One of the very delightful aspects of life is the encounter from time to time with bright lights in the creative community and to no small degree, those creative spirits who combine their art or craft in ways which enrich our lives.
One such individual is Patrick Tai, founder and CEO of Winward Home, preeminent designers and manufacturers of hand crafted permanent botanicals. Born in Taiwan, Patrick traveled extensively around the world before settling in the San Francisco, California area. In 1978, Patrick purchased a modest silk flower import company which became Winward Home. Rather than the existing business model of selling silk flowers as a commodity, Patrick became intrigued by the art itself and its origins. Inspired by the incredible works of Trousselier of France and Miyuki Iida of Japan, Patrick threw himself into the study of the craft with the goal of distinguishing Winward as one of the greats in the field.
At that time, the challenges faced in the industry related to the deterioration and inconsistency in product even among those selling at $200 to $300 per stem. The forming of blossoms and other elements with the fabrics in common use required sizing and starching of the fabric. Although this produced a beautiful object, changes in the display environments, humidity and temperature, resulted in degradation of the product.
In response to this dilemma, Patrick worked with industry specialists to develop materials which could be manipulated and formed, dyed, painted, curled and assembled all by hand in the traditions of the past while also being sturdy and resilient in the face of varying weather and environmental conditions. Additionally, while other makers employed primarily a single, polyester fabric for all products, Patrick introduced multiple fabrics to increase the realism of both appearance and texture of the finished products.
Each petal, each leaf, and each stem is hand-formed, hand-painted, and hand assembled resulting in the most life-like representations of botanicals available. As the materials and procedures evolved to the highest levels of refinement, Patrick imported the best examples of each variety from the flower markets of Amsterdam and other domestic and international sources to insure that the most lovely and realistic models were employed for the prototypes. Extra care was made in sourcing flowers in each stage of bloom so even the imperfections of nature were meticulously presented. As moving in their depiction as the great works of Brueghel the Elder, van Aelst, de Heem, or Haanen, each petal, each blossom, and leaf, evokes an awe of the profound beauty of nature captured in a permanent work of art, unique in each representation.
I made an appointment to meet with Patrick at his home to learn more about his work. A regal 1920’s estate, not surprisingly surrounded by lovely gardens, his family home was elegant, warm, and welcoming. After a short tour, we convened to his second story office. Situated at a corner of the home, the windows faced the embrace of the graceful limbs of a hundred-year-old Magnolia tree with the most magnificent, lush blossoms I had ever seen. Well, not exactly never. As soon as I saw them, it struck me that I had indeed seen a blossom as beautiful; it was one of Patrick’s masterpiece works and a signature piece of Winward Home. Patrick explained, that when he purchased this estate, the unusually large and beautiful Magnolia trees were a significant factor of its desirability. As soon as his ownership rights entitled him to do so, he chose several of the best examples of the blossoms, meticulously preserved them for transport to the design studio, and set about creating the most sought after permanent Magnolia blossoms in the world.
Now firmly established as a leader in the field, Patrick has surrounded himself with a team of the best and brightest in the field and infused them with his own passion as surrogate for Mother Nature.
Creative Director Matt Wood works his magic in producing botanicals and arrangements for Winward’s ever growing selection of single stem and full arrangement offerings. His designs have an uncanny sense of movement as each blossom gently turns to face the light and each leaf luxuriously inclines as though sated of thirst. His cheerful single stem arrangements mixing fresh greenery with permanent botanicals are absolutely delightful, and further the sense that the entire arrangement is freshly cut from the garden.
Designer Terry Backer brings her award-winning decades of experience to Winward in stunning custom floral arrangements for seasonal holidays, weddings, residential, commercial, hotel, and restaurant settings. Her relaxed, naturalistic approach combines with her collaborative expertise in producing breath-taking arrangements which coordinate with the elements of the most demanding interior design professionals.
Back at Winward’s offices, surrounded by the beauty of their many creations, we were concluding the interview. Patrick rose and handed me something. It was a set of antique curling and forming tools. Looking at this simple set of rustic tools with a new perspective, I imagined the hands which held them and painstakingly crafted the petals of flowers in homage to the greatest artist, Mother Nature. I remembered the story of King Solomon’s renowned wisdom being tested by the Queen of Sheba who asked him to discern between real and artificial flowers. He guessed correctly but only because he had observed that a honey bee was more interested in one than the other. Perhaps one of the earliest historical references to handmade botanicals, several thousand years later, Patrick Tai and his gifted designers and artists continue to capture moments of nature’s perfection in permanent forms or artwork.
Please visit ensemble.cc for more info and some of Winward Home’s featured floral designs on shop.ensemble.cc.