By Nicole Berrie
Photography by Sasha Israel
“ONCE YOU GET STUCK IN ANY SET OF RULES, IT’S HARD TO BREAK OUT,” says Roshy Vultaggio from her lofty home in downtown Manhattan while arranging one of her signature floral arrangements in preparation for Valentine’s Day. “Not every client is the same. One person may want something more clean, while another wants something more messy.” Since the beginning of her career, Vultaggio always had an affinity for design, logging in time at Italian fashion houses Bottega Veneta and Giorgio Armani where she worked in visuals. “I hit a creative wall because everything was directed to you from Milan,” recalls Vultaggio. “My friend who owns the Plant Shed flower shop on the Upper West Side wanted to hire someone who was design focused. I’d never done floral arrangements before. We just went head first into it.” Cut to five years later and Vultaggio, now creative director of In Bloom New York, has orchestrated breathtaking floral designs for clients including Hugo Boss, Dolce & Gabbana and Catharine Malandrino. Her secret? “I’ve never taken a class,” she admits. “I went on tons of websites and read floral and interior design books to see how people change a space with flowers.” Below we caught up with Vultaggio who shared tips and tricks on flower arranging, her favorite blooms throughout the year and which actress-turned-lifestyle guru’s cookbook she can’t live without.
Where do you seek inspiration?
Alberto Pinto has beautiful flowers. The key players in New York are David Stark in terms of production; Matthew Robbins; as well as Bronson and Van Wyck. I get more out of seeing how each person does a space differently than reading floral books. My mother-in-law is also an incredible landscaper. She has a house in Costa Rica and does incredible gardening there. She has her own greenhouse with orchids. Everywhere she goes, she takes an orchid and brings it back whether it’s from Bali or Mexico. She’s like the orchid smuggler.
What is the best time to hit the flower district?
Before 7am or 8am. The best days to go are Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. Those are the days they get deliveries. These days, everyone is so informed from Pinterest to Instagram.
Is that a friend or foe in the flower business?
It’s good because the consumer is now more educated. They’re always pinning and pulling these pictures so there’s never a surprise. They know what they want now more than before, which I think is important.
Do you prefer when clients comes with a specific concept or with a blank slate?
If they want peonies in January, I’m not going to be able to swing it. They should be open to something that will open up like a peony, like a big garden rose. I once had someone come in and say “I want fresh cotton and pink peonies.” Those two things don’t make sense. So it’s good to have an idea but also be flexible.
What flowers are in season now?
January until about April is the best time for tulips. It’s when Holland is sending out their best. I also love quince. It’s amazing to have white flowering branches in February. They are grown locally in hothouses.
Which place have you traveled to, has the most beautiful flora?
Japan. I’ve never seen flowers like that in my life. What they do with orchids is incredible. Their phalaenopsis orchids would be completely symmetrical on both sides. I’ve never seen something like that outside of Tokyo.
What about here in the city?
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and even the Central Park Zoo. I’m really inspired by the gardening and landscaping there. Central Park has little secret places with beautiful flowers, which is so nice.
What trends have you spotted in the flower industry right now?
One trend is having it all be about greens. Doing different shades, very tonal, monochromatic greens and textures to break it up. The second trend is everybody is becoming more conscientious about where their flowers are coming from. People are asking for more seasonal flowers, which is great.
Spring is not too far off, what’s in season then?
If you have a wedding in April or May, you should ask for cherry blossoms. They’ll keep your costs low because we’re not shipping from Holland or Chile.
Do you have a favorite season for flowers?
Fall. You have the remnants from summer, but you also have scabiosa pods, which are cool psychedelic pods; dahlias; zinnias, which are local as well; and Blushing Bride, which looks like little lotus heads but they’re white with touches of pink. You can tell that it’s fall because everything has a slight burnt color, which is very pretty getting ready for the winter.
What is the most overrated flower?
The peony but it holds its weight. It’s always a crowd pleaser. My husband was saying last night, “I love peonies because they remind me of balled up tissues.” It’s something that’s expensive, hyped up and it’s used a lot, but for good reason because they translate beautifully, no matter how you’re using it. Whether it’s a tall singular arrangement or mixed with greens, it’s really beautiful.
What are the best flowers or plants to keep in a New York City apartment?
Ferns are great because they need no light. Just keep them moist every couple of days. Pothos ivy also needs very little light and very little water. Fig trees and fiddleleaf are great for New York City because they don’t need that much light, maybe a couple hours–they make a big effect. Or you can get a dracena palm tree and it will last really well. I also like dried yellow buttons pods and pussy willows need zero maintenance. When they dry they look more or less the same.
Do you ever use alternative vessels other than vases?
I’m always looking in antique stores and flea markets. I have trophies that I use or even a champagne bucket. I put quince in old ceramic crock pots. They are meant to be making butter in but with branches, it makes sense.
What is the most fragrant flower for the home?
I always put hyacinths in the bathroom. And garden roses are great. I don’t like the mess of lilies so I always tend to avoid those.
Any advice for guys looking to treat their ladies on Valentine’s Day?
