I often mention how much fun I have scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and seeing ShopWildThings design products pop up in beautiful images by top designers. And how often I notice SWT beads, chandeliers, and pendants when I’m out and about window shopping, or even when I’m watching TV (esp. Bravo network shows, not that I’m addicted to anything with Real Housewives in the title). But probably my #1 favorite part of this job has been interviewing some of the best working professional designers in the US to hear how they create gorgeous, original events, week after week, for diverse and unique brides and clients.
And there’s no interview that I’ve looked forward to more than this one, as I got to sit down with one of the principal designers in a local business whose work I’ve long admired personally. Fresh Affairs is located in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I had the chance to sit down last week and chat with Michael Whaley about everything from venues to schedules to how he translates a bride’s budget, vision, and style into a cohesive floral design plan for her wedding day. (We did the interview on St. Patrick’s Day, actually ~ good (Scots) Irish luck for me.)
While I interviewed Michael (I’m more of a chat and take some notes kind of girl than a get-out-the-tape-recorder-interviewer), I got to see some of the finished products as well as the work spaces that are behind many of the Triangle’s most fabulous events. I even took a few photographs of some of the building blocks and arrangements-in-progress.
One of the key points that quickly became clear is that Fresh Affairs is doing lots of old-fashioned things right ~ doing their homework, taking care of brides’ special wishes, and offering stellar customer service ~ while remaining trendsetters in floral design.
One of the most striking features that I noticed from Fresh Affairs’ recent Tabletop Extravaganza was the detail in the chair covers and table linens that compliment their floral design work. I asked approximately 4072 questions about the chair covers in particular, and I was delighted to learn that Michael actually sewed most of the chair covers himself. So, I got to touch pretty much all of them, and the luxe fabrics just *feel* fantastic. The mirrored details and accents of diamond wrap on this silvery chair stand out against the soft, ruched fabric.) Michael pointed out that, since the linens have such a large visual footprint in any room, they can make or break the overall effect of the event design. There’s no doubt that these are the most memorable chair covers I’ve ever seen, and they’d be both a gorgeous accent and a stylish keepsake.
This closeup shows another avenue for mixing diamond wrap with textiles to create a layered, luxurious chair cover that would work visual wonders at a sweetheart table for the B&G.
I joke about the fabric monster who lives at my house and must be fed (about 10 yards this week, but who’s counting?), and I find that everyone who loves textiles has a similar beast at work somewhere in his or her home or studio, gobbling up fabrics. So, we *have* to stockpile scraps, remnants, and of course huge amounts of yardage just to keep the monster in fabric. There’s obviously one hiding in the work room at Fresh Affairs. I love getting a little look “behind the curtain” (in this case literally) into the work space of a creative and finding that the messy desk theory of creativity is in fact supported by anecdotal evidence as well as empirical data.
Once I satisfied my significant curiosity about the chair covers that Michael creates, we were able to move on to talk about, well, floral design. When I asked about this stunning photograph from the Tabletop Extravaganza…
Michael talked about both his personal design aesthetic and the types of events that might be well served by such a cutting edge arrangement, as well as ways that a bride with a more traditional style might incorporate elements of modern design into her wedding.
With a strong background in modern floral design and ongoing education to stay on top of both European and American trends, Michael is truly gifted at synthesizing a bride’s vision for her day (however general or specific), her budget priorities, and her venue’s look into a design plan that is personal, effective, and most of all fabulous.
By shopping often for great textiles (the sacrifice, sigh), reusing key design elements (do you recognize the calla lily cascade frame in this design done by students in one of Michael’s recent floral design classes?), and prioritizing to get the best impact for every event’s budget, Michael shows the benefit of trusting a professional with the key elements of any major event. Of course, the bead strands in this student project caught our eye.
We can’t resist a closeup of those lovely orchids suspended from bead strands. Those tiny little orchid clips are genius.
Since Michael was kind enough to give us a tour of the work space that Fresh Affairs uses to produce its events ~ and to store much of its inventory of staple decor items ~ we *have* to share a few more behind-the-scenes images with you.
The collection of glassware and branches alone is truly impressive, with many of the branches having been harvested and dried from trees and then painted and repainted to match a series of events. (Sustainable design the old fashioned way.)
The “aerial storage” (on top of a huge frig for fleurs) was full of lanterns and other essentials. (We haven’t made any secret of our view that one of the hidden benefits to hiring an experienced pro, perhaps second only to the vision that they bring to your event, is the access to a great stock of quality pieces from which to build your centerpieces and other design elements.)
We like to see a messy worktable, partly because it makes us feel better, and partly because ~ did we mention this already? ~ creativity and a little mess go together. Take that, Container Store.
So, we kind of love being able to show you what goes on behind the scene at a top floral designer studio, but we also want to show you the polished finished product. Fresh Affairs’ exterior has been updated recently, with everything from new paint (if you want to stress out a designer, get him talking about what undertones you have to consider when choosing gray paint ~ hypothetically, of course) to a consultation area that doubles as an example of a stunning ceremony space.
We heart the contrast of metallics in the branches, credenza, and end tables with the soft drape of curtains and the nature-inspired textiles. (And the gorgeous floral arrangements, but you kind of expected that at this point, no?)
And of course, you had us at beaded backdrop ~ Michael was quick to point out that the bead strands need to achieve critical mass to “work” as a backdrop, and here the strands are layered both vertically and horizontally, giving the backdrop a dimensionality that is truly luxurious.
Clearly, we aren’t the only ones who think that beads make a great entrance.
And we had to take another shot to show that cabinet off. We were kinda delighted to find that, for all of the education, upscale events, and design knowledge he brings to his business, Michael has a secret love of thrift stores and paint that culminates in little things like this cabinet.
We so enjoyed our afternoon with Michael Whaley at Fresh Affairs. The attention to detail, the quality, and the overall vision that this company brings to weddings and events is second to none, and we are so pleased to have been able to spend time seeing how the process supports the outcome, which truly is fabulous every time.
We were also pretty pleased that Michael agreed to let us take a picture of him, in front of this ribbon entrance that we (again) had admired at the Tabletop Extravaganza.