Steven Santos is the Creative Director of J. Michaels Florist, Wine & Chocolates and currently resides in Boise, ID.
Steven, you became interested in flowers and design as a teenager while working in a sandwich shop that had a gift shop/florist connected to it. What first “drew” you to flowers and design and convinced you to put down the ham and roast beef for roses and orchids?
The creativity, and the chance to create art is what first drew me. I would see the designer get an order and then make something wonderful. I dont think I could ever have sandwich making as a passion of mine, it would all go to my hips!
You eventually took a position at another floral shop in order to gain more design knowledge and worked there until you graduated high school. What did you learn while working there?
The shop that I worked for was in Mountian Home, Id. House of Flowers owned by Rita Harris is the only florist in that city and also serves the airforce basee there. By being the only florist in the city, we were always busy. During school dances we had over 100 corsages to do in one night! And on holidays like Valentine’s day, we would be there until 3 am getting things ready. I learned how to be efficient during busy times. I also met some really great people while working there that helped guide me to be a great designer.
You had a lot of interests in your late teens/early 20s…what were some of the things that you enjoyed pursuing?
I absolutely loved being infront of people. I was a member of Speech Club, Business Professionals of America (BPA), Future Farmers of America ( FFA which had a floral design competition), Yearbook Club, and Drama Club. I still like to keep busy and do fun things outside of work. Right now, I am helping with a performance of the Broadway musical “XANADU” with Knock ‘em Dead Dinner Theatre.
You finally narrowed the “possible career” field down to 2 jobs…and you were, interestingly enough, torn between going to mortuary school and floral school. I’m intrigued!!! Please elaborate more about your tough choice…what you liked about both opportunities…and what made you eventually decide to choose flowers over embalming?
In high school I was in an Anatomy and Physiology class. We got to go and work on cadavers during one of our feild trips. It was so amazing to me to see what the human body was. While working at House of Flowers I had to do a lot of funeral deliveries and I got to know the moritcian there. The Mortuary business is really something to be admired. They get to help grieving families create a celebration of thier loved ones lives! It is definitely not an easy task. After talking with the mortician and getting more information, I also talked to the designers at the shop were I worked. They gave me a lot of insight to the floral industry and what potential I could have in it. I researched some schools to help me gain confidence in design and I found the Floral Design institute.
Your choice of flower schools was GREAT…The Floral Design Institute in Seattle, WA…owned by David & Leanne Kesler. Tell us about your experience at FDI.
My experience was amazing! I met some really great people in my class and learned a lot. The format was great for me. It was like a crash course in everything you need to know about floral design. I really enjoyed being in Seattle all on my on. I stayed in Hotels and had a great time “finding myself.” During one of the classes, we had to be in a group and do a wedding. I had the task of creating the bridal bouquet. I created a composite rose bouquet. Everyone was stunned that I pulled it off, and the instructor was amazed because no other first year student had ever created that. It was something that they did in their advanced design class.
After attending FDI you went back home to Boise, ID and was hired by local “floral legend” John Carpenter who ran an upscale shop in ID. This was the first time that you had the opportunity to be a “real” floral designer. What were some of the most important things you learned from working in John’s shop?
Working with John at his shop, was the first time I was handed an order and told to create something. I wasn’t told what to make or given suggestions, I had to look within my mind and create something from scratch. It was TERRIFYING! But, through the guidance of John and his head designer Al, they helped me grow confidence and create some beautiful pieces. At that shop, they also did design seminars and open houses. It was so fun to get up in front of people and give them design tips and show them some amazing designs. It was an amazing experience. Overall, I was taught to not over think my design, let my creative juices flow and something amazing will come out.
Later, you chose to work at another florist shop…J. Michaels, owned by De Zboroski. There, you learned a lot about the “business” aspect of a floral shop. What did you like most and least about the business end of running a florist shop? Did you find that you liked the business or the design aspect better?