If they don’t have the time to go to a flower shop, go to a place like Dean & Deluca. They have so many different varieties of flowers. For him to put together a hand-held bouquet is so romantic. It doesn’t have to be in a vase, it can be wrapped beautifully and held. It’s more a presentation, which I think is the romance of it anyway.
So no baby’s breath?
Baby’s breath by itself in mass is nice. It looks like a cloud, it’s really spectacular. I just would avoid carnations for Valentine’s Day because carnations in a lot of cultures signifies funerals. Also, it doesn’t have to be red, I love purple too.
Do you decorate with things other than flowers?
I like to put pomegranates into arrangements. You quarter the pomegranate, put it on a stick, and then wire it into an arrangement. Grapes are also beautiful. Imagine if you had beautiful cascading champagne grapes. For a Dolce & Gabbana luncheon in the Hamptons a couple summers ago, we incorporated lemons. The whole interior of the glass vase was lemons and then the arrangement was inside of it. You don’t have to be so strict about what you use. You can use, mint, rosemary, sage. Even cutting up to add a few sprigs of fern would give it a nice wisp. You can get creative with it.
How would you describe your personal health regimen?
I try to incorporate at least one juice a day. For someone who doesn’t love to eat salad, I throw everything. Celery, carrots, spinach, so it’s all-encompassing. I like to have it before lunch.
Do you have any secrets when it comes to juicing?
Aloe. I found it’s really good to my skin. I buy fresh aloe stalks from Whole Foods, chop it up and put them into my juice. It’s supposed to be detoxifying and it has been clearing up my skin. It’s thick so I like to put it with a cucumber. Or I’ll buy the aloe water from Juice Press. I’ll also throw tumeric in my juice, which is supposed to be cancer fighting. I’ll label the juices and put a few bottles in the fridge. I use the bottles from the Butcher’s Daughter, which are good to reuse and don’t leak.
Have you incorporated any new healthy principles into your life?
For someone who used to have a coke and two slices of pizza a day, now, I have a salad or soup. I’m actually having no meat this week. I’m A-positive and it says I’m not supposed to have meat. I’ve never followed the Blood Type Diet before so I’m trying it out. We’ve been doing Meatless Mondays for a few months.
What did you make the last Meatless Monday?
I made your cauliflower soup! It’s delicious. I make 15 cups of vegetable broth so I have it in the fridge and can throw a soup together. I don’t like store-bought. There’s so much sodium, you don’t know what’s in it. I made a lentil salad from Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good and a big salad. We put the lentils on top, had some hummus and crudite, and that was dinner. If we do it together, it’s so much easier. He might have fish for lunch. We don’t have to be so strict about everything, because then it becomes a chore. You want it to be fun and easy. You don’t want to make it so hard that you can’t live your life.
What are your favorite things to cook?
I make a lot of things from Gwyneth’s cookbook. I make the Mr. Chow-style chopped chicken lettuce wraps and then I make her Asian salad, which is great. I also make a really good chicken vegetable soup.
What is your big indulgence?
Chocolate. I’m not giving that up. The Hu Kitchen chocolate is amazing, that almond puff craziness. That and the salty chocolate. Also One Lucky Duck chocolate Macaroons and flax crackers are surprisingly really good.
Do you have any health non-negotiables?
This fall, I was having a protein shake every day. Ultra Clear, is a really good protein. It’s gluten-free and has no soy, dairy, egg, fish or artificial sweeteners. It’s rice protein. It’s really good. I’ll do a scoop of that, blueberries, almond milk, water, chia seeds, flax, whole almonds and banana. That’s a good power smoothie. It’s really good to have after the gym. It keeps you full and gives you energy.
What is your fitness regimen?
I see Shawna Cordell at Cordell Fitness 2-3 times a week. I do cardio on my own at Equinox, SoulCycle or Flywheel. I like to do an SLT class just to change it up. For me, it’s very important to not use a lot of weights and use my own body weight and my own strength. So with Shawna, we do a lot of planks, Bosu ball, medicine ball, mat exercises and a lot of cardio. I’m short so I can’t afford to get bulky. Shawna will keep my heart rate up the whole time. We’ll do a lot of jump rope in between, side steps or she’ll make me run on the treadmill. It’s very fast-paced and the hour session flies by.
Roshy’s Flower Arranging 101
1. Keep your flower heads an odd number. If you have an even number then it becomes too symmetrical. Flowers are something living and natural so they should be a little bit off.
2. People used to say that the arrangement has to be double height of the vase but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It’s about the odd number.
3. Always cut your stems at a diagonal if you want your flowers to last. Just a little snip.
4. Change the water every 2 or 3 days. I like to refresh the tips a little bit again because they should be constantly drinking water. (Tip: With hydrangeas, it’s particularly important if you cut the stems at a diagonal, because if cut it straight, it won’t drink as much water. Also, they’re the only flowers that drink water from the head and the stem. So you can mist them as well.)
5. Remove green leaves because if the greens sit in water, they cause bacteria and your flowers will die.
6. When sending flowers, I always do three flowers of different sizes together, so a mix of hydrangea, rose/peony and then something smaller, then with a little greenery is pretty.
Roshy on bodega packets…
I don’t use them. They freak me out. If you maintain flowers properly, you don’t need it.