When Melina Smith moved to NYC from Tucson, Arizona, at age 27, she was a social worker…until what we like to think was a bit of divine intervention changed her course: “My husband is an Episcopal priest, and I was given a little budget to go to the Flower District once a week for events. The church has two giant sites, one in Gramercy Park and one at the on 16th Street, so I began experimenting with really major floral installations for them,” she says. Fans of her creations started inquiring about their designer, and soon enough, Melina was creating dramatic centerpieces and delicate bouquets under the name Melina Luna and as part of the creative trio Little Joy NYC. Below, we ask her all about branching out into, well, branches.
Q. How would you describe your style?
A. My approach to flowers is really grounded in the fact that they force you to be fully present in the moment because they’re fleeting and don’t last forever. It’s a practice in appreciation and creating connections with people because although the flowers die, the sentiment of them doesn’t.
Q. Play favorites—which plants do you love the most?
A. I grow my own ferns and hellebores. I spend at least four weeks in the Hudson Valley each year and procure a lot of plants there, including ferns and different kinds of ivy. From the flower markets themselves, I like to source Japanese and butterfly ranunculus and branches—things that feel natural and whimsical. I want my designs to have texture and movement, not to feel overly formal or uniform.
Q. How do you make things look cute around your apartment when you’re not working with a big event budget?
A. For home, I think you should have a nice repertoire of small vessels, which is primarily what I use, even though I have a large space. I integrate plants and flowers together, so I’ll pair ferns with ranunculus to create arrangements that are just very natural. I like to add herbs like mint to arrangements as well.
Q. Are there any tools you’d recommend?
A. Good, quality floral clippers. They give you a clean cut, which will make your flowers last longer.
Q. How do you pick out flowers, especially if you’re giving them to someone else?
A. Just take the risk of buying the thing that speaks to you or the sentiment you’re trying to express instead of letting something like social-media trends dictate what you get. Trader Joe’s has amazing options as do farmers’ markets. People may feel that flowers aren’t a practical gift, but they are because they nourish you in a way you might not experience otherwise.
Q. What’s your all-time fave project?
A. Last year, I worked with the clothing line Reformation on their wedding debut—we did these really natural-feeling bridal bouquets, and that was really a great, fun project. I also really enjoy doing private parties and creating tablescapes and floral designs in homes that mix in all sorts of elements including fabric and paper as well. And I like weddings that feel personal—the industry can feel kind of saturated and overwhelming, but it’s really wonderful when people who understand your work seek you out.