3 Independent Florists on London's Most Romantic Restaurants
How does one get into the business of flowers? In an era filled with renewed nostalgia for all things handmade and natural, how are London’s finest florists keeping things ‘fresh’? In an effort to discover more about London’s blooming flower community, we spoke with four florists who are starting a floral revolution, one hand-tied bouquet at a time. From Lara Sanjar of Wild Renata Flowers, Hattie Fox of That Flower Shop, and Athena Duncan & Mairead Curtin of Rebel Rebel; we caught up with some of London’s coolest florists to get the low down on London’s most beautiful date spots, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Some people seem to wake up and immediately know (and live) their lifelong passions, but it seems that these women have found themselves on a wonderfully unexpected floral journey of their own. Athena Duncan and Mairead Curtin of Rebel Rebel (a Mare Street Market icon) turned a long-term friendship and a love for David Bowie into one of London’s coolest flower shops/studios. Mairead happily recalls those early days, “I met Athena’s sister at University in Dublin in the 80s before coming over to London to find work. I ended up working with Athena in Television and we soon became best mates. Athena had always enjoyed having flowers about her, and on a bit of a wing and a prayer, we both thought that maybe this was something we could both do!”
Hattie Fox, founder of That Flower Shop, never really planned to work with flowers but found that flowers were always a part of her life. “My dad is a gardener and my grandma has an extensive amount of plant knowledge. I didn't have a burning ambition to work with flowers … but when I graduated, I very quickly realised I wouldn't be able to work within the art or design field. So at this point I realised how lucky I was to have a job as a florist where I could make a physical product and be creative everyday.”
In the case of Lara Sanjar, founder of Wild Renata Flowers, flower arrangement brought a sense of existential relief after a successful career in advertising. According to Lara, “I used to work in advertising I started to suffer from extreme anxiety and panic attacks. I was living in Hackney and my friend had bought me some flowers, once I started arranging them I felt something shift in me. Once I started practising arranging flowers I stopped having panic attacks and my anxiety gradually went away.”
Throughout the years, these women have transformed some of London’s most iconic venues into truly beautiful works of art. So, when asked if any projects stood out over the years, it’s easy to see how the women would have a hard time choosing just one. For Lara Sanjar, “My favourite is the giant meadows that we built for Ted Baker's AW18 campaign. One of which covered the roof of the Truman Building on Brick Lane,” — an otherworldly transformation of one of Shoreditch’s most recognisable industrial icons.
Speaking of transforming London icons, Athena and Mairead have also had the opportunity to transform one of London’s most prolific restaurants, not once — but twice, and both in exceedingly creative ways. According to Mairead, “Our favourite has to be our recent collaborations with Sketch in Mayfair. Two years ago we made a giant ‘Wardian Case’ filled with plants (assumed to be British) but actually all come from somewhere else. This year, we recreated Monet’s garden at Giverney and this Christmas we joined with Hackney lighting company, Tala, to create an ethereal hanging installation in Sketch — it was so popular even Dua Lipa posted it!”
On being Less Ordinary
As with every other industry, keeping things interesting is key to carving out your own little spot in London’s bustling flower scene. According to Athena, “When we first started we had almost no training, which is partly good and partly bad. The bad bit is obvious, but the good part is that we have no preconceived ideas of what is right and what is not, so you just have to try things out. Now we do know what we’re doing, it’s more difficult to be ahead of the Zeitgeist. One of the things we do is to just say yes to almost everything anyone asks us, so if we don’t know how to do it, we just have to figure it out.” which makes sense, considering these women are undeniably the ‘rebels’ of the flower community.
With such prime real estate in Ace Hotel, Hattie Fox is well-versed with the demand to be constantly creative. “I've been a florist for 15 years, so sometimes I like to push and see how we can use each species differently, or how we can present the idea of floristry in different formats. I don't want to just roll out the same table centres year in and year out. I quite like the idea of challenging peoples’ perceptions of floristry by using different materials and concepts to present a familiar idea in a different way” says Hattie. Last but not the least, for Lara, it’s all about encouraging imagination. She says, “I try and get out of the vase as much as possible and try and create truly unique installations.”
Keeping it Local
With plenty of bustling flower markets dotted all over town, Londoners are definitely spoilt for choice. But if you’re in the search for some fresh flowers, minus having to push your way through crowds of tourists deliberating between varying types of cacti, then all four of our florists suggest hitting up the New Covent Garden Flower Market, where according to Hattie Fox, “the suppliers become like family”.
Beyond their love for their suppliers, these woman also share the same commitment to keeping London’s flower community alive by keeping it local. No-one says it better than Lara Sanjar who says, “We are very lucky in London to have so many wonderfully talented florists to choose from, so shopping locally and checking out what florists you have in your neighbourhood is always recommended.”
And because every APLO Conversation ends with some of the best recommendations from London’s top industry insiders; we asked our florists about their hidden gems and the most romantic “un-cliche” date spots in town - just in time for Valentine's Day. Because who better to trust for some Less Ordinary recommendations, than the women who have decorated some of London’s most beautiful spaces?
London’s most Beautiful Restaurant?
Lara: Probably Clapton Country Club, it’s a stunning space and a wonderful place to dress for weddings, they also make one of the best roasts I have ever had in London to date.
Athena and Mairead: Sketch, Claridge’s, and Selfridges’ new restaurant, the Brasserie of Light, is absolutely gorgeous.
Hattie: I think Luca in Clerkenwell is really beautiful ! We also do the flowers there so I might be a little biased.
Lara: I have always loved my friend’s cafe Fingers Crossed in Hackney. Anya always serves up the best home cooked food and everyone knows each other, as there are always so many regulars.
Athena and Mairead: We stick local, so Mare Street Market, Market Café, and the Spurstowe Arms. Recently become a member of ‘H’ Club – you don’t know if Shane Connolly and the Worms will suddenly turn up there in the steam room! Mangal 1 in Arcola Street, Wilton’s Music Hall,Ombra on Mare Street and Lucky and Joy wherever it pops up (currently on Hackney Road). Plus Dusty Knuckle do the best sandwiches and bread in the world.
Hattie: I live in Clapton and like to call it the Clapton Triangle, I frequently go to My neighbours The Dumplings, P. Franco, and The Star at Hackney Downs as I live next door !
Interviews by Hannah Tan-Gillies