Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt know how to do love stories.
And I’m not even talking about their own romance.
Aside from winning room fulls of gold medals at floral Olympic competitions such as the Philadelphia Flower Show, assessing floral talents for the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD) and being asked to teach Floral Designs Master Trend Forums from Beijing to Texas, these uber-talented floral designers are also the go-to wedding resource for high-octane clients with big checkbooks and expectations.
“It’s often the wedding planners who originally hire us,” says Schaffer, a third-generation florist based in Philadelphia. “Our names aren’t anywhere in many of these events but the people who hire us know what we do. For these multi-million dollar weddings, you need someone with a lot of experience.”
Well actually, he notes, reflecting a moment, every wedding no matter the budget needs someone with experience because so much is required to make it meaningful and memorable. But few can create a military-like operation where thousands of flowers arrive on jet planes and are assembled with the stealth-like speed of a Navy seal.
If there’s a general needed to run a floral operation, you want Schaffer there.
For a bride who didn’t want traditional white, he found 100,000 blooms in a rainbow of colors – pink passion roses, feathery magenta peonies and light lavender hyacinths – to create a festive scene. A wedding in Mexico required the army of florists he has around the globe to replicate a dreamy white wedding worthy of a Hollywood movie.
However, there was an unexpected drama. Cases of flowers were confiscated in Mexico and Schaffer found himself playing diplomat, negotiator and investigator to try to liberate them before the wedding. With his lifetime of resources, he summoned growers from South America to orchestrate a replacement 24-hour delivery.
“That wedding was special because it was the granddaughter of a sports team owner and everyone was very happy with the ambiance we created,” he recalls, brushing off the drama as another day at the office.
Schaffer Designs also creates wedding bouquets and accessories that become not only conversation pieces, but works of art.
Those big-budget weddings do have one advantage. With checkbook at hand, this Pied Piper of Petals can hire the best teams from around the world. How often can you say, “Who is the very best out there no matter the cost?” Not that often.
Thus, Bill Schaffer gets to use his contacts to get the most pristine, colorful bulbs – from the rarest of flowers from toffee-colored, butterfly ranunculus to the most fragrant of gardenias and exquisite Vanda orchids. Still, he loves the humble white carnation best of all.
As Seth Pearsoll, the design director for the Philadelphia Flower Show, says, in Bill’s hands, any flower will look good. Even the humble carnation. “He sits at the crossroad of amazing creative abstraction paired with flawless execution,” says Pearsoll. “Bill is an incredible talent both in his technical execution and ability to interpret and present disparate themes in a way that is both unique and beautiful.”
Kris and Bill’s wedding six years ago not surprisingly had its own wow factor. For the couple who share a passion for flowers and each other, they chose the Philadelphia Flower Show as their venue. After all, the Philadelphia Flower Show is the oldest and largest show in the U.S., with more than 250,000 people in attendance every year.
In fact, at this year’s award-winning display, appropriately titled “Happy Together,” they celebrated their wedding anniversary not with a dinner date but by working around the clock to create a massive display that explored the “relationship between human beings and flowers” in pulsating psychedelic style. Natch, it won an award.
It also required the need for a good massage post-installation. This is not a job for those who are skirmish about physical labor.
“No one ever gets a manicure, because your hands are always beaten up, and your back is pulled out half the time,” Shaffer points out. “It also impacts you when you are spending hours on your knees on concrete floors.” Then there is the psychological stress when a percentage of flowers shipped isn’t up to your exacting standards.
But the results when the display is finished give a high that is inexplicable.
Alison Bradley, the highly-respected Editor and Founder of Fusion Flowers Magazine and Floral Fundamentals, became a huge fan after witnessing Kraft and Schaffer “pushing the use of Zantedeschia to the limit ” at another Philadelphia Flower Show.
“To create an ice exhibit at Philadelphia, they had tested and tried Zantedeschia (also known as calla lilies) that were waxed to appear as if they were frozen,” she recalls. “Clever though the idea was, what was most important was that this treatment gave longevity to the flowers.”
As she explained, in an exhibit of this nature, flowers must be watered daily – and in certain cases several times a day – but in using this process they didn’t have to water the flowers because they were effectively sealed by the wax process.
To her immense respect, the flowers lasted the entire show.
These celebrated installations do not line their pockets with gold – although they win gold medals and kudos.
Thankfully the private events help sustain their work that allows time for the installations created at museums, schools and floral events, which pay only stipends. ”If you estimate the labor – we had 32 people working for a full week on the Philadelphia Flower Show exhibit – the airfare and hotels, transportation, the wholesale price of 40,000 flowers and some of the flowers not being used, it often costs us as much as $195,000 to create one of these installations,” Shaffer admits. He got artists from Russia, Norway, Sweden, China and Spain as well as U.S. talent for his all-star team.
To watch Schaffer play with branches and vines, pressing them to respond like clay and simultaneously, nimbly, gathering handfuls of flowers to create a perfectly pitched symphony of color is the equivalent, for Kriss, of someone else watching Brad Pitt do push-ups. Schaffer, with his gray beard, Cheshire-cat smile and take charge confidence is the perfect compliment to Kris’ more quiet demeanor.
The couple met in 2005 when both were evaluators on the membership committee of the American Institute of Floral Designers (AIFD). It wasn’t as much a coup de foudre as a slow steady growth. After all, flowers bloom when they are ready.
“We became great friends immediately,” recalls Kratt, a striking redhead who designed china prior to teaming up with Schaffer, a divorced father of two. “We appreciated each other’s creativity and passion for the floral industry. As time went by, we realized we felt the most whole when we were together, not only through flowers but in everything we love and care about.”
In a yin-yang pairing, the combustive connection of their talents has elevated Schaffer’s business to increased levels of excellence and success. While his baritone voice and bravado attracts buzz, people and projects like a honeybee, Kris is the contemplative architect who executes drawings of their visions. Their creations are symbiotic.
Their work is so in demand that Kratt and Schaffer are often traveling the globe. In recent months they were at Cohim Flower School in Beijing. At the recent Japan Garden and Flower Show in Nagasaki, curtains of flowers draped the main hall with spectacular blooms. As part of that show’s mandate, they could use only fresh blooms, no artificial ones. But for these two, that wasn’t a challenge, so knowledgable are they about everything floral.
Museums have a fund-raising bonanza around Art in Bloom themes, a gala introducing their annual invitation to florists to interpret paintings with creative arrangements. Shows do this too as Schaffer Designs did with this interpretation of Vassily Kandinsky which is at the Guggenheim Museum. Not surprising that Schaffer and Kraft chose Kandinsky, since both stretch abstraction in colorful, inventive ways.
“We have a wonderful balance in our combined vision because in our individual design methods Bill is macro and I am micro,” explains Kratt. “I see all the ways we can blend our concepts, all the possible outcomes, and how to pull it together. Combined, we are strength and style.”
When asked what type of flowers they use in their home, it becomes clear that simplicity can be best. “It doesn’t always need to be elaborate or expensive or exotic,” says Kratt. “It just needs to bring you joy and make you feel good when you look up and see them.”
For the past 7 out of 10 years, Bill Schaffer and Kris Kratt have won Best in Show at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Along with their achievements, they also provide floral enthusiasts with the behind-the-scenes details of how the installation was created in their book, “Taking the Flower Show Home: Award-Winning Designs From Concept to Completion.”
This talented duo is busy molding new creations, like sculptors, for next year’s theme at the Philadelphia Flower Show, Riviera Holiday – which will run from February 29th through March 8th.
Instead of celebrating their wedding, this upcoming flower show could be more like celebrating a honeymoon.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.
Photo Credits: FPD, Jerry Hayes Photo, Marie Lablancz Photo
Group photo includes – Agna Maertens, Ahti Lyra, Alex Segura-Arana, Beth Hohensee, Caitlyn Acquaotta, dave Hamilton, Heather Towns, Helen Miller, Holly URban, Jacqueline Boerma, Jenn Hovland, Jonas De Vestal, Kristina Kraft, Linda Wharton, Lynne Tischler, Mariann Holman, Mike Boerma, Nancy Leppo, Olga Ramirez Jiron, Pamela Stanmire-Williams, Reka Kurtos, Rita Daffinson, Robert Quartucci, Sara-Lisa Ludvigsson, Stefan Van Berlo, Tiffany Van Lenten, TiTi Song, Vadim Kazanskii.