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Robert has flower power

Gercine Carter

Robert has flower power

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Step into Robert Carter’s home and you immediately see red. The vibrant fiery hues are screaming from everywhere, making a definitive statement about the 37-year-old florist and promising interior designer.

The former student of Alexandra School admits it is his favourite colour as he declares “Decorating is my passion”.

His flair for design manifested itself in school and blossomed when as a fifth former he was sent on job attachment to a florist’s shop. His field was the arts, specifically tie dye and batik, but when the school wanted to link him to an artistic attachment this was the closest they could get to placing him where he could explore his artistic ability.

It was not Roberts’ preferred area, but people with his interest at heart convinced him he should stay. Egged on by constant urgings such as, “You have talent you should stick to it” he stuck it out and continued to hone his flower-arranging skill.

‘Basically I wasn’t feeling it at first but as the shop experience grew on me I decided to just continue. I gave it a shot and I stuck with it.”

Ten years ago he landed the job as the resident florist at the upscale West Coast Sandy Lane hotel and his live floral arrangements adorned the hotel’s restaurants and other public spaces every week from then until now. Robert’s talent was finally in the limelight, exposed to the rich and famous.

Over time he also took on other jobs at Sandy Lane, working within the housekeeping department.

The turning point came four years ago when as in-house florist “they threw it on me and asked why you don’t do the décor”. He is now into his fifth year doing the Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve décor for the hotel.

Buoyed by the favourable response to his work, he has made the bold step and launched out on his own, opting to be self-employed while sub-contracted by Sandy Lane to continue to lend his design flair and flower-arranging skills.

In the meantime, he is working on building his design business: “I don’t want to be seen as a florist or flower-arranger so I am pushing myself to see what else I can add to each job . . . because I am not a flower arranger. I have passed that stage too long.”

“Now I am hungry and I am eager for more,” he insisted. “Events, that’s where I am trying to get. More corporate and social events are where I am targeting because I like the challenge of transforming and creating unique pieces for areas. That’s where my passion is at the moment.”

And he wants corporate Barbados to take notice. “My biggest challenge is selling my talent in terms of people underestimating my work and my talent. That really bothers me. I go through it every day. Though some people may say I am expensive, I deliver and I am happy about that because whenever I do a job, people can look at it and see it is different. Outside of getting what I am worth, I would say my other challenge would be getting the supplies I need to work with.”

But if he is seen as demanding of his price, it is because he strongly believes he deserves whatever he charges. “I never know what my finished peak product is going to be. When my mind tells me this is it, that is when I stop. Unfortunately, this may not be good but whether I have reached the budget or not, I stop when I am visually pleased. Sometimes it works against me, sometimes it works for me.”

Robert takes his inspiration from the materials he uses, such as the impressive vases he chooses. “Even if I am shopping for a vase, there must be something unusual about it. I don’t buy regular stuff. I always look for something that is one of a kind and I take it and make it uniquely mine.” His search for unique accent pieces goes far beyond Barbados and it is not unusual for him to invest in an artefact from as far away as China, or in that striking piece that jumps out at him from the pages of a catalogue.

“I strongly believe in accessorising so that’s why you would see if I do an arrangement it has to be accessorised with something, whether it be a stick, a vine, a twig or something that makes the arrangement pop out at you, so you are just not looking at flowers in a vase.”

He travels a lot to keep abreast of what is trending in design, and continues to take advantage of every opportunity to learn about his craft, building on the academic knowledge gained in his beginners’ course in flower-arranging.

“It is basically learning from my experiences as the years go by, but every now and then I still do another course or attend a conference to stimulate me and keep things going”, he said.

The small team he employs has grown used to his style of pushing the boundaries to achieve a desired level of satisfaction with his output, and he says they soon realise that his non-traditional approach is working in their favour.

As he launches out, occasionally landing a job in the big corporate market, people who see his work are taking note.

Encouraged by this response, and aware of the fierce competition in the local design market, Robert is aiming to stamp his name and expertise on his Petals Paradise brand rather than just be known in design circles as “that boy from Sandy Lane”.