Ask the Experts: The Event Designer

Photo: Brad Paris

David Stark

As florist–cum–event designer, you know a thing or two about flower arranging.
Yes, and many other event designers don’t know the first thing about it. Flowers must be conditioned in advance so they’re at their perfect stage for the party. You don’t want tight, closed roses; you want roses that are on their fifth day of amazing beauty. There’s also a science to arranging: three-quarters of the way before delivery, then finish on-site.

What’s a gauche centerpiece?
I feel suffocated by anything towering. There are occasions where the room needs elements for scale, but it doesn’t have to come from the center of your table.

What are some of your favorite venues?
Per Se—for weddings of 70 people maximum. I’m also in love with Jazz at Lincoln Center and The Four Seasons restaurant.

One that’s not for an astronomical budget?
Studio 450. It’s an elegant and affordable venue that retains a great vibe.

How can a couple keep their budget in check?
Stay in season. In spring, I adore every flowering branch from crab apple to dogwood to cherry, as well as peonies, lilacs, and viburnum. In the summer, sunflowers, dahlias, and hybrid delphinium. In the winter, French tulips and quince.

What are your color preferences?
Yellow and chocolate brown is as chic as it gets. Yellow and charcoal gray is hot: Use gray foliages like dusty miller. Noncolors—whites, creams, pale earthy tones—are sophisticated. Pale yellow and pale pink together is, for me, toilet paper. That said, when choosing colors and flowers, you have to stay open and flexible. Nature cannot be controlled. Sometimes there’s a frost and the whole dahlia crop is gone. Or there’s too much rain and certain flowers don’t develop properly.

Are there any flowers you dislike?
I’m not a flower snob. In fact, the Peruvian lily is a common supermarket flower that I find amazing. I’m not big on mixing fragrance and food. Gardenias, hyacinths, and tuberose have no place in the dining room.

Which flowers are delicate? Which are more durable?
Lily of the valley and lilac are especially delicate. Orchids and pincushion proteas are a great workhorse and hold up to the heat beautifully.

Do you use non-floral elements like fruits and vegetables in centerpieces?
Yes, peppers on the stem and miniature eggplants; kumquats go great with white daffodils in the spring. Deep burgundy and black are really hot colors in flowers. Pair them with chartreuse green. Use purple basil, deep calla lilies, eggplants, sweet peas, and different foliages.

And for the bouquet?
I love the idea of an edible bouquet. We did one for a couple who owned a gourmet grocery store: It was made entirely out of herbs. Rosemary has baby-blue blossoms; thyme can have little pink or white blossoms. I also love when the bride carries an heirloom prayer book with a single blossom as its bookmarker in lieu of a bouquet.

How do you wrap the stems?
I convince the mother of the bride to cut a swatch from her own wedding dress, and I make a handle wrap from that.

How do you wrap the stems?
I convince the mother of the bride to cut a swatch from her own wedding dress, and I make a handle wrap from that.

Is there a proper way to hold the bouquet?
Definitely. It’s a common mistake to hold the bouquet up, which looks terrible. I tell all my brides, “Remember, it’s pubes, not boobs.”

“The cascade is the most expensive bouquet shape because it requires hand-wiring,” says Stark. “But when a flower is a showstopper, you don’t need a whole bouquet of it.” Enter the brilliant, if oxymoronic, single-flower bouquet. It’s a budgetary decision that looks like a deliberate aesthetic choice. Stark suggests holding a single peony in spring, a dinner-plate dahlia in summer, a giant sunflower in fall, or an amaryllis in winter. The savings? A traditional bouquet can cost up to $600; a single blossom is $25 or less.


Ask the Experts: The Event Designer