Rose Mattos and Erin Heath of Forêt Design Studio joined us at the Creative Somerville Series last month, to talk about their story and their floral and event styling studio. Rose and Erin, who met while working for Anthropologie, described their friendship as an almost “cosmic connection.” Erin who was working under Rose, thought her boss new boss was the coolest and invited her to a party she was hosting her first Friday at her new job. The mutual girl crush was started and led to the strong friendship and business that is now Forêt Design Studio.
Both women love flowers, as Erin says, 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 were turned away again and again.
Erin found work on a flower farm, and they began collaborating together on flower arranging and installations outside of their day jobs. Their style focused on a looser type of flower arranging that wasn’t as formal as the more contemporary, tight style common in Boston. Forêt means forest in french, and one of the guiding aesthetic values of the studio is the founder’s love for natural elements like branches and acorns, and not just flowers.
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 coworking space in Union Square that’s home to small businesses and design studios. We were excited to put our “eggs in that basket,” Rose says.
Once the ladies moved into Fringe and developed a workload, they actually fell into roles They realized they didn’t want to go into work every day and ask “Who should do this task, we should do that?” Their motto is divide and conquer. “We weren’t interested in creating more work for ourselves,” they say.
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. Erin took on bookkeeping, administrative tasks and client contact, and Rose has specialized into an artistic director role. They both are actively involved in design and events and visit farms together where they can talk at length about the particular tone of red they want in a flower for their upcoming job.
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 told them,”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, a flower-based business isn’t always instagram-perfect.
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.
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, Rose 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 just starting by getting flowers or other beautiful items and starting to play with them and arrange them in your home.
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 they 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. In addition, the ladies develop long-time relationships with local growers and suppliers, and try to source as much material as they can locally.
The core relationship, of course, is that of best friends and now business partners, Rose and Erin. 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.
The Creative Somerville Series is a series of ‘fireside chats’ with local creatives & entrepreneurs in design, tech, food, social impact, and other fields–celebrating the creative and entrepreneurial energy that makes Somerville great. The Creative Somerville Series is not your typical power point and Q&A. Our fireside chats are about getting to hear someone’s story, learning about how they think and create, and sharing ideas in an intimate setting. Cosponsored by Somerville Local First and The Somerville Beat.