I first had the pleasure of crossing paths with McKenzie Powell, the creative genius behind McKenzie Powell Floral & Event Design back in 2011. As one of the top floral designers in the Seattle area, McKenzie adds her stylish floral flair to magical woodland weddings, sophisticated ultra luxe affairs and everything in between. She agreed to sit down and share a little bit more about her business and design philosophy.
Erin: What are some of the biggest wedding trends and floral themes among your clients lately?
McKenzie: Aside from the blush + gold trend of the past few years, I can’t say that I’ve experienced many, aside from color, but I’ve definitely noticed a shift with palettes. For a while there I felt like I was churning out soft peaches and pinks every weekend, but a number of my clients are now asking for richer and brighter colors. Still plenty of pink, yes, but now I get to incorporate raspberry and coral and deeper rosy pinks. And when I’m lucky, mustards and denim blues and browns. I think I’m getting better too at ever so gently nudging my clients towards other options. Thoughtful, unique color palettes can lend a really amazing layer of sophistication to the design of an event.
Erin: Do you find that brides come to you interested in very specific flower varieties or are they more concerned about particular color palettes?
McKenzie: Funny, I didn’t read this question until I answered your previous one. Generally speaking, my clients have a better idea of the overall style they like and have less concern with actual flower varieties. I do ask them if they have any favorites they’d like me to incorporate, but I’m quick to suggest that peonies in August are probably not their best bet. And I’m equally eager to explain that while I can try to incorporate a few specific flowers if they’re in-season, they’ll be so much happier (and their arrangements will be so much more beautiful) if I choose what’s looking best that week. I always ask (cough cough, it’s a rhetorical question at best) for a bit of creative freedom just in case the day before I decide to tweak things a bit, and so far, I haven’t been denied it.
Erin: You encourage your clients to “think beyond the centerpiece” and you are fantastic at creating interesting and uncommon designs that can totally transform a space. Can you share a few photos of a few of those and then maybe talk a little bit about how you came up with one of those ideas and carried it out from concept to installation?
McKenzie: Sure, perhaps a good example was the wedding we designed last year at Willie Greens Organic Farm. It’s a fun one because it didn’t have the typical feminine & fancy wedding look. Instead, we embraced the environment but added a touch of ‘french country’ while still maintaining a summery feel. The difficult part is pulling together all the pieces to create a cohesive look, and most brides don’t know how to do that or where to start. I guess that’s what I mean by ‘beyond the centerpiece’. Because while a single floral arrangement with votives in the middle of a round table can still be really beautiful, there are so many other options that most brides don’t know to ask for. Like potted strawberry plants in ceramic pitchers or muslins sacks with blueberries spilling out, piled-high apricots or hand-dyed ribbon for the kraft paper menus—these extra details that add interest and one more layer beyond flowers are some of my favorites. And linens matter! This wedding, even though it’s on the more casual side, is a good example of that too.
But I’ve also found that this approach to design can only come with a client who offers you creative freedom and trust. I was fortunate that this couple gave me carte blanche to run with it (after our initial design meetings of course). I always want to make sure I’m staying true to their vision, but hopefully improving upon it. I don’t want to be held back too much because that’s why they’re hiring me. I should be able to offer something other than what they can come up with on their own, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my job.
McKenzie: All the time! For my website, business cards, collateral pieces, yes, but I’m also constantly reminded of the basic principles of design that I learned back in my first year of the program— balance, repetition and rhythm, emphasis, proportion, contrast, movement… They absolutely apply to floral arranging, don’t you think?
Erin: If your bride gave you carte blanche authority to use whatever color combinations you wish, what might you choose and what flowers would you use to create those bouquets?
