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Mindy Rice on drawing creatively from your environment

Mindy Rice, one of America's premier floral and event designers, talks to us about drawing creatively from her surroundings.


Photo by Jose Villa

We distinctly remember the first time Mindy visited Santa Ynez General, because we were smitten by her joyful, energetic personality. We began chatting and could have continued for days. In time, we came to learn that Mindy was the Mindy Rice:  pathbreaking floral and event designer with a worldwide clientele and a long list of feature credits in magazines ranging from Brides to Town and Country. Mindy spent part of her childhood in Santa Ynez and moved back to the Valley with her husband after the birth of their first son, eighteen years ago. We sat down with Mindy to learn more about the origins of her distinctive style and the experiences that fuel her creativity.


If our formative environments account for some portion of who we become, then it is no surprise that Mindy turned out to be such an innovative creator. Mindy’s parents collected and made art, and raised Mindy and her sister in a succession of exquisitely idiosyncratic homes. For example, Mindy’s childhood home in Palos Verdes was pyramid shaped:  three stories of cedar pyramid set into a hill and crowned with a sixty-foot skylight. With characteristic delight, Mindy recalled how the neighborhood kids would run up the sides of her house in the morning and watch the action below through the glass ceiling. 

Photo by Jose Villa

In the late 1970s, Mindy’s parents decided they didn’t want to raise their kids in the city and set out in search of a suitable small town. Their criterion was that it have a small airport within an hour’s flight of the Torrance airport so that Mindy’s dad, who piloted a little Cessna, could continue commuting to his job in the southland. Santa Ynez was their choice, and Mindy’s family moved into another remarkable home:  the venerable adobe, Rancho de los Colores. The house had been neglected and was in a state of serious disrepair when Mindy’s family arrived. But its bones were incredible:  a classic adobe floorplan with a fireplace in each room and no interior hallways, such that you had to walk through each room to get to the next. They set about returning the deteriorated home to perfect condition, restoring the original Saltillo tile floors and fabricating tapered adobe roof tiles in the traditional manner. “You know how you get the tiles to be the right shape so they overlap?” Mindy asked. “By molding the adobe on your thighs—we all had different sized tiles but it worked!”


Mindy’s family eventually built its own distinctive home in nearby Rancho Ynecita:  a dramatic two-story black barn—long before black barns became a thing. The barn consisted principally of a great room dominated by a slump stone fireplace, which was flanked by modern spiral staircases. Like their other homes, Mindy’s parents incorporated into its design their wide-ranging art collection. A separate barn housed etching presses, silk screening equipment, and a painting studio. In a nearby hutch, Mindy raised French Lop rabbits. “I love houses,” Mindy told us, “but back then I didn’t even notice how different my upbringing was in these unique homes. At that age you’re focused on whose parents offer better snacks!”

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Mindy’s first Santa Ynez chapter closed when she moved to Manhattan Beach with her mom and sister. There, beginning in high school, Mindy embraced a series of opportunities that set her on a path toward her own design firm. The first of these arose when Wright’s, a local clothing store, hired Mindy to help with styling after school. Its owner let her style the store’s window displays, into which Mindy began incorporating live materials. After graduating high school at age sixteen, Mindy put herself through the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and during this time met a group of people at Sketchers, the shoe company that was just forming in Manhattan Beach. Sketchers hired Mindy to assist its chief of corporate events with design, florals, and whatever else was needed to produce the grandiose trade show spectacles that were Sketchers’ signature in the apparel industry. 


Meanwhile, Mindy began to receive inquiries about designing weddings from brides-to-be who had seen her window displays at Wright’s. She was just 19, but already had a strong design point of view that contrasted with the dominant floral style of the era. “When you went to the LA Flower Mart, it was roses, carnations, alstroemeria, orchids, baby’s breath and that was about it—no Sweet William, no Hollyhock, no vines,” Mindy recalled. Instead, she went to nurseries and bought live plants. Her innovation excited people. “I remember one lady exclaiming, ‘You put hydrangea in the centerpiece? It looks really pretty!’ And I am thinking, yeah, it’s a flower! Why wouldn’t you use it?”

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Working at Sketchers and designing weddings was a study in contrasts—and Mindy discovered that she enjoyed working with couples more. Moreover, Mindy had gotten married and started a family. The time had come for her to leave the corporate world and launch her own business, Mindy Rice Design. 


For its first several years, Mindy’s firm only designed weddings in the United States; foreign destination weddings still were relatively rare. But Mindy leapt at the chance when her friend Lisa Vorce, an event coordinator who had been asked to coordinate her first European wedding, asked Mindy to join forces with her. Instagram did not yet exist—let alone as the veritable sourcebook for weddings that it is today—and engaged couples tended to exhibit a fear of the unknown when it came to planning a wedding abroad. But Mindy dove into the challenge, recalling for us how hard it was to source live material for those first international projects. “It was all different floral then and we didn’t know what would be in season in whatever month but that was what was so fun.” Mindy would tell her clients that she needed free reign work with the local setting. “Conjuring something beautiful and unique from your surroundings—that is the one thing that I really enjoy the most about this business. I love that part of it.”

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Hearing Mindy describe those early overseas projects, it is clear she had such a knack for channeling the soul of a locale that she could make magic happen even when things went sideways. Years ago, Mindy and Lisa were in San Sebastian, Spain, preparing two venues for their clients’ rehearsal dinner and wedding reception when bad news arrived. “All of my floral got held up in Customs at the airport in Madrid,” Mindy recalls. And it wasn’t coming. “I was having stuff flown in from all over the world, but Customs was not going to release it.” Mindy is the first to say she enjoys being tested, but she allows that she may have startled her client with her candid assessment of the situation: we have nothing we planned on, and I need full creative control to improvise a new design. The client agreed, and Mindy and Lisa began working through the night, scouring San Sebastian’s picturesque Parte Vieja for inspiration. In narrow alleyways behind restaurants they found discarded fruit crates and wine bottles wrapped in baskets—atmospheric, but all smelling of clams and sardines. Undaunted, they collected them, washed them, and installed candles in the wine bottles, melting wax down the sides. At daybreak they visited every little nursery in town, purchasing kumquat trees, lavender plants, and shredded sisal that they arranged with the fruit crates. Local hand-crocheted napkins graced the tables. The finished look was exquisitely pretty, and the whole experience was so special that it remains one of Mindy’s favorite weddings.


Mindy describes those first destination weddings as exemplary of an era when the design was especially creative and fun. In part that was because there was no roadmap—she was learning as she went. “Now with Instagram, you can find an image of a destination wedding you like and all the vendors are tagged in the photo. I made how many trips to Europe to figure out how to do that?” Mindy laughs. 

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

But the advent of social media hasn’t diminished Mindy’s passion for pulling together textiles, colors, dishes, and florals to create an unprecedented moment. “I like the overall look of a space, not just the flowers. I appreciate woven things and textiles and fragrances—I want all the senses engaged because that creates a whole sensory experience. It’s creating magic and then voila, it’s gone. That is something you can’t get on social media.” So even as some affianced couples find their tastes being influenced by the ubiquity of certain styles on Instagram, Mindy helps her clients imagine something new. “The amplification and oversaturation of design trends is a new phenomenon, but it keeps me in on my toes,” Mindy says, “You have to recreate and recreate and recreate.”


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