How To Plan, Design and Execute Installations, with Sarah Winward

I just love the challenge of building an installation! It used to cripple me to think about all the logistical parts, but now I thrive off of it.

More than anything, I want to equip you with the tools you need to begin dreaming up and executing installations that make you feel inspired. So I’ve pulled together a bit of a “Floral Installations 101” containing 5 steps that I feel are a really valuable part of the process of dreaming up and executing an installation.

1. Know your budget

The first factor that goes into planning an installation is budget.

Very often, you know the amount you have to work with when you start the design process. Take a look at the budget as a whole: Do they have $2,000? $5,000? $10,000+?

When I write a bid for a client, I usually start by filling in the cost of the obvious things they’ll need, like bouquets and centerpieces, etc. Anything other than those staple pieces tends to vary widely in pricing, so once I’ve outlined the basic expenses for items I know they’ll want, I can see how much room I have for installations.

Start there. If once you’ve priced it out you can tell you’re going over budget, either talk to your client about allowing for more budget, or cut back in other places to make room for it (if you feel that’s where the funds are best spent).

Once you know the bottom line amount you have to work with, you can begin imagining price-appropriate installations and materials.

Taralynn Lawton

2. Consider how scale impacts costs

Once you know approximately how much cash you’ve got to work with, think about the place you’d like the installation to go. From there, you can figure out how large or small, heavy or light it should be, depending on the budget range.

I usually imagine the space and consider what kind of feeling I want the installation to evoke. Then, I identify what materials would best suit that vision. If I find that I need an expensive flower and can’t get too many of them with the budget I’m working with, I know my installation should be light. If the space simply needs to be filled with something, but the material isn’t so important, I’ll find things that are cheaper and fill space easily.

You can make any installation bigger or smaller, lighter or heavier, depending on the budget. If you need to cut something, just make the aesthetic of the piece lighter.

You can adjust the overall look to make it work with what you do have, rather than trying to make something big and having it fail because it’s obvious that you scrimped. Remember, negative space can be beautiful! Just be thoughtful about how you place things.

Taralynn Lawton

3. Set the dimensions

The most important thing to keep in mind is scale. If your scale is off, your installation will either be underwhelming or intrusive.

I always imagine the space I’m working in as the backdrop for the installation. When you design within the context of your space, everything will look and feel appropriate.

When I talk about scale, I’m referring to the scale of your piece as a whole, and also the scale of the individual flowers that go in it. Smaller flowers tend to get lost in the big picture, so it’s important to choose product that will stand out.

After choosing my materials, I plan for how much I need.

This usually begins with me imagining how full I want the piece to be. My husband often catches me sitting on the couch in silence, computer in my lap and eyes zoned out, while making measurement motions with my arms.

While I’m imagining the fullness, I am also assigning dimensions to the project.

It is important to start by going big! You can always scale down if you need to. To determine how big I want to make my installation, I repeatedly imagine it in the space, and remember to take into consideration the ratios of positive and negative space that I would like to create.

Once I decide on the dimensions of the final project, I can write my flower order.

Sean Smith

4. Know your mechanics

You have to work with a unique set of specifications for each installation. Come up with a plan that best suits your project, and get creative! The following are some of my top “tips and tricks” when it comes to installation mechanics.

  • If you are doing something really big, it’s worth testing on a small scale. I often set up an arch or try out any hook/clasp systems for hanging things ahead of time. Make sure your system works, and check to see if you need any other pieces. Better to make a trip to the hardware store a day ahead of time than on the day-of.
  • For hanging installations, look at the space like you’re in survival mode and need to find something to hang from to save your life. Look everywhere. I use airline cable for most things that I hang. I also use a simple clasp system that tightens on the end of the cable. You can purchase these at just about any hardware store.
  • If you’re working outside, think about the elements and how they may challenge you during setup. Even though I’ve come prepared for it, I’ve very often had issues with arches, floral walls, or other standing things wanting to blow over. I now bring sand bags, stakes that can go into the ground, 2x4 boards, a saw and nails...all of it...just in case I need to build something to stand behind, or support whatever it is that I’m putting up. If I am doing a big installation, I make sure to have a team of people with me who are strong and ingenuitous, so we can tackle whatever is thrown at us.

5. Educate your clients

I send itemized invoices so my clients can see how much each piece in their wedding will cost. I think this gives them a sense of perspective and scale because they can see what an installation costs compared to everything else on their invoice. If they don’t understand why bigger floral pieces are so expensive, I give them an idea of the scale of the installation. I also inform them that there are usually some expenses incurred for logistics too (extra labor, a big truck to transport any structures or lots of product).

Staffing for big projects can be hard. In the first few years of my business, I was severely understaffed for most of my events. My crew and I were killing ourselves to get it done. I’ve learned a lot since then. Namely, when in doubt, hire more staff than you need. It never hurts to have extra hands, even to do things as simple as clean up as you’re working.

If your client gives you a hard time about labor costs, tactfully explain all of the work that needs to be done. Tell them how many people it takes to load and unload, set up, clean up, etc., and assure them that in order to make everything look wonderful, this is how many people it takes. If there’s anything about your invoice they should understand, it should be labor. You can’t always expect them to understand why a bouquet costs so much, but they should be able to understand that you have to pay your specially skilled staff.

Lastly, remind your clients (with confidence) that everything is going to be a beautiful. You’re creating a memorable piece for them and their guests, and it will be worth it!