Do you ever meet people that you could swear are magic and you just know that they see the world in a totally different and beautiful way than you ever will? That is Maria, founder and the creative artist behind Darling & Daughters.
Having met Maria two years ago on a styled shoot with our mutual friend, Ida Rose, I was surprised, because up until that shoot her work had been wild and very natural and moody, but this shoot was bright, bubbly and full of color. It didn't take me long to realize that Maria just loved flowers and would take their beauty and transform them to fit any palette, shape, texture or size. Like magic.
In addition to loving nature and the flowers and stems she works with daily, Maria has a love of people and getting to know them in a truly genuine way, which is rare, and something to be cherished. you're in for a real treat with this interview because she really gets into the nitty gritty.
ec: I guess the obvious question, why flowers?
my: Teehee. Okay. I think about this sometimes twofold. First, my mother (Robin Anne Darling). Forever my mother. I’m one of five and we grew up in Glen Echo, right up the hill from the Potomac. We would walk all the time, and she always picked up dried beautiful things and kept them arranged in mini-what-we-would-now-call-installations until she got sick of them. I do this too (although now… on a larger scale when I can. I keep buckets with water in my truck so that I can pull over and forage whenever), and I want my daughter, Isla Magdalena, to fall into the same habit. There is so much beauty in plain sight, and it doesn’t hurt a thing to pick roadside foliage.
Second. The idea of the Feast. I love so much - so so much - the look of a table with food, flowers, wine, whiskey, what have you. I love a full table and an aesthetic that is rich but inviting (more flowers, less forks). I design with the hope that what we make allows flowers to look timeless, ethereal, wild, and I want the client to feel like her wedding or event reflects the season at hand. Her wedding shouldn’t look like anything that can be replicated. That’s part of the memory of a feast, right? That it can’t be completely recreated, and its memory is pretty magical.
ec: What inspires you?
my: 1 - How people make their homes living art- how they make a space as banal as a foyer sexy and perpetual. Wild gardens and hidden spaces and women who live alone in small but beautiful houses with tables and candlelight outside. I’m a country mouse, and I like quiet and space, my dogs and baby daughter and the walks we take even when I don’t feel like walking, because the air clears my head and makes me notice and love color so much more. Every season, hues of a different color (the green spectrum in late June, the straw/taupes and muds and stones in February).
2 - The magical queens of the industry - Sarah Ryhanen of Saipua, Eothen, Fleuropean, the Blue Carrot… their work charges me to keep making weird designs, keep adding dried beauty, keep presenting work I’m proud of.
3 - Being a part of the anti-FTD/AIFD floral revolution. Local farms and our partnerships with a few really great farmers (Laura Beth of Butterbee is a godsend). I love a good fight, and right now feels like a reinvention of what is actual luxury with flowers and maybe it’s not a zillion Columbian-grown flowers with no scent clustered together, but instead this interesting, detailed, painting-like melange of tomato vine and mock orange, foraged foliage and heirloom roses that smell heavenly… and fragile but divine dahlias.
ec: What have you found to be the hardest and easiest part of running your business?
my: Oh boy. Okay worst/hardest first: too much time on the computer/feeling like a day-dreamy kid in geometry class trying to nail a proposal. Spending x many hours on that proposal, pouring my thoughts into it and coming up with a color palette I think suits the client perfectly, and then… the wait, turning down another event for that same date, and then that client not booking because D&D wound up pricing their event y many dollars more than another florist. I think it’s that - pouring so much time into something, working late into the night, that can push me into a place where I question whether my daughter will think that she grew up with a really hard-working mother or whether she’ll resent how much I work, how she doesn’t like when I’m gone on Saturdays.
Easiest: on-the-fly decisions and additions to the floral palette. I tell each client - and have never had anybody not get excited about this element - that they will undoubtedly have some seasonal surprises in their designs. I love sneaking in something that isn’t easy to source, but that fits so well with the season (lilac, tuberose, my own garden roses). Second easiest/nest is would be my heart pounding after so much running around during a wedding install, already sore from balancing on a ladder or lugging buckets, and miraculously getting to catch the couple’s first look.
I’m really good at hiding my tears while I watch. Florists are sneaky that way, and I think we’re all suckers for the lovey-dovey moments.
Medium (bonus answer… or I’ve written too much): growth. This business has turned into its own, and I’m proud and hesitant of that. Before my partner and I separated, it was meant to be something I could do to contribute to the family without having to work every day while Isla was an infant. In no small part because of the support I’ve gotten from some absolutely badass, generous, fabulous women in this industry, it’s only been a few years and we operate weekly standing orders, events large and small, and what feels like crazy-fast growth.
Also, having built this business to this point, I think I speak for most in the event industry when I say that the beginning, you give yourself away… you price everything down to the bones to land that event, you stretch yourself so thin. It’s part of this crazy industry - I don’t see architects or bankers working for half their worth when they start out, and I don’t think people ask men as much to price down. My goal for this year is to do no harm but take no shit - that is, to respect my business and my time, and to give the client the best I know how, while also charging for my experience and work.
I think most women business owners can relate to this: I feel so lucky, but I’ve also worked harder than I ever imagined and there’s been so much luck and so many lessons. My work is demanding, but the business is mine and I am so proud of that. I get to come home to my daughter and dogs and (horrible) cat after an event, have a dram of whiskey or wine, and am happy with my work. When I feel overwhelmed, I think of my mother, who wrote her dissertation with two babies at home, and the other women I love, who work dozens of hours more than your typical ideal 35-40, and have so much to show for it.
Bonus-bonus: it’s hard to really, really try to source flowers well, and then see something like UrbanStems pat itself on the back and claim to source ‘farm-to-vase’ and that is malarkey. I was so disappointed that Vogue collaborated with that company because I can’t stand deceptive floral advertising.
ec: Do you have any weddings/projects coming up this year that you are particularly excited about?
my: MANY. All of them, in a way. I get along with all my clients and don’t book unless it feels like a great fit. This is the luckiest part of D&D, I think. We really do get to work with clients who trust us. We get to work with planners and photographers I admire (cheers to you, Ms. Carberry).
We have a few weddings out of town, and one of these is going to leave me a little starry-eyed. And that’s all I can say about that.
I’m beyond excited about 2018 color palettes and installations - we’re going out of the comfort zone with some of them, using new structures and methods. So this is fabulous and exciting.
I’m excited to keep building relationships with farmers, vendors, and event/standing order clients. We landed the house floral designs for A Rake’s Progress a few months back, and the first event before the official opening was the birthday of a certain favorite First Lady of mine. I didn’t realize the flowers were for her until just after we set up. I cried. Michelle forever.
ec: Do you have a favorite flower? Why?
my: I have to answer this one with a half-dozen favorites (sorry).
1 - Any and all cosmos varietals. They’re delicate and elegant but wild and grow like weeds. Nobody expects them and they draw the eye no matter what.
2 - mock orange and lilac for their fragrance and seasonal dance
3 - garden roses and tree peonies and dahlias - yep, okay, popular favorites. Their fullness. Their temporary, time-be-damned attitude. You don’t get shelf life with them and that’s how it’s mean to be.
4 - Cherry caramel phlox - oh baby. Their shape is geometric and detailed and gorgeous; I’m dedicating almost a full raised bed to them this year.
5 - blue love-in-a-mist and black sprite bachelor’s buttons - delicate stems with intricacy. These flowers command respect, or maybe I think too much about them.
6 - dark foliage - ninebark is my absolute favorite, and Butterbee is doubling her production this year… you’ll see a whole lot of it in our designs come summer/early fall.