’t used much of it
Do you have any design/mechanics tips or tricks that you would like to share?
I came up with this very unique technique that I’ve been doing quite often recently. I haven’t seen it done anywhere else so far. This technique combines 2 different flowers to make them look like they’re one flower – it’s almost like creating a new variety of flower! I did a wedding recently where I got to do just that for the bride’s bouquet (I was psyched beyond belief!!).
For her bouquet, I combined a rose (big head one, I think this one was “Blizzard”) with Eryngium. What I did was I “plucked” out the center of the rose carefully and cut the eryngium flush and glued it inside the rose. The important thing is…you have to make sure that the flower that you’re putting inside is the sturdier one, meaning things that can still look great without water for 24 hours.
What is your favorite design to create and what is your least favorite?
My favorite design would be anything with wires and in general, contemporary design.
My least favorite is anything too traditional…like…flowers on arbors. It’s not that I hate arbors, I just don’t dig putting flowers on them. In a perfect world where I would always have it my way, I would rather spice up -OR- BUILD an arbor with branches, wires and minimal flowers.
What are some of your future goals?
I know from the start that I do not want to be doing flowers for the rest of my life, that’s for sure. I think my plan is to bow out from the business 10-15 years from now -or- whenever I feel that I have reached the “peak”. I think it’s better to bow down at the height of your productivity/capacity.
I would like to then…teach languages in a university setting. So my hope is that this floral business makes enough (ONE DAY IN WAY, WAY out there, but right now, I don’t even talk about it…It’s ABSOLUTELY NOT there…) that I can go back to school to get a Master’s in the three languages I’d like to teach (Chinese, Korean and Japanese).
When things get stressful on the job, what are some of the ways you like to “chill out?”
I “shut down” my whole system, lock myself in the bedroom, and spend hours and hours watching Asian soap operas and variety shows…. (I am HIGHLY addicted to them and they can lift my mood up just like that!)
Korean and Taiwanese pop music, jazz, oldies, musical tunes, some classical and operas
Any books by Agatha Christie (BUT has to have “Hercule Poirot” though…) -AND- the whole series of “Little House on the Prairie” -AND- “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown -AND- “Speaking with the Angel” by Nick Hornby (It’s HILARIOUS)
Most animations, BUT…I also very much like… “Stranger than Fiction”, “Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (the original one with Gene Wilder) and “Big Fish.”
I EAT ANYTHING (I even tried silk worms…would I do it again? NO…but at least I tried…) except Durian and “stinky beans” (only in Indonesia they have these kinds of weird stuff…)
Favorite Industry Magazine
FUSION FLOWERS rocks my world! Every time the postman drops it in my mailbox, I run to it like it’s Christmas morning!