Story by Cynthia Greenburg
Photos by Martha Benedict
“The big aha was in NY,” Valerie Jurado says. It was there the daughter of Filipino immigrants who grew up in East L.A. suddenly found herself going from mass producing “baby’s-breath-1-800-FLOWER” style arrangements to designing $400 bouquets for Wall Street bankers. Not to mention keeping big ticket accounts like Kenneth Cole happy. At these modern, high-end floral shops, in addition to an all-encompassing position coordinating events for The Queens Botanical Garden, Jurado’s perspective went through a fundamental shift.
Flowers paid the bills. That was before when she was going to Cal State Long Beach and working towards becoming a Women’s Studies professor. Now words like “botanicals” and “design” embedded themselves into her understanding of the industry. She saw just what flowers “could do” and a career path was born. But she had to do it her way. So she took what she learned and Jurado came home to Los Angeles and found her way to Highland Park.
Though at first considering downtown, the space she could barely afford was 7 stories up – no good for loading and unloading. It was soon that she stumbled upon the newly renovated Live/Work spaces at The Union Bank Building on the corner of York Boulevard and Figueroa Street. And her business, Valerie Jurado Botanical Design, was born.
When asked about her style, the answer is not so simple. For weddings, it’s European. The happy couple can expect “premium flowers, no filler… elegance.” And depending on the bride’s desire, Europe might get a taste of California – like succulents strewn alongside flowers. For other clients, she’s like a mad scientist who understands the art of restraint. Whether corporate events or hotel lobbies, like JW Marriott L.A.Live Space, Jurado explores all possibilities. “…I get stressed out because my brain is constantly thinking of more things to create … I can be inspired by the way pipes are positioned in a house or the way a branch is curled on a tree.”
Manipulation of flowers and plants are one of her defining looks: “You can manipulate steel grass – it’s this long, sturdy grass; cymbidium orchids, you can make them curl into a semi-circle. All you need is a little bit of grass. You can submerge Calla lilies upside down and they can last a week without the stems being in water.” The result is eye-catching, arresting, sophisticated; living pieces of modern art that elevate, compliment and celebrate their surroundings.
Jurado does smaller jobs, as well. She’s oftentimes contacted by people like herself: sons and daughters of the Filipino and Mexican community, who may have moved out of the neighborhood but want to find a local who speaks their language and has style. And while she is happy to satisfy a more traditional itch, she’s always thinking outside the box, as exemplified by her custom-made succulent wreaths (starting at $75) and her air plant and succulent terrarium ornaments. Beginning at $7 each, these alluring, captivating globes have an added bonus: flat bottoms so they can sit on a flat surface, well after the tree comes down.
So into succulents is Jurado that with an art collective in the same Live/Work space, she held a succulent workshop this past Fall (another is planned for Spring). Succulents are “…modern, they’re in, people put them in their planters, on a curb… they’re indestructible basically.”
How plants and flowers are utilized and manipulated in the designer’s capable hands elevate our understanding of that which we see every day. It’s symbolic of how she herself saw her role in the flower industry.
New York may have been the turning point for how Valerie Jurado learned what flowers and plants could do, but it’s in her hometown where those ideas are taking root.
Photo by Martha Benedict
Cynthia Greenburg is a TV writer and podcast host for the adrenalineradio.com show “Let’s Talk About Dogs.”