Matti Hawley Schilling

Matti Schilling has brought endless beauty, love, and freedom into my life. We met almost 9 years ago at Sugarloaf Fine Arts camp where I stumbled my way into her Improv class (which I was absolutely horrific at, but she seemed to look beyond my lack of theater skills and be my friend anyways). Since that summer, she’s become one of my closest friends. Beauty just pours out of her–I have never met anyone who believes so strongly in the power of love and beauty. She grew up working at her mother’s flower shop, where she learned to “make things pretty,” as she and her mom always say. But she gives so much more than  that–she brings thoughtfulness and color to her community. Entering Camino Flower Shop is like walking into a dreamland; Matti and her family give you a place to imagine freely. While she still works side by side with her mom at the flower shop, Matti has now started her own business, Cocomont Styling with her incredible and creative husband Ben, and bought a home (which is decorated to the Shabby Chic gods). Matti’s insistence that family, love, and art are important above all else is infectious and inspiring. I’m so excited to share some photographs and our little interview here!

SG: The first thing that comes to mind when I think of you is, of course, flowers. Whenever I mention you, my friends always say “Oh! Flower Matti?” Your mom has been a florist your whole life, but when did you start working with her and what was that like?

MATTI: I grew up in the flower shop, really. My crib was in there and my earliest memories are of playing with all the floral supplies when I was little. But I really started “working” with flowers probably right after I graduated high school. I didn’t go off to college and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Helping my mom design flowers just seemed right and definitely came naturally to me because I had watched her for so many years. Obviously I helped a little before that but I was busy with school and theater. Once I graduated, I learned how to make a bridal bouquet which was scary and intimidating but is now second nature to me!

Did that first bouquet unlock something for you? Did you feel more confident after it?

I felt more confident that my mom trusted me and believed in me enough to make a bouquet for a bride’s biggest day of her life, so the confidence was for sure there. But I’d been watching my mom do it so I felt pretty confident…but it’s very scary though, to create something and then hope someone responds well to it.

It seems like floral design is almost purely sensory. It’s about the way shapes and colors come together and the way they make you feel. What has working with flowers taught you about creativity?

To me, yes it’s very sensory, and working with your hands is beautiful, but also you have to keep in mind that you have to match with what the bride is expecting so there’s a little level of stress there. So it’s very easy to totally leave your creative side and forget about the fun of creating it because your so focused on creating what is going to make the bride happy. However, when you let go and just create something beautiful, it usually turns out so much better than when you’re stressed about what you are creating. I think it’s awesome to stare at a bunch of different buckets of different colors and textures–spiky things, soft things, fluffy things–and then you just bring it all together, trusting your hands. And you’ve created something out of nothing. Once you put that in a space for an event and it goes with everything else, you feel so proud. Like, “Wow, I’m really good at this!” Once you do it once and you succeed, it’s so much easier the next time. So it totally opens up your creative mind. You start with floral and then challenge yourself to create something out of a bunch of random stems of flowers, then it gives you the confidence to think, “Well maybe I can make this thing for a wedding and maybe clients will respond to that and want it,” and then that turns into a million other ideas. Then you have so much in your arsenal and it all stemmed from just playing with flowers. And that really came from my mom teaching me and having confidence in me saying, “You go make this bouquet or centerpiece.” But mostly I try not to think about how it’s the bride’s biggest day of her life. When I’m creating something for myself though, there’s no rules. There’s nothing quite like flowers because they’re alive and they smell beautiful and they make you feel. There’s nothing in the world to me like a beautiful flower.

Now you have been able to take the experience you got with your mom, and expand it into a business of your own! How would you describe Cocomont Styling? 

My husband and I are a team of wedding stylists. Our job is to take brides’ visions–they show us inspiration photos of what they are looking for–and then we are commissioned to make it. We are interior designers for weddings! We do other events too, but mostly we help brides with their wedding day so they don’t have to do the work and go find what they are looking for. We take the stress away and do it for them. Camino Flower Shop is our sister company, so we work exclusively with my mom, so you have to get floral through her to use our services as wedding stagers. I have to work with my mom, I can’t imagine going to a wedding and there are Costco flowers and our decor. Just no. But we really can’t decorate a wedding until the day of, so for the rest of the week, we work in the flower shop with my mom. When we work together, it’s like two creative brains to pick out the flowers, and make everything right for our brides together. So we do the floral together, and then staging on top of that, and it’s a collaborative effort.

What is it like working with clients, and balancing how you want to design something with what they want?

