We meet founder and Creative Director of Lavender Green, Sue Barnes
We meet founder and Creative Director of Lavender Green, Sue Barnes
London florist Lavender Green has enjoyed a stellar year, with a Chelsea in Bloom gold medal award that coincided with the opening of their new flagship store on the King's Road. But event floristry has taken Sue Barnes and her team far beyond this pocket of London, to create awe-inspiring schemes for some of the country's most iconic venues and chalking up over one thousand of these occasions a year. With over thirty years in the business, Sue tells us how she brings her client's visions to life and why she balks at 'big bum floristry'.
Discretion is key for Sue Barnes and her team of florists at Lavender Green, whose list of clients are rumoured to include A-list celebrities and even members of the Royal family. We meet her not long after a move to a prime spot on the King's Road, in the heart of Chelsea, having outgrown their original Fulham premises. “We wanted a much bigger shop and 239 Kings Road is the most perfect corner shop that has an amazing history. It's really beautiful with two great big windows.”
Customers can expect a whole host of interesting and unique garden and homeware treasures including glassware, antiques and curiosities. Hand-blown Syrian glass carafes sit alongside Tuscan pottery, paintings and Christmas decorations with a nostalgic twist, plus of course, the irresistible statement blooms. “I've just bought some things from wonderful partners down in Devon, and I've also bought a lot of stuff from Catalonia and from Anduze in France. They have to be beautiful, stylish and original – not things that you can buy everywhere else. It's really a store that you can get immersed in.”
This charming shop front on the corner of the King's Road belies the grand scale on which Sue and her team operate. Here, you'll also find Lavender Green Gardens – the landscape design arm of the business that specialises in garden schemes for both private and commercial clients, reimagining everything from intimate courtyards to expansive rural estates. Though their real bread and butter is creating beautiful floral schemes for some of the country's most spectacular venues. “Our biggest claim to fame is dropping a quarter of a million pounds’ worth of flowers into the British Museum in 45 minutes. That's what we do – five-star hotel decorations, people's wonderful homes, massive great big weddings, and then all the sporting events. It's so fantastic because our work is so diverse.”
Other iconic venues include Kensington Palace, The Natural History Museum, Hampton Court Palace and Royal Ascot, to name but a few. Sue and her team are part of an elite inner circle of suppliers – a handful of names entrusted by hosts as recommendations to their clients. “A lot of our business is recommendation. In London, they only allow for five suppliers in each category, and out of the 84 unique venues in London we're recommended by 78 of them. That's much higher than any other florist.” Sue and her team complete around 1400 events each year, with as many as 14 every night. Even on this epic scale, Sue has a hands-on approach that weaves in years of design experience, having previously worked in an agency. “I could always draw – and I still to this day draw everything. I think that the ability to draw is our USP because rather than trying to describe something we're trying to achieve, we can show scale, we can show colour, we can show concept. And most importantly, we can show that we've got the right feel.”
Despite having had no formal floristry training herself, Sue sees this as an advantage, allowing her to design freely, unencumbered by logistics. “For me, I think of the concept first, and then how I'm going to do it afterwards. So we are never constrained by the mechanics of how you get to do something. I'm just interested in providing ideas for the overall finished look, and it's up to our team of amazing florists to come up with a solution for how we get to do that. I think that's what stops us from stagnating.”
This meticulous approach sees her rely on a trusted 37-strong team of designers, florists, drivers and installers, many of whom she has worked with for years. “We have our own team of installers who are on the payroll full time. The unique venues of London are full of priceless items and objects so we have to have people who care about every part of the process.”
For the actual concepts, Sue draws inspiration from the art and fashion arenas, as well as the natural world. “I look at what's available seasonally, what excites me. And that can be from the world of fashion, or it can be from art, it can be from markets – the most inspirational thing is looking at what's going on outdoors.” She gravitates towards harmonised naturalistic schemes – seasonal blooms that blend beautifully. “You can basically do anything as long as it's natural. It goes wrong when it's a completely unnatural concept. I call it big bum floristry – where you've got just mounds of the same type of hundreds of flowers. It's totally fabricated – that's my idea of hell.” she says. “We love something that's naturally beautiful and totally luxurious, mixed together without it looking ostentatious. That's difficult to achieve and that's what we do as a standard product.”
Her method puts the individual client front and centre of Lavender Green's design proposal, interrogating the brief to draw up a scheme that meets their vision perfectly. “I'll see somebody walk through the door, and they're dressed in Prada, for example. And all of a sudden, they're now talking as though it will be sort of Matthew Williamson scheme, you know, sort of very ethereal and magical. And the two don't go together, so I've got to pull this apart to find out what they actually are wanting in terms of the feel and look of the design.”
Any spare time in London is spent browsing in the usual haunts: William Yeoward furniture, the Designer's Guild and the Michelin Building on the Fulham Road. She divides her work between bases in Chelsea and Windsor, though her actual home is Bonhams House in Sussex. “It's an old Georgian house built in 1693, though the interiors are quite modern in most of the rooms.” Christmas at Bonhams House is an unsurprisingly impressive affair, but with a homely flavour. “It has to be gobsmackingly beautiful, but not OTT. We always have a tree that touches the ceiling that's about 12 feet high. But I don't like to do it just because we can, I like it to be thoughtful and nostalgic and creative.”
Back on the King's Road, the shop has also been decked out in trimmings galore, with festive foliage and a charming toy-themed installation with its own Christmas house, that had originally been lovingly made by a grandmother for her 11 grandchildren. “As we have this wonderful store, and it looks beautiful inside, I want the windows to be the very best. As a child, we always used to go along Regent Street and have a look at the lights and window displays, especially Hamleys – you were in awe of everything. So I wanted our window to be absolutely beautiful – I just want everyone's eyes pop out on stalks when they walk past it.”
Inside the store, a series of wreath-making masterclasses take place in the run up to Christmas. “Every evening, there'll be people downstairs in the store making wreaths, drinking champagne and eating wonderful nibbles. All these smells of mince pies and clementines – I do think it's the most magical time of the year. And then you can take it home and hang it on your door.” Domus Stay guests can book a wreath-making masterclass to enjoy within the comfort of their homes, along with the opportunity to book a personal style consultation from Sue herself.