If you’ve walked along West Street on the way to Transmitter Park, you may have already met Maria Christina Nino of MC. Nino Designs (65 West St.) as she casually chats with locals and their doggos in front of her design studio storefront.
Not your average floral designer, Nino has a hand in all aspects of wedding and event production from the flowers to the lighting, linens and more. And now with her storefront, she’s open for retail. Here Nino shares how she thrives in the face of all obstacles including the coronavirus pandemic. Nino also speaks about what she loves the most—the personal relationships she builds with her clients (especially her brides!) as she brings their dreams into reality.
Greenpointers: With so many weddings and other large events on hold, how are you adjusting to this strange time?
All of my weddings for my brides are postponed, so I had to adjust in order to keep the studio open. I’m not primarily a retail store; I design weddings and events all over the world. But I kept getting inquiries about Mother’s Day, so I went and got flowers. Then we did social media, and I said, “Okay! We’re open for retail,” following CoVid requirements. I got such a great response for Mother’s Day because all of my clients and walk-ins already know my work and were excited. I thought we’d only do it once, but now the word is out—Maria is open for retail! Now people are calling and placing orders: flowers for anniversaries, birthdays or just because. So that’s really nice. Even though the pandemic has cast a black cloud over my business for my events, this is the silver lining. I’m doing retail and giving people fresh flowers. It creates a sense of normalcy to have Mother Nature coming in. It makes them happy! And if I can make someone happy for a week or two weeks (my flowers last long—cha-cha-cha!), that gives me so much joy.
You always have dog treats at the ready, and the pups know it. Every time I came by your studio I met new people stopping in while taking their dogs for a walk.
I love dogs! I know the dogs’ names before I know the people’s names. When I moved to the downstairs studio, I started to meet them all. Many of my friends have dogs, so I decided to give them treat-treats. They give you those little smiles, and it melts my heart. So that’s how it started, and now I have every doggy toy, every doggie treat (the best, of course!) and all the doggie beds. Then I started talking to the owners, and unexpectedly I’ve done four weddings for my dog-owner visitors. They even have their dogs in their weddings as ring bearers!
What was your approach with with creating your design space?
This is my studio; it’s like my home. And I want people to feel that, you know. I don’t do pre-made bouquets. I ask the customers what they want, and they pick out the flowers. I tell them to just go in and get them out of the cooler; make yourself at home. Then I’ll put the arrangement together for them, or I’ll show them how to do it, and they’re like, “Wow I’ve never been in a flower shop where you can actually just grab the flower you want and make an arrangement!” I’m not just your regular flower shop, thank God. So yes, my studio is open. Come in! Sit down! Six feet apart. And if you don’t have your mask or gloves on—penalty! But I always have some available!
How do you get your ideas, and what’s your inspiration?
My inspiration is mother nature. I want everything to look natural like you just went out to the garden and picked it. I also look at art, like Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. I see stuff growing naturally, and then I visualize how I can make that with cut flowers. In my mind, I’m drawing a masterpiece, and it stays in my head until I make it. And then I look at my client. Is she modern? Is she more country girl? Or is she more hippie? I take their personality and their look, and then I’m like, “Oh, I know what type of bouquet to make you. I know exactly!” That’s how I get my inspiration—mother nature and the client. Especially my brides… but that’s another story, sister!
What is one of the most extraordinary events you’ve done?
I’ve done weddings at the Waldorf, the New York Athletic Club… all the old New York venues. And I go everywhere. Chop-chop! Load it up, let’s go! And my work has been featured in bridal magazines and fashion magazines all over the world, too. The Israel wedding last fall was amazing, but anyway… It’s got to be the large wedding I did in December, up the Hudson. It was centered around healing crystals. The flowers, the crystals… everything meant something to this bride/friend. She had so much meaning behind every color relating to the crystals and their healing properties. It healed her, and she wanted her guests to experience what she felt. Based on her story, I designed the colors of the flowers to complement the crystals. And we didn’t just put them in vases; they were hanging 30 feet from the ceiling coming down over the tables. Then the lighting, the lanterns… it was all for the love of light and color. When light shines into a prism it creates a rainbow. Every color created by that prism was used to design the centerpieces, the Chuppah, even the couches, throw pillows, and hanging lanterns. It was magical, and yet it was spiritual. It really moved me. It was so breathtaking and beautiful, and I got to be a part of her vision. This is true with all my brides, but for some reason this one just went a little bit deeper. You truly felt something in that room.
