Nikki looking très chic while doin' her thing.
Actress And Stylist Does It All, Has It All
By Niree Noel and Krista Gampper
A self-proclaimed tangle-haired and barefooted wild child from Hawaii, Nikki Pettus grew up making posies of beach naupaka and hibiscus for anyone who crossed her path. It was only natural then, when she was in her late 20’s in New York City and looking for a side hustle between bartending and acting, that she turned to floral design.
Without any technical knowledge, the multi-talented actor, stylist, and calligrapher (!) created ad hoc centerpieces for the weddings of three close friends. While those arrangements were a hit, Nikki decided she wanted to learn the basics. So she simply walked over to the local Park Delicatessen, a flower and skateboard shop, and asked for a job.
Hold up. Is a flower and skateboard shop really a thing? “Yes, it absolutely is,” Nikki assures us. “And it’s as cool as it sounds.” She got the job and spent the next six months honing her processing and floral identifying skills, while selling trucks to fourteen-year-olds. “I’m still not 100% sure what a ‘truck’ is, but man, can I process a rose.”
(For the record, a truck holds the wheels that make the skateboard go. And processing a rose requires stripping the stem of thorns with a knife or rose stripper, removing blemished petals, and trimming a good half inch off the bottom in the most dramatic angle possible before placing in preservative-filled water. The angle allows for more surface area for the roses to drink it all in.)
Today, Nikki has struck out on her own, with weekly accounts at West Village eateries Fairfax and Loring Place amidst other freelance clients. Her list of past employers includes several iconic New York-based boutiques, including, Putnam & Putnam, Tin Can Studios, Tinsel & Twine, Flower Girl. Says Nikki: “I’ve worked both in high volume and for high-profile clients. Right now, I’m having a lot of fun creating in situ floral installations for everything from Kate Spade dinner parties to weddings at the New York Public Library.”
Cool blue carnations accented with glittering corals create a serene, sea-like atmosphere for our Secret Supper at South Street Seaport's Fulton Fish Market. And let's not forget about those gorgeous hand-dyed napkins.
Nikki found Spring Street Social Society through design blogs and social media. “I was in awe of the gorgeous, immersive worlds you guys created,” she recalls. She was within days (if not hours) of reaching out directly to Patrick and Amy when her friend and Spring Street collaborator, the performer and director Preston Martin, serendipitously beat her to it. Preston intro’d Nikki to Amy and the two bonded instantly over their love of flowers, concluding the evening crying in each other's arms (“Which is the best way to end an evening, if you ask me,” quoth Amy.).
“Since that first dinner at the Fulton Fish Market in South Street Seaport, every experience has brought nothing but love and lots of happy tears. It feels so magical to have found a collaborative community where I feel supported, but also challenged to raise my game. In the flower world you don’t often get the opportunity to create ikebana-inspired arrangements with blue carnations, or nautical centerpieces with sea fans as the focal point.”
Nautical touches aboard the Wavertree ship included woven table runners and brass lanterns filled with oceanic arrangements.
When asked where Nikki finds inspiration, she simply replies “everywhere.” Like the one time she passed a mini-doughnut shop in Vancouver and the decor caught her eye, so she paused to document the eclectic mix of furniture in a whimsical palette of pink, red, and rust for future use. “I have loads of random photos taking up precious space on my phone,” Nikki says, recounting a few favorites. “Of course that doughnut shop, but I also have some great shots of discarded construction materials in an alleyway, and this awesome cabinet containing nothing but spools of vintage velvet ribbons.”
While images are great for inspo, Nikki is quick to point out that being a florist isn’t as glamorous as an Instagram feed might suggest. Being a florist means creating magic and beauty; it also means your hands are constantly covered in cuts, nails are beyond filthy, and you’re spending all day schlepping around with a heavy load, pockets full of dead leaves. Still, she wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s the physical work that drives her after all. “What I love about floral design is the flowers themselves; tending to them, learning their names, their likes and dislikes. I love experimenting with unexpected colors and textures and shapes — the challenge of flowers being a living thing. I love the way flowers make the people receiving them feel. To play a part in that is pretty special.”
Hosting an al fresco dinner shindig, like Amy did for a custom Taittinger project? Call Nikki (we did). She'll bring the florals and the watercolor menus; all you need is some friends and Champagne.
Follow Nikki: @nikkipettus
What isn’t super special, however, is that flowers inevitably wilt. With an eye towards sustainability (or perhaps reincarnation), Nikki is mindful of the aftermath of her arrangements. A budding interest in natural dyeing has provided an inventive avenue for recycling flowers, using plants and petals as pigments. She made some seriously stunning hand-dyed napkins for her wedding to the actor Roe Hartrampf. Those napkins made a guest appearance at our Fulton Fish Market Secret Supper, alongside her watercolor menus. Nikki has also gotten more into weaving after falling in love with the fiber art form during her Oaxacan honeymoon. No surprise: she’s good at that, too.
When asked how she finds her spring, Nikki says it’s all about the unexpected details. “I want to find ways to really surprise and delight the client. I search high and low for materials that will make an arrangement special, on many levels. I love taking a thing and doing something totally wacky with it.” For our Secret Supper aboard South Street Seaport’s Wavertree Ship, Nikki accented brass lanterns with bunny tail grass, a favorite funky flower lovingly nicknamed “bunny butts” because that’s exactly what they look like. “The thought of a guest sitting at the table, having the time of their life watching Amy and Patrick do their thing, and for just a moment catching sight of one funny, fuzzy little ball looking like it’s about to make a run for it? That makes me smile. That’s what it’s all about.”