Floral designer Jay Lugibihl’s holiday doorway installations are one-of-a-kind works of art.
by Cathy Martin | photographs by The Beautiful Mess Photography
For 11 months of the year, floral designer Jay Lugibihl is renowned for his swoon-worthy wedding designs and his gorgeous arrangements for Quail Hollow Club and other private clients. But come December, Lugibihl, owner and head designer at In Bloom Ltd., is known for something else: his dazzling doorway displays, crafted in the moment with a combination of decorative items from his South End studio and fresh, gathered greenery — sometimes pulled straight from his clients’ gardens.
“A lot of times I’ll just start cutting branches, and I’ll let the branch dictate what I do, whether it’s using hemlock or magnolia or whatever,” Lugibihl says when describing his free-flowing creative process. “I love using material that’s just out there, foraged things just around.”
His designs took a more imaginative turn in December 2020, when his longtime clients wanted something to smile about as the pandemic spoiled holiday routines. “That’s the year that I really just started thinking outside the box in terms of some of the front doors.”
Last year, Lugibihl’s outdoor displays graced more than 55 homes. “I basically start the day after Thanksgiving — and it’s nonstop,” he says. When we spoke in late September, he was already booked for the 2022 holiday season.
“One of the problems now is that there’s only so much I can do.” While he brings in a small staff to help with the Christmas rush, most of his clients want Lugibihl’s personal artistic touch.
Growing up on a farm in Ohio, Lugibihl always loved flowers. After college, he got an office job working in technology. “And after about two or three years, I decided I can’t sit inside a cubicle and in front of a computer all day long,” he says. He went to Europe, where he worked in a lilac nursery in Holland.
Upon returning to the United States, he worked in various roles at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. “There, I learned all the things I enjoy — gardening, food — it’s a beautiful restaurant and inn,” he says. “They started hosting weddings there. Being in the garden, one day, I just happened to put some flowers on one of their cakes, and it was like, ‘Oh, you’re pretty good at this.’”
After several years as the floral designer at Fearrington, he went out on his own. He moved to Charlotte 13 years ago and opened a small studio in Plaza Midwood, which he quickly outgrew. His current studio-warehouse space in South End is chock full of vases, planters and decorative accessories he’s accumulated for his projects — there’s even a cutting garden out back.
Most clients give him free rein with his designs. Similar to how a sculptor transforms a shapeless block of clay into a work of art, Lugibihl combines branches, berries, pinecones and more into stunning archways, wreaths, garlands and swags. As a result, no two installations are alike.
“I don’t even call them clients anymore — they’re friends. I made a family, almost, because they’ve supported me throughout the years … I’ve been very fortunate.” SP
Going green: Tips for decorating with fresh greenery
Decorating with fresh greenery in the South can be challenging. “People like to decorate fairly early,” Lugibihl says, but fresh-cut branches typically don’t stay green longer than a couple of weeks. The designer offers a few tips for incorporating fresh greenery into your holiday decor.
Avoid direct sun and heat
When it comes to outdoor wreaths and garlands, “it definitely helps if your house doesn’t have direct exposure to the sun,” Lugibihl says. Indoors, consider how high you like to crank up the heat — greenery tends to dry out faster when exposed to warmer air.
Shop your backyard
Look in your backyard first — evergreens such as boxwood, cedar, hemlock, magnolia and nandina berries all work beautifully at the holidays.
“Usually, I’m a purist when it comes to real product,” Lugibihl says. But during the holidays, he’s not opposed to mixing in a little high-quality faux greenery. Lugibihl sometimes uses faux greenery as a base, then plugs real branches and berries into it. If you decorate early, you can replenish the real greenery as needed.
“It’s a tough thing to have fresh-cut greens to last six weeks — it’s just not feasible. But incorporating ornaments and incorporating some faux materials with the real at least gives it some longevity.”