You seem to take on a more involved role with the wedding process. Is this typically what floral designers do?
No, not typically what floral designers do. I’m hands-on. Literally! Whatever I ask my crew to do, I’m right there with them. And I couldn’t do it without them. They’re like family to me. Some other flower shops and companies will sell the wedding. They’ll show up, and they’ll point. I’m a doer, not a pointer. I see my crew in there, and I get busy. I’m the designer, and I have to see my vision come to life. It’s got to be exactly right. Plus, I love doing that. I don’t want to always be on a computer typing proposals. I’d rather be at the flower markets, looking for that special flower for my bride’s bouquet, for that little extra that I always give my brides. I need to be using my hands, and my brides know that.
What is your approach to serving your clients?
They’re all the daughters I never had, sister! I get to be a part of their special dream. I get to meet the parents, the grandmas and grandpas, and the brothers and sisters… I get to be a part of this amazing family for a year, sometimes even two years! And after all is said and done, we’re friends on social media. Then I’m doing their kids’ baptisms or bris and, yes, I’ve even done their bar mitzvahs. With the brides, it’s an everlasting relationship which is so special to me. If I get to be a part of their special day, there’s nothing better. I cry when I give my brides their bouquets, and then see them walking down the aisle. I cry all the time! My workers are like, “Oh, there she goes. Maria’s crying again.” I’m like, “Oh my God, look at her in her dress!” Then when the groom sees her, he’s bawling, too. There’s nothing like that kind of love. A lot of florists don’t like doing weddings, but weddings are my favorite. Love weddings, #luvflowers!
Do you have any advice for creatives starting out? How did you get your start?
When I was a little girl in Vegas, my mom had rose bushes growing all around the house. She loved yellow roses. One time, my dad knocked down a wall to build another room in our house. Before he knocked it down, he stood with me in front of the blank wall, and told me exactly what he was going to create. He asked me to imagine it. Then he built it exactly as he planned it in his head, and my mom went in and accessorized it with pillows and flowers. My dad taught me to imagine and to create; to visualize something that’s not there and then bring it into reality. Now, walking into an empty room, I know exactly where everything will go. It all started there. I didn’t go to school for it. I moved to Santa Monica and worked in event production. I came to Manhattan for an event with the company and decided, “I’m going to live here.” When I moved here, I started working in a flower shop. I met the most amazing floral designers and watched them design. They taught me how to make it my own. Eventually, I became one of the designers, but then I found love and moved to Greece. That didn’t work out, so I moved back to the States and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m already heart-broken, and now this?! But no pity-party. I opened up my own business here, originally on the third floor of 67 West. My flower company kept me distracted. I was doing what I loved to do, and I scheduled the chemo around the weddings. I went through it, I got through it, and I actually built up a better clientele and became a better designer because, “This is it. I could die!” You have a moment, whether it’s cancer or COVID, where you decide NOT TODAY! Do what the doctors tell you—stay home! I did, and I survived, thank God. No matter what happens in life, you just have to keep going. If you have something you’re fortunate to love, and you’re good at it, it just gets better through these crises. It makes you appreciate and love everyone more, and that shows in the designs. I’m doing what I love, and I was fortunate enough to find my niche, make it my own and share it with the world. To give something back to the world… and it involves flowers? I got blessed with this gift, right?
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the local community at this time?
I love Greenpoint! I love all the doggies and babies being born! Their little ooschka booschkas running around, coming to my studio in their little strollers, and before long they’ll be walking. I’ll go and tie a little flower to their strollers, and they just smile! When I’m not in my studio, I see the dogs down the road, and they still recognize me. That just, aw…my heart. It melts me. And that’s Greenpoint, you know. It’s that neighborhood where everyone knows your name. Everybody’s watching out for each other, and people sincerely care. They look you in the eye, they want to have a conversation with you, and they mean it. For me, all the Greenpointers are my family, and they make me feel loved! Especially the little dogs! So that’s why I love Greenpoint. I’ve been here for 12 years and I ain’t going nowhere unless I move to Europe. But I’ll still keep a place in Greenpoint. It’s my home. Cheers to that, right?