Laura Hughes evokes Mother Nature in her woodland-inspired floral designs.
by Michelle Boudin | photographs by Kelsie Droppa/Longley Photography
Laura Hughes didn’t know what to expect when she created the City Stems Instagram account last April and posted a few photographs. “I thought, let’s just put my work out there. And then this happened.” What happened was people noticed — including one of the city’s most well-known event planners. Hughes, a self-taught floral designer, is City Stems. She creates eye-popping custom arrangements usually made from orchids, other flowers or plants.
“I started making things and photographing them, and people started calling. It’s all been word of mouth. By Christmas last year, I had turned my garage into my studio, and I was in there every night until 2 a.m. filling orders.”
The Myers Park mother of four moved from Chicago to Charlotte three years ago and admits she had a bit of a hard time adjusting. “It took me a minute. … It was hard leaving the big city — we loved all the action and the flavor, and then I realized Charlotte has all that, too — it’s just a little less obvious.”
Building her business has been a huge part of growing to love the Queen City, Hughes says. “I’ve met so many people doing this. That’s what I love most, the people.”
Since every piece is custom, Hughes prefers seeing a client’s space in person whenever possible. When she can’t get there, she works from photographs.
“I always consider the client’s interior. It helps me understand the scale of the space and their style. The height from the table to the chandelier. … I take all of that into consideration.”
Most of her work is a single piece that often takes center stage at a dinner party, but sometimes clients bring her in to provide plants for every room. Everything is custom, from the moss to the container.
“It’s all about getting the exact right piece for the exact perfect space in the client’s home. Sometimes they want to bring me a piece a designer has chosen to work with, or even something special from their grandmother.”
Hughes sources a lot of her own vessels from High Point Furniture Market. She makes sure to have different price points so that her work is accessible to everyone.
“I say to clients whether they’re spending $40 or $800, you are giving yourself a gift of something that brings a feeling of change and newness and freshness to your space. It’s an investment, but it’s not a new sofa. You can bring something in at all those [price] points that is a representation of you.”
While she’ll work with any flower, Hughes is partial to orchids. “I feel most inspired by the woodland-forest look. My favorite orchid is the lady slipper. It grows in the forest floor. A lot of my pieces, even if they don’t have that, they’re inspired by the forest floor. It’s beautiful to replicate mama nature in a piece you can design on your own.”
After spending 10 years focused on raising her four kids, Hughes says running City Stems has been incredibly rewarding. “It feels like a full circle moment. My kids are starting to think about who they’ll be in the world, and doing this reminds me to recognize that feeling when you’re doing something you love — and to embrace it.” SP