Designer Spotlight: Cornelia McNamara

We’re excited to share this profile of Cornelia McNamara of Chicago based Cornelia McNamara Flowers and Parties, and feature a beautiful outdoor wedding and an outdoor music festival’s benefit reception she designed, both with great, steal-worthy ideas.

Cornelia McNamara

Jamali Garden: Tell us about your background. How did you get your start in floral and event design?
Cornelia McNamara: My mom managed a legendary shop here in Chicago called Green, Inc. It was the 80’s, and  they were the first to sell ethnographic art, oversize tropicals and exquisite flowers all together. It was like growing up inside of a Rousseau painting, so flowers have always been in my blood. After getting my degree in fine art at the Art Institute of Chicago, I moved to New York and fell madly in love with this art form, and also with the community of flower people in New York. In such a huge city, it is always magical to me that old friends see each other every morning at “the market”; it’s just so old world and magical. Jamali Garden is a big part of that for everyone. For my first job, I worked at Stone Kelly up on Columbus, cleaning roses on the street with the drivers and was in heaven. Then I went to work for Avi Adler and David Stark. Traveling internationally working on events for those visionaries opened up a whole new world for me. In 2007, I moved home to Chicago and opened my event studio. I’ll be in business 10 years this year!


The pretty white & green bouquet. (Photo: Amanda Megan Miller)

JG: Tell us about this bride’s bouquet?
CM: This bride is a dancer, so we wanted a lot of movement in the bouquet; she actually did a dance to show me the gestural shape and spirit she wanted to see in the design. Echinacea, ranunculus, bunny tail grasses, and delphinium wreathed in olive and flowering jasmine vines are all included for a diaphanous effect.


The wedding ceremony. (Photo: Amanda Megan Miller)

JG: Where was the wedding ceremony? 
CM: This wedding took place on the groom’s family property. I designed the ceremony to take place beneath two ancient willows whose branches are intertwined, symbolizing the union of the bride and groom. There is a gorgeous pond behind them surrounded by cattails and rushes, so we produced low banks of feathery greenery on either side of the aisle, as if they naturally grew there. By using foraged cattails and Queen Anne’s lace we tied the installation in with the natural environment, but then added delphinium for a bit of glamour and mint and lime basil from my flower farm for fragrance as the wind moved through it.


A close up of the reception tables. (Photo: Amanda Megan Miller)

JG: What were the colors and theme for the wedding reception?
CM: The wedding was mostly inspired by the surrounding landscape, so I would say an almost Zen vibe, featuring organic loveliness, presented with airy, gestural lines and summery palette of whites and silvery greens with touches of brown. All of these simple elements were so sumptuous in the late summer light as guests entered the tent, everything about the wedding looked effortless and magical.


The tented wedding reception’s long tables. (Photo: Amanda Megan Miller)

JG: What flowers are used for the centerpieces and what other elements?
CM: Jamali Garden’s silver mercury glass candlesticks and Ajmer lanterns were two of the main elements of the design, adding lots of flattering firelight. The tables all had brand runners, decorated with fruited olive and seeded eucalyptus foliage as well as specimen arrangements of singular blooms such as white ranunculus.


Another detail of the tablescape. (Photo: Amanda Megan Miller)

JG: What flowers are in this arrangement?
CM: In the bud vase are chocolate Queen Anne’s lace, delphinium, and explosion grass from our farm, the airy grasses, with a gestural bough of seeded eucalyptus on the table.


Cornelia adding her final touches to a table.

JG: What was this event and where was it?
CM: This was a gala fundraiser for the Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor musical festival in the United States, which is just outside of Chicago where we are based. Ravinia is this stunning outdoor park where people have been bringing lavish picnics to see musical acts ranging from opera to Bob Dylan, since 1905. The theme for the gala was the the festival experience, so we designed the tent to replicate the feeling of picnicking on Ravinia’s lawn itself, with soaring, tree-like centerpieces and a cobalt blue “starry night sky” overhead.


Fresh fruit and flowering vines for a masters’ painting-inspired tablescape.

JG: What elements did you use for this tablescape?
CM: We used Jamali Garden’s crystal cake plates to create a Flemish inspired still-life overflowing with summer fruit, emerald green clump-moss, and flowering clematis vines, as if someone were picnicking on the lawn and this were part of their repast.


A second tablescape mimics sitting below the park’s giant old trees.

JG: We noticed a second centerpiece style? Why? 
CM: In order to replicate the beauty and feeling of picnicking underneath the old-growth trees on Ravinia’s famous lawn, we created super tall, 5ft arrangements of lush, emerald green foliage, unruly branches, and flowering vines, adding a canopied, grove-like feel of the space. At the base of these displays, we used Jamali Garden’s gorgeous Ajmer lanterns in a verdant tablescape with miniature potted flowering plants, and Jamali Garden’s crystal tea light holders and gold mercury glass votive holders.


The ‘starry night sky’ with bursts of color from pink paper lanterns.

JG: What do you like most about Jamali Garden?
CM: Of all the resources we’ve found, Jamali always has the chicest elements for any event. I’ve used Jamali since I started out in New York 12 years ago, and it’s still my main source for all decorative elements in my events. It’s also really funny how the Jamali staff is never, ever caught up in the glamour of the business; they treat customers exactly the same, be they very famous or just a delivery guy. It’s so cool.

JG: What are some of your favorite Jamali Garden items?
CM: I adore the crystal elements: the cake plates, the votives, and the crystal candelabras. They all add so much brilliance and lightness to any tablescape.



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