Design:

How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements

I’ve spoken at length about how much seasonality permeates my approach across design, food, and entertaining, but it’s my love affair with branches that have struck a chord with you most. From cherry blossom stems in the spring to berry-laden branches in the fall, there is nothing I love more than bringing the natural world into my home. It’s safe to say I’ve arranged many a twig, sprig, and stalk in my time and after much experimentation (not to mention a few mistakes along the way), I think it’s safe to say I’ve nailed the process of how to style branches. 

So, now that you’ve joined me on a trip to the NYC Flower Market to discover how I choose my branches, I thought I’d share my process for how I style, clip, and create these dramatic sculptural arrangements. Of course, my tips are for you to interpret into your own visual language so use them to experiment and unfurl a creative approach that speaks to your style and most importantly, your space. But above all, styling branches is a lot of fun, so give yourself permission to explore, get messy, and enjoy the process.

How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements
How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements

Branch Out

When I go to the flower market, I always look for branches that have a lot of movement. I want to avoid certain structures that are very upright or too perfect. This also applies to the leaf structure. Typically, I am searching for branch formations with a lot of curvatures to them or have elements that branch off—a singular branch that turns into multiple branches—those are the attractive ones. They’re slightly unruly and not so perpendicular or upright. You don’t want everything going in the same direction. When it is upward or v-shaped it’s too astute.

Look for Movement

When purchasing branch bundles from the market, usually there’s only one or two that have pretty movement, meaning they have a unique, sculptural, artistic quality to their shape that moves you emotionally. When you find a branch with beautiful movement or something that branches out into two branches, these are your golden branches. Set those aside, choose where you want to place them, and make sure the beauty of that movement is visible. Maybe you even clip some of the leaves to accentuate that curvature. Place some of your upright branches first before adding the special branches back in, making sure they aren’t muddled by the density of the other branches or their own leaf structure.

Avoid Symmetry

I have always been an advocate for things that feel a little messier and asymmetrical. I purposefully look for branches that are pointed off to the left, stems that curve outward. Maybe the majority of them are upright but there’s one that feels unruly and off to the side—I like that unexpected diversion from the pack. Of course, you want to make sure most of them are submerged in water but sometimes I position one to the side instead of straight down so it goes outward to create the asymmetry I’m looking for if it’s not there.

How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements

Don’t Overstuff Your Vase

One mistake I commonly see with branch styling is overfilling the vase. I often see people stuff too many branches all at once into a vessel so it appears dense and compact. I’ve also made this mistake. When Colin King and I styled branches for an Architectural Digest shoot in Brooklyn, we overstuffed the vases with too many stems. In the case of branches, less is always more.

Take It Stem by Stem

In order to achieve that dramatic, sculptural quality you need to artfully place your branches one by one, then take a step back to see how you can rearrange them or finesse the shape. Sometimes I even take photos from various angles so I can assess the arrangement holistically—it always looks different through a lens.

Exercise Restraint

In order to highlight an interesting shape or sculpture, employ a little restraint as you fill the vase. You’ll miss the movement if it’s too packed. It’s always so tempting to use all of the branches you collected in one arrangement as every stem has its own uniqueness, but there is so much beauty in the quiet moments, in the negative space. 

How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements
How I Turn My Branches Into Dramatic Sculptural Arrangements

Clip Them in Stages

It can be intimidating to clip your branches but sometimes this is necessary to create that sculptural, minimal shape you desire. When you bunch too many branches, you definitely lose any curvature or sculpture, so sometimes I will edit and take leaves away until I achieve the shape I’m after. I recommend clipping them slowly though and at different heights to create visual interest. Once you’ve crafted the main arrangement, fill them in with shorter branches. You want the leaf structure to sit lower at the top of the vessel instead of being super tall or the same height. 

Add Fresh Water Daily

These larger vessels are too heavy to dump out and replace the water, so you’ll need to add a little water each day because branches soak up a lot.

Use a Vase Insert

In this video, you can see that I’ve used a galvanized flower insert (I listed a few options along with a plastic version below). This helps to protect your vintage vessels from water (in fact, some vessels don’t like water at all!) while also controlling the shape of your decorative arrangement. I like metal because it lasts longer and it’s also easier to remove and refill with water as needed rather than the actual vase itself, which in my case, would be too heavy. 

Hammer the Ends

I always use a hammer to flatten out the ends of the branches a little. This allows more water to be absorbed into the branches, especially when they have thick ends. 

Let Them Dry Out

Truthfully, decorative branches only last three to five days at max so invest in them when you have a special occasion, an event, or “just because,” then take photos to share their beauty. But most branches look just as beautiful when they’re dried out, too. In fact, I love their crunchy, twisted leaves and withered, gnarly aesthetic against the more refined backdrop of my home. I say embrace the stages! 

You could also achieve a similar effect with a potted plant—look for varieties that have a sculptural quality to add visual diversity to a singular corner. 

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