White House floral designer brings roots to suburban store
Michael J. Skaff of Glen Ellyn knows the importance of color, texture and the appeal of flowers during life's milestones.
For more than 30 years, the former FTD executive has been the floral designer for big events, including Bill Clinton's 1993 presidential inauguration and George W. Bush's presidential inaugurations in 2001 and 2005. He still does special events at the White House under President Barack Obama.
Now, Skaff has opened Skaff Floral Creations in Hinsdale that is more than a florist. He designs for weddings, anniversaries, other parties and corporate events in the suburbs and nationwide.
"I feel that flowers make a difference in everyone's lives," said Skaff, 54. "It has an emotional effect on many people."
Skaff was born in Paxton, Mass., near Boston. His late father, Joseph, was a visual merchandiser who designed the windows at high-end men's clothing stores. His mother, Julia, was a homemaker.
He always loved to work at greenhouses and conservatories and earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. A floral design class in college had him hooked, he said.
He opened a floral store in Massachusets and also subcontracted his work as a designer for about 20 years, including for FTD. He came to the Chicago area when he was hired full-time on staff at FTD's headquarters in Downers Grove. He worked his way up the ranks to vice president of design at FTD.
After about nine years, he decided to return to his entrepreneurial roots -- designing for events. So he started Skaff Floral Creations to cater to that part of the industry, he said.
"There's nothing more fulfilling than when you're adding beauty to a special occasion," he said.
He loved doing the presidential inaugurations, which were massive undertakings, and enlisted teams working around Washington, D.C., to ensure everything went well at the ceremonies and galas.
"It's during a celebratory time, but it's also mind-boggling with all the details," he said of the inaugurations.
Besides his work at the White House, he did other high-profile events. He was a member of the design team for the 75th annual Academy Awards. Eunice Shriver employed Skaff for her charity fundraiser, Best Buddies. And he was a floral designer for the Kennedy Center Honors.
With so many nationwide events, he relies on a network of subcontractors. And with new technology, ordering is much faster and shipping can bring specialty flowers from all over the world to his doorstep overnight, he said.
"People enjoy the artistry and the beauty of nature," he said.
Palatine lawyer becomes author
Palatine attorney Kerry Lavelle is the author of his first book, "The Business Guide to Law: Creating and Operating a Successful Law Firm," published last week by Chicago-based American Bar Association. He is also the founding partner of Lavelle Law Ltd., so he used his experience going from a single attorney to boosting the ranks to 21 lawyers. "As I was starting out, and as my practice grew, I relied on many of the excellent books already written on the topic," he said. "In the process I came to realize that none of the books paid attention to the fact that a law firm is a business. Partners and managers must adhere to business principles in running and growing a firm." The book is available through the ABA.
Author, designer start restaurant
Husband-and-wife franchisees Allan and Lauren Woodrