Stepping through the studio doors of Philly-based event and floral designer Sullivan Owen, the outside world is left behind. You’re welcomed into a magical space inhabited by lush blooms, fresh greenery, and one fluffy cat. And of course, Sullivan herself.
If the name sounds familiar it should, you may recall Sullivan Owen from Julia’s studio visit back in 2011, a feature that coincided with the opening of Owen’s first studio space. Since then, Owen has relocated to a bigger, brighter studio in Philadelphia’s Olde Kensington neighborhood, a move that has allowed her to keep up with the growing demand for her gorgeous organic designs.
On a sunny fall Friday I had the opportunity to step through those doors and see Owen’s new space in person, and it’s even more gorgeous than these pictures can convey – but I was also there on a mission…
Flowers are such a gorgeous way to welcome the natural world indoors throughout the colder months, and with the launch of our September lookbook, Dark Bloom, it’s the perfect time to do so. But search the words “fall flowers” on Pinterest and the results are overwhelmingly pumpkin- and sunflower-heavy. In need of inspiration outside of the Internet, I turned to Owen for her floral expertise, and she was kind enough to share a little bit about her journey to floral design along with her tips for creating an incredible arrangement that speaks to the season, no hay bales or corn-stalks in sight.
A former Urban Outfitter’s sales associate, Sullivan worked in the third UO store while attending art school in Philadelphia. “The offices were right next door and it was just a really cool time to be with the company. I connected with the idea that your work could be beautiful and interesting, while still selling a product. That’s an idea that I’ve carried with me since that time,” She explains.
While the worlds of visual merchandising and floral design may not appear to be interconnected, Sullivan is quick to give credit to her experience in retail for what would eventually become her career: “I was really interested in display, and a lot of what I do now closely resembles that of a display coordinator. But it was really my own wedding [that was the catalyst], which I merchandised like crazy. I had a floor set and did all of the floral design. I just felt comfortable handling flowers as a medium, and had done flowers for friend’s weddings and some events, so I decided to take a class in floral design up in New York and my instructor saw something in me.”
In the four years since opening her business, Sullivan’s floral and event design business has grown tremendously, and along with creating personal arrangements for customers, her work can be seen on the pages of magazines, across the internet, and on the desks of Free People employees. “Every order of flowers that comes through is an opportunity to learn something new.”
As we spoke, Sullivan created a gorgeous autumnal bouquet right before my eyes using both foraged and traditional flowers. Read on for the steps:
Seasonal flowers (dahlias, roses, queen Anne’s lace, etc.)
Foraged greenery & foliage
Sharp scissors or floral shears
Chicken wire (optional)
“Fall is my favorite time of year for flowers because everything has so much life and dimension to it.”
Snip each stem at a sharp angle with the scissors or shears. This will make the stems easy to slide into the vase next to one another and allow the flowers more surface area from which to drink from. If you’re using a large pot or wide-mouth vase, Sullivan recommends placing some chicken wire inside to give the stems some structure.
Don’t be afraid to choose the unexpected. This hydrangea was slightly dried out, but had amazing color and texture, a must for an eye-catching floral arrangement. “This is what I think of when I think of fall. There’s a tendency for fall to become more of a greeting card interpretation, but in reality – at least in the northeast – the colors are much more interesting,” says Sullivan. “Look to your own yard, those weedy-looking plants can look incredible. The easiest place to start is to look for a branch in your yard that looks like it wants to be cut.”
“Another great place to start when creating floral arrangements at home is the grocery store or farmer’s market,” she adds “if you see something that you like 85% of, buy two, give away the pieces you don’t like, and create a grouped bouquet.”
Begin your bouquet by first adding the foliage and greenery. Sullivan says this serves two purposes: the greens give the flowers some structure and the extra dimension means you won’t have to use as many flowers.
“Criss-crossing the stems to make a nest is how most arrangements start. The greenery creates a space to catch the flowers.”
Once you’ve added all your greens, it’s time to start filling in with flowers. After adding in blooms in various shades of wine, burgundy, and fuchsia, Sullivan chose a large, butter yellow garden rose as a “face flower”, an accent flower that adds dimension to the bouquet and connects the other colors.
“Don’t be afraid to rearrange things. Take the flower back out, maybe cut the stem a little shorter.”
Always interested in how people keep themselves creative, before we parted ways I asked Sullivan how she stays inspired: “I spend a lot of time offline looking at the world, and I think that is something everyone should do more of. I’ve always loved fashion and pop-culture and the art world, and I’m always searching for inspiration for containers or textures. Looking at different mediums will open you up to other ideas.”