Connection: with Shean Strong

We got to know Atlanta-based floral designer Shean Strong when we provided decor, glassware, and dinnerware for a Sakara x KORA Organics event a few months back. And when we saw the rich, warm, and frankly show-stopping arrangements gracefully strewn throughout the party alongside our Aurora vases, it was love at first sight.

To witness Shean’s designs is to feel immediately welcomed, dazzled, and delighted, but to talk with him and learn from his process is even more lovely.

HNY: How did you get into floral design?

Shean Strong: It was a complete accident actually. I've always been a kind of creative person and I think, like many people in the floral industry, I just offered to help with a friend's wedding. And from there I kind of found my love for flowers. I had two people reach out to me at that wedding and they're like, “Hey, we'd love for you to do our flowers.”

And I'm like, “I don't know what I'm doing but, okay, I can do this.” I started growing my business from there. I was actually in school at the time studying biochemistry – I wanted to be a doctor and completely went in a different direction with my life. But I'm very, very excited about [what happened instead].

HNY: Who or what are you most inspired by? And is there a certain time of day when you feel most inspired?

SS: I'm the kind of person who loves working at night. I feel like I have time to be able to just kind of decompress and really get into the zone and start designing. I take a lot of inspiration from my clients. I really try to pick up on some of the nuances that they share with me, things that they might not even recognize as details about their life. But I try to pick up on those things and incorporate them somehow into their designs.

I also love Europe, it’s one of my favorite continents and one of my favorite countries is Italy. So I take a lot of inspiration from the Baroque period and early Renaissance. Those are things that I always find myself drawing inspiration from. 

HNY: Do you have a preference when it comes to designing for a larger event or a smaller, more intimate one? 

SS: Whether it's a large or small event, I want it to feel like a garden party that just so happens to be a wedding. So I love a dinner party. I love an intimate, you know, 30 person table where we were just kind of gathering over great food and conversation and wine. That's probably my preference. But with the big events, it’s always fun to plan a lot more of the logistics.

I think my preference would definitely be the smaller, more intimate parties though, where people are really focused on the design details and the overall guest experience. 

HNY: Especially considering your inspiration, that definitely aligns. So when you are planning, say for one of those intimate dinner parties, are there any Do’s and Don'ts you follow?

SS: I try to always make sure that there's a moment, or several moments, of intentionality. So I like to highlight the places where people are going to be spending the most time and I really love to be able to kind of persuade my clients in certain directions. Sometimes they're so focused on one thing that they're not able to see the full picture.

And so I pride myself on being able to see the full day that I'm designing for them. I think that's why people are hiring me, because I can see the full picture. I understand what we're trying to execute. So when they're able to trust me and say, “Listen, we don't see it, but we understand what you're trying to get across,” That's always a good moment. 

But yeah, I try to highlight where people are going to be in the space the most, and then one of the “Don'ts” that I try to avoid is, don't make this feel too contrived. I try to describe my aesthetic as like, a relaxed refinement. Where people can feel comfortable in the space – they don't have to question which fork to use. [laughs] 

HNY: It sounds like a very approachable atmosphere.

SS: Yeah, we want it to still be beautiful and we want it to, you know, be inspiring and kind of shocking, but we want people to feel welcomed to the table no matter who they are.

HNY: Do you have any tips that you would give someone who's trying to create a more imaginative arrangement while working with grocery store or bodega flowers?

SS: Those kinds of inexpensive flowers definitely look great in bulk. So if you are apprehensive about trying to find a certain variety, just go with one type of flower and really just go crazy with that one. I think that it’s really fun also to work on texture. Flowers are a great highlight to things, but they don't need to necessarily be the main focus.

You can look at things like really unique bud vases or really unique vessels. Anything that can hold water can hold flowers, so think outside the box. It doesn't necessarily have to be a vase, you can find something that could be really unique for the space and something also that would be unique for the event that you're hosting.

HNY: That definitely resonates with the Hawkins New York perspective. We have some recycled pitchers and we love making flower arrangements in them.

SS: Y'all, I was so excited to work with you guys. And truthfully, if I'm being honest, I was like, I'm kind of a fan girl like a little bit  [laughs]. The quality was wonderful and I really love your stuff. Getting to actually play with it at the Sakara event was a lot of fun.

HNY: It was truly our pleasure! Last question, would you rather throw the dinner party or attend the dinner party?

SS: Oh my God. You know what? That's a very, very good question. I think I'd rather host it. I think I'd rather throw the dinner party, as a certified control freak. I would enjoy the process and the creation of it all, then watching the guests enjoy themselves.

If I'm a guest, I'm too busy just, like, looking around and seeing what other people are doing. But I think that I would be able to enjoy myself better if I was the creative director behind everything.  Don't make me sound crazy! [laughs] Invite me to the dinner parties, I'm a great guest. I’ll bring you a gift and everything.

Floral designs by Shean Strong.

Floral designs by Shean Strong.