I can get really stressed about weddings, like there is so much floral and staging and there is such a particular color choice–like burgundy is a hot color right now. Brides can be so particular. Like the flowers have to match this swatch of this napkin color. I will be really stressed about a color or something and I honestly find that if I listen to Beyonce on the way to a wedding, I feel very confident and powerful. And all the stress is in my head. It’s me talking me down. My husband tells me what I’ve made is gorgeous and I realize I am the one putting the stress on myself. And 99.9% of the time, the brides love it. There has been like 3 times where they didn’t, and I just think they aren’t very happy people so nothing was going to please them and I just move on. But I’m never going to give them something I don’t love, like “This is kind of crappy, here you go.” But sometimes you can’t please everyone and it’s a tough lesson to learn. I mean I will dwell on it for 6 months, so I need to take my own advice. But it’s just about being confident about what you created.

Yeah, and it’s important to always give them what you love, so you are always doing the work you love.

Right! My mom always will tell brides, I won’t give you anything I wouldn’t give my own daughter. It’s a great thing to calm down brides and remind them that we will take care of them. But being confident in your work is very hard. When I create for me, I’m like, “It’s awesome and I love it!” But when you go to give it to someone else, you doubt yourself. It’s a high stress job, especially when you are doing it 6 times in a day, wondering if they like it, 6 times in one day.

Do you have a big goal you are working towards, or do you feel like you are already where you want to be?

This year, Ben and I are making SO much. We are working on a triangle arch, it’s awesome. Ben is making sweetheart tables and giant signs that light up, just all this cool stuff. Honestly, even if it’s not something I want and it’s been done a million times on Pinterest, creating with my husband fulfils me. He’s my partner and I love him more than anything, so creating with him is just the best day ever, every day. But, we would love to have a venue someday. But that level of stress, I don’t know if I’m capable of it! Financial stress, and once again, you’re in charge of the whole wedding–not just the pretty part. But to have a whole venue, where the tables are made by us and we can do the flowers on site, and even a step up dream would be to have a full kitchen and we do all the food because I love cooking–it would be amazing! Ben’s brother is always like, “when I turn 50 I want to get a broken down food truck and fix it up”, and we’re like, and “you’ll be at our venue!” That would just be the dream. To have a lot of acreage, beautiful meadows, beautiful gardens. And everything is made by me and Ben, my mom does the flowers, and we don’t have to answer to anybody. To be in control of everything and to have a beautiful space that you can decorate however you want? Oh my god! But right now, we own a home and a business and we own a car and a trailer and have awesome family and friends and a puppy and a kitty!

Let’s go back a little bit–when I met you, you were in love with theater. Can you talk about how theater came into your life?

I didn’t start theater until I was in high school, even though I should have done it when I was little…I don’t know, when I was little I thought every extracurricular activity costed like a million dollars. I don’t know why. I thought Sugarloaf must have costed like 5 grand. Why? I don’t know. For some reason I was just totally content hanging with my brother and in the flower shop so I never really did any extra curricular stuff until I went to high school. But before I was in high school I went to a play with my brother because he had a school assignment to see one. And I remember watching it and just being like, “I HAVE to do that.” I’d never felt something so strongly. Like, you mean, I get to go up on stage and wear a costume and makeup and everyone has to pay attention to me tell a story? Oh my god, I just couldn’t wait til the first day of high school, purely to be able to do theater. And then I did Les Mis my junior year, and Ben was in it. We became friends–we weren’t super close then. But then senior year of high school, my parents came with us to the Ashland trip we go to every year, and Ben gravitated towards my parents and we hung out all weekend. After that, he was just a staple in our life and a really good friend to our entire family. He would just show up at the flower shop after school and he just kind of never left. But not even in a romantic way, we were just friends. But then obviously…here we are. Married and in love.

So what do you think it was about theatre that was so attractive to you? Are there any similarities between that and what you do now?

One million percent, yes. After we graduated, Ben and I took some stage production classes. So less about being an actor and more about being behind the scenes. And once you start to think about it, weddings are literally like a one night show. You rehearse, everyone has a costume and there are props–a ring bearer pillow and a flower girl basket, and all that stuff. And you have a set, which is what Ben and I do! We basically do set design for weddings. The similarity of a set in a play and a wedding to me is so there. You make something beautiful for one night. For a play maybe it’s for a month or something–the run of the show. But I definitely think that’s why. We loved that set design class. We were in this huge workshop and you went from a bare black box theater to a creating someone’s living room or an underwater scene. You can literally make anything. It’s the same with weddings. Brides come in and say they want sparkle at their wedding day, or a rustic fairyland, or a Disney theme. Whatever they come up with, it’s our job to make it look like that.

It seems to me that you enjoy creating spaces, from your job to your new home that you are renovating with Ben.  What do you enjoy about “beautifying” spaces?

