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May 12, 2014

Business in Bloom: Five Questions for Floral Designer Livia Cetti

The famed floral artist discusses growing up in nature, finding inspiration in the city, and launching her own business. 

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Photography by: DAVID M. RUSSELL

After many years as a contributing editor at Martha Stewart Weddings, floral designer Livia Cetti now runs her own floral boutique, the Green Vase. We couldn't be happier for our former-colleague-turned-entrepreneur, who spends her days crafting colorful organic arrangements using both fresh and paper flowers.

In her new book, The Exquisite Book of Paper Flowers (Abrams), Cetti reveals the secrets to her realistic-looking handmade blooms. After she was a guest on Martha's Sirius XM radio show, we chatted with her about her favorite gardens in New York City, what it was like to grow up with parents who were artists, and how she carves out time to create while balancing a busy family life.

In your book, you mention that you grew up outside of Santa Barbara and that your parents were both artists. How did that influence your decision to become an artist?

It had a huge influence. I went to art school, and that’s what my parents wanted me to do. In our world, being an artist was the best thing you could do. That was my parents’ version of me being a dentist or a doctor or a lawyer. Also, what’s made me a successful floral designer is that I’ve observed nature for years. I grew up in the mountains and was in the forest all the time hiking and looking at plants. Observing nature has enabled me to make floral arrangements that look like nature.

When did you first realize that paper flowers would take off as a business?

I always had this dream about crafting, making a product, and having my own business. Paper flowers became it. I became obsessed with experimenting with different effects on the flowers, and I was always sneaking down to my workshop in the basement to check if the paper was ready. When I got the flowers to a pretty good place, I took them to John Derian. He loved them and wanted to sell them in his store. From there, it kind of grew, with the help of Martha Stewart and handmade craft shows. 

Where do you go in the city for inspiration? And where do you shop for vases?

I have a little farmhouse in the Bronx with a big yard, which is a great source of inspiration. Wave Hill, a beautiful garden, is also by my house. We had a membership to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, and when my kids were young, we would go and stay for hours. In the city, I go to ABC Carpet & Home and all of the paper and art-supply stores near it.

As far as vases, there’s such a huge movement in ceramics right now. My dad was actually a potter, so I grew up with pottery.  I love Lilith Rockett -- she makes beautiful porcelain that’s a really fine shape and quality and has a nice matte finish. On the more modern side, I like Cody Hoyt, who makes geometric vessels. He layers the clay and then cuts into it to create these really cool effects.

Describe your creative process. Do you listen to music?

No, I don’t listen to music when I work. I’m a mom, so I have a lot of sound in my life. When it’s quiet, I can focus so much better. I like to clean my whole house beforehand, but when I start crafting, I’m pretty messy. A lot of people ask me what I do when I hit a creative block while working, and I realized that after being a stylist for years, I don’t get to hit blocks. I’m used to working under pressure, with a photographer and an art director waiting for me. I like the pressure, actually. That’s where I thrive.

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve done?

John Derian worked on a collaboration with Astier de Villatte ceramics, and he asked me to make paper flowers for their party. I said, “What’s your budget?” And John Derian said, “I have a huge urn -- fill it! Let’s make it gorgeous.” It was an incredible opportunity, and I asked Addie Juell, who shot my book, to come photograph the arrangement. That picture has propelled the business very far. It was a beautiful, wonderful project.

Follow these step-by-step instructions to create the charming Cherry Blossom Branch from The Exquisite Book of Paper Flowers.

For more interviews, tune in to "Martha Live" on SiriusXM Stars Channel 106 weekdays 12pm ET to 2pm ET. Call in with questions: 866-675-6675.

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