McKenzie: Really tough question! What season? I’ll change my mind by tomorrow, but right now I’m actually working on a shoot for an editorial… They asked me to include forest green with whatever other colors I want. (Sort of carte blanche.) So I’ve settled on the palest of lavenders and soft powder blue with accents of crisp white. Typically we see forest green used in fall palettes, but I want it to feel light and crisp. I’m hoping to work in large clematis flowers, tweedia, delphinium and gardenias, maybe some dark privet berry for contrast. I really love when pastel palettes have an unexpected twist—in this case the dark green and touches of midnight blue. It’s dramatic and sophisticated and soft all at the same time. And I can’t deny it, I’m also always drawn to rosy pinks in a variety of color combinations because some of those dahlias and garden roses out there are too incredible to pass up. But I try to venture out a bit more when I actually have the chance. So many brides ask for pink that I’ll save that color for when I don’t have a say in the matter.
Erin: As you know, Pinterest has impacted the wedding floral design industry in good—and sometimes not so good—ways. Brides commonly create the concepts for their weddings based on what they pinned to one of their boards. Too often, it feels like there is nothing new under the sun. Have you worked with any brides lately who had a truly original idea—or at least one that hadn’t been replicated 30 times over?
McKenzie: Honestly, not really. What I’d love to see more of from clients are ‘pins’ of scenery shots, food at a farmers market, architecture they find inspiring, a stormy sky… Basically anything that is not a photo from a wedding, but rather an image that helps communicate the mood or aesthetic they’re after. That’s where pinterest can be really useful. I’ve had a few clients this year pin in that way, and I love it. It helps me understand their style without stifling the creative process.
Erin: Speaking of social media, I saw on Instagram that you just bought a new house and are in the process of renovating it. Sounds like there is a beautiful garden attached too? Tell me about some of the plants you’ll be tucking into the landscape. Will you be using it as a cutting garden to use in your design work?
McKenzie: Yes! We just bought our first house, and it has a good-sized backyard (for being in the city, that is). We purchased it from a women who loved to garden but had very different taste in plants and flowers than I do, so… I’m pulling a lot out and trying to sort through it all. It’s a bit tangled and overgrown, and I’m discovering that our soil is extremely rocky, so the few young plants I’ve put in are not doing well. You’re the one I should ask! I think we’re going to need to amend the soil. Help! What do you suggest? We do have some gems though too: three plum trees, a large pie cherry tree, a row of raspberries, a giant bush of rosemary… All good and all staying. My dad is the one with the robust cutting garden (grown for me) but up north by a couple hours, so I’ll be transplanting plenty come fall. Windflower, peonies, foxglove, goat’s beard, garden roses, and veronica will all be making a nice little trip south. I just hope I can keep them alive! (I work with cut flowers… roots are a best of their own.)
Erin: I think one of the things that makes your designs so unique is that you use many, many uncommon ingredients and incorporate a huge amount of seasonal product into each creation. I know you have a big cutting garden at your parents place, right? Can you tell us about it? Also would you share some of your sourcing tips for designers wanting to move into using more seasonal material as well?
McKenzie: There’s nothing like spending a morning in the cutting garden and an afternoon arranging in a vase. I don’t get to do it that often because I’m so busy during the summer with weddings, but it’s like medicine for the soul. The cutting garden is only about 8 rows (each about 60’ long?) and has everything that I mentioned above plus lots of different varieties of dahlias, lupine, dusty miller, ornamental grasses, nigella, hydrangeas, cosmos and herbs. I wish it were closer to the city, but sometimes I make the trip up anyway, just to gather a few buckets of flowers and spend time in the dirt.
McKenzie: As for sourcing seasonal materials, I’d suggest following flickr pages, instagram accounts, and facebook photos of local growers to see what’s available during a particular time of year. When I first start to put together a flower order, I start by scrolling back (sometimes by a few years) to past photos of what was in season during a certain month or even week to build the base of the order. I also consult my own photos (that I’ve taken on my phone while out on a walk or of the garden or of past events) to help jog my memory of what was in season when. Then I save part of the budget for week-of purchases—because flowers are unpredictable and you never know what might burst in to bloom right when you need it.
Connect with McKenzie Powell online:
Facebook: McKenzie Powell Designs