Flowers don’t typically spring to mind at the first thought of the White House — unless you’re Laura Dowling.
The D.C.-area resident lived and breathed bright, fragrant blooms inside the walls of the presidential estate while serving as the chief floral designer from 2009 to 2015.
Dowling will share her White House experience, and floristry knowledge, at the Pittsburgh Fall Home Show taking place Oct. 6-8 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Pittsburgh and meeting everyone,” she says. “I’ve heard so much about this show and how inspiring it is.”
Dowling plans to demonstrate bouquet and decoration ideas, including holiday wreaths, at the event.
“Since we’re heading into the fall season, expect rich burgundies, ochre yellow, berries and vines,” she adds. “I might incorporate some fruits and vegetables of the season, something I always feel are wonderful to add to the mix.”
Entering its third year, the Fall Home Show will also feature Pool City’s Ultimate Game Room, which showcases the newest 2024 home entertainment items, including indoor amenities to help pass the long winter months.
Fan favorites such as the Farm to Table Expo and “Ask an Interior Designer,” will also be at the show, according to organizers.
“Local growers and food producers will sample and sell the bounty of their harvests, providing a great sustainable way to eat fresh and healthy while supporting local farms and food purveyors who will be on-hand to share their knowledge, as well as samples,” a Fall Home Show press release reads.
Professionals from Savoy Interiors and LaRoche University interior design students will also answer questions and make suggestions on any decorating dilemma or opportunity.
The show will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, and Saturday, Oct. 7, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8. Purchase tickets and find more information here.
All About Laura Dowling
Dowling grew up on a farm in Chehalis, Washington. She pursued an education in political science and public administration, and worked on Capitol Hill in a different capacity for more than 20 years before finding her passion in floristry.
In 2000, while working for the U.S. Nature Conservancy, she traveled to Paris with her husband, Robert Weinhagen, and instantly became enamored with French floral design.
“I remember being so inspired by the French bouquets; their beauty, colors, textures, shape. It was then that it hit me that that’s what I wanted to learn to be doing and that’s what I should be doing,” she recalls.
While she initially kept her day job with the Nature Conservancy, Dowling would travel to Paris and Germany for vacation and take weeklong floristry courses to study different techniques, approaches, movement and structure.
She eventually opened a part-time floral studio in her kitchen. And, in 2009, her growing interest in blooms would soon blossom into a full-time career.
“My husband saw that the White House’s longtime florist was retiring in 2009 and he suggested that I apply for the job,” she says. “As a part-time florist with another job, I didn’t see the direct line of how it would be possible to even be considered, so I ignored him for a while.”
Dowling eventually submitted her resume and wrote how flowers can be used as a communications tool, as well as appealed to First Lady Michelle Obama’s interests in gardening and desire to make the White House more open and welcoming to all.
She was eventually one of three finalists who were brought to the White House to compete in a reality television-like contest to design a State Dinner, Oval Office setting and a Blue Room in four hours.
Dowling edged out the competition with her elegant and thoughtful designs, and soon began her journey into creating a concept known as “floral diplomacy,” the art of honoring visiting dignitaries through floral symbolism that articulates compelling artistic and strategic themes.
“When you think of a chief floral designer, you think it’s a dainty position like Jane Austen, carrying a watering can around. The reality is, there was a huge management responsibility attached to the position,” she says. “I had a small florist team, a much larger team of volunteers, budget and security clearances.”
Some of Dowling’s favorite White House designs include animatronic versions of the Obama family’s Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny.
“For me, that was an opportunity to carry on Mrs. Obama’s ideas, technology and design, inspire children and encourage them to do their own designs,” she says.
Reflecting on her years in the White House, Dowling says she is honored to have created a warmth and ambiance for fellow staffers and visitors.
She adds she always enjoyed hearing the staffers who received her bouquets would name them.
“They would see a theme and some were very creative. One policy advisor said a blue-and-white bouquet looked like her grandmother’s china. Another arrangement was dubbed, ‘A Midnight Kiss in the Woods,’ and another ‘Tequila Sunrise.’ What a wonderful way to provide a moment of inspiration and respite in what can be a very stressful place.”