A ‘Twist’ of Fate
The stars aligned for John Regan to take the helm of his very own florist boutique in Crystal Lake.
A delightful aroma envelops you the moment you open the door, but you’re not in a bakery. Splashes of vibrant colors welcome you once you step inside, but it’s not an art gallery. Flower arrangements, bulk foliages, bell jars, vases, bowls, baskets and home accents line the store, but it’s not a florist. Not your typical florist, anyway. Twisted Stem in Crystal Lake is a relatively new storefront filling a niche for cutting-edge, yet elegant floral design in McHenry County. Owner John Regan and his staff have been busy filling orders since opening their doors in October 2010.
“I strive to offer an alternative selection of flowers paired with a more unique style of design,” Regan said. “You can stand at the counter and watch as people come in and often they just stop in their tracks as they look around. They may be seeing flowers that I ordered directly from growers in the Netherlands or new floral varieties they’ve never seen – almost certainly, they’re seeing flowers used in ways new to them.
“We also stand out by offering contemporary designs in both fresh and the highest quality silk flowers; it is often difficult to tell, even by touch, whether the flowers you are admiring in the shop are fresh or silk. In addition, we redesign the shop display floor frequently to encourage people to notice things they may not have seen on their last visit.” Regan was working as the head designer at MUM Floral in downtown Crystal Lake when the owners decided to close their doors last fall. “A number of regular customers encouraged me to open my own shop in the area,” he said. “Although I’ve been in the floristry profession for 30 years, content to be the driving force in the design room, I had never owned a shop.”
Until now. Not only did regular MUM customers support his decision, but his siblings believed in his dream and pooled resources to get his business off the ground.
“We were able to open very close to the date MUM closed, retaining some past customers,” he said. “Their ongoing support and the support of other small business owners in the area has helped us get the word out that Twisted Stem is open for business.”
In addition to those loyal local clients, new customers from McHenry, Lake and Cook counties are keeping Twisted Stem busy. “We have a growing customer base from Crystal Lake and Woodstock and stretching in one direction to Palatine and Barrington and in another to Lake in the Hills and Algonquin,” he said. “We deliver throughout the northwest suburbs and into Chicago. Many of our wedding clients are using Chicago locations for receptions.”
He loves the great location at 407 E. Terra Cotta Ave. near the Route 31 and Route 14 corridors.
“Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t stop in the shop for their first visit having been drawn in by our sign, by our name or by seeing a Twisted Stem design at an area business or a friend’s home,” Regan said.
This is significant, he said, because the location on the high-traffic Terra Cotta Avenue/Route 176 isn’t exactly conducive to window-shoppers like a downtown location. “So when people drive up to the front door, I know they’re going out of their way to come into the shop,” he said. “It’s very flattering.”
Special Occasions and Everyday Needs
Regan has made a name for himself as a wedding and corporate event floral designer, but today, although he still enjoys those projects, the majority of his business is serving the day-to-day needs of clients in the McHenry County area.
When he does take on a wedding, it gets his full attention. “I won’t book more than one wedding on any given day,” he said. “I don’t use wedding books with pre-designed options at set prices. I encourage brides to make an appointment, bring swatches and photos and we talk through the look and feel they want at their weddings. I show them flowers I think will meet their needs and follow up immediately with a written proposal within their budget. I enjoy helping couples make their wedding day one they look back on with joy.”
Holidays are also peak times for Twisted Stem. “We opened just before the Thanksgiving season and have been going full steam ahead through the string of spring holidays,” he said. At the time of this interview, Regan and his staff were busy creating custom florals for prom clients from seven area high schools and gifts for Mother’s Day weekend.
Engaging the Community
Twisted Stem’s approach to engaging the community is as creative and innovative as its custom florals.
In celebration of Women’s History Month in March, for example, Twisted Stem invited people to submit photos of family members on their wedding days featuring brides holding their bouquets.
“We received photos going all the way back to the turn of the century and posted them on Facebook as they came in,” Regan said. “I selected four bouquets to recreate in my studio and then had them photographed with the people who submitted them. We then gave them to the Lake County Clerk who distributed them free and without the Twisted Stem name to brides getting married at the courthouse at the end of March.
