By Keysha Drexel
The man behind the stunning flowers at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton will kick off the Red Diamond Lecture Series at the ninth annual Antiques in The Gardens at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens next month.
Shane Connolly, who has served as the artistic floral director for more than one royal wedding, will speak at the Linn-Henley Lecture Hall at 11 a.m. Oct. 2 as part of this year’s event at The Gardens.
The flower designer and author started Shane Connolly & Company in 1989 after training for several years with some of London’s leading flower designers.
Connolly achieved celebrity status in 2006 when he was bestowed the Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales.
The honor came after Connolly helped with the 2005 wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. He returned to royal service in 2011 when he was asked to be the floral designer for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
But whether he’s planning an extravagant affair at Westminster Abbey or an intimate event in an out-of-the-way setting, Connolly said he first considers the client and the venue.
“The most important thing to remember is that the designer’s skill is best when it’s not obvious,” he said. “The setting we create must flatter the client and provide them with an ambiance they feel comfortable in, rather (than) in awe of.”
And when it comes to creating that perfect setting, Connolly said no detail escapes his attention.
“We supply every element of that from containers to candles, lanterns and often the cloths as well,” he said. “Obviously, this involves lots of discussion and meetings, but I’d far rather that than a standard style that might not be perfect for every client or setting. In a way, it’s letting go of one’s own ego and trying to provide a service.”
Connolly said he also aims to be flexible when choosing flowers for his projects and tries to use seasonal and locally-sourced items for his designs.
“Usually, we’re flower-led rather than design-led so that the flower takes the central stage and is allowed to be the star,” he said. “Over the years, I think I’ve simplified the way we arrange flowers as a result. We avoid floral foam wherever possible and instead choose containers that allow the flowers to be held securely or make a grid work out of natural branches. The result is a style that is quintessentially relaxed and natural.”
Connolly’s talk in Birmingham will be his first stop on a nationwide tour to promote his latest book, “A Year in Flowers,” which he said is more personal than his previous three books.
“It’s very much about my enjoyment of flowers and not flower wizardry,” he said.
The other featured speaker at this year’s Red Diamond Series Lecture will also be talking about his new book.
Mario Buatta, the self-described “Prince of Chintz,” will take the stage at the Linn-Henley Lecture Hall at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Oct. 3 at 11 a.m.
Buatta, who launched his design firm in 1963 and filled a client list ranging from Henry Ford II to Barbara Walters to Mariah Carey, will talk about the release of his first book, “Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration.”
Buatta will share with the Red Diamond Lecture Series audience the principles and inspiration that have led him to work on projects as varied as the Blair House in Washington, D.C., and a posh New York City triplex featured on an episode of “MTV Cribs.”
Buatta said after half a century in the design business, he has learned a thing or two about what every room needs.
“A very old, comfortable upholstery–the best upholstery that money can buy, because you live with that all your life and it gets better as it gets older if it’s all hand done and great quality,” he said. “Comfortable sofas, chairs–a fireplace is nice, if you can have one.”
Buatta said every room also needs good flooring, good lighting and window blinds or shades.
Buatta said during his career he’s also learned a lot about what rooms don’t need–namely out-of-proportion furnishings.
“I see it a lot. I see it every day–people that just don’t get how to live. It’s hard to tell them how to live,” he said.
Proportion is the biggest mistake people make on their own in that everything is either too small or too big, Buatta said.
But when it came to putting 50 years’ worth of design wisdom into a book, Buatta said he temporarily forgot about his own rules concerning proportion.
“It’s a backbreaker. It’s a seven-pound book, and I lifted up a box of five and pulled a muscle, and I’ve been hurting ever since last Oct. 8,” he said.
But judging from the book’s place on the bestseller lists, the heft of the tome is not deterring Buatta’s fans from buying what he says is his first and his last book.
“I always thought a book was the ‘kiss of death’ for a decorator because people would look at what you’ve done, then they’d look at a magazine the next month and say, ‘Oh, he’s doing the same thing! He hasn’t changed his style,'” he said. “So I decided well, at 50 years, I can do a book and I’ll never have to do another one. So I decided to do the Buatta-pedia. It’s been very, very successful, so I’m very happy with it.”
The $75 admission fee to Connolloy’s lecture and the $30 admission fee to Buatta’s lecture include admission to Antiques at The Gardens, which will feature tastemakers and antique dealers from around the country.
To reserve seats for the lectures, visit www.bbgardens.org. For more information, call 414-3965.