Linda Bui’s life is all about balance: By day, she’s a supply-chain specialist for the very colorful MAC Cosmetics, and, outside the office, she’s all about hands-on crafts, practicing flower arranging and learning how to throw her own undulating ceramic vessels to satisfy her artistic curiosity. When demand starting pouring in for her organic, branchy, and otherworldly looking arrangements, Linda turned her extracurricular into a bonafide side business, naming her Williamsburg, Brooklyn-based studio Ma Dam, a nod to her Vietnamese heritage and the beauty of growing older: “Ma đam is a Vietnamese word borrowed from the French madame. It also represents entering my thirties and feeling more confident as I get older.” Here, Linda (alongside her sweet pup Quincy!) shares how to throw yourself into a hobby and why unconventional plants can make the best bouquets.
Q: Why did you decide to tackle flowers and ceramics? That’s a whole lot for a side hustle.
A: “I’ve always been into plants. I started filling up my apartment with them and sort of ran out of room, so then I got interested in cut flowers. I took classes on floral arranging to learn and worked in a flower shop on weekends. I work in a corporate environment and need creative outlets, so I also started taking pottery classes—and it really took a hold on me. I wanted to make vases to complete the flower work. For an arrangement to be a piece of art, it needs a great vessel. Plus, a ceramic vase lives forever, even after your stems are gone. I like the idea of gifting something both ephemeral and permanent.”
Q: How did this hobby become a real-deal business?
A: “I never actually had a plan to create a business out of flowers and ceramics. I started to post some photos on my personal Instagram, and people reached out and asked if I could make them an arrangement for birthdays and gifts, then even eventually weddings. I was completely shocked that other people were interested in my little hobby! It all happened naturally, and that’s important to me because I do not want the process to feel forced since it’s something that I enjoy so much.”
Q: Which comes first, flowers or the clay vessel you want to fill?
A: “I always have an idea in my head to start with, but sometimes you also have to be able to go with the flow. The vase I pictured may not turn out exactly how I envisioned. Or I may be looking for a particular flower, but it’s not available at the market. So it’s important to be flexible. In ceramics, my theme for a while has been porcelain marbled patterns, but, recently, I’ve been experimenting with different processes of connecting shapes—mixing throwing on the wheel and some hand-building—and the flowers that go with those shapes may vary. Creativity is ever-changing, and who knows what I’ll be into next?!”
Q: Which plant life can you not get enough of these days?
A: “I definitely have favorite plants. Pampas grass is one of them. I love the volume and the texture. It looks great just on its own, and it dries really well—being able to display an arrangement after it dries saves money. I also lean toward protea. They are super-trendy right now, but I love anything that looks kind of alien and a little bit rough and hardy.”
Q: Any can’t-live-without-’em tools of the trade?
A: “Twine is especially helpful for keeping things in place. Also, flower food is really underrated. Don’t throw away that little packet you get with your flowers—it works! And, of course, change your water every day and trim the ends of your stems.”
Q: Advice for wannabe flower dabblers?
A: “Just have fun with it. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific. Pretty is subjective, right?”