Milieu is a French word (pronounced mil-yOO) which means ‘atmosphere, surroundings or environment.’ It’s the name Hannah Koo took on for her flower business because she truly believes that flowers have the ability to shape and transform the atmosphere. Beautiful floral designs can evoke strong emotions and set the tone.
Speaking of “milieu,” (yes, please do say it with a French accent and a beret) Hannah grew up in a creative milieu. She paints and her educational background in college is in studio arts (UCI) and jewelry design (OTIS). Her mom did flower arrangements on the side and her dad was a landscape artist. “Maybe that’s why I was so drawn to being creative with natural things,” she said.
She started working in the floral business 15 years ago when she worked at a flower shop.
"When I first started working at a flower shop right after college, it was intended to be just a part time job to save up enough for travel & prepare for Grad School for the Arts. However, within the first week of working there I fell in love with the whole business aspect of it. The idea of owning your own shop, so I ended up staying there for 5 years, soaking up everything it took to run a business. For the first 2 years, I didn't do any design work but was assigned to just cleaning buckets, processing flowers & menial shop duties. I really worked my way from the ground up."
She is now in her 10th year as the owner and designer of Milieu Florals. Her floral designs have always had a very natural and organic feel to it, even before the “natural and organic” designs were popular. And maybe her background in painting contributes to her approach to her floral work.
"I work with the color palette rather than the variety of flowers, so I will sometimes use different textures that aren't necessarily flowers, like fruits, branches, and acorn to stay true to the color scheme & feel for the event."
What’s something you would do different in your journey as a florist?
I would probably pick a name that people can pronounce [laughs]. I would be more ok saying, “no” to work and be more selective with the amount of work I took on. It led to feeling burned out at times because I sometimes took on 60+ orders per year. Now, I feel like I’m finally at a place where I do have the freedom to be more selective in my work and give myself more time for myself and my family.
What do you LOVE about your work?
I love being able to make people happy and how flowers can change the ambiance of a space. I love the flexibility of my work. I like working Wednesday - Saturday, even though I sometimes work 15+ hour days. Before, I would try to take all the work that came in, but now I’m finally at a place where I have the option to say yes or no.
What aspects of floral design is least expected by a typical person who may not be familiar with what you do?
People think, “Oh, it must be so pretty and fun working with flowers.” But I don’t think people realize how much grunt work there is and how physically demanding it can be. It’s definitely not as glamorous as it looks and can involve some back-breaking, arthritis causing work.
Once you bring back the flowers from the flower market, you start processing it - chopping all the stems and preparing all the buckets of waters. That takes about 3-4 hours. A typical Wednesday morning starts at 4 or 4:30 AM and I get to the flower mart by 5. The early fish gets the goods! I’m at warehouse for about 3 hours, scanning the whole warehouse for the best quality, best color, and best price. I drive back home and start processing them. By 1 or 2 PM, the flowers are then ready to be designed. I spend the rest of the day and all day Thursday and Friday designing and arranging the flowers mostly for weddings and sometimes Dohls (First Birthdays).
Hannah's arrangements look natural. It looks like they were picked that way from the wild and just transplanted into a holding vessel. But this organic look doesn't happen haphazardly. It requires intentionally placing each stem by someone as meticulous and detailed as Hannah. It's like how master musicians, dancers, and craftsmen make things look so effortless. In this case, there were countless hours of back-breaking labor to create these works of beauty.