Conversations | Culture
Studio Mondine’s Secrets
to Floral Artistry
10 Min Reading
From rare elements to international inspiration, exploring the arrangements of the SF-based design duo.
Amanda Luu and Ivanka Matsuba, founders of San Francisco’s Studio Mondine, look to nature and its shifting seasons for artistic inspiration. Their materials of choice aren’t paint or wood, canvas or leather. They work with seeds and stems, blossoming flowers and rare flora instead. Everything they assemble nods to unkempt, whimsical English gardens and precise, powerful Japanese ikebana offerings. From their shared minimalist-leaning philosophy in personal style to their enthusiasm over special components, the duo’s gathered-works balance real-life beauty and fantastical imagination. In addition to honing their art, Studio Mondine teaches it—and they open their doors for workshops scented like a stroll through fields in bloom. “To work with flowers in this context requires a sensitivity to our environments,” Amanda says, “a curiosity about the inner-workings of flowers and plants, and a certain discipline in expressing the unity of nature and humanity.” Ikebana embodies this.
Ivanka wearing Suliane.
Amanda wearing Lain.
Ikebana dates back to 7th-century Japan, as a type of offering for Buddhist altars. It would later enter the home to decorate traditional “tokonoma” alcoves. The living art form would grow and change up until the present day. In the midst of this artistic development, the first boom came in association with ritual tea, or “chadō”, which is in itself a performance art. The tea ceremony was an exercise in aesthetics and hospitality, so tea practitioners were also followers of ikebana and its rules.
“The early Rikka style sought to express the beauty of natural landscapes by careful arrangement of precisely nine stems representative of the elements of nature,” Amanda explains. “This elaborate and decorative style necessitated something simpler and more accessible, from which the Nageire style was born. Nageire directly translates to ‘thrown-in flowers’ and is considerably less structured than the earlier styles. It is also the most easily recognizable form; a triangular three-stem or branch arrangement with marked asymmetry.”
The formalization of the Nageire style birthed another three-stem composition, the Shōka style, which aimed to capture the purity or inner essence of the materials themselves. Moribana, or “piled-up flowers,” was a new style introduced by the Ohara school. “Here, we start to see the influence of the West on the art form,” Amanda continues. “Flowers are liberated from the traditional ‘tokonoma’ alcoves and designed to suit the new Western-style homes and hallways. And Jiyūka marks the latest style, which is considered the ‘freestyle.’ Nothing is off-limits; we see followers of this style incorporating unexpected, non-floral ingredients in their compositions. The expressions within this style are more personal, and the pursuits, often aesthetic.” She notes that this is something the old masters would have shaken their heads at.
“While the art form has moved into the realm of the secular and the rules have relaxed, ikebana at its core is about expressing the inherent beauty of the natural world in harmony with mankind,” she concludes. “Followers of ikebana continue to explore themes of simplicity, naturalism, rhythm, harmony, and balance in their work, hoping to gain deeper insight into the mysterious beauty of the natural world.” Below, Studio Mondine explains their arrangement made in partnership with Oliver Peoples—and a process to replicate it at home.
Ingredient Selection: The arrangement consists of three ingredients: maroon ninebark, dried Queen Anne’s lace seed heads, and Agrostemma. We love the interplay of fresh versus dried, cultivated versus wild-foraged. The ninebark and Queen Anne’s lace seed heads were wild foraged, while the Agrostemma was lovingly grown by our friends at nearby Bluma Farms. Varying the textures and scale of the ingredients in your arrangements creates a more dynamic and honest depiction of the natural landscapes.
Lain amongst the ingredient selection.
Palette: We work in a nuanced, naturalistic and lived-in palette of rich maroon, bronze, golden brown, and sparkling white. These colors are simple yet striking together; the red accents and small flecks of bronze seen in ninebark add a sense of energy and growth. A careful student of the seasons would notice that oftentimes, new growth takes on a golden or bronze appearance. The dried golden brown seed heads add an earthiness that feels modest and familiar. And the bright white of the Agrostemma flowers cuts through the muddiness of the other two colors—adding a clean, sparkling quality to the arrangement. Considered together, the palette feels graphic and naturalistic, owing to the careful balance of colors.
Shape: A profusion of flowers tumbles out of this low bowl, but the overall effect is still quite minimal and graphic. This is owed to the strong use of negative space within the arrangement, which carves a deep valley down the center of the arrangement. This careful consideration gives the eye a path to follow: it starts with the tallest stem of Agrostemma, travels down the clustered seed heads, and flows side-to-side following the lines of the ninebark.
Anchor a jensen, or “flower frog” into the bottom of a shallow, wide bowl with floral putty. Start with ninebark branches. Secure the longest stem into the “flower frog” and allow it to drape along the right-hand side of the arrangement. Add a shorter stem to drape along the left-hand side of the arrangement. Add the last branch of ninebark close to the center of the arrangement. This should be a fuller piece to create volume toward the center.
Add dried seed heads one by one, allowing them to stack and rest upon each other. Keep them clustered about the right side of the arrangement.
The ninebark branches inform the shape of the piece and add textural interest. Their delicate flower buds add an effervescent quality to the arrangement.
Add the Agrostemma flowers now, clustering them through the center of the arrangement and allowing them to flow up and out along the left-hand side. Stagger the lengths of the stems to build up volume in the center. Add a few long, gestural flourishes toward the left-hand side to balance out the long ninebark arm along the righthand side of the arrangement. Add a tall stem growing out of the arrangement to create even sharper negative space through the middle of the arrangement.
For the finishing touch, we always recommend taking a step back and considering the arrangement as a whole. Often at this point, we will pull one flower out or edit a branch down. We never want the arrangement to feel too precious or ‘finished’; borrowing from the wabi-sabi aesthetic, we find that a bit of roughness or imperfection gives the arrangement a lived-in quality that feels familiar, even intimate.
Our arrangement for Oliver Peoples, seen here. Deceptively simple, and yet thoroughly striking — the details are there to be discovered and explored, just as with any piece in the Oliver Peoples collection. The common thread that links us: intention, clarity of expression, and obsessive attention to the details.