5 Questions With… Brewery Bhavana florist Deanna Nguyen

Meet the mind behind Brewery Bhavana’s in-house flower shop.
by Shelbi Polk 

When Deana Nguyen isn’t making arrangements or curating the selection flower for Brewery Bhavana’s shop, she’s usually still doing something with flowers. Nguyen has run the flower shop at Brewery Bhavana since it was started, and she does her own arrangements for events or just creativity’s sake, on the side. We spoke with Nguyen about learning the art of flower arranging, running a business and pursuing creative work in the same sector. 

Photo by Jillian Clark / Courtesy Deana Nguyen

So you run the flower shop at Brewery Bhavana and you do your own creative work with flowers on the side. What does that look like?

So Bhavana is an in-house flower shop, so that means that we have single stem flowers people can choose from to make their own arrangements. I also make arrangements that people can come in and pick up, or they can order a custom arrangement. Because the shop is so small, we just cater to it as an in-house flower shop. We thought about doing events and wedding, but that’s like a whole business plan. 

I felt like creatively there were some things I’ve been wanting to explore, and the first thing was doing Art in Bloom last year. That was just a personal thing that I did, and there were all these other little projects that I wanted to try, but I didn’t know if it would fit with what Bhavana is. My other business is called Feature Flora, and it’s more experimental. I have no expectations for it, and it’s kind of nice because I don’t have to depend financially. I can take risks and challenges and say yes to things I wouldn’t be able to say yes to. I want to challenge the way we see flowers by getting photographers and to do still lives and editorial styling and all that. It’s cool because I feel like those things complement each other, and it’s cool that my boss is okay with me doing that. 

How did you first get into floral arranging? 

So I used to work at Bida Manda. I was part of the opening team there, and through my time there, I became close with [Bida Manda owners] Van and Vanvisa. We had talked about incorporating flowers and plants into Brewery Bhavana, but not as interior design. That year was kind of a blur for me, and I’m sure it was for everyone involved too.

I didn’t ever think of doing flowers as a career in general. I’ve always been interested in art, so I think at that time I was doing some jewelry work and taking classes at Pullen Arts Center. I was taking classes at Wake Tech with the intention of transferring to State for textiles, but then I realized, with art in general, I felt like I gained a lot more from traveling and meeting people when I was waiting tables. The connections I was making there were of more interest to me than sitting at a desk in school. I didn’t really think about flowers as design, until I did an apprenticeship with Jaclyn K Nesbitt, a florist in Sonoma County, California who actually went to NC State for art design. 

Van kind of vaguely knew her, so I reached out to her and spent the whole summer out there. She was just working out of her garage, and basically it was just a one person thing where she would hire freelancers to help with her events. Because she has this background in art design, the way that she taught me flower arranging was to look at it as a composition, and that really struck a chord with me because that’s something that I’ve been interested in all my life. So to see that arranging with flowers, something perishable, can be looked at as a composition, caring for the lines and the colors and all that was really, really interesting to me. That was a great summer. There was a lot of emphasis on mostly working with local flowers, so I was able to go to some farms and see how that works. And California is the best for local flowers, so that was really nice as my first intro into floral design. 

Do you make a point to source locally at Brewery Bhavana?

I try, and I think there’s other people that try. But it’s really kind of impossible to just do 100 percent local. I mean you can, but working with flowers is really seasonal, so a lot of times you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you get it. There’s so many things that can affect what you get, like the weather, season and the availability in general. There’s a co-op in Durham called Piedmont Wholesale Flowers I try to use. It’s like a collective of local flower farmers across Piedmont. Every week on Wednesday they get together and drop off all their flowers and sell to wholesalers. That’s seasonal, so it’s only through the spring and summer or until the cold season begins. During the winter, not really anyone is growing anything, and it’s not a great growing season in general here for flowers.

Photo by Jillian Clark / Courtesy Deanna Nguyen

When people walk into the Brewery Bhavana shop, what do you hope that they take away from that space?

I love being there when people are looking at the flowers. I really like to source things that you wouldn’t be able to find at your typical grocery store, so things that kind of our more conversation starters and statements varieties. Right now, because I can’t source local, I’m sourcing from Holland, South Africa and other countries that have interesting things. And I’m hoping that people are able to learn something new when they walk in. 

Each week, I try to change out what we have in the shop, and I teach my team little tips, like which things can dry well and little tidbits about different flowers that we’re carrying. Then, when people buy flowers, the person that checks them out can teach them. Like, this one can dry well or this one sheds, but if you spray it with hairspray it’ll stick. Just little things like that people normally wouldn’t know. I’m hoping that flowers can be more approachable. They’re not as intimidating as people think. 

Do you have any advice for people who may want to start a business or creative endeavor but don’t know how to get started?

I would say that the best way to learn about things is to learn from other people. So just reaching out to designers, even if you have to sacrifice financially by doing apprenticeships or just offering your help. Also floral design is not actually as glamorous as people think it is. A lot of times people come in and they’re like, “Oh my God you’re so lucky you get to play with flowers all day.” And I’m like it took me a long time to get to this point! What people don’t understand is that work is work. No matter what you do. Even if you do something really creative and awesome, work is work. With design in general, the final product is only just a small fraction of all the things that you have to do to get there. So just understanding that it’s not as glamorous as you think because of social media. It’s a lot of physical labor, like carrying buckets. So just reaching out to local designers, offering help. I think that’s the best way to learn, through apprenticeships and volunteering.