How The Flower Chef Found Her Groove
Carly Cylinder, the owner and creative director of Flour LA, is a bi-coastal visionary. When she’s not traveling, writing for The Huffington Post, or making flower apparel to rock with her cowboy boots (in what Cylinder acknowledges as a nod to Dolly Parton) she’s conducting and crafting flower arrangements pretty enough to incite euphoria. You can find her at kids birthday parties bestowing floral Batman pendants, leading corporate team-building DIYs, styling flowers for editorial, set design, and film (she once did a floral chariot for The Hunger Games pop-up exhibition in New York)– all while booking weddings and taking orders for daily arrangements; the usual florist agenda superimposed with a high-octane vision.
Now seven years into her career and Cylinder’s book, The Flower Chef: A Modern Guide to Do-It-Yourself Floral Arrangements is the #1 New Release on Amazon.
Cylinder and I recently met at Zinqué, just down the street from her apartment in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. We sipped coffee and talked about the floral displays she had slated for book signings at The Strand in New York City, The Last Bookstore in L.A., and Book Soup in West Hollywood (to name just a few). On March 1st, the day her book was released, she designed an installation of The Strand’s logo out of roses and faux carnations– such is the depth of Cylinder’s involvement in her work. “They’re compact, super long lasting out of water, and have a really great smell that we hope lures people up the stairs,” she told me of the display. Along with receiving an autographed book, she handed flowers to each attendee at her launch. At Book Soup, she designed a window display with flowers hanging upside-down alongside Spanish moss and flower garlands. “We did an event last weekend for the Grammy’s at The Ace Hotel, and I have a bunch of materials leftover. Thankfully moss doesn’t go bad!” she quips. Cylinder’s official book launch was presented by Rolling Greens Nursery and hosted by actress and entrepreneur Ali Landry.
Cylinder’s first memory with flowers dates back to the seventh grade, the year she purchased three dollar carnations for her mother. When she was 19, she moved to L.A. and discovered her favorite flower, jasmine, while working at Fred Segal. “I was studying psychology at UCLA, but knew I wanted to start my own business,” she recalls. “I worked at a place called Rita Flora, which was a full service restaurant and florist,” she told me.
In 2008, when Cylinder graduated, she began to work for a non-profit called One Legacy. “They are an organ and tissue donor agency and were the only non-profit at the UCLA career fair. I didn’t know that I liked business or marketing until I started working for them…but I had a hard time stomaching my job. I dealt with skin, eyes, and bone. I was having panic attacks so I left and decided to launch a flower business from my apartment. People thought it was pretty random,” she recalls, implicitly acknowledging how right the turn of career path has proven to be.
Soon she had business cards made and her brother launched her website. The first bouquet she designed is now referred to as “The Provençal” inside The Flower Chef. “It was for Bastille Day— I woke up at 3 A.M. to buy flowers at the mart. It was a 400 person party and I did 10 different styles of arrangements. I didn’t have a cooler, so I called this nursery in El Segundo and asked if I could rent space from them,” she remembers. “I ended up working out of there, off and on, for about a year or so. My dad has an antique business and met this woman at a flea market. Her daughter worked for the family throwing the Bastille Day party, which is how I was invited to design the floral arrangements. I actually thought, ‘If this doesn’t work then I am done.’ There were some pretty weird designs, but they were happy with them.”
Cylinder’s first arrangement, the one for Bastille Day, was filled with blue hydrangeas, blue delphinium, yellow lilies, Bells of Ireland, and curly willow, which is actually ranked at a Level 3 in difficulty within her book. Each arrangement is broken down into prep time, cook time— otherwise known as how long it takes to assemble the bouquet—, season, difficulty, and cost.
“I kind of worked backwards,” she admits. “When I began, I didn’t use foam or the grid, which I talk about in the book. I was just balancing it all and that’s harder. When you read a recipe there are such common terms, but with flowers it’s visual and hard to translate. That’s why I wanted to teach what I have learned in a way that is accessible to everyone. I included various styles. The most important thing is that it’s not about people loving or hating these designs; I want people to learn from the techniques so that they can make any of these structures more rustic on their own,” she notes as we chat.
“I like being around flowers, but I was never a designer,” she continues. “When I worked at Mark’s Garden as a sales girl, I would bring home flowers to mess around and make things. It never crossed my mind that I should take a class from someone to learn more. I didn’t even freelance design as a florist until three years after launching my company. But for me, creating arrangements was the one thing I found that I am innately good at,” she concludes– but judging by the depth and beauty of her work, this is a modest assessment at best.
For more floral hacks by Carly Cylinder, including how to make graffiti leaves, spiraled bouquets, lined vases, and several other creative designs, check out The Flower Chef: A Modern Guide to Do-It-Yourself Floral Arrangements, which is available for purchase now.