Livia Cetti, the flower translator

Paper plants, photographed by Kate Mathis

Being in charge of a state dinner at the White House is just one of Livia Cetti’s many out puts which defines her career from the beginning when she went to the renown interior Shop John Derian in NY to show her paper flower arrangements.

Besides being a magazine editor, she is the country’s premiere paper-flower artist, known for her high-style, gorgeous tissue and crepe-paper flowers—which are usually mistaken for real blooms. She wrote several books and currently teaches classes on paper flower making at the New York Botanical Garden and the New York Flower School.
She lives in the Bronx, New York, in a charming farm house built in 1901 with her two boys, Dante and Mick.

Our Editor in Large, Zoe Warncke met her for a chat in New York.

Livia Cetti, photographed by Kate Mathis


ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE: We adore your work, isn’t making flowers out of paper actually a really old craft? And why did you pick it up?
LIVIA CETTI: It is! I believe it goes back as far as ancient China. They were also very popular in Victorian England and they have been a big part of Mexican culture. I’ve been working with fresh flowers for as long as I can remember, but I got into paper flowers while working for Martha Stewart. During many work trips to the tropics, I would create large arrangements of scavenged tropical blooms in my hotel room. I was obsessed with the hibiscuses I would find and decided to experiment with a paper version. I had always wanted to do something that I could make on a small scale in my basement (and hopefully grow into something bigger), so it was a perfect fit. I put together a box of my paper flowers to take to the furniture & interior store, John Derian, and that’s really what made it all a business.


ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE : If a client hires you, what would be the first thing you ask about his „vision“?
LIVIA CETTI: It depends on the project, but I usually start by asking for different details to help me understand what they want visually – inspiration images etc. Sometimes I take inspiration from their space or a vase they’d like to use. It can also be more literal, some clients ask for what they’d like very specifically and we’re just creating it into paper.

A recent arrangement in collaboration with The Archers for Vitra Artek, NY, NY. Photographed by Eric Petscheck


ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE : Colors & concepts: is that something you plan out in every detail, or does it come to you once you get into the work flow?
LIVIA CETTI: I’m not really a planner in that sense. I might start a project knowing that I’d like to use a specific color paper or keeping in mind different limitations for a project, but beyond that it’s usually about figuring it out in the moment and getting inspired by my materials. For example, one of my assistants might dye an especially beautiful paper and I’ll think “Oh that’d perfect for this flower I’m working on”.


ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE : What would be your DREAM paper flower project?
LIVIA CETTI: Working on a beautiful editorial shoot of paper flowers for Vogue.

Paper passion flower photographed by Kate Mathis

ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE : Do you just copy real flowers, or do you also invent fantasy ones?
I’m inspired by real flowers, but don’t set out to copy them exactly. I’ll usually have a flower in mind for a long time before translating it into paper. When I sit down to make it, I’m thinking of my memory of the flower and trying to capture the gesture or what I like most about it. Sometimes I do get a little whimsical – tie dyed blooms or flowers in unrealistic colors. That’s the beauty of paper flowers.


ZOE STEFANIE WARNCKE : If you could buy one piece of art, what would it be and why?
Probably a Rothko. I love color and couldn’t imagine ever getting tired of it.