Design is more than a skill, it’s a passion. By listening closely to their clients, envisioning multiple possibilities, and then executing — using their own impeccable eye — the professionals featured in our series Design on the Mind have become outstanding in their field. We ask them to discuss what inspires them and how that works for you.
Paula Dobbe-Maher, the floral designer and owner of Dutch Floral Garden, has traveled the world to learn her craft.
Long before she opened her Belvedere Square floral shop, she studied the law in her native country, The Netherlands, and trained for two years at the Cordon Bleu in France. When she concluded that a career in food was not for her, she switched to floral design and studied under European master florists in The Netherlands, Germany, and England, learning the principles and techniques of Europe- a floral design. When she moved to Baltimore for marriage in the 1990s, she saw that a European-style florist shop did not exist, and Dutch Floral Garden was born. She fills her shop with flowers, vases, containers, plants, accessories, and more, all demonstrating the same European sensibility that makes her flower arrangements so distinctive. Like contemporary European floral design, they dazzle with naturalistic flowers in creative, simple designs emphasizing color and incorporating more than just blooms.
This summer, in homage to her love of Europe and food, she will bake and sell fresh stroopwafels, a yummy Dutch treat, in front of her shop in Belvedere Square, continuing to bring her sublime European-style to Baltimore.
WHAT OR WHO HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOUR DESIGN?
My mother owned a nursery and floral design business in The Netherlands, and she was by far my biggest influence. Daniel Ost, the world-famous Belgian floral designer, convinced me with his creations to go in this direction. When I decided to go into the flower business, I studied extensively at a Dutch floral institute and did an apprenticeship for three months in the city of Arnhem. I also studied in London with Kenneth Turner. Then I followed a four-week floral course in Virginia to see how the Americans do it. That was in 1998, and the Dutch floral design style was extremely innovative and trend-setting. It was an exciting period.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DECORATING/DESIGN TRICK?
I don’t have any tricks! I have techniques.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH A CLIENT’S BAD DESIGN SENSE?
I don’t believe that there are clients with bad design sense. People have certain ideas in mind, and it is then up to us to make it work. Our customers have an appreciation of what we do, and by talking together, we always are able to create a design that is according to what the client had in mind.
WHAT DESIGN CLICHÉ DO YOU TRY TO AVOID?
The triangle shape!
Also, people often ask us not to use carnations. It is a flower that lasts and has therefore been overused. The standard carnation colors are bright red and pale pink and white, and not very attractive, so I understand why people don’t want us to use them. But there is this whole new line of carnations in antique colors like vintage peach and creamy/lavender that is amazingly beautiful. I am going to try slowly but surely to add some of those to our selection and hope to be able to make people fall in love with them.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FLOWER TO WORK WITH?
I love to work with peonies. I also love the small flowers of spring, like sweet peas, fritillaria, and anemones, but I also love the fall dahlias and berries. Each season brings its own beauties.
BEST NEW TREND YOU HAVE OBSERVED LATELY?
I recently took a course from [German master florist] Gregor Lersch in The Netherlands. He is one of my favorite designers. He makes structures out of wire and natural materials, and then he integrates flowers into those. They are very sculptural, and we are making them here too.
BEST STORY ABOUT A CLIENT?
I find it heartwarming when a customer calls to thank me for something we made. They don’t have to call, but it is really special when they do.
Dutch Floral Garden is located in Belvedere Square. To learn more about Dutch Floral Garden, visit dutchfloralgarden.com.
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