One look at Marisa Competello’s bold arrangements, and it comes as no surprise that the New York–based floral designer was a fashion stylist for almost a decade before turning her talents to flowers. Strong bolts of color, clean lines, and a minimal amount of plant types in the mix form a tight edit.
“I was always gathering materials and putting things together—now I apply that same skill to a different medium,” says Competello. Through her friend Sabrina De Sousa, co-owner of Dimes restaurant, she started making weekly arrangements for the sparse-meets-eclectic Chinatown hangout, developing her eye and quickly broadening a fan–slash–client base to include Rachel Comey, Kelly Wearstler, and Apparatus.
[In the lead image: Maximize the Palette. Paint humble grasses in a bright hue to accentuate the line. Here, a splash of blue paired with flamboyant heliconia elevates the colors to Surrealist fantasy. Finish with a graphic black and white vase. Oblique Variation, 2016, by Cody Hoyt, Patrick Parrish $2,400; Alufoil Side Table, Chris Schanck, courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.]
“I’m still learning and evolving—I’m freestyling,” says Competello, who, other than taking an ikebana class, is self-taught, intuitively riffing on new shapes and movement (she’s also a longtime dancer). In her hands, arrangements become living sculptures. These are not flowers that just sit and look pretty. They stand out. They have things to say.
So pairing her creations with statement-making vessels and furniture from vintage design dealer Paul Johnson was a dream moment. “I mean, my flowers got to sit on a Max Lamb table,” says Competello. The feeling must be mutual.
Here, Competello's stylized arrangements complement architectural vases and the far-out furniture of visionary art and design dealer Paul Johnson. The designer walks us through each one, with tips on how to recreate these vibrant and unusual displays at home.
Wispy meets earthy with this combo of dripping dates and white Japanese umbrella fern. Shown off in a modern Greek urn, the arrangement feels fresh for summer.
Sculpture by Eva Pappas, TKDO Fine Arts, $4,500; Thin Slice Marble Cabinet, Peter Marigold courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.
Build a Series
Stack a few flowers by trimming the stems at varying heights so each one peeks out over the next. (Sturdy plants do best, like these anthuriums.) Display in a modular vase—and let one bloom go rogue for artful balance.
Black Dew Round Ziggurat Vessel, Malka Dina, $210; Dripped Bronze Stool, Jack Craig courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.
Repetition Makes Perfect
Layering similarly shaped leaves and flowers in different sizes creates interesting depth and texture when placed in a streamlined vessel.
Block Double Vase in Aged Brass, Apparatus Studio, $6,800; Copper Skin Side Table and Chair, Kwangho Lee courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.
Flip the Perspective
Look to stems for creating new forms, like calla lilies that naturally loop and twist. Dip the ends into chic variations of a clear glass bud vase to mimic the fluted shape of the flowers.
Juliet Vessels 1-6, Anna Karlin, $110; PVC/Marble Console Table, Jack Craig courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.
Go With the Flow
From a low vessel, cascade long, loose greenery (such as the amaranthus pictured here) along a surface, allowing the strands to spill over the edge of the table.
Indulgence Grand Champagne Cooler, Georg Jensen, $475; Poly Table and Chair, Max Lamb courtesy of Johnson Trading Gallery.