“They posted photos of these new couples on their Facebook page and the new brides look every bit as thrilled to be holding them as the original brides.”
Classes are another way Twisted Stem draws interest in floral design close to home. Intimate classes of six students receive hands-on lessons in floristry, Twisted Stem-style. It’s always a rewarding experience for all parties, Regan said.
“People come skeptical that they can actually make something they would be willing to have others see, but they always leave pleased with the end result,” he said.
This summer, Twisted Stem is offering “Viva Summer” its second Tuscan-inspired class.
“In this course, students will work with assorted cut herbs and scented foliages together with a mixture of richly-colored cut flowers such as English garden roses in a wooden planter,” he said. “One of my favorite color combinations that always gets noticed in the shop is the mix of hot pink and electric orange! It offers a visual level of excitement that’s hard to beat. Flowers we’ll work with will include bold gerbera, leucospermum, vivid roses and so forth – all in a brushed metal container to keep it sexy and sleek.”
This May, Twisted Stem introduced a more advanced level of classes called the Professional Series. Those students would probably have an interest in exploring a career in floral design or want to expand their personal proficiency in making designs for their own use.
In terms of innovative designs and applications, Regan has been coating objects and surfaces with beeswax. “It has such a wonderful scent and tactile quality, that one day I dipped the rims of some exquisite handmade clear glass bowls into the melted wax,” Regan explained. “The bowls had thick sides and a modern sleek profile, but the addition of the translucent beeswax rim looked dynamite for the wedding I was working on, where the bowls held mounds of Dutch hydrangea and tulips.”
Twisted Stem also experiments with heavy-gauge wires, steel pins, mohair and wool rovings, various types of natural and colored reed, spun bamboo, coarse jute, cable ties and raw silk. “I’m looking for sheets of malleable lead right now,” he said.
In terms of flowers, the freshest and most cutting-edge work being done in the field today, he said, is hailing from Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
“Certainly I have favorite designers that I keep in touch with usually on a monthly basis to see what they’re working on in their own studios,” he said. “Floral design is making huge leaps in these countries as a valid form of cutting-edge art.
“One of these friends has been working for more than six months designing and now building 70 exceedingly elaborate fresh floral gowns to be worn at a runway show and then later photographed in settings throughout Holland,” he continued. “Another designer in France focuses her work on constructing elaborately woven floral tapestries that are allowed to dry and mimic historical Persian carpet designs.”
A Blooming Business
Twisted Stem’s objective going forward, according to Regan, is to continue expanding its client base and explore new sources of cut flowers and giftware.
“Long term, I’m interested in seeing Twisted Stem continue to evolve, grow and develop into a widely respected source for exceptional fresh and silk floral design,” he said.
What’s more, he’d personally like to renew an interest in floristry as a profession and encourage more ways for people to include flowers in their daily lives.
“The power of flowers is hard to put in words,” he said. “They can extend our emotions to others when we want to express sympathy, gratitude, regret, joy and more. And having them in our homes can fill a dark corner with light.”
An Artist’s Story
John Regan has been in the Chicago-area floral industry since 1977. He was named “Designer of the Year” by both the Illinois Allied Florists’ Association in 1981 and the Illinois State Florists’ Association in 1990. He holds a master’s degree in fine arts, and his work has appeared in countless wedding and home interior magazines over the years. In his 33-year tenure, he has traveled around the United States lecturing and leading design seminars/workshops for the industry and the public at large. As both a floral designer and an artist, Regan is constantly looking to others who are pushing the traditional boundaries of commercial floral design.
“There’s such a huge world of flowers available these days thanks to improvements in air freight and public awareness, that it seems I always have thousands of design ideas in my head I’m eager to try,” he said. “There are always experiments going on in the back room studio. I enjoy keeping a sketchbook of ideas to try, so it seems I’m always working on something new.”
In addition to following international floristry trends, his influences include commercial applied design, graffiti art, interior design, and historical art movements such as the Vienna Workshop (circa 1898-1903) and the Inland Printers (circa 1920-1945).