A former White House staffer shares her flower knowledge at the Fall Home Show
FDiscounts don’t usually come to mind at the first thought of the White House — unless you’re Laura Dowling.
The D.C.-area resident lived and breathed bright, fragrant blooms within the walls of the Presidential Palace while working as chief floral designer from 2009 to 2015.
Dowling will share her White House experience and floristry knowledge at the conference Pittsburgh Fall Home Offer It will be held October 6-8 at the David L. Lawrence downtown.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Pittsburgh and meeting everyone,” she says. “I’ve heard a lot about this show and how inspiring it is.”
Dowling plans to showcase bouquet and decor ideas, including holiday wreaths, at the event.
“As we head into the fall season, expect rich burgundy, ochre, berry, and chrome,” she adds. “I might throw in some seasonal fruits and vegetables, which is something I always feel is great to add into the mix.”
Entering its third year, the Fall Home Show will also include Pool City’s Ultimate Game Room, showcasing the latest home entertainment items for 2024, including indoor amenities to help get through the long winter months.
The expo will also be fan favorites like the Farm to Table Expo and “Ask an Interior Designer,” according to organizers.
“Local farmers and food producers will sample their crops and sell them, providing a great sustainable way to eat fresh and healthy food while supporting local farms and food providers who will be willing to share their knowledge as well as samples.” reads the Fall Home Show press release.
Specialists from Savoy Interiors and LaRoche University interior design students will also answer questions and offer suggestions on any decorating dilemma or opportunity.
The show will take place from 10am to 9pm Friday, October 6 and Saturday, October 7, and from 10am to 6pm, Sunday, October 8. Buy tickets and find more information here.
All about Laura Dowling
Dowling grew up on a farm in Chehalis, Washington. She continued her education in political science and public administration, and worked on Capitol Hill in a different capacity for over 20 years before finding her passion in the field of flower arranging.
In 2000, while working for The Nature Conservancy of America, she traveled to Paris with her husband, Robert Weinhagen, and immediately became enamored with French floral design.
“I remember taking a lot of inspiration from French bouquets; Its beauty, colours, texture and shape. “At that time it occurred to me that this is what I wanted to learn to do, and this is what I should do,” she recalls.
While she kept her day job at The Nature Conservancy at first, Dowling would travel to Paris and Germany on vacation and take week-long flower arranging courses to study different techniques, styles, movement and structure.
She eventually opened a part-time flower studio in her kitchen. In 2009, her growing interest in flowers quickly turned into a full-time career.
“My husband saw that the longtime White House florist was retiring in 2009, so he suggested I apply for the job,” she says. “As a part-time florist with another job, I didn’t see the direct line of how to think about it, so I ignored it for a while.”
Dowling eventually submitted her autobiography and wrote about how flowers can be used as a communication tool, and also appealed to First Lady Michelle Obama’s gardening interests and her desire to make the White House more open and welcoming to all.
She was ultimately one of three finalists brought to the White House to compete in a reality TV-like competition to design a state dinner and set up the Oval Office and Blue Room in four hours.
Overcoming the competition with her elegant, thoughtful designs, Dowling soon began her journey creating a concept known as “floral diplomacy,” the art of honoring visiting dignitaries through floral symbolism that expresses compelling artistic and strategic themes.
“When you think of a chief floral designer, you think of a position as elegant as Jane Austen, holding a watering can. The reality is that there was huge administrative responsibility associated with that position. “I had a small team of florists, a much larger team of volunteers, and a budget and security clearances.”
Some of Dowling’s favorite White House designs include animated versions of the Obama family’s Portuguese water dogs, Beau and Sunny.
“For me, this was an opportunity to continue Mrs. Obama’s ideas, techniques and designs, and inspire and encourage children to create their own designs,” she says.
Speaking about her years at the White House, Dowling says she is honored to create warmth and atmosphere for her fellow staff and visitors.
She adds that she always enjoyed hearing employees who received her bouquets call her names.
“They saw a theme and some of them were very creative. One political consultant said the blue-and-white bouquet looked like her grandmother’s china. Another arrangement was called ‘Midnight Kiss in the Woods’ and another ‘Tequila Sunrise’. What a treat.” A great way to provide a moment of inspiration and comfort in a place that can be very stressful.