How a "Chopped" Floral Design Can Help You Win Too

She was on stage in front of a large audience earlier this month at the AIFD National Symposium in Washington DC. With the clock running. In one of the most important floral competitions of her life. She’d never heard of or seen the key mechanic before. Yet she “chopped” it and a wooden crate into pieces and used them in completely unintended ways. The result? Katharina Stuart AIFD created an innovative design to win the FTD America’s Cup and the right to represent the US at the FTD World Cup in 2019. All because she has a favorite TV show. Understanding her approach to materials and her guidelines for preparing for and performing in competition can benefit you when you need to create floral designs on short notice or don’t have the perfect materials on hand. Which might be almost any day!

About that show

Photo: Jorge Uribe Photography 

So how did watching a television show influence the El Cerrito, California, designer's winning America’s Cup design? “I love the cooking show Chopped and I remembered that they always stress transforming the basket ingredients,” says Katherina. “So that's what I tried to achieve.” The ingredients for the four America’s Cup finalists included an OASIS Floral Foam Tile and a required wooden crate. Katharina knew she needed to create structural height for the design she wanted to construct. She cut the tile into individual rectangles and dismantled her crate into thin wooden slats. When asked after the event if she used that tile technique often, Katherina laughed, “I had never used that product before. What is it called?”

Katharina’s spontaneous plan worked!

Photo: Jorge Uribe Photography

Katharina quickly stacked the cut rectangular tiles into a vertical design and strengthened the design with the wooden slats to create the winning design of the America’s Cup finals! The most interesting detail of Katharina’s design was the unusual floral foam mechanic it was fashioned from. The audience watched with interest and whispers of “What is she doing?” as she cut apart the sheet of floral foam tiles and began stacking them. Katharina’s gamble paid off. The vertical tower of tiles held securely and the judges chose it as the winning design.

Thinking outside the crate

Photo: Jorge Uribe Photography

While the other three finalists designed beautiful arrangements using their required wooden crate as a container, Katharine took a different approach. “I took my crates apart and drilled holes in each piece, pulled the bind wire through and secured the wire into the oasis (on the other side) to cover the sides,” She then added textural materials like scabiosa pods, reindeer moss and bells of Ireland on the sides for visual interest.

Working with what you have

Photo: David Kesler AIFD

As retailers working with fresh flower supplies, we know the challenge of asking for what we want, but using what we get! Katharina and the other contestants had to work with what they were given just as florists often do in the flower shop or on-site while setting up events. “Usually, I would have staked the tiles with really strong wire or wooden stakes, but I didn't have any of those handy and the weight of the tiles were heavy enough to support themselves,” says Katharina.

Photo: Jorge Uribe Photography

If creating this design in your shop, you can experiment with applying heavy wire or wooden stakes or try adding a grid of waterproof floral tape or a tight layer of florist netting around the stack of tiles for extra support. This vertical form could more easily be fashioned from blocks of floral foam stacked atop each other.

Why create a different form?

Photo: Jorge Uribe Photography

For Katharina, using the materials provided to her in an innovative, if more difficult, way helped her to win the competition. Why was Katharina intent on creating a different form of design? “We can all buy pretty flowers and put them in a vase but only a skilled floral designer can create a one of a kind floral art piece,” she explains.

2018 FTD America’s Cup

The 2018 FTD America’s Cup competition was held in July at the AIFD National Symposium in Washington DC. The event began with ten competitors who were chosen in November from a group of portfolio submittals. Four contestants were selected from the first round of designs as finalists. The four competed in the two-hour final event that culminated with Katharina being awarded the first-place trophy. She will represent the United States at the FTD World Cup 2019 Design Competition in Philadelphia, PA in March 2019.

Keys to preparing

How will Katharina prepare for this new challenge? How she always does. “There will be a lot of studying the principles and elements of design, practicing and honing my design skills and a few sleepless nights procrastinating over some little detail,” she shares. “I will also take a few classes to get inspired.” Allowing the product to inspire you and learning to work quickly with what you have are key to a competitor’s survival!

What else can we learn from her experience?

In competition, it pays to take chances. The same applies to everyday floral business. Offering innovative designs can help establish your business as a trend-setter. Katharina finds the biggest challenge in a competition is coming up with a design she can be proud of that is unique, mechanically sound sets her apart from competitors and catches the judge’s attention. That takes practice, keeping an eye out for new concepts and competing in events to improve your design skills. “What I love about competitions is that you have to make quick decisions, there is no time to procrastinate and I do plenty of that if I get half a chance,” offers Katharina. “Stay true to yourself and try not let other competitors or the audience influence your design choices and stay in your zone," says Katharina. “I think that it is very important to really know the rules and judging criteria in order to be a successful competitor.”

Use only what is essential

Katharina also suggests that while an abundance of fresh and beautiful flowers is usually provided, competitors should be careful to curate the product using only what is essential to their design. “For the colors of this design, I chose shades of greens with burgundy and plum accents,” says Katharina. The flowers were placed on either end, spilling out to create a natural design with an overlay of vines. When she finished her design, Katharina found that she loved her flower and color choices and the natural and organic way the blooms where arranged. Apparently, the judges agreed. Can she sell a design like this in her area? “Yes, absolutely,” says Katharina. “Maybe more for an artsy kind of person or a museum setting,” she adds.

What inspired Katharina to become a florist?

“I grew up in Switzerland, surrounded by flower/garden lovers. Both my mother and grandmother were avid gardeners and it only felt natural to me to serve my apprenticeship in a flower shop,” says Katharina. “I love how versatile design is, all the steps it takes until the design is delivered - meeting with the client, planning, buying the flowers, designing and finally installing or delivering the piece. It's definitely a job for those of us who can never sit still and need to keep their hands busy all the time.” “I own a floral studio but I also work part-time in a flower shop flower shop doing mostly event work and some retail,” shares Katharina. “I still madly love what I do.” Of the competition, she says, “this can't be real. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would go to the World Cup. I am so proud to be representing the USA.” Does Katharina’s vertical ‘Chopped’ design inspire you to transform your materials into something entirely different for your designs?


I am intrigued by the use of Oasis tiles as a base for the winning design by Katherina in the competition. It made the process so much cleaner, easier to control, and would better retain water source from top to bottom.
Alice Waterous December 18, 2019
You are correct, Rob Wallace. This is a competition design and did not have to last long-term.
Sharon McGukin December 18, 2019
The main problem with this , is that water can not jump between each brick.
Rob wallace December 18, 2019

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