Kathy Whalen puts floral in its place: at the center of event design
She may have started her career providing floral for fashionable events, but Kathy Whalen soon discovered she wasn't satisfied with a focus on flowers alone. Her Basking Ridge, N.J.-based event design company, Nature's Daughter, reflects her belief that floral cannot be created “out of context,” but is an essential element of whole-event design. In this month's interview, Whalen turns her thoughts to social events, and shares the principles that have guided her work for more than 20 years.
Special Events Magazine: What services does Nature's Daughter offer?
Kathy Whalen: My services began strictly as floral. Now they really encompass the bigger picture. Whatever is visual, whatever is seen, is what I do.
Q: Were you trained as a designer?
A: In college I studied art as well as education. I have really pursued the study of aesthetics to give me a good background and understanding of what makes things tick. What I do in events is about aesthetics. I've studied in this country, I've studied in Europe, I've studied in Japan, I've studied in Canada, and I've taught in those locations as well.
Q: What do you love about flowers as a medium?
A: Color, and that they are so dimensional. I love the fact that … we are given such an ephemeral product that is also so beautiful.
Q: What is floral's most important role at a social event?
A: It really needs to fulfill the client's goal for the event. Is it to be a very lavish event? In which case floral might be lavish.
Is to be an understated, simple event? In which case the floral will be much more laid back and tailored. For instance, I may [decorate] the walls. I might do something using amaryllis on the wall, maybe just six or eight of them on a very clean background, with large foliage, that will make a major statement.
It's not about sticking arrangements someplace. It's about honestly responding to the client's goals.
Q: What do your wedding clients want most?
A: The main thing they want is for the event to be an expression of themselves. I find that my best ideas come from listening to them and working with them, finding out who they are — whether they are fussy people, or very sophisticated, very chic. We might look at some pictures, because it's important for me to hear their reactions. It's not about showing pictures, it's about hearing their comments. I need to hear the bride, I need to hear the client, I need to see the body language, I need to hear them pause to give me answers, I need to see them twitch and look puzzled.
Q: What kind out bridal bouquet might you do for a very sophisticated bride?
A: I might do something that is all one flower. Amaryllis, again, for example. It is a flower that is clean and bold. The contrast of the head of the flower to the clean stem is a very important concept in doing something that is more sophisticated.
Q: What are clients looking for when they hire Nature's Daughter?
A: I think it's my attention to detail, and that I always seem to have a different twist on things. Some people can walk into a party, and it's totally, totally different than anything I've ever done, but they will recognize that it is my work. It all makes sense to them. And I think one of the things people come to me for is elegance. Whether it be upbeat elegance, or funky elegance, it seems there's an elegance that's part of what I do.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Italy. It's a place of contrast, of old and new. In Milan, there's the sleek and sophisticated design, and yet there are so many raw spaces of brick or stone that maybe are covered with stucco. I think that's very inspirational, especially when the contrast is great.
Kathy Whalen and Nature's Daughter can be reached at 908/221-0258.