For Sarah Ryhanen, Petals Are Her Paints



1_SarahRyhanen01_240Photographed by Winnie Au
Sarah Ryhanen wants to make floral compositions so beautiful they’ll make you cry — and as the cofounder/co-owner of Brooklyn-based flower and soap boutique Saipua, she just may have you clutching your Kleenex. Saipua grew out of a hobby. Ryhanen, who was working in an art gallery at the time, and her boyfriend, Eric Famisan, were helping her mom dream up flattering packaging for her handmade olive-oil soap. The soap biz quickly expanded — “the first year was a blur,” she says of the trade shows and publicity — so they decided to settle down with a Red Hook shop and branch out to flowers in 2006, with Ryhanen’s self-taught stylings taking center stage. (And before you ask, yes, they do weddings.)

Now, keen to share her knowledge with aspiring designers and enthusiasts, Ryhanen’s created The Little Flower School with fellow florist Nicolette Owen. Previous classes dug deep into peonies and the imagery of Dutch masters. “It’s pretty thrilling to see a student ‘get it’ and catch the flower bug, as some people call it,” says Ryhanen. Her ambition doesn’t stop there: The Saipua team (which means “soap” in Finnish) bought a farm in Upstate New York in order to supply its store with the gorgeous stems that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Picture The Secret Garden's expansive greenery, except even more sweeping and romantic, and you’ll get a sense of the 107-acre Worlds End Farm. Here, Rhyanen revealed the truth about the flower world (weeds and all).
2_SarahRyhanen01_164Photographed by Winnie Au

Tipping Point
"Eric got me a bouquet of black dahlias for my 25th birthday. There is nothing, NOTHING more amazing than getting a big, unusual bouquet of flowers from your boyfriend. I still feel great when I think about it! Of course, that never happens now. But these flowers were a key moment in my life, I suppose. After that I started visiting the shop where he got them and bringing flowers home."

Fancy Footwork
"I spend a lot of time scouring the area for the best, most exquisite flowers. But all the girls are doing that now. Maybe not to the extent of research, travel, and farming that we are. But it's a really good time to be in the market for a florist — there are just oodles of amazing, creative (mostly) women who are making gorgeous natural work."

Perennial Playground
"Worlds End, our new flower farm, is supposed to become an epicenter for flower research and flower tutelage. I want to create the Disneyland of natural-floral beauty! The sort of place you might visit and never want to leave. Or when you do leave, you are inspired to do, make, grow things on your own. Oh my God, we have so much work to do here. We have a large, historic barn we're restoring to be a grand flower hall cum workspace with bunks for visitors. There is a propagation house attached that needs finishing. This year we've got 1/4-acre planted, and the rest of our fields in cover crops. There are multiple gardens and plans for Icelandic sheep. It’s a grand mess right now. Farming is like learning a new language. Fortunately, I really enjoy manual labor."

Bigger vs. Better
"Evolving a business is tricky. No one wants to get stuck as a one-trick pony. This is an age where businesses trend and then fade into the lurches all the time. I don't care about trending or popularity as much as I care about being the best. Are we doing the best we can? Are the flowers as good as they can possibly be? If they are then the business will be sustained, I believe that."

Two Cents
"Jump in. I think people hesitate too often. Teeter on the edge. The more you think about starting a business or changing careers, the more you end up negotiating against yourself. I say if you feel strongly about something, you just have to go for it."

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Hair and makeup by Dominique Farina