The first time Shannon took me to the San Francisco Flower Mart I was in awe, and not simply because of the blooms — she is a force and she knows exactly what she wants. She has an uncanny ability to look at a bunch of flowers the average person would never think of putting together (air plants?) and every single time, her vision comes together more beautifully than you could have ever imagined. Shannon Mahoney is one truly talented florist that you should (a) know about and (b) know. She brings a fresh perspective to floral design and has made more than a few brides cry (in the best way possible) when she hands off the bridal bouquet. Yep — she’s that good.
NAME Shannon Mahoney
LOCATION El Dorado Hills, serving the greater Sacramento area
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND High School, Cosmetology School
COMPANY Thistle and Honey
Tell me a little bit about your company & how you first became interested in floral design. I started Thistle and Honey in 2013 & I specialize in florals for weddings and events with an emphasis on natural, organic designs and using environmentally friendly practices. I don’t have the background of “I always wanted to be a florist” or “I’ve been arranging flowers since I was five years old”. Nope. In fact, before floral design, I attended cosmetology school. I was on the right path – I knew I wanted something creative and I knew I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle. But I didn’t have that lifelong dream at cosmetology school, either. So many others were saying things like “I started doing hair on my Barbie dolls when I was little and always wanted to be a hairdresser”. Well, I didn’t have something that I always wanted to be. In fact, when I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I digress. Anyways, at the salons I worked at we would often get magazines geared towards brides and they, of course, highlighted flowers among many other facets of wedding design. I was so taken by the beauty, the colors, textures, varieties & shapes. I wanted a hand in this. I didn’t want to do hair for weddings – I wanted to do flowers. So, I reached out to a florist that I admired and asked her where to begin and she was gracious enough to guide me in the right direction. I was obsessed with every facet of the industry that I didn’t care that I was scrubbing buckets and filling orders at my first job. The day that I stopped saying “I want to be a florist” and started saying “I am a florist” was one of the happiest of my life.
Is there a story behind your company name? Shoot, I wish there was! I was so ready to start my own company long before I had thought out the details. I really had to come up with something because I wanted to build a brand for myself. I landed on Thistle and Honey as a juxtaposition of unusual textures and the sweetness of beautiful flowers. Basically, even the sweetest honey can come from the most unsuspecting flower. I’m still trying to figure out a way to explain that without sounding totally cheesy.
What do you think was missing from your last job that prompted you to go out on your own? Creative freedom, without a shadow of a doubt. I worked a few floral jobs before going out on my own and while I was still working with flowers, I was not in control. I was filling the demands of someone else, someone else’s designs and visions. I had my own visions. I had my own ideas and designs that I wanted to make. I read a quote once that completely sums up the feeling, there is no way that I could explain it better; “If you don’t build your own dream, someone else will hire you to help build theirs”. Thank you Tony Gaskins, whoever you are. Nothing is more enjoyable than knowing that I am working to fulfill my own dreams.
You opened the doors to Thistle and Honey in March of this year. What was the process like getting your brick and mortar location ready for business? What was important to you when deciding on the look & feel of the shop? Not easy. I knew that I wanted to keep things simple, minimal, and clean. I literally jumped into having a storefront, it was almost an overnight decision (I might recommend thinking a little longer and harder about this move). Having a storefront is a massive commitment. You are obligated to be there certain hours and people have certain expectations. Getting ready for business was a small task in comparison to having my doors open. You think you are ready, that you can handle it, and that your shop is beautiful. But not everyone is going to appreciate that, and it’s okay. I have people walk into my store asking, “Oh! Are you going out of business!?” (because it is so minimal compared to the way the previous owner had it). It is definitely hard to have put in so much time and effort into designing things for people to not understand it. But you just have to smile, explain and educate people. For every one person that is baffled by your choices, there are probably ten people who find it beautiful.
You must be so proud of what you’ve created. Has there been a particular moment where you felt most accomplished and validated in your career? To be honest, I feel like I am still living in a dream and I can’t believe I get to do what I love as my job. Every time I am hired to design the florals for someone’s wedding, it is a complete and total honor. It is validation that what I am doing is beautiful, and that people value it. I never take it for granted and I especially love to hear “I love your style, anything you do will be beautiful”. To me, this means what I am putting out there is distinct and that my clients trust me. I couldn’t think of anything more satisfying.
I would imagine things can get a little crazy in a creative environment like yours. Do you find opportunities to laugh when things get just a bit too crazy? Oh yes! During 12 hour days designing or days when I’ve been up since 4AM because I’ve been to San Francisco for my flowers, things get loopy. I often don’t drink enough water or eat nourishing food, let alone sleep enough and all I want to do is sleep for 3 days straight. In those crazy times when I have to power through, I love to turn on The Backstreet Boys Pandora station and belt out songs and serenade my intern. Sometimes you have to laugh otherwise you will cry!
Thank goodness for boy bands! So, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What wise words would you share with someone setting out to do what you do? This is a hard question for me. I have been lucky enough to have received so much great advice over the span of my career. I think the most pertinent thing to share with someone in the beginning is “comparison is the thief of joy”. It is honestly so true, particularly when you are starting any type of business. It is way too easy to get caught up comparing your brand new business to those who have been established for years and have received many accolades. I always tell myself that everyone started somewhere. Most people don’t have their business handed to them – they had to start grassroots. And to me, that is the most beautiful part about it. Shaping and molding what you want your business to be is beautiful because you are in control, so relish that and don’t let anyone steal that joy.
Take me through the design process when you’re creating an arrangement. The process of creating an arrangement begins by filling the vase with greenery. Since I don’t use any floral foam, the foliage is what anchors the arrangement and allows me to place the flowers accordingly. Next, I will add the largest focal flowers, follow by accent flowers, and then smaller filler flowers. It all happens on the fly really, but the process of planning the types of flowers and color palette happens weeks before.
What is it like doing florals for a wedding? (Are bridezillas real?) Doing flowers for weddings is a beautiful process. I love meeting with someone for the first time, hearing about their event, what they envision and watching everything come to life. Bridezillas are very, very few and far between. People with bad personalities exist in all facets of life, and sometimes those people just so happen to be getting married! But for the most part, my clients are truly lovely.
Where do you find your inspiration? Inspiration is everywhere. I would be lying if I said I don’t look at blogs or other professional’s work. That is a huge inspiration. The seasons drive my inspiration a lot, as well. Since I try so hard to use seasonally appropriate flowers, that has a huge role in my designs. And of course, the flowers themselves. They are such beautiful little masterpieces. Just looking at someone’s garden or walking through the flower market is a huge inspiration, too.
Sugar or salt? SALT. I definitely don’t have a sweet tooth, but I do really enjoy the whole sweet and savory thing. Hello, sea salt caramels!
What song just never gets old? Earth, Wind, & Fire – September. Don’t care how many weddings and parties it has been played at. I will still dance, every time.
Spirit animal? Am I allowed to say a gnome? I just want to hang out in a garden all day.
Typical Starbucks order? A gigantic, sweetened iced green tea!
The best part of waking up is…? Hitting snooze and continuing to lay in bed.