After a long winter and relatively cold spring, what says summer is finally here better than fresh flowers? For our inaugural event, we couldn't be more excited to partner with the floral studio Larkspur to host a floral arrangement workshop on Saturday June 21st. We sat down with Larkspur's owner, Beth Barnett, to learn about her journey into the flower business, her point of view on floral arrangements, her farm up in Michigan, and what's next for Larkspur!
What inspired you to enter the floral business and open up a storefront with Larkspur?
My knowledge of the flower industry has been somewhat self taught. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video from Columbia University, then traveled for a while and lived in Oregon on an organic farm, always knowing I wanted my own business. I came back to Chicago and was freelancing for different florists first, then I got my florist license. The floral business just made sense with my background and love for all things natural and photography. I think of floral design as a 3D photograph. I remember gathering a bunch of flowers, making a fake wedding at my parents' house and building my initial portfolio off of that photo shoot. I started off focusing on small weddings, as not many florists were focusing on that area with no minimums.
With retail flower shop experience at A New Leaf in my early 20s and now a growing clientele, I wanted to try my own hand at retail. I was at the 10 year mark of Larkspur as floral design studio and always thought it would be fun to have a flower shop of my own. I had been to FLO’s bakery [the site of her previous storefront in Bucktown] and when a retail space sign for rental appeared - even in bad shape - I knew there was potential in that space.
How would you describe your floral style? Has it changed over the years?
I have a natural sense of style and enjoy using all kinds of foliage -- twigs, berries, grass, and things that aren't always considered flowers but add depth and texture to an arrangement. I don't want my arrangements to be too forced; they're usually a bit whimsical, garden-y, and vintage with a modern twist. My favorite types of flowers have a soft nature, papery petals, and soft velvety textures. I steer away from rainbow of colors, leaning more on monochromatic and unexpected palettes. I love neutral arrangements, or small pops of color with neutral tones. My style is very seasonal -- I work with Midwestern farmers from Michigan and Wisconsin to buy local when possible in the summer.
What type of event is your favorite to prepare arrangements for? What do you love most about being in the floral business?
Wedding and corporate events are both fun. With weddings I enjoy creating a vision for a couple that brings both the location of their wedding and their personal styles into the flowers. I love helping people figure out flowers. I'm a huge fan of architecture and enjoy playing around to see how an arrangement can best highlight a beautiful space, so the flowers aren't fighting the structural elements of the space. I want my flowers to make it understandable that a party is going on.
You and your husband own a flower farm up in Buchanan, Michigan, where you source some of your flowers from in the summer. Tell us more!
We bought the property 12 years ago we honestly didn't realize that all these beautiful flowers were there. Once I opened my own storefront and started buying flowers for the store, my husband got really into it. It took a few years to till the soil while we focused on annuals, heirloom seeds, and organic farming methods. My husband is truly the lead on planning and layout. I pick out flowers that I know customers want and I think are beautiful. Peonies have been our bumper crop - we found 84 peony bushes that were well established after we bought the property, each bush with 100-150 stems. Couples that get married at the end of May or early June benefit from these blooms in their arrangements. My husband spends every weekend at our farm in the summer, paying attention to what to cut and when it's ready. Some farm flowers are ready to be cut by late Spring, other varieties like yarrow are best in July, and our forget me nots grow enough to cut until September. I also gather branches and grasses from our farm to utilize in my bouquets, keeping a natural feel.
You recently moved into a new studio space at 333 N. Oakley Blvd. What prompted the move and what is your vision for the future of Larkspur?
The biggest change with this new space is that I will no longer be doing retail. Visits to my new studio will be by appointment only, which is how I've always handled weddings, parties and other corporate accounts. I'll also continue to do delivery orders throughout the city and suburbs. Larkspur was a floral design studio for 10 years before I opened my previous retail space in Bucktown. My core business comes form corporate accounts, weddings, and parties or special occasions. While I loved having a storefront, I quickly realized that a lot of my time was spent with merchandising, which ultimately cut away from my time doing floral design, and I even had to pass on some weddings and other opportunities I was interested in. This Spring felt like the right time to change things up and I had fantasized about more of an industrial loft space where I could create a different creative experience, no longer tied down to a vintage storefront. In my new building I'm surrounded by creative neighbors including Threefold, a furniture and wooden sculpture maker on the first floor (they built a tree house for Camp Wandawega), as well as a audio equipment company and a film company. I've always been in my own store front and am excited to be in a building with other creatives. Plus it's a dog friendly building and I can bring my two dogs to work with me!
We hear you're a fellow yogi! Can you share about your background in yoga?
I was certified through the Temple of Kriya Yoga in Logan Square about 13-14 years ago in the basic hatha iyengar style. love yoga so much. My goal in getting certified was to learn all I could about the practice, but I ended up teaching too. I've taught at Chi Healing Center and have also led classes for employees and seniors at Little Bothers - Friends of the Elderly. I did some extra certification with an international yoga therapy organization focused on healing specific ailments. I've taken workshops and taught private lessons to individuals with multiple sclerosis. Nowadays I no longer teach, but enjoys practicing solo at home and going to an occasional class (my mom is even an active yogi, practicing yoga 4+ times a week!)
What are some of your favorite spots in Chicago?
I love venturing down to Hyde Park and south shore and driving down lakeshore drive. The Garfield Park Conservatory is another favorite. I love exploring my neighborhood of Ukrainian Village. One neighborhood gem is Ann's Bakery, an eastern European market where you walk inside and are transported to Ukraine. They make their own baked goods, have a great deli counter and also sell packaged items from Ukraine.
The Glessner House at Indiana & 18th is also fun to explore. The oldest house in Chicago is there, as well as a women’s park and garden.
And while we're talking favorites, I'd be remiss to not mention a few spots near our farm in Buchanan, Michgan. Downtown Buchanan has a historic mill, that's still running to this day! Tabor Hill is a nearby winery with a great restaurant and deck over looking the vineyards. Round Barn Winery is another one worth visiting.
Thanks for sharing Beth!
Yoga+ Larkspur Floral Arrangement Workshop will take place on Saturday June 21st from 1 - 3:30pm. Event details and tickets can be found at www.yogapluschicago.com/events.
Photos courtesy of Larkspur