Saturday 21 April 2018

Interiors: Flower power

Highqualityfaux floral displays almost as good as the real thing

Urban Road interior - placement is very important.
Urban Road interior - placement is very important.
Floral arrangement by Dust
Faux flowers by Dust
Sarah Drum and Lisa Marconi run a faux flower shop at the back of their interior design store, Dust.

I have two big favourite interiors cheats: flowers by day and candles by night. This week, with spring just kicking off, I've got a big bunch of daffodils on the table and the bright yellow blooms cheer up the room beyond belief.

When I look at my daffodils I forget that the walls need painting, the radiator pipe is leaking, and the dog has ignored my instruction not to sleep on the new sofa. I can presume the same distraction applies to our visitors.

The daffodils cost €1.49 per bunch from Lidl and are grown in Ireland. For a total cost of €3, they transform a vaguely depressing room into one that I actually feel good about. That's flower power!

A bunch of fresh flowers will distract the eye from the decorative shortcomings in the room. Fake flowers, as long as they're good enough, can create the same effect. And, according to the faux florist Lisa Marconi, faking it has some big advantages.

"The biggest benefit has to be longevity," she says. "Faux flowers last forever. You're not going to have to change them."

I confess my negative preconceptions about fake flowers, based on memories of plastic sunflowers and the sad faded roses that you still see on neglected graves. Marconi laughs. "Everyone has a horrendous bunch of fake flowers in their heads! They still exist. They're mass produced from cheap materials and they're cheap as chips."

Good quality faux flowers have silk petals coloured using natural pigments. You have to look closely to make sure they're not real. They're not cheap either. "That's the biggest misconception about faux flowers," says Marconi. "I see people do a double-take when I tell them the price."

She and her business partner Sarah Drumm run a faux flower shop at the back of their interior design store, Dust. It doesn't have the wonderful smell of a real florist, but it looks just like the real thing.

A small bunch of faux flowers, that would fill a 15cm high vase, costs between €60 and €70, but people pay €100 to €150 for a full-scale bunch to fill a 30cm high vase. Individually, the blooms range from €25 for a hydrangea stem, to €11 for a rose, with foliage from €5 per stem.

If this sounds a bit pricey, Ikea has an affordable selection of artificial flowers and plants. Some of them, like the roses (€3.50 each) look a bit plastic, but the gerberas (€1.25) and orchids (€2.25) get away with it.

The received wisdom is fake flowers don't work well in clear vases. The petals may look good but the stems give them away. Now, the best quality faux flowers have stems that can pass for real, even if they're in a clear glass vase along with real flowers.

"If you're buying faux flowers, remember to check the quality of the stems and to make sure they're carefully cut," says Marconi. "If you trim them carelessly you'll have bits of wire sticking out. That doesn't look great."

In terms of placement, faux flowers do well in dark corners. There's no need to change the water so you can forget about them apart from occasional dusting. They also work well in combination with bright contemporary floral prints, especially where you can select flowers to echo the colours in the artwork. You can achieve this look with faux flowers or with a mixture of real and fake.

"Another mistake people make is thinking they can arrange faux flowers when they can't arrange real ones," says Marconi, who has trained in flower arranging and will select faux blooms and arrange them, just like a real florist. If you're a dab hand with genuine blooms, you'll probably do well with the fake ones. If your flower arranging talents are limited to dumping the daffodils in a vase and turning on the tap, then it's best to get some expert help.

"People love to have the skills to put together an arrangement," says Ruth Monahan of Appassionata Flowers.

As well as working with real flowers, she runs classes in flower arranging. A full day, with all flowers included, costs €230. "There's a wonderful moment of self-empowerment when someone makes their first bouquet." An arrangement of flowers for a 30cm vase from Appassionata might cost between €40 and €50 in the summer and €60 in the winter but, once you have the skills, there's a lot you can do yourself, even with supermarket flowers and a bit of foliage gleaned from the garden.

The wild look is very current in flower arranging - that's loosely arranged wild flowers and foliage rather than a tightly manicured bunch. Monahan suggests that a few twiggy bits of foliage or some eucalyptus would dress up my bunch of daffs nicely. "The eucalyptus adds an element of scent and the grey green picks up well with the bright yellow," she says.

In terms of decorating a room with fresh flowers she suggests you start with the vase. "First, look at the vase and think about where you want to put it, and then think about the flowers you want to put in it."

Fresh flowers do need a bit of minding, and you will get much longer out of them if you keep them away from radiators and direct sunlight, trim the stems at an angle, and change the water regularly.

For me, real flowers are worth the small amount of trouble. They don't last forever but I love the scent, the way the stems move over time, and the sense of something fresh in the room. This gives them a quality that even the best faux arrangement can't match.

"Flowers are tied in with all the emotions of life," says Monahan. "That's the power of them. On a day-to-day basis, something as simple as coming home to daffodils can bring such joy!"

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