Lisa Fireman Dorhout’s business card reads “Designer, Educator, Beautifier.” That’s because the floral designer, who works on commission in New York City, the Hamptons, and beyond, doesn’t arrange flowers in isolation. Using found and foraged materials from the client’s home and garden—in addition to blooms from traditional sources—she creates hauntingly beautiful arrangements that are of a piece with their environment.
Flowers, for Fireman Dorhout, aren’t just for special occasions. In her view, they’re as essential to a home as are art and furniture. Which is why, after shuttering Sweetpea Studio, her much-loved, much-lauded flower shop in Manhattan’s Flatiron District a few years ago, she began to rethink the “nature” of the business. Too often, a florist is creating arrangements that have no relation to their surroundings. But the art of flower arranging has traditionally been a response to the natural world. Thus, she hit upon her current concept, which sounds like the premise of a flower-driven reality show: Florist goes into people’s homes, and after conferring with the customer, raids their crockery cupboards and gardens, and does amazing things on the fly.
“I love to lead with the customer’s ideas,” she says. “If people have materials at home, I’ll put them to good use.” And if they don’t, she’ll bring her own. In almost every case, she’ll bring flowers and greenery, but always with an eye to accenting the arrangement with whatever is on hand. (“Why go out and buy more stuff?” she says.) And that is where the magic begins.
One cold grey morning last autumn, Fireman Dorhout peered out the window of an East Hampton cottage. The scene was unpromising, even bleak. A Chinese dogwood tree had shed its red conkers, which were garishly strewn across the deck. There were herbs in pots and stands of blowsy white pines. An evergreen.
The previous day, she’d styled the flowers for a Bridgehampton wedding in which her brief had been to create “minimalist centerpieces.” On that occasions, she chose starkly wonderful jasmine vines and stems of lisianthus and astilbes. But she had even less to work with at the East Hampton cottage. Challenged to make an arrangement out of “nothing,” she picked up a pair of scissors, walked on to the deck, dodged the conkers, went down the stairs and made for a privet hedge. Privet?
Ten minutes later, she’d trimmed half a dozen privet switches to size; and with the clarity of purpose of an ikebana master, she placed them one by one in a crescent-shaped vase. Slowly, slowly, an arrangement took shape. “You have to place them with intention,” she explained. “In winter, when nature is sparse, it makes sense for your arrangements to mirror the outdoors.” During the cold months, she’s partial to wintergreens, vines, mosses and papery birch branches, which employs in woodland themes. “I’m really into the ‘less-is-more’ approach,” she notes. “I like to do arrangements that look ‘found’ and not overly-arranged.” The finished arrangement was revelatory. As it happened, it didn’t look found at all. No, it looked as though a very gifted florist had seen the beauty in the ordinary and brought a small, gorgeous piece of nature into the room.