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Opposites attract

Chip Ellis
Winter Floral and Antiques co-owner Stephen Duffield completes an arrangement in the behind-the-scenes workspace at the shop on Charleston's West Side.
Kenny Kemp Foxtail lilies and curly willow branches add height to an arrangement in the Clay Center's grand hall. Decorations must be tall to work with the room's large scale.
Kenny Kemp Bob Herrick, co-owner of Winter Floral and Antiques, turns on the votive lights that brighten a Spanish-moss draped centerpiece.
Courtesy photo Bells of Ireland, hydrangea and purple dahlia provide highlight in an arrangement for a autumn wedding held on the New River Gorge.
Courtesy photo An antique table topped with crystal-draped candelabra and an arrangement of fresh purple and white flowers enhances a view of the Capitol for guests at a wedding at the University of Charleston.
Kenny Kemp Ron Taylor (left) and Mike Hanna assemble table decorations for a New Orleans-themed event at the Clay Center.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Stephen Duffield neglects neither side of his brain.

By day, he crunches numbers as a commercial real estate supervisor for the Kanawha County Assessor's Office.

After hours, he envisions and directs elaborate decorative installations for clients of Winter Floral and Antiques.

The events vary from small church weddings and receptions to over-the-top events in imposing venues such as the Clay Center's grand hall, state park lodges and the University of Charleston's lawn overlooking the Kanawha River and the Capitol.

When Duffield, 48, and his crew at Winter Floral and Antiques recently accepted the charge to convert the Clay Center's contemporary interior to a southern party scene themed "VooDoo on the Bayou" for the Carnaval fundraiser, he knew he'd have to order a few things.

Not that many, though. He and Winter's co-owner, Bob Herrick, have three warehouses stuffed with decorating supplies, props and antiques, Winter's other business segment. Duffield and Herrick owned the antiques business before they purchased Winter Floral in 2002.

Beyond the expected vases, pedestals, candelabras and arches, Winter's clients can rent chandeliers, arbors, votives, mirrors, wire baskets, glass orbs, fairy lighted metal trees, lanterns, gazebos and garden gates.

Winter designed flowers and staging for more than 100 weddings and other large events last year.

For the Carnaval event, Duffield did need more lanterns to create an eerie, intimate atmosphere, and he also ordered gnarled metal candleholder trees. Draped in Spanish moss, the trees alternated with colorful floral arrangements in oversized, long-stemmed martini glasses as centerpieces for the tables.

The design ideas came to him after he was first approached about the project two months before the January event. It's one of many designs and themes he'll develop this year for events, mostly weddings. Most brides want more than bridal bouquets and a few arrangements for the wedding.

Armed with ideas from websites such as TheKnot.com and Pinterest, the brides often have a plan before they meet with Duffield, usually in the evening after he puts in a full day at the Kanawha County Assessor's office.

"Weddings have evolved to more than just flowers. They're theme-oriented," he said. "Brides are very specific about their tastes. We still do lots of traditional weddings, but more are themed. Vintage and Hollywood are very popular."

After Duffield and his client nail down the theme, he works with longtime designers Carole Sheppard and his uncle Ron Taylor on the specific of the designs, flowers orders and necessary supplies.

The process was the same for Carnaval.

"They came up with a theme and it grew from there. We kept in mind that voodoo is perceived as a dark theme and embellished on it. We played on the gardens that are part of the voodoo tradition," Duffield said.

They pulled a life-sized iron gazebo out of storage to use for a photo area, church pews for seating in the gallery and garden statues of the Roman goddess Diana from the warehouses.

The vast scale of venues such as the grand lobby presents a challenge. To create any impact, the flowers and props must be oversized and colorful.

Taylor, who's designed floral arrangements for 36 years, created the floral arrangements in the shop, so they could be transported to the Clay Center the morning of the event. "This is good weather. They won't get too warm in transport," Taylor said of the cold January day.

Duffield began delivering props two nights before, but the bulk of the stuff arrived with the seven-member crew the morning of the event. During the day, they made 12 to 15 trips to the warehouses, including a last-minute dash to fulfill an unexpected task.

Duffield found out late the night before that the job included 15 table arrangements in the café area on the first floor. He hadn't realized that area would be open, as well as the Founder's Lounge, balcony main floor and art museum, and that they all required Carnaval-style adornment.

Fortunately, he'd done a Mardi Gras-themed event in the past and had orange, purple and green ostrich-sized feathers, ribbons and mesh rolls, brightly painted jester's masks and 4-foot tall stemmed vases in a warehouse.

"I've never met anyone as even-tempered and on the ball as Stephen," said Sheppard. "He always says, 'I don't want to hear what the problem is, I want to know the solution.' No matter how good or bad it is, he's even."

After a dash to the warehouse, the last of the day, he returned with boxes and boxes. The crew carried them to a table in the basement where Taylor set up an impromptu assembly line. He wrapped blocks of wet oasis in floral foil, crammed the blocks into vases and passed them down the line where Mike Hanna inserted a masked face on a pole and artfully arranged the feathers to frame the masks.

Voila. The room was transformed from black-draped tables to a sea of festive finery.

The crew hauled the empty boxes upstairs to a storage area behind the Grand Lobby and stepped back to survey their work. It was 5:30 p.m. The day started at 8:30 a.m. and wasn't over yet. They returned at 11:30 p.m. as the guests departed and worked until 1 a.m. to break down the room and box up the props.

After the event, the newly purchased lanterns and oversized martini glass vases and tabletop candle-holding trees were packed up and stored in one of the warehouses, the contents of which are organized by season and theme. They've already been used in more recent events.

The not-very-rested crew headed to their day jobs on the following Monday. Part timers Joe Weant is a carpenter, Jared Thornton a delivery driver, Brenda Myers works at Dow, Adam Young at BB&T and Mike Hanna is a teacher.

"Why do I do it? I just like to be around all this pretty stuff. The smells and the sights," Myers said.

The morning after Carnaval, Taylor was back at Winter, where he started on funeral arrangements as he usually does on Sundays. Several other large events loomed before the chaos that is Valentine's Day.

"My most difficult time of the year is obviously February," said Duffield, of the time of year when property owners who question their assessments meet with him and a board for review.

Despite the long hours, Duffield remains wholly committed to both careers.

"Even in high school, I was very involved in decorating for major events, such as prom," said Duffield, who graduated from Dunbar High School. "I pursued a different career. As time went on, because my uncle was always immersed in the floral business, my interest grew. When Winter Floral became available, we decided to make a go of it.

"I have a mathematical job during the day. The jobs draw on different parts of my brain -- the analytical and the creative. I enjoy them both."

Winter Floral & Antiques, 120 Washington St. W. Call 304-342-1186.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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