In the Studio with Emily Thompson


With their wild, natural shapes and unexpected components plucked from the forest, we've long been fans of Brooklyn floral designer Emily Thompson's stunning arrangements. This holiday season, we're thrilled to be offering Emily's Pear & Spruce Wreath, a style designed especially for terrain, along with her collection of terrarium-inspired ornaments. Though she's busy decking the halls this time of year, Emily took a break to chat with us about the things that inspire her, how she designed our exclusive wreath, and her work for one very noteworthy client-- First Lady Michelle Obama.

terrain: You grew up in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom. How does that background inform your work today?

Emily: My place of origin figures enormously in my design sensibility. The Northeast Kingdom is a beautiful place, with old mountains and swimming holes and glacial lakes, but it's also quite brutal and austere. The winter lasts and lasts, so the absurdly brief summers are all the more glorious. It's a place of harsh contrasts and mysterious bogs. I have always felt inclined toward this balance of extremes. I've always loved the romance of houses torn apart by invasive vines, and love to work the destructive side of the natural world into my thinking.

terrain: Which natural materials do you most enjoy working with? Do you have certain places that you search for found materials?

Emily: I do love the aforementioned invasive vines, and as my crew will attest, have never met a thorny bramble I didn't like. I look for materials everywhere, from the roadside to deep in the forest. I am usually hauling a carload of wild materials around with me. I also work with foragers in New Jersey, Connecticut, and upstate New York. 

terrain: You crafted an exclusive holiday wreath for terrain—can you describe its design process and materials?  

Emily: I usually look for curving branches first. I like the branches' natural shape to define the circle (or crescent form) of the wreath. This wreath uses pear branches as its base-- they are wonderfully curved, somewhat flexible, and have character. Some will retain their fruit. The pear is arranged in a crescent form, which I love because it exaggerates the tension of the circle. It also evokes a laurel wreath, and feels somehow ancient to me. The pine cones are my favorite, Norway Spruce, though they were scarce this year. They have a lovely, gentle curve and slight hedgehog texture. I also included some dried leukadendron flowers, which spray open in a star shape.

terrain: Are certain styles or materials inspiring your holiday décor this year? Are you going to dress up your own home, or do you save all your holiday decking for work?    

Emily: I love big gestures, but I’m choosing spare designs this year, more than ever-- particularly keeping materials somewhat distinct from one another, so each can be as expressive as possible. I love garlands and hope to have the time to hang some at home. I always do wreaths on the doors to our building.  

terrain: In 2011, you decorated the White House for Christmas. What moments from the experience were most memorable? 

Emily: It was deeply moving, and an adrenaline rush from beginning to end. I was particularly bowled over by the experience of entering the East Room in the pre-dawn darkness to place arrangements below the portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, the great naturalist. The portraits had been covered for their protection all week as we worked, so this was the first I saw of them. I felt Teddy would have approved of our work.

Photos courtesy of Emily Thompson.

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