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Sarah Lineberger's Unconventional Floral Designs Challenge a Trending Craft

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Sarah Lineberger, on the rooftop of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where she is the floral director. Photo by <a href="http://austinnelson.com/">Austin Nelson</a>.
Sarah Lineberger, on the rooftop of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where she is the floral director. Photo by Austin Nelson.

Pin it on the Do-It-Yourself boom, an growing itch to embrace nature, or the success of visually-compelling social platforms like Instagram, but floral design is currently enjoying a brand-new spotlight. For Los Angeles-based floral designer Sarah Lineberger, this is a extremely exciting time, not only because of all the fresh ideas blooming, but also because it's an opportunity to get people to take seriously a trade that she says is too often considered a "granny hobby."

At 27, Lineberger is both young in age and a bit of a veteran of the industry—she's been at it since age 15, when she started working at a neighborhood flower shop after school. Over the last decade, the SoCal native has built up experience in a wide variety of floral shops on two coasts, working at or managing everything from a local market store in L.A. to a minimalist shop—and later, an ultra romantic store—in New York City, to her current position as Floral Director for Beverly Hills' Beverly Wilshire Hotel, as part of event design and production company Square Root, focusing on "huge, elaborate weddings up and down the coast of California." The remainder of her days, however, are spent exploring the polar opposite, creating heavily experimental pieces that often turn scraps she finds from the streets (i.e. a palm tree trunk or coconut skin) into wild arrangements challenging our very notions of the craft.

Photo by Austin Nelson.
Photo by Austin Nelson.

Growing up, Lineberger originally intended to study interior design, textile design, or architecture, but ultimately found that flowers—with their colors, textures, and seasonal qualities—had the same incredible capacity to alter a space and hasn't looked back since. Like the careers of many artists or writers, Lineberger's floral work involves the same sort of compromise between commercial and passion projects, though the gap between the products from each side couldn't be more different.

Photo by Austin Nelson.
Lineberger at work in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Photo by Austin Nelson.

Although her full-time position is challenging with its own design aesthetic—which is very minimalist—Lineberger, in her free time, pursues a "weird exploration of flowers" that produces some rather unconventional results. "I'm looking for something that's new and different and kind of challenges me as well."

In her freelance and personal projects, which can also include landscape design, she is all about the natural. "In work that comes out of my heart, I work with a lot of texture, a lot of greens, I try to really create pieces that look like they haven't been fussed with a lot," Lineberger explains. "I try to create work that just looks more or less ethereal and doesn't really look too contrived or forced."

Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.
"Dream and Nostalgia III," a collaboration with Awol Erizku featuring standard NBA basketball hoop and silk flower arrangements. Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.

A prime example of this approach is her Dream and Nostalgia, a series of work she produced with artist and friend Awol Erizku. The premise, a basketball hoop that's been overgrown with flowers, has been explored in five separate works since 2013, several of which sold at "high price points" at art fairs. The pieces are completely made out of silk, so they will last forever.

"Punch," a hanging natural orb piece. Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.

Another key difference between her full-time position and side ventures is the time spent on the work. "You don't really have much time to interpret it your own way when you're working for a larger company," Lineberger says. Dealing with fresh flowers and clients means having to worry about perishables and deadlines ("A week? You got it!" she'd say to clients), but Lineberger takes her sweet time putting together what she calls "100 percent Sarah Lineberger" work. For example, Punch, a hanging natural orb born out of an initial desire to create something that wasn't "clean" at all, was first conceived a year and a half ago, after which she slowly started purchasing all the different elements.

Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.
L: A portrait of a yellow Banksia Protea, one of Lineberger's favorite flowers. R: A low-maintenance side table piece featuring rooted, growing Bromeliad in a hand-carved burl wood vase. Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.

Lineberger is also infinitely inspired by the natural landscape of Southern California, which she calls "some of the most beautiful on Earth." In the left photo above, the piece puts the spotlight on a yellow Banksia Protea, a drought-resistant variety native to the Southern Hemisphere and one Lineberger's favorite flowers.

In December, Lineberger will collaborate with Erizku again on a large piece for his pop-up gallery. The two purchased an antique, gutted Porsche, which Lineberger will be "reincarnating" with a floral arrangement. She's also working on putting together her own show by the end of 2016, focusing entirely on silk florals. Creating online floral design workshops and throwing her own pottery are imminent plans, as well.

Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.
An exploratory piece featuring coconut skin. Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.

But the greatest long-term goal is still opening her own store, and this is where it gets tough. Lineberger's extensive experience on two coasts has educated her on the practical realities of the running a floral business. In fact, after a couple of years in New York City, she actually tried her hand at opening a shop in Brooklyn, a venture that had an exciting beginning but quickly fizzled.

Beyond locale-specific challenges—for example, on the East Coast, marked seasons make it hard to attempt being a "locally grown florist" and on the West Coast, sprawling and car-dependent communities make organic foot traffic hard immensely difficult for a neighborhood floral boutique—Lineberger points to a dearth of accountability and access to a robust toolkit for young floral designers.

Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.
An experimental still life and color study featuring an octopus. Photo courtesy Sarah Lineberger.

"When I was starting out, you didn't really see anyone under the age 30 in the [flower] market," she says. But within the last five years, she's seen a huge boost in younger floral designers that just "never existed" before. The other side of this, Lineberger says, is a lot of "flower trends," which she describes as floral design that's done, for example, based on what's on popular on Instagram or what was just done at someone's bridal shower. What's often missing is a keen understanding of the market and the trade. Besides her own short-lived shop, she's seen a lot of quick, no name flower shops "come up and die, come up and die, come up and die," And it's this sort of pattern that makes it hard for young designers to obtain loans to start new businesses, and for Lineberger to make another attempt at a store.

One thing Lineberger hopes to see in the near future is a comprehensive floral design school, something "like a Fashion Institute of Technology for floral design, something that will give people the right tools so they can generate sales for a long time." On her part, Lineberger wants to start a workshop for local floral designers to come together and share ideas, which can help mitigate some hyper-competitiveness in a small industry that also feels more cramped by the day.

"Floral design is becoming really trendy, so it'd be nice to see the longevity of the industry really pan out and not just have these gigantic shops that have been around for 15 years continue to trump these smaller shops trying to do new design."

Photo by Austin Nelson.
Photo by Austin Nelson.

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