Stem Research

The California Landscape Helped Transform This Actor into a Florist

Even though Doan Ly realized acting wasn’t ultimately her creative destiny, her performance training (which includes a grad degree from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts) often comes into play in her work as one of New York’s coolest florists, creating dramatic arrangements that resemble Renaissance still-lifes, juiced up with reflective textures and bright colors. While auditioning for roles in L.A., Doan cemented her infatuation with botany and the visual impact of plants that led her to start a.p. bio, and she’s here to share how she came to her aesthetic and why the power of an ensemble cast fuels her still.

Q: How did you first become interested in floral design?

A: “I went to college at Stanford, and it had such a beautiful landscape. There was eucalyptus and wild flowers everywhere. I would pick a flower in the parking lot and put it in my dorm room where it became this instant point of magic. Later, I lived in a guesthouse in L.A. that had a huge garden with camellias, irises, nasturtiums, and citrus trees. I finally got how plants can transform a place.”

Q: Before diving into floral design full time, you pursued acting. Why did you decide to make the switch?

A: “When I lived in L.A., I spent a lot of time auditioning, waiting for someone to pick me. As I developed my interest in flowers, I realized here was an art form that I could do whenever I want. I could create worlds and visual narratives, and that felt really empowering.” 

Q: Can you share how your distinct style—which is on display on your super popular Instagram account—came about?

A: “I first learned photography when I started my business to get clients. My visual style referenced the iconography of classical still lifes, especially Dutch painters who were masters of light and composition. Since then, my style has evolved, but the ideas are still there when it comes to using light and shadows. My technique is a little outsider-y, and people are drawn to the images because they’re a little mysterious, a little off. I didn’t expect photography would be such a big component of the business. It’s been a lovely surprise.”

Q: Any advice on how a floral novice can create a.p. bio-inspired arrangements at home?

A: “Try something that’s mono-botanical, using little vases and a single flower in each at different heights. Try peonies, garden roses, or tulips. These are my staple flowers. You can create a color story with a few of those together. It makes a strong statement, and it’s also super easy to do. Also, fruit can add visual interest that’s bright and fun. Apricots are always happy and such a beautiful color. You can also try lychees, peaches, and pomegranates. Think of elements that play on table design.”

Q: The vibe in your studio is so wonderful and collaborative. How do you nourish that?

A: “I was trained in ensemble work and have unconsciously created my own troop through my studio and assistants. Whenever we have some time at the end of the day, I always make a little silly video of us and edit it together. And I love directing. In this way, I’m not just a floral designer, and I’m not just a still life photographer. I want to create a space for myself where I can create multi-disciplinary works of art. Instead of being boxed in, I want to keep building a bigger and bigger play space. Keep expanding the box.”

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