Feature: Magical Arrangements

The work of floral designer and stylist Natasha Kolenko

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Natasha Kolenko, a Marin-based floral designer and stylist, has a passionate, knowledgeable and loving approach to flowers. Photo by Mike Larson.

By Flora Tsapovsky

A prestigious status symbol imperative to any occasion of importance, and with more than 700,000 appearances on Instagram, the prettiest social network of all, flowers are blooming—literally and figuratively.

The most delicate, intricate and touching part of any big occasion, flowers have never stopped fascinating us—it’s just that now they get way more social media exposure. Natasha Kolenko, a Bay Area native and a Mill Valley resident, has adopted them as a full-flung career. Kolenko, an established floral designer and stylist, has a biology degree from Cal Poly, as well as an interior design degree. Surely, there’s no better combination to prepare someone for a full-time floral gig.

“I started working, more like playing, with flowers when I was in college and my friends were getting married,” Kolenko says. “I was looking for a creative outlet and my friends entrusted me with the duty of putting their wedding arrangements together. I never anticipated this hobby becoming part of what I would do for a living.”

In reality, however, the hobby grew and developed into a busy schedule of collecting, arranging, photographing and dealing with some of nature’s most beautiful creations.

“A typical day as a florist starts early, something at 2 to 3am, when the flower mart opens,” says Kolenko, who confesses, “Even at those ungodly hours, the flower mart, and my vendor friends there always put a smile on my face.”

Kolenko picks up orders, shops for last-minute additions and heads to her studio in Sausalito, where she and her team process the flowers and get them ready to be arranged according to their needs.

“The processing is the tedious part,” she says. “Cleaning stems, stripping leaves, trimming stems, getting everything in buckets of water. Then the fun starts—the arrangements!”

Kolenko’s floral arrangements, be it for a wedding, a photo shoot or a stylish city event, are easy to spot—they’re wild and never overdone, not too fussy and always elegantly messy.

“They’re typically a variety of lush blooms and lots of textural greenery,” she says. Once the arrangements are complete, they are boxed up and loaded for delivery.

These days, Kolenko’s scope includes wedding and other family celebrations in the Bay Area, creating floral settings for magazines such as C magazine and Sunset, private events for companies as large as Google and Apple, commercial photo shoots and props styling for food photography and beauty shots, where flowers are sometime replaced by branches, leaves and loose petals. The upcoming months are all about the wedding season.

“Since California lacks drastic seasonal change, the wedding season in the Bay Area really goes March to November,” Kolenko says. “My studio will be hustling and bustling.”

A lot goes into Kolenko’s dialogues with clients. “Often I will ask brides to bring in color palette swatches and images of florals they love, we will look at vase and ribbon options [and] I make suggestions of seasonal flowers for their event,” she says. “We come up with the overall design together and then I take it from there. I tell my clients that I truly believe that the more they trust me to work my magic, the more magical their arrangements turn out.”

When she’s not busy creating dreamy bouquets for blushing brides, Kolenko keeps evolving as a florist while nurturing her inner biologist or, the way she puts it, “nerding out.”

“One new endeavor that I am really excited to dive deeper into is growing my own flowers,” she says. “I am currently reading several books about local roses, dahlias and other cut-flower favorites and have planted a few tests runs. My distant drum rose is off to a great start and my dahlia blooms are loving this summer sun.”

Being a self-taught florist, Kolenko constantly hones her craft; “I practice, I read, I take workshops and I teach,” she says. “My biology and interior design degrees, although not directly related to flowers, both gave me a solid understanding of botany, the science of plants and flowers and the basic design principles which I apply in my designs daily.”

One would have a hard time imagining a better geographical spot to  run a florist business.

“I am constantly inspired by the natural beauty that surrounds me both at home and at our wonderful local flower mart,” Kolenko says. “I am a nature girl, I hike the surrounding hills as often as possible, stopping to touch and smell all the wildflowers.”

The designer’s aesthetics are largely inspired by the local landscape, as arrangements often look “like they almost could’ve grown on a tree that way.” Some of the ‘easiest’ blooms to work with, according to Kolenko, are ranunculus, protea and zinnia. “They are hardy, and hold up well in warm conditions,” she says.

“Flowers are easy to work with because they are innately beautiful,” Kolenko says. “I often say I am ‘playing with flowers’ because it feels like play rather than work. Flowers make people happy, and it feels great to be able to contribute a little beauty to my clients’ most special days.”

Natasha Kolenko; natashakolenko.com; @natashakolenko.

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