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November 16th 2015

Dreaming Big in Detroit

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Over the past week, I’ve been pulling together a few posts based loosely on the theme of creative collaborations, partnerships and new flower friendships.  While each of the stories in this little series is a little bit different, collectively I believe they illustrate how giving, gracious and talented this flower community is.  If you’re just tuning in, one post highlighted the work of my flower friend & designer, Steve Moore.  I also shared a little story about florists rallying to support a flower farmer battling breast cancer.  And today I’m highlighting the biggest creative collaboration this year–or perhaps any year, ever: Flower House.

Earlier this year, I did a little interview with Lisa Waud, the creative genius behind Flower House, the floral art installation she organized for an abandoned, derelict house in Detroit that she purchased at auction for $250.  In our conversation, Lisa shared her dream to bring together floral designers and artists from across the country, provide them with truckloads of the very best U.S.-grown flowers and foliage, set them loose to design flower-filled rooms and then invite the public to tour the house as part of its last ‘hurrah’ before being responsibly deconstructed to make way for an urban flower plot.

And, as the flood of press coverage all indicate–including stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Martha Stewart, among others–Lisa’s biggest, wildest dreams really did come true.

Photos by  Heather Saunders


What was so impressive about the project was the number of people involved (36 designers, dozens of volunteers, 2000+ visitors) and the level of coordination needed to manage elopement,  a 100+ seat Field to Vase dinner on top of the sold-out exhibition.

The logistics involved were not insignificant.  The effort required more than a year of planning in order to coordinate all of the moving parts.  Lisa enlisted the help of an entire team of floral designers, photographer Heather Saunders, plus many other Detroit-based creatives and nonprofit leaders to assist with various aspects of the exhibition.  Flower House also involved numerous practical considerations and logistical challenges beyond simply choosing the flowers (although I understand that alone was quite a task).  For example, the house had no utilities, which meant providing food, water, power (plus potties) to the dozens of designers, volunteers and throngs of media that flocked to the event over the seven day period.

My schedule didn’t allow me to participate in the installation, but many of my flower friends, including one of my Floret Team members, Susan Studer King, got involved. Meanwhile, I lived vicariously through all the beautiful  #flowerhousedetroit photos posted on Instagram.

I asked Susan to share some insights from her experience and her collaboration with Caroline Waller of Passiflora Studio, a fellow floral and event designer from Ohio. Here’s her report:

Susan:  “Thanks Erin!  I thought I’d first share a little background on how my creative collaboration with Caroline came about.  Caroline and I were “flower friends” through Instagram for a long time before we ever met in person.  Even though we grew up on opposite sides of the state, we discovered that we had a mutual friend. It was one of those classic “small world” moments when we learned that one of her high school friends happened to be one of my closest friends from college. We later learned it was just one of many random things we had in common.

When Caroline and I finally met in person at the Ohio Flower Farmer Meet-Up in February, we hugged each other like we had been BFF’s for years.  The Meet-Up was the first of its kind in Ohio and all kinds of new flower friendships formed as a result. It was on that snowy winter day that we concocted a plan for a labor exchange. As part of our “trade,” I offered to travel to Marietta to help Caroline with one of her big spring weddings and learn more about her beautiful design style; in exchange, she would come up to the farm in the fall to help with Buckeye Blooms‘ biggest wedding of the year and learn more about how we grow our flowers.

When I went to help Caroline in May, we stayed up late talking about flowers, doing “research” on Instagram and giggling like teenagers at a slumber party.  It was then that we first watched the Flower House promo video and immediately looked at one another and said in unison: ‘let’s do it!’

We were incredibly honored to be one of the teams chosen to participate in Flower House and we were both so thrilled to work alongside so many super talented designers who all came together to volunteer their time and talent to create floral art for each room of the house.

The focus of our room centered on a “flower bed,” which represented what likely once occupied the room, and what will eventually grow on the lot after the house is dismantled.  To create it, we used a small bed spring I found in our barn and some branches that Caroline cut from native Ohio trees near her house to serve as bed posts.