Definitely stems from my childhood. Sundays were for cleaning the house and my mom would full-on rearrange the living room. Like she would move the couch halfway across the room and make a huge mess and an explosion and then would put it all back together. But I remember being little and feeling so calm and having an inner peace. When your house is clean and you’ve given it energy, so it feels alive. I still feel that way today. After I’ve mopped the floors and fluffed the pillows and put out fresh towels, I just feel so good. There’s totally a beauty in being clean and tidy but still obviously very eclectic. I mean, nothing matches in my house and there is nothing normal. But it’s clean and taken care of. I remember that feeling of comfort when I was little when my mom had cleaned up on Sundays. But when i got older, as a teenager I loved redecorating my room. I loved to hang new N*SYNC posters and figuring out the placement of those–important stuff. So it started early. I always loved decorating the flower shop too. We used to sell stuff there, like antiques, but we don’t anymore because we use it for staging weddings. But back then weddings weren’t as huge as they are now. My mom would do the floral for some weddings but she mostly sold flowers to everyday customers as well as some antiques. So we had to keep the storefront pretty and we would get new antiques all the time to redecorate with. And then in high school I was in theater so there was always a play to decorate. So I loved to tell the the director, “I can go find that couch or that painting you are looking for.” I directed a play my senior year of high school. It was so fun to decorate because it was set in the 70s. That decade was so wacky and fun. I wouldn’t want my house to look like that, but doing a play was perfect. I could find cool green lamps and shag carpet. The most fun is the shopping obviously. We gather things throughout the year, and it’s so fun when you are out and you see something like a candle holder that might be a new shape you don’t have and you know you can make them go down a long table with greenery. The hunt is so fun, I think. And for my house, Ben and I have been finding stuff for our house before we were dating. Like, “Let’s buy this table! Why are we buying this table together? I don’t know!” But we knew. Now we have a whole storage unit of table and couches and we have more chairs than we will ever need, but they are cute and vintage so we keep them. The hunt is so fun, and when you know that they will work in the space you are thinking of, you’ve scored.

All of your Instagram accounts are gorgeous and inspiring. How do you use Instagram to express yourself?

Mostly on my personal Instagram are other plus-size women who love my fashion and I love their fashion. I love to get up in the morning and go on Instagram, and it’ll make me inspired by one thing for my outfit that day. Like it’ll be a post about someone’s manicure, and I just love the colors in it so I’m inspired to put on a colorful outfit. Or it’ll be someone’s makeup and I will be like, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t really gone all out on my makeup in a while so I’m going to go do that!” It’s so inspiring to get up and have a cup of coffee and go on Instagram and find inspiration from whatever. Or I’ll see a post about flowers, so then I’m excited to go to work. I also love to know that there are other plus-size women out there doing awesome things, which has always been the case, but Instagram has really let them shine, which I think is so great. And of course there is the shopping aspect to it where I will see something on a plus-size woman and I know it’ll fit me…I find most of my clothes vintage, but if it’s not vintage, it’s probably because I saw someone on Instagram wearing it.

What is it about dressing up, or adorning yourself, that is so important to you?

Once again, grew up seeing my mom wear red lipstick every day–she used to have red nails and red toes too but once she started doing 300 weddings a year, nail polish was a bit ridiculous–but I just grew up seeing my mom get up everyday and curl her hair, making it as big as possible, wear red lipstick, always wearing Covergirl foundation and powder. Every single day since my first memories of my mother. So I just wanted to be like her. And I think once you start loving makeup, I don’t think you ever stop. Same with clothes. I don’t think you go, “I don’t want that anymore!” You just love it forever. So I grew up with that, then I always loved Barbies, and glitter, and nail polish from the grocery store. I’ve just been obsessed since I could see. Jelly shoes, floral dresses, anything glittery. It’s just in me. So I saw it in my mother, and my dad also loves clothes. My dad has more clothes than my mother. And also I grew up going to thrift stores all the time and you can find so many treasures there. They were always looked at as a place to find one of a kind things to me. And then in high school, the girls would be like, “Where did you get your clothes?!” Thrift stores! I go to thrift stores with my dad after school. But since I was little, I’ve had confidence because my parents were never like, “You should lose weight,” or “you would look better if you were a little smaller.” It was never like that. It was just, “We love everything about you.” I don’t think parents realize, a lot of the time, that they can just say that to their kids, and that’s all they have to hear– they are really going to have a cool kid who can express themselves. I had so many friends where their moms were like, “Maybe you should go on a jog.” And my parents never said anything like that to me. So there was just a confidence that came from my parents loving me unconditionally. I’ve always had this body type, and it’s just who I am. How could someone not think they are beautiful just because they are bigger than someone else? It’s crazy! But yeah, I just had very supportive parents and brother who came to every play, every little skit I did. Nothing was small or insignificant. Everything was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. And it wasn’t the greatest thing ever, but it’s the confidence I needed.

