Meet Floral Designer Nathaniel Savage

A floral designer makes his mark on the North Fork.
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Floral designer Nathaniel Savage at White Flower, a garden shop in Southold. Photograph by Doug Young.

The old-school trope of farmers sharing their yield “over the fence” with neighbors might typically be associated with vegetables and eggs, but for floral designer Nathaniel Savage, cuttings and field finds from local gardeners and landowners are the holy grail. “Being a forager and having relationships with these people,” he says, “is one of the benefits of living on the North Fork. I love bringing the outdoors in and making something beautiful.”

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While creating his floral designs, Savage uses an ersatz “lazy Susan.” Photograph by Doug Young.

A Virginia native, Savage moved to the area more than two years ago and began doing floral arrangements for the North Fork Table restaurant, which led to a commission for a ceiling installation in the tasting room at Macari Vineyards. “I fell in love with the raw coastline, the community, and the people, so I decided to stay,” recounts Savage, who launched his own installation and floral design company, Navanel, last year. This spring, he partnered with Lori Guyer of the Southold shop White Flower Farmhouse and opened White Flower, a European-style garden store where he creates untamed arrangements that nod to traditional Japanese ikebana and wabi-sabi. “Those disciplines function as a base layer for me, but I also incorporate ideas I absorbed while working at Kinfolk [a lifestyle magazine] and at Stone Barns in Westchester. And Lori allowed me to use a space above her shop as a studio. For anyone who creates or makes, space is the foundation. It can be quite shackling if you don’t have it.”

Savage approaches his large-scale installations based on “what is happening outdoors—how an exhibition or event is put together, and if there is a flow or a narrative to it. I envision how the event will take place, typically from left to right, and consider other factors such as negative space, colors and textures, and the aesthetics and needs of both the client and what the space calls for. Then there is an engineering relationship: It’s important to figure out what is attainable and practical.”

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A floral design by Savage. Photograph by Doug Young.

For smaller-scale arrangements, Savage seeks out “the oddities” to make every creation unique, with its own flow. “I’ve developed an affinity for vintage flower frogs,” he says, “although they are expensive and not easy to find.” He also prefers environmentally friendly blocks of wool fiber over floral foam, since the former is biodegradable, sustainable, and compostable. “The floral industry is incredibly wasteful, so I always have conservation and preservation in mind. Even when I’m using foraged materials in an arrangement, I get permission from the landowners, and I never take anything from wetlands or protected areas. I want to respect where I’m sourcing, how I’m sourcing, and how it will be used, and I consider in advance how I can integrate these pieces with other flowers or botanicals. In a way, my foraging is almost premeditated.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Savage Beauty.