In one of many funny out-takes of this collaboration, Caroline discovered that the bed post branches were too big for her vehicle, so she ended up renting a large U-Haul van to transport them. Having the big van also meant that we could take even more flowers from Buckeye Blooms to Flower House to use in our room and share with other designers.
PicMonkey CollageOur flower bed featured a pillow made out of ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlias, a canopy of hydrangeas, gomphocarpus, lisianthus and corkscrew willow, a bed skirt made primarily of ornamental grasses, and a tussled patchwork quilt draped over the edge of the bed.  Back in the day, quilts typically were made out of old clothes and scraps of material.  So, in a nod to this history, we utilized some flower ‘scraps’ –including dahlia buds, leaves and the side-shoots of mums to create the blocks of color in the quilt. We opted to leave the room’s paneling exposed but added 3-dimensional swaths of color in a gradient from dark to light, which served to draw your eye toward the light streaming in through the open windows and the headboard of the bed.

BB-FH-1There were a number of other designers that teamed-up to work on the Flower House rooms together, including duos from Wisconsin and New York, plus a large Toronto-based team which designed a room just down the dark hallway from ours.  Their group (the #6ixbuds squad on Instagram) had all participated in the Toronto Flower Market together at some point, as growers, designers or both.  Their team included:
Sas Long & Jaime McCuaig- Floralora Flowers
Jessica Gale- Sweet Gale Gardens
Jordana Masi- White Oak Flower Co.
Becky De Oliveira- Blush and Bloom
Myrica De Haan- Roses and Twine
Dayna Armstrong – Patchouli Design
Adrianne Gammie
The #6ixbuds came together to completely transform a dank, dark room of the house. After tearing out the faux wood paneling (and discovering remnants of a cool mod wallpaper) they created a lush design that entered from a hole in the ceiling and arched toward the little natural light that entered the room.  Their design also incorporated elements that represented the kinship that Ontario and Michigan share in terms of native flora by utilizing  flowers donated from local Michigan growers.

“Not only was participating in the Flower House a great chance to get to know designers and growers from around the States, it was also an amazing opportunity for us from Toronto and the surrounding area to connect with each other,” Sas Long shared with me.   “During our time collaborating on the room, florists learned more about what product can be sourced locally in Ontario and growers went home with lists of things to grow for local designers next season. The trip was really instrumental in bringing together the Toronto flower community in future business and creative collaborations.”

Sas’ comments echoed those of many participants:  the entire experience brought the flower community together in such a creative, innovative and inspiring way.  Meanwhile, the exhibition helped to raise the profile of seasonal, domestically-grown flowers and maybe even changed the way people look at Detroit’s derelict houses.  I was honored and humbled to have an opportunity to participate and am forever grateful to Lisa Waud and the dozens of other designers, volunteers and sponsors that helped to make Flower House happen.  Flower House sparked new ideas, brought beauty to a downtrodden part of Detroit,  forged powerful new partnerships between designers and growers, and illustrated the power of dreaming big.’

Awesome, thanks so much for sharing your experience, Susan.  And thanks to  Heather Saunders for sharing her hauntingly beautiful photos from Flower House for this post.  To read more about Flower House and see profiles of all the participating artists and floral designers, check out the Flower House website. ~Erin


  1. Janie Saggers on

    Dear Susan
    Loved reading this amazing blog.
    What an experience!
    I have just finished a beautiful wedding yesterday, and we both share the love of flowers (pure joy), the hard work and the satisfaction upon completion when seeing the bride so beautiful and happy…then waking up to a warm fuzzy feeling!!

  2. Mikayla Ambrose on

    What a beautiful and creative installation! I would love to visit.

  3. Caleb Whitfield on

    Yeah Flower House! What a special and amazing installation!

  4. Michele Payne on

    What an amazing and beautiful project! How wonderful would it be if this kind of beautiful art could be put together all over the country. ?

  5. suz on

    Ecstatic to find this wonderful info on the background of one room of the Flower House! Would so enjoy reading more about EACH of the rooms and their designers. It was an event I shall never forget – so grateful that I managed to get tickets to attend.

  6. joAnn Jones on

    Love to see and read anything about this awesome project

  7. lisa waud on

    ladies! my goodness. i’ve got goosebumps.
    thank you for sharing your experience, susan. it was a week i will never forget–flowers and friends as far as the eye could see.
    and erin, next time, you’re with US!
    xo, lisa


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