7 Questions for Floral Designer Lewis Miller

An arrangement of red horse chestnut, honeysuckle, 'Juliet' roses, spray roses and anemone by Lewis Miller Designs.NYC&G: How did you get into floral design?
Lewis Miller, founder of Lewis Miller Designs (LMD): It started organically. I’m a farm kid from California’s Central Valley. My mother and grandfather were avid gardeners, and we grew everything. I went to school for horticulture and landscape design, and while I was in college, I got a job at a posh private club in Seattle. I went from the kid pulling weeds to outdoor landscaping, with the club members as my guinea pigs. It was a sweet setup for about seven years.

How did LMD evolve?
I moved to New York in 2000 and was thinking about a career in interior design, and even took classes at the New York School of Interior Design. But I wasn’t ready to give up on working with fresh flowers, which can be so decadent and ephemeral. In 2002, I had an opportunity to open a small business, which has evolved primarily into an events firm. I never had a grandiose plan for it.

Rununculus and heuchera leaves arranged by Lewis Miller Designs.What inspired your new book [Styling Nature: A Masterful Approach to Floral Arrangements, photographed by Don Freeman and published this month by Rizzoli]? It’s the result of Don and I playing around, doing shoots here and there during the past 12 years. There wasn’t really any motivating factor behind it. We were just doing what we love to do.

What are your favorite flowers to work with?
I like things that are rich, painterly, and sumptuous. It changes constantly, but I always seem to come back to black-and-white French anemones. And I really like flowers that are shape shifters, like hyacinths and tulips, which continue to grow once you cut them. Plus very old-fashioned flowers. I tend to be very open;
I don’t hate anything.

What makes a great arrangement?
It’s one that comes together quickly. The minute you have to work hard on it, you might as well start over. It’s more about the moment, so I just let the flowers fall where they may. It’s like creating a living painting of sorts.

Dahlias, begonias, hops, ranunculus, tulips and viburnum arranged by Lewis Miller Designs.Where do you get your color inspiration?
Oftentimes from artists, such as Vuillard’s burgundies and unexpected apricot yellows, or Picasso’s bold hues. The Gustave Moreau museum in Paris is a constant source of inspiration. I recently visited the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art [in Sarasota, Florida], which has amazing works by Rubens, filled with incredible color combinations of reds, pinks, and peaches.

How do arrangements work with home decor?
With flowers, it’s not a long-term commitment, so you can complement or contrast a room’s design and know the arrangement is there for just a week or so. For me, it’s really a great way to play with color. That’s how I get my color fix.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2016 issue of NYC&G (New York Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Nature's Bounty.