We had the good fortune of connecting with Dawn Steel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dawn, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I have always been the creative type – drawing and painting as a child, then majoring in graphic design & studio art in college. My family also has a history of working with florals – that rubbed off on me, as well as always loving being in my mom’s garden. Just after college, I fell into the trap of just “getting a job” to pay the bills. I didn’t love any of the various jobs that I had while I tried to find my passion. After working for a local event planner, I started my own business doing artisan floral work as well as event planning. I started that with my late husband and combined our styles and knowledge. Now that I’m at the helm, I’m in the process of rebranding to reflect my personal style which is more artistic and up-to-date than it had been.. My goal is to appeal to a client with discerning taste and one who appreciates the importance of aesthetics.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am a floral and event designer as well as a planner. What sets me apart is my artistic ability as well as my natural eye for color & spacial design. I am lucky enough to have this creative dna in my soul, it’s been there since I was a child – it’s not something I can fully explain. I am so proud to be the owner of my own business doing something that doesn’t feel like work – it’s amazing to do something that you love every day! It’s been a hard road finding my passion later than many others, I wish I would have known to pursue this field earlier. But I am grateful that I finally came to it and with the help of my late husband, Johnny, made it happen. We didn’t have any blue prints for how to do it – how to make a proposal – how to buy flowers wholesale – what questions to ask couples at a first meeting – how to come up with a design, etc. We tried methods until we found something that worked. We tweaked as we went along. My husband was a huge fan of “fake it ’til you make it” so we did that sometimes too. But I like to have all of the info and know exactly what I’m doing before I do it, so that was a difficult concept for me. Over the last few years, I started trying to reach out to others in my industry for advice and to to feel accepted and understood. A floral designer that I had worked with started a support group with another designer based around “collaboration over competition” which I am on board with. I joined the group, and that’s been amazing! Just to hear that others were dealing with the same problems and successes – wow! I’ve met some amazing people in this industry and am so lucky to have them in my life now. When I think about the things that I’ve learned over the years, there’s one thing that stands out. I always felt like everyone else had some secret way of doing things that was so much better than my way – I found myself always wondering how they did it and why couldn’t I do it that way… After assisting other planners, speaking to friends in the industry & freelancing for other florists – I learned that it was just my skewed perception all along. We are all doing much of the same thing… maybe some do things on a smaller or larger scale, but it’s all the same “stuff”. I had mentioned to a vendor that I work with often how I was intimidated by a particular planner in my area. He quickly said “Why? He’s just a person, just like everyone else.” It really hit me and really changed the way that I looked at this person and others who I felt intimidated by. People like what I do, so I should be proud of that, and not feel like I’m not as good as these other planners or florists just because I didn’t have larger weddings or weddings at a particular resort. I really want to show the world that my brand is about putting everything that I can into what I do for my clients. To see the look on their faces when they see their reception all set, it’s priceless. We are there to service them and will do whatever is needed to make them happy and make their day amazing! We bring extras for them, we are there overtime, we run around all day and get blisters, but it’s all worth it! I do what I love and that makes all of the difficult set ups, heavy lifting, sweaty brows, rowdy party-goers, and hours with no break, worth it!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Wow, San Diego has SO many things to do and see – this is tough! I am all about wine, desserts, spa days, and lots of sun. But if my best friend came in to town – I would definitely want us to grab an amazing sandwich and bottle of wine from Mona Lisa in Little Italy on the way home from the airport (I’ve actually done this myself after flying in from vacation). And EVERY time I’m there, I must have at least 2 Baci candies – they are the BEST!! I have a small jar where I keep the little love sayings that are inside each one. I even decoupaged a large cylinder with the sayings and use it as a candle holder. I am a huge fan of the beaches here so there would definitely be several beach days! My favorite spot its down past Belmont Park by the jetty in Misson Beach. There are less people and I can always find sand dollars when walking the beach. There are also some little nooks and crannies in the Windan’Sea beach area of La Jolla that I love as well as the cove area – so gorgeous! After a beach day – I love to have seafood and one of my fave spots is El Pescador in La Jolla. The last time my best friend was here – we actually did eat here. It’s really comfortable and not fussy. The fish is right off the boat – and the gravalox are to die for! I would take my friend to an amazing restaurant in Kensington called Bleu Boheme. It is my absolute favorite place for atmosphere. I always sit at the bar! There are tons of candles with dripping wax, and it really does have an old world, yet modern and comfortable feel. Their charcuterie board and wines are off the charts! We both love a great massage, so we’d head straight to Thai Way for an authentic Thai Massage – handles on the ceiling, feet on your back, and all! It is the best massage I’ve ever had – I try to get them about 4 times a year. We would definitely want to find some great live music and would probably head to small venues like Lestat’s in Normal Heights or larger venues like Belly Up in Solana Beach. I love hearing singer/songwriters and we also love more lively music that you can dance to. One thing that I like that people wouldn’t think about me, is archery. I found out that I am naturally good at it and shot some of my first ever arrows at an olympic level – crazy! And it’s so much fun to do! Performance Archery is a great spot – different bows to shoot with and helpful staff. It’s something I always wanted to try and once I did, I was hooked – I highly recommend trying it. If we are feeling sporty, bowling is always on the menu as well – I bowled for years and wanted to be a pro! We would definitely have to round out the week by having some dessert at Extraordinary Desserts and then gelato at Chocolat. They are a friend and family favorite and we do both pretty much any time they come to town. As I said, it’s tough to narrow down things to do here – it’s an amazing place to be! I always feel lucky to be able to live here. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio so this is like night and day!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have to dedicate this to my late husband Johnny Ciccolella. He was so positive and always knew just what to say to light a fire under me! He knew that I could make a success of the business and of myself even when I didn’t feel that way. He truly knew me and could see all of the things about me – good and bad. Which in some ways was tough, but he was honest and had a way of showing people how to make themselves better just by seeing the things about themself that could maybe be improved… he did this all in a way that never made you feel “less than” – just that he wanted to help. He truly was the most unique person I’ve ever met. He helped make me what I am and will continue to improve this business.
Other: Wedding Wire: https://www.weddingwire.com/biz/gaslamp-floral-san-diego/b2041419e5fb0a3b.html