Recently, we made a trip out west to the golden coast with the sun shining and the windows down. We asked that along the way makers reach out to us to meet and shoot what it is that they do. Each and every business was unique, but when Toby of Lilla Bello reached out and asked us to shoot her floral design studio we knew we had to go. Making our way past the superbloom of poppies in California we traveled to Lilla Bello to meet Toby, who has been following us for years. We were lucky enough to stop in and shoot her creating in her space while getting to know her better. Meet Toby Kassoy of Lilla Bello, a bespoke floral design studio in Los Angeles, and watch as she pulls together several beautiful arrangements in her lifestyle shop and studio.
Lilla Bello was conceptualized in 2004 out of a need in Los Angeles for concierge level service and premium quality for florals and gifts. Toby worked as an assistant for the head of a television network for 8 years in the luxury driven city of Los Angeles. “I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t a floral company offering these services,” she says, “I knew I wasn’t cut out to be in the entertainment industry even though this would have been an easy and obvious path in L.A., but it’s not where my heart was.’ Toby explained that she was always an artist; always painting and making things with her hands, and floral design was just another medium of creating. ‘I paint in flowers,’ she says. The combined notion of luxury service mixed with providing gorgeous floral designs is what made Lilla Bello blossom.
Toby says that she always loved flowers and she was not sure if she ever consciously imagined herself becoming a floral designer or owning a floral design business. She had an understanding of color and composition from her years painting and studying art. ‘I’m also a total nature geek so the combination of these things often led me to open fields of wildflowers where I was astounded by natural beauty,’ she laughs. I asked Toby what first drew her to floral design, and she said, ‘In college, I got a part time job at a local flower shop and learning about every flower I could get my hands on grew on me.’ As a visual learner, Toby realized how much she absorbed simply by watching. Then, left to her own devices, she began deconstructing arrangements and rearranging them, figuring out how flowers move and how to best showcase them in an arrangement.
‘The thought of getting sucked into the entertainment industry sent me into a straight up panic,’ Toby says. ‘I was either going to get out and find something to do that I loved, or I was going to pack my bags and move to the Colorado mountains. No joke, I had my sights on Crested Butte and I was going!’ At that same time, her father became ill and there was no way she was going to leave. ‘I remember having a tearful conversation with him, and he pledged his total support to get behind anything I wanted to do,’ she says, ‘The memory of him today keeps pushing me through even the hardest moments of owning a business.’
Recently, Toby has expanded Lilla Bello to also include gifts and lifestyle goods as well. She wanted to have items that she loved available so that clients and shoppers stopping through could also buy and love. ‘I started going to art fairs and flea markets, mostly local–handmade pieces–always got my attention being an artist myself,’ she says, ‘then I needed to figure out a way to streamline this with floral design, so from here, our lifestyle shop was born.’ She explains that it is like having flowers in your home, it’s a little bit of luxury that nurtures and nourishes the soul. She carries products that evoke a sense of adventure, calm, and a closeness with nature. ‘Scented candles reminiscent of the Redwood forest, or some handmade napkins to adorn a tabletop where all your loved ones will be seated. These are certainly not necessities in life, but they’re not frivolous either–they do mean something.’
Toby lets the pieces she carries in her shop find her. Shopping in stores like her own she discovers new artists all the time. ‘If i’m lucky enough to meet them, there is always a story there,’ she says. ‘Like my local candle makers from Ventura who are harnessing the scents of National Parks across the country. That is so cool to me!’ Also in her shop she carries macrame plant holders hand-crafted by a young girl in San Diego who has an Etsy shop. Another artist she supports is a mother of three in Santa Barbara who makes dream circles using natural woods and crystals.
She says that she loves painting, reading, hiking, writing, cooking, entertaining, and the list goes on. ‘I love making things pretty. As a kid I used to LOVE wrapping presents. Now I get to make tabletops pretty, from the flowers, to the napkins, to the china, to the food, to the handwritten name card, and beyond. I get to create experiences for people that are joyous and special.’ While working on events she admits she can’t do everything herself. ‘I hire people who have a strong work ethic, teach them what I know, and then let go and trust them to do things better than I can do!’
‘Making a living while doing something you love are oftentimes opposing forces. It’s very difficult to stay the course sometimes. I don’t have a business degree, and I’ve made lots of mistakes,’ she explains when asked what she has learned through her time owning Lilla Bello. ‘I’ve now had nearly 13 years of business ups and downs. I’m pretty sure I’ve earned a few PhDs by now.’ She welcomes new challenges, though, and says that she knows she will continue learning as long as she does not turn away from them. ‘Integrity is everything. Integrity in business and integrity in your product. It’s easy to get caught up in the temptation of fast growth but success will be fleeting if your standards are lowered. Slow and steady wins the race.’
I asked her what she loves most about the floral design aspect of her business. ‘Flowers, quite simply, bring joy. There’s nothing better than delivering a single flower arrangement to someone or creating their dream wedding,’ she smiles. ‘Flowers seem to sprinkle magic fairy dust on everyone!’