Within the hustle and bustle of The Ned, I finally find Lil Caldwell and Mary Wood tucked away in the relatively quiet Library Bar.
The co-founders of floral design studio Grandirosa are seated on comfy sofas, and Wood, who is currently on maternity leave, has her three-month-old sleeping baby in her arms.
Judging by the way they finish each other’s sentences, I can immediately tell that this couple have been friends for a long time. And there’s a good reason we’re at The Ned too, as the florists have set up a gigantic 18ft Christmas tree in the main lobby, after working all night to get it ready for guests to their awakening.
It was also at The Ned that the couple got their first big break in 2017, after quitting their job at City just months before focusing on Grandirosa full-time.
Prior to joining the new business, Wood had worked in marketing for Cancer Research UK, while Caldwell had been a lawyer at Freshfields for 10 years. âIt’s an amazing company and I’ve worked on some high profile cases, and with the best people in the business,â she tells me. âIt was great to be a part of that, and their standards are so high. But I just felt like I wasn’t doing something that I really liked.
So how did they make the leap from these solid and rather conventional careers to building a business centered on the frivolity of flowers?
Caldwell tells me that something happened on his wedding day.
âThe only time I was a bit moved was when I saw the flowers,â she says, admitting that she had always been quite artistic, but ended up following a more traditional career path. . âI finally decided to take a floristry course and my employers were kind enough to let me take a month off. I don’t think they expected me to come back and eventually want to do it full time, âshe laughs.
With the seeds now sown, Caldwell spent the next 18 months working in a flower shop every Saturday, while doing his day job during the week. âI mean, you can tell you love floristry, but there is the reality. And I’ll be completely blunt: people think you only arrange flowers all day, but that’s a tough transplant.
Her first big job was arranging the flowers for a friend’s wedding, but working a 60-hour week and traveling abroad for conferences made it all quite hectic. In the end, Caldwell enlisted Wood’s help.
“I was like ‘sure you can put some flowers in my house’, but I didn’t know my whole living room would be completely covered in them,” Wood said with a laugh.
“It really started from there, and then we just decided to do a few more private weddings together.”
The couple eventually moved from Wood’s living room to the Caldwell hangar, and they now operate from a studio in Hackney.
In just three years, Grandirosa has worked with clients in the hospitality, luxury and fashion industries, including Annabel’s Club in Mayfair, Burberry and Net a Porter.
The entrepreneurs also won the Gold Award and the People’s Champion Award at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show for their sustainable installation, on behalf of John Lewis and Edinburgh Gin.
Have they ever had any regrets? Wood admits they had their doubts at first, which is part of the reason they worked out of the hanger for so long before committing to a studio.
âWe were quitting our jobs, so there was a big risk. We didn’t think we could take the overhead costs of a studio right away, because we just didn’t have confidence in ourselves. But in the end, it didn’t seem like a big decision because we thought it would work – we had a big conversation where we decided to go.
Wood says a family friend questioned his decision to quit his stable job, especially during such an uncertain time.
Caldwell adds, âWe’re the most risk averse people in the whole world, so we wanted to test the water early on. There’s the security of having your career, but there’s also the desire to build something you love. Law is an amazing career and I enjoyed it, but for me personally, something was missing.
The risk certainly seems to have paid off, with Caldwell’s husband Stuart leaving his job as an engineer to work full-time with Grandirosa. And the couple admit that Stuart was especially helpful when it came to installing the huge facades.
âEven when something is structurally out of our comfort zone, it makes us feel like it can be done,â says Wood.
And Caldwell says it made guests feel safe knowing that everything, even the structural aspects, had been taken care of.
âObviously floristry is about making things pretty, but the type of florist we do – large installations and events – it’s less about beautiful bouquets and more about the wow factor. Although there is a lot of smoke and mirrors, it must be airtight and very safe.
The florist isn’t necessarily known for being an industry disruptor, but the pair arguably won these big deals because they were bold in their designs, offering something a little different.
And for anyone considering quitting their daily job to pursue their side business, you can get inspiration from these two. They certainly know how to light up a room – with or without 4000 fairy lights.