You and Ben started an Etsy vintage shop a couple years ago. Are you still loving vintage these days?

I have a whole a whole room in our garage that is going to be dedicated to vintage. I have so much vintage. We have so much cool stuff! It just needs to be sold! We love it. We started with our Etsy before we even did our decor business but the wedding decor just took off, and we’re so lucky. But once we are all done with our house, vintage will be our next project. And any time we have a day off, we’re going to be measuring and photographing and hopefully getting that back up and running. One of the best feelings is when we sold a flag to Ralph Lauren TWICE! And when we sold a little black clutch to a woman going to the Oscars and we sold a slip to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel before it was even a show. And I mean, when you get those orders–and it can be a $14 slip–but you’re selling it to the stage door of Maisel. What?! That’s so fun. And once again, it’s the hunt of seeing an awesome vintage dress and thinking, I could sell that. It won’t fit me, but I could sell it to someone who is looking for it! Maybe it’s someone’s dream dress. We sold a Gunne Sax blush dress that literally looks like Gucci right now, and she probably wore it to prom or something! It’s so cool that we just found this dress and now it’s on someone in LA and who knows where they wore it.

Do you have a style you look for?

Definitely if its something I would wear but wouldn’t fit me, I buy it. If it fits, it won’t make it to my Etsy! But kind of looking at trends–if it looks like something Gucci would make but it’s true vintage, you know it’s gonna sell. We sell a ton of blankets, like southwestern blankets and throw blankets. Most of our stuff goes to New York. We just can tell what sells. It’s so time consuming though. You have to list every little hole and if you don’t you’ll have an unhappy customer, which is the same as an unhappy bride. I want you to be happy with what you buy! It’s me giving it to you.

When you’re designing something, dressing yourself, or doing anything creative, do you have references you go to in your mind? What is your inspiration–what is the Matti vibe?

I know what looks good on me. I think knowing your body–and not even like, you’re not allowed to wear it–but I know what makes me happy. Lately it’s been a 90s vibe. I’m always going to gravitate towards prairie chic. I love cottons, oversized things. I hate things that are too tight. I need to be able to move when I’m working. House-wise, floral everything obviously. I love the paintings that Ben and I have found together. There are these moody, organic paintings I just love. And I just love vintage things. I hate bright lighting. Lighting is so important. In my home, in weddings, in life in general. And I just love a clean house, and starting the week off with it being clean and cozy.

You’ve always celebrated your womanhood and have loved to tap into feminine energy. Can you talk about where you find power in being feminine, and how bring that into your business?

I’ve always been very girly. I never did sports, I tried soccer for a while. I liked that I got a duffel bag with my name on it, but you know soccer isn’t your think if you are just excited about the bag. But I loved doing theater because I could be a woman from the 50s or the 60s, or not even one era. I just gravitated towards women’s stories. I think that how I present myself is why I’m successful. If I was talking to a bride and I wasn’t confident in myself and I didn’t like the way I looked, that would come through. It really was just how I was raised. I was raised to love myself. And of course there are days where I feel like crap, like “This is how I look without makeup???” But I love wearing a dress, it always makes me feel confident. I love makeup. What’s that quote? Dress for the job you want. If you’re asking a bride to pay you a lot of money and to trust you, you should probably look amazing! They’re going to be like, “Well she looks amazing, I love her Instagram, she’s gonna make my wedding amazing!” But in terms of femininity, my husband always helps with that. He loves how feminine I am. I never feel like I should be less girly. Those typical things like being afraid of snakes–like those things don’t mean femininity obviously, but I’m all of those cliches and I love it. That’s me. I’m not sorry about it.

I’ve been trying to figure this out myself: what is femininity, do you think? For you, is it flowers, is it making things? Does everyone have femininity and masculinity in them?

Not flowers, no. Everyone loves flowers. They can be feminine, but they are for everyone. For me, I think femininity is a red lip–but men can wear makeup too, which is great! It’s hard to define femininity, because I’m married to a guy who is half of the things that we say are feminine, and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t know if there is one answer for that. Maybe it’s just a feeling. If you figure it out, let me know!

I will! Thank you so much for talking with me, I just love you. And now my last question: what is the best thing you’ve learned, read, or heard lately?

I wanna say my corgi!

Photographs by Jenna Opsahl

Flower Dress and Accessories by Jenna Opsahl

Styling and Staging by Matti and Ben Schilling

October 31, 2018

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1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Katia Engell

    March 29, 2019

    I’ve seen you two create work together and have followed your accounts separately for some time now – so nice to now a bit more about Matti and yours’ friendship and lives!

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