Editor Kendra Aronson here again! I’m back with my Q & A column showcasing florists that I highly admire in the field-to-vase movement. Today I’m interviewing Natalie Bowen of Natalie Bowen Designs. As a third generation florist, Natalie’s passion and talent for floral design came naturally. Her mother—a talented garden designer—helped Natalie host her first flower arranging party when she was only in the first grade. Her grandmother ran the San Francisco flower shops at the Fairmont Hotel, the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and one in West Portal in the 1940s. Natalie Bowen Designs is a boutique floral and event design studio specializing in breathtakingly beautiful arrangements with a chic creative edge. She mainly focuses on weddings and special events, but also creates flower arrangements for select Bay Area restaurants and salons, as well as floral styling for photo shoots. True to our mission here on Field to Vase, she believes that using flowers that are naturally in season make for the very best arrangements. She loves all aspects of design and gathers her inspiration from color, movement, architecture, fashion, art, and nature. Every month she contributes a lovely guest post (Blooms in Season) to the Sacramento Street blog. This reoccurring column showcases the way she utilizes seasonal flowers and the inspiration behind each fresh arrangement. Be sure to check out her previous posts on the Field to Vase blog: Finding Inspiration (March 2014), What Makes Spring Special? (May 2014), Going with the Flow (September 2014), and How Does My Garden Grow (February 2015). Additionally, have a look at previous Q & A posts! Enjoy!
What is your creative background? What sort of formal training do you have (if any)?
I studied Industrial Arts in college, however I feel as if my love of art and design has been cultivated on my own. I don’t have a lot of formal training, because you really don’t need much in this industry. When I first started, I worked at a flower shop and my training there really taught me a lot about flowers and their care. I feel proud and confident in my knowledge of what flowers like and how to take care of them. There is a real art to that part of the job.
What was it like growing up surrounded by women who were interested in flowers and gardening? How have they inspired you?
Growing up in a family deeply rooted in their love of flowers and the natural landscape of California influenced me more than I knew growing up. My Grandmother closed her flower shop before I was born, but her greatest passion was gardening and having been born in California in 1910 she had a great love of the outdoors and understood the importance of taking care of our earth. She recycled before anyone I knew was doing it, and on the first Earth Day in 1970 she rode her bike to her teaching job with tin cans banging behind her in an effort to get people to stop and notice her message.
Do you have any distinct fond memories from your childhood that involve flowers?
My childhood memories are full of flower-related moments. My mother was a garden designer and she would bring me along when I was small and I clearly remember playing in her clients camellia bushes and entertaining myself in their gardens while my mother worked. I had my first flower arranging party on Valentine’s Day in the first grade, so like so many florists, the passion started early.
How and when did you start your floral business?
I started my business thirteen years ago. I was just finishing school and it had always been my dream. So, I went for it and now that I think of it I really am living the dream I had. Of course it looks a whole lot different than I imagined it to be—but, so much better in some ways.
Where do your source your flowers? Do you have favorite growers?
I source my flowers from the SF Flower Mart. I am so lucky that my studio is only three blocks from the market and even luckier that we have such an amazing market in San Francisco. I love to support the local growers and find that Figone and Repetto are favorites. They are both special because they both grow their flowers and sell them at the market. Most of the vendors import and don’t grow their own. Having flowers travel through fewer hands cuts down on damage to the blooms and damage to our environment.
What does it mean to you to be part of the field-to-vase movement?
I think it is so important to support seasonal and locally grown flowers. There are so many people who are so much more active in this movement than I am, and they inspire me to always do better and be better. We need this movement to draw awareness so that more people are aware of the impact that their choices affect the larger picture.
What does a typical day in the life of Natalie look like? How big is your team?
The only thing typical about my day is that no two days look alike. I arrive at the market at 6:30 a.m. 2–3 days a week. After shopping the market I arrange flowers in our studio, set up events onsite and answer a ton of emails! It’s amazing how much computer time this job takes up, which is a sad reality of so many careers these days. I have a wonderful team, which is something that I am proud of—they make Natalie Bowen Designs what it is today. I have one main employee and then ten rotating freelance designers. We are truly a team and a lot of lovely relationships have been born from my little flower business. We all work nicely together and take time to sit down for a potluck meal in the garden on Fridays when we prep for a big wedding. It’s as nice as it sounds and we always say that lunch is our secret.
What allows you to create your best work?
Now more than ever I find that my best work is done when I have the complete trust of my client. When I am allowed to create and design based on what is in season and most inspiring at the market, I find that the both the client and I are happiest. My philosophy is that if someone has a few key points to their vision and then allows me to go from there, the most beautiful arrangements are made. Peonies are best in May and tulips are best in April. Stick to the season and let that create the flow.
How did you develop your aesthetic? Was there an ah-ha moment when everything clicked and your designs became stronger and recognizable?
I’m always developing my aesthetic and I think my range of style is actually something we are known for. This works both in my favor and against it. As I have said, I love variety, so our ability to do multiple styles means that we get to design in more than one look. The flip side is that we sometimes get requests for designs I am not in love with, because we are not just known for one single approach to our work. Most of all, I think we are known for an organic yet purposeful design style. Moving forward, I’d love to play with designs that use fewer elements but really highlight those few components.
What is one piece of advice you would have given your younger florist self when starting out? What advice do you have for others who are wanting to start their own floral company?
I wish I would have worked for a number of different florists before starting my own business. I worked for one florist for less than a year and then started on my own, so I have really been making it up as I go. I think a lot of the challenges I have come across would have been more easily solved if I had more experience. That being said, I think a key to my success was starting something and just going for it. If I had really known how hard this industry is, I may not have started my own business.
What types of gigs are your favorite—large events, weddings, weekly restaurant accounts, floral styling for photo shoots, hosting workshops?
I truly love variety. I have built a business on having a variety of clients and I love each type for different reasons. My favorite project is when the it flows and I feel as if we really achieved the vision both we and the client was looking for. Weddings are so fun because it’s a big project that takes almost a year to plan. Seeing all the components come together on the big day is such a rush! On the other hand, I love floral styling because you get to play with flowers in a way that isn’t even real. We set up each shot for that moment and we don’t have to work with the trials of needing something to last. If I stop having variety within my career, I’ll stop doing this job.
Thanks so much Natalie!
A unique opportunity at Figone Flower Ranch in Half Moon Bay to pick your own flowers for a floral workshop led by Natalie of Natalie Bowen Designs, the chance to style and have your arrangement photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux, and an informal summer-inspired meal will be provided amongst the dahlia fields!
Come spend time on a flower farm, expand your floral knowledge, and connect with like-minded people! Saturday, August 8 1-6 p.m. $800 (includes light meal and floral arrangement to take home!).
Register at firstname.lastname@example.org