Flower power

Steven Craig believes that floral design is an under-appreciated art

Steven Craig says his Flemish style of floral design gives his arrangements a just-out-of-the-garden look.

Steven Craig says his Flemish style of floral design gives his arrangements a just-out-of-the-garden look.

Photo by David Robert

Briarwood Finer Flowers and Gifts is at 655 Booth Street. Call 329-8099.

Steven Craig says he was surprised when the RN&R called him to do an artist’s profile.

“The art of floral design has always been overlooked as a true art form,” says the 54-year-old co-owner of Briarwood Finer Flowers & Gifts, located on Booth Street near Reno High School. “It speaks volumes that when you are looking [to hire] a florist, the job listings go in the ‘general employment’ section [of the classifieds]. It should be under ‘skilled trades.'”

Why don’t florists get their due as artists? After all, nobody would deny that an arrangement of flowers can be a work of art. And flower designers have unique styles, techniques and theories when it comes to their craft, just like artists do.

Craig believes this lack of artistic respect comes from the fact that not all people who make flower arrangements are true artists.

“In my opinion, there are lots of ‘flower pokers,'” he says. “There are few truly artistic floral designers.”

Craig got his start in the flower biz about 26 years ago, when the clothing store he worked at, Joseph Magnin, closed. The holiday season was approaching, and a friend of his, Dick Wells, offered him a temporary gig at his flower shop.

“He said, ‘Well, it’s Thanksgiving. Why don’t you come down and work though the holidays until you figure out what you’re doing with your life?'” Craig says. “I never left. I just had a knack for it. Either you do or you don’t in this business. I just watched, did and learned from Dick. I think he’s the master.”

About two years later, Craig moved to Long Beach, Calif., taking a job as manager of Long Beach Florist. That lasted until 1980, when he decided he was “finished” with Southern California. Wells had an opening at another flower shop, Reno Flower Mart, which Craig gladly filled. From there, he went to La Fleur for several years before taking a job with Scolari’s Warehouse Markets in 1984. The regional supermarket chain was looking to start in-store flower shops and recruited Craig for the task of heading up the effort.

“I hated supermarket floral departments, because they were hurting the independent flower shops,” he says. “I went to the interview on a lark. I gave them a huge dollar figure [for a salary] and told them they could only use professional florists. They shocked me when they said, ‘Absolutely. When do you want to start?'”

After nearly a decade with Scolari’s, Craig went to work for F.A. Lawrence, managing two local flower shops. He says he had no intention of opening his own shop. However, his partner, former RN&R staffer Marvin Schonebaum, found the storefront on Booth Street, and in late 1998, Schonebaum informed Craig that they were going to sign a lease.

“I told him, ‘Good for you. I hope you do great,'” Craig recalls.

“That was not the reaction I was expecting,” Schonebaum adds.

Schonebaum ended up talking Craig into the deal, and the shop opened in January 1999.

One of the reasons Craig gives for the shop’s success is the fact that he and fellow designer Regina Knittle have a distinctive style. Craig calls it Flemish and says it’s representative of the style used by Flemish painters: mixtures of color not generally thought of together, with deep textures.

“It gives the designs an unfinished look, like it just came out of a garden,” Craig says, citing balance and color as two of the most important variables in floral design.

Despite the fact that he was “tricked” into opening Briarwood, Craig says he is glad that he and Schonebaum did.

“I love this," he says. "I absolutely love this place. I was tricked into the best decision of my life. It sounds gooey, but it’s really the truth."