Antonia De Vere
Floral artist Antonia Devere of Mark.Antonia designed the striking arrangements in each room at The Hotel Britomart.
How did you get into dried flower design?
I studied a lot of design – fashion design, jewellery design – and then I got into floristry with the idea of running my own business and doing things differently. I saw a bit of a niche in that there weren’t many dried florists and there were a lot of clients who wanted beautification but didn’t want a fresh arrangement every week. I wanted to provide something beautiful that would last but that they could also change out if they wanted to.
Who were your earliest clients?
My very first client would have been Fabric, back when they were on High St. Juliette Hogan was another one of my first big clients. Cheshire Architects have always been a big client of mine. We started our business in 2011 as a part-time business, and by 2014 we would have been full time. My husband Mark works behind the scenes and has taken over the candles and candle production. He’s the brains and I’m busy making.
So, did you come to collaborate with The Hotel Britomart through Cheshire Architects?
Actually, I’ve known Jamie Urquart-Hay [the procurement manager for The Hotel Britomart] for quite a few years through a mutual friend, and she first approached us to do the flowers and told us about the project. Because I’d worked with Cheshire so much it morphed into working with Jamie as well as Emily from Cheshire.
How did you go about designing the pieces for the hotel?
When I normally work with Cheshire, I look at the architectural plans, figure out what the space is all about and figure out what can I do to add to that with my arrangements. Because The Hotel Britomart is an eco-hotel and a beautifully designed hotel, my arrangements were naturally in line with that. With it being a hotel, the arrangements had to be durable, so we were literally throwing them across the room to see if they’d break, and then putting flour on them to simulate dust so we could see how they could be cleaned. It turns out if you blow them with a hairdryer on low, the dust comes right off.
What sort of foliage and flowers did you use in the pieces?
The pieces are ikebana style, based around New Zealand foliage. I didn’t use flowers because I didn’t think they were relevant to this. I used sage-green eucalyptus, which tied in beautifully, as well as some sun-bleached pink eucalyptus, which goes a really beautiful putty colour. The other main focal point is those fluffy bunny-tails that you see on beaches around New Zealand [Lagurus Ovatus] because they’re really soft and go with the furnishing in the rooms. The rest are willow-twigs. What makes them durable is that they’re encased in muehlenbeckia, which just bounces and protects the arrangement from little fingers really well.
Where did you source the foliage from?
During summer I picked a lot of the bunny tails from around where we live in Mathesons Bay, but I wasn’t able to get as many as I would have liked, so I went begging to my mother who lives in Devauchelle just out of Akaroa. For some reason they grow throughout the year in Christchurch. So she and as many people as she could muster went out gathering them, and she sent me up thousands and really saved me. They’re a little bit greyer than the ones from up here, so they’re in the green arrangements and the pink arrangements have the cream ones.
Has it been hard sourcing flowers and foliage this year with the lockdowns?
It’s been an interesting year for florists, an odd year. I’m lucky that I always have a library of florals to work with, so I’m not particularly bound by the seasons. If I see something beautiful beside the road I’ll always stop and pick it up to put in my library. But a lot of my fresh flower friends couldn’t sell their fresh flowers and ended up having to mow out all their beautiful fields – just destroy their business and start again. New Zealand product has been uber-expensive this year, and hard to get. I don’t know how small businesses have been coping. Covid has changed everything and a lot of businesses have had to do what they can with what they’ve got. So many weddings have been cancelled, so many events, so many floristry lessons have been cancelled.
It’s given you time to work on your first book though. What’s that called?
It’s called Forever Flowers. Basically, it’s about my experience with dried flowers, my history, the way I work, my studio. It’s a coffee-table book, very image-based. The wording itself I’m struggling with because I’m a maker, not a writer! I’m very whimsical and I don’t want to come across as flaky. It’s filled with floral recipes, which is what I like to say rather than ‘instructions’. I think there’s about 25 recipes. Mark did all the photos. It’s a new project for him and he’s gotten really good at it. A lot of people that I’ve done press with have been nice enough to let me use their images too. The publisher is Schiffer Books, a New York-based publishing firm.
And what else is coming up for you in the future?
I’m moving into being more of an artist who works with flowers than a florist. It’s wonderful working with clients but I just can’t keep up with doing one-off wreaths or individual pieces as well as continuing to work with my commercial clients. So to serve the one-off market, I will be creating artist collections to sell. I’ve done one collection of gallery works to trial the idea, and it sold out within a day. We’re very transparent with what we do and explain to people where we’re headed and why, and people do understand and support that. That’s a beautiful thing about New Zealand. People really do support makers here.