Creative Somerville Series: Friendship, Flowers & Forêt

Today’s post comes from Mia Scharphie, a multidisciplinary designer, researcher and community advocate who works at the intersection of design, entrepreneurship and issues of social equity. Mia co-curates the Creative Somerville Series, is a co-founder of Proactive Practices and founded the Build Yourself+ Workshop. Mia will be sharing her Creative Somerville Series re-caps on the Beat after each event.

Rose Mattos and Erin Health of Forêt Design Studio joined us at the Creative Somerville Series last month to share the story of their floral and event styling studio. Rose and Erin, who met while working for Anthropologie, described their friendship as an almost “cosmic connection.” Rose, who was working under Erin, thought her new boss was the coolest and invited her to a party she was hosting her first Friday at her new job. It was the beginning of a mutual girl crush that led to their strong friendship and business that is now Forêt Design Studio.

Both women love flowers, as Rose said, and she recently discovered that in high school she’d written to a friend, “I don’t want to work for the man, I want to work for the earth!” Rose and Erin sought out professional opportunities in florist shops, and were told that the work was too dirty and they wouldn’t like it, and they were turned away again and again.

Rose found work on a flower farm, and they began collaborating together on flower arranging and installations outside their day jobs. Their style focused on a looser type of flower arranging that wasn’t as formal as the more contemporary and formal style common in Boston. Forêt means forest in French, and one of the guiding aesthetic values of the studio is its love for natural elements like branches and acorns, and not just flowers.

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Rose Mattos and Erin Heath on stage with Mia Scharphie.

Founding Forêt
The ladies don’t describe the process of starting Forêt as a jump. They seem to have just flowed into it as their freelance work load got higher. But they do cite a key moment, when they applied for space in Fringe Union, a co-working space in Union Square that’s home to small businesses and design studios. They were excited to put their “eggs in that basket,” Erin said.

Once the ladies moved into Fringe and developed a workload, they naturally fell into separate roles. They realized they didn’t want to go into work every day and ask “Who should do this task, who should do that?” Their motto is divide and conquer. “We weren’t interested in creating more work for ourselves,” they said.

If the two of them worked in complementary roles, they realized they could accomplish double the work and focus on what they each were good at, and were interested in. Rose took on bookkeeping, administrative tasks and client contact, and Erin has specialized into an artistic director role. They’re both actively involved in design and events, visit farms together and discuss details, like which tone of red they want in a flower for a particular job.

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The crowd at Aeronaut for Creative Somerville.

The Dirt
Erin and Rose are so positive and obviously work so well together that they’ve managed to turn even the bad times into good outcomes, reflecting that “they made us stronger.” From events that don’t always go as planned (they cite an event in their businesses’ early days in which they became a scapegoat) to a meeting with a financial planner who said “You need me but you can’t afford me” (they vowed to prove him wrong), to missing friends’ weddings because they were planned after the Forêt schedule got booked.

Knowing themselves seems to be at the core of their success. They try to work with clients who really understand their unique style and will refer clients who seem to want something very different to other designers who can meet their needs better. Compromise with clients and companies is part of the business, of course, but especially when working with big companies, they’ve learned over time to stand up for their needs.

Getting Floral
Despite their precision about shades of red, Erin and Rose seem to have a fluid working process and approach to their creative work. When asked about the influence of their art backgrounds on Forêt, Erin advises, “if you understand the principles of design you can transform them into another medium.” Whether a painting or a floral installation, she’s working with issues of color, scale and variability. When asked for advice from people interested in following their path, Rose and Erin advocate getting flowers or other beautiful items and starting to play with and arrange them in your home.

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Mia Scharphie, Rose Mattos, Erin Heath and Elyse Andrews

One of the elements Rose and Erin love most about being based at Fringe Union and in Somerville is being part of the inspiring creative and small business community. Fringe Union members give each other advice, expand each others’ networks and collaborate. The audience at the Creative Somerville Series was filled with fellow Fringe Union members and one of the last works Erin and Rose showed us was an amazing floral arrangement they made as part of a moody photographic collaboration with a fellow Fringe resident. Rose and Erin also strive to develop longtime relationships with local growers and suppliers and source as much material as they can locally.

The core relationship, of course, is that of best friends and now business partners. One story they told seemed to encapsulate it all: One day, before founding Forêt, they both spontaneously decided to buy the other flowers. They showed up at each others’ houses and found each other gone–they had missed each other on the way to each other’s houses. Cosmic connection indeed.

P.S. Tickets are now available to our next Creative Somerville Series talk, All These Hats: A Designer’s Wardrobe, on Wednesday, April 29 with Wistia Videographer Trevor Holmes at Aeronaut Brewing. The event is free, but the last one sold out well in advance, so get your ticket today to snag a spot!

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