Working with De taught me that there is more to the floral industry then just designing. It is really easy to create a design with an unlimited budget. De taught me that you have to watch your bottom line. If you add one more flower to your arrangement, you may be losing $5-$10 depending on the flower, multiply that by how many arrangements in a week you do, and you can be losing BIG bucks. De was very detailed with her shop and how she wanted it ran. De is an amazing designer and an amazing spirit! She is a little spit-fire that will break down the individual part of your design and show you exactly where the money is going. Obviously, I enjoy the design aspect of a floral shop, but the fundamentals of keeping that shop afloat and maintaining the business, is something that I enjoy as well and am doing in my current position.
The small town of Boise couldn’t contain you…and you yearned for a “big city” experience. Where did you decide to go…and HOW did you come to meet and work for Club uBloomer (and Featured uBloomer Alumni) Dodie Sy?
Most of my family is in Southern California, so that was an easy decision for me. I moved to Rancho Cucamonga in early 2007. I applied for a job at 24 Hour Fitness and right next to the gym was Dodie’s first shop, Buds & Blossoms. I went in and talked to Dodie and his Mother Gloria and soon was hired. I worked for Dodie, helping around the shop, doing daily orders, helping with events, and delivering.
You know I’ve GOT to ask…what was it like working for Dodie? And, what did you learn about creating upscale events under Dodie’s tutelage?
Design is so effortless for Dodie. He is a true “Natural Born Designer.” The ideas and concepts he comes up with is something that I truely admire! Dodie is such a kind hearted person and a great communicator. If was was making something that he thought should be tweaked a little, he could tell me without coming off as mean or rude. I learned so much from Dodie! Some of the floral creations he would make would make my jaw drop! He taught me that simple can be stunning, and to not add too many ingredients.
Your main employer, 24 Hour Fitness, transferred you to Las Vegas. You quickly learned that ‘Sin City’ was not for you and you returned to Southern California for a while. Then, you moved back to your roots…Boise. What REALLY drew you back to Idaho and back again to J. Michaels Florist?
I love Idaho. You get all four seasons and amazing outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking, hiking, camping, and cycling. Boise is a little big city, you get the amazing downtown feel with nice restaurants, bars, and lifestyle; but have a small town feel and closeness without worrying about crime. I went to talk to De at J. Michaels and found out that she had retired and sold the shop to Shasta Brown. After talking with him I was hired as a designer responsible for making arrangements for one of their biggest clients.
You are currently giving J. Michael’s a flower shop “makeover.” What are you doing to help change the shop’s image and improve sales during this recession?
Boise is saturated with Retail Florists. Having one more shop that just takes in lots of orders from local people plus Teleflora and FTD will not flourish in this city. Boise is about 10 years behind in trends and styles, so a ” Floral Studio” would not survive either. What I am creating is a floral boutique. With the help of Shasta, we are creating a shop that has aspects of what we were before ( carrying gourmet chocolates, truffles, wine, and champagne) and adding an elegance and an upscale vibe. We have started to carry more home decor and are involved in Boise’s Parade of Homes. We also do holiday decor for many private clients, hotels, and businesses. We have steered away from the “FTD $29.99 Bright Blush” type of arrangements and promote that everything we do is 100% custom. People are really enjoying this. When they want something fun, modern, and unique they know they can come to us and we will do something spectacular!
You have had SO many wonderful “flower job” experiences…which ones have been your most memorable?
I cant really say that one experience has outweighed another. Every experience has taught me and shaped me into who I am today.
What would you consider your design style to be and what are your favorite floral materials to work with?
I would say that my design style is Modern Garden. I love using sticks, moss, unique greens and i try to keep it simple. I am in love with rough natural textures like birch bark, and stone. I am always growing and widening my floral knowledge and design techniques. There are a lot of designers that have been in the business for many years that stick with the same design style that they learned in the 80′s and 90′s. You can get stuck in a rut and you can be your own demise if you aren’t constantly learning and growing.
What is YOUR favorite flower and why?
My favorite flower is the tulip. I love how after you cut it, it still grown and moves. It changes your design in one day! I also like re-flexing a tulip’s pedals, it creates a fun new look that you don’t normally see.
With an unlimited budget…what would your “dream wedding” look like? (describe venue, lighting, flowers, color scheme, theme, etc.)
My dream wedding would be in the forest. It would be at night on a warm summer evening. Soft up lights surrounding the ceremony area to accent trees and foliage around me. The color scheme would be soft olive green, cream, and white. I would use lots of foliage and other natural textures. Above the seating area I would hang Chinese lanterns with candles in them to add some light. Following the ceremony, the reception would be held on a different day at a beach house. It would also be a warm summer evening. I would have lots of different finger foods ranging from Mexican to Mediterranean. Lots of fun music, karaoke, and of course all of my friends and family!
Every designer has one or two designs that were really memorable in some way…either the design itself, the customer you designed for, the occasion…what one design that you created really stands out in your mind as being your “ultimate” to date?
It would have to be a wedding show I did in 2010. It was my first one with J. Michaels. They hadn’t done a wedding show in a few years. Most florists at our wedding shows basically set up a couple tables with a few bouquets on them. I did something a little different. I created 3 mini weddings. One in red & black, one in all white, and one in earthy greens. I, along with our other designer, created 1 show stopper piece, 1 centerpiece, 1 bridal bouquet, and 1 boutonniere. it was so stunning! We got compliments from other booths and other florists there. One of the other florists there made a comment to her friend, “we should of brought better flowers!” This made our day and set us up with a healthy wedding season!
Ok, if you could design an arrangement for a celebrity…who would you design for and what would it be?
Madonna, and it would be 20 Hydrangea stems in a vase…. Just kidding! I would actually create an arrangment for Kelly Rippa of the “Live! with Kelly.” Her comment about how flowers just die and are not worth it really discouraged a lot of people from buying flowers, and saddened a lot of floral professionals. For Kelly, I would great a large arrangement with red dog wood, vibrant purple alstromeria, red cabage, and succulents. It would be tall, dramatic, and most importantly long lasting. I think that it would change her mind on the joy of flowers.
You competed against fellow uBloomers Mandy Majerik and Beth O’Reilly in Mayesh’s “Design Star” competition. Talk about your experience creating designs and videos for the competition.
They are AMAZING designers! I am honored to of been put in the same category as them. I was the first person to submit a video for Mayesh’s contest. I was nervous to see what other things people would create and what their videos would look. In the end, I was very pleased with my entry and I am honored to of been in the top 5!
Have you competed in any other floral contests?
I have only been in one other competition and that was at the Idaho floral convention when i worked with John Carpenter. I was a last minute entry and I got 3rd place. It was a fun accomplishment because it was my first year working as a designer.
Who are your favorite floral design educators?
I love watching what J creates! he is an inspiration to me and a lot of other people.
Where do you get your floral design inspiration from?
I let my surrounding help inspire me. I usually do a walk around the shop or step outside, and let it just come to me! I don’t like to over think my designs.
Ok, list your fave…
Magazines: US Weekly *blush*
Floral Design Product: Design Master: Glossy Wood Tone
Blogs/websites: Youtube: Ellen’s Channel
Song you like to listen to when designing: Any Disney Classic, I’m usually singing along!
Restaurant/Food: im a Pescatarian so I live on diet of shrimp tacos!
Obviously, you love to go new places and experience life. If you had the chance right now…what are some of the places you would visit (for personal & professional reasons) and why?
I would love to visit Ireland. It is so lush and green and rainy! And I would also love to visit Australia. I have loved kangaroos since I was in 2nd grade!
Name a top goal you have set for yourself.
To eventually own my own Floral Studio
What types of hobbies do you enjoy when you are not designing flowers?
I love to be involved in Musicals, Biking, Hiking, Going on the river, and enjoying good food and drink!
What’s next for Steven Santos?
I plan on making J. Michaels the top florist in the Boise Valley. Eventually, I will branch out on my own and run my own floral studio, doing wonderful events and brightening people’s lives through floral artistry.