Keeping It Green with Bouquets to Art Flower Designer Emily Dreblow

Emily Dreblow, founder of Soulflower Design Studio in San Francisco, is working on a floral creation for Bouquets to Art 2014—it’s her 5th year participating in the de Young’s art-inspired flower exhibition. Dreblow likes to approach her work with a focus on two values that are near and dear to San Francisco’s heart: community and sustainability.

A brunette woman in a teal top stands in front of a picture of succulent plants

“For me, when I was thinking about starting a business and doing work in the floral industry, it was really important to find a way to do it with consciousness and awareness about environmental impact, about waste excess, and also community,” says Dreblow, a former social worker. 

Emily petting her dog Oscar, a Boston Terrier

Dreblow first began working with flowers at the age of 16, through an internship with a high-end floral designer. She liked it so much that she continued similar work during summer jobs throughout high school and college at Brown University, where she got a degree in urban studies and landscape architecture. Upon moving to San Francisco, Dreblow started a job in social work, while still dabbling in flowers and designing for weddings on occasion. Once she warmed to the idea of floral design as “a real career,” Dreblow figured out a way to incorporate aspects of social work into her new business.

White and green flowers are arranged in a floral display

Soulflower, which Dreblow founded nine years ago, employs young people through a partnership with a community jobs program. She says she’s witnessed the impact this experience can have, giving teenagers new ideas about their future career paths. “I think for anyone, young adults in particular, exposure is key. So is support and mentoring.” Dreblow has seen a number of Soulflower’s interns go on to work in floral design, plant care and special events.

The other key component of Soulflower’s mission, environmental consciousness, means being aware of every stage of the design process. “It’s about where the product is coming from and really prioritizing local, and having relationships with local vendors and farmers,” Dreblow says. “Being in California, we’re really lucky that we have access to so many amazing local flowers.” Dreblow also favors chemical alternatives in her studio, like using a lemon and vinegar mix instead of bleach to prolong the life of flowers and keep water clean. She also avoids the toxins commonly found in floral foam by using more eco-friendly techniques to keep flowers in place, like building a lattice structure out of floral tape. 

Green cleaning supplies sit before an ornate flower arrangement

In terms of style, Dreblow prefers to take a creative, untraditional approach. “I really love texture, and one thing that I’ve always appreciated in working with flowers is [using] non-floral elements, like pods, and the unexpected things found in nature.” For Bouquets to Art this year, Dreblow is drawing inspiration from an oil painting in the de Young’s collection, Nacht I by Albert Bloch. She plans to do an abstract design that evokes the work’s emotional tension. “When I saw it, there was something very captivating about the imagery. There’s definitely this light spiritual presence in the middle of a darker setting,” says Dreblow.

An abstract painting in cool hues

Albert Bloch (American, 1882–1961). Nacht I (Night I), 1913. Oil on canvas mounted on hardboard. Museum purchase, American Art Trust Fund. 2001.124. On view in Gallery 50A.

See Emily Dreblow’s art-inspired floral creation, as well as the works of over 120 other renowned Bay Area floral designers, at Bouquets to Art. The de Young’s annual flower exhibition is celebrating its landmark 30th anniversary this year, from March 18‒March 23.

For more information on hours and special programs, visit deyoungmuseum.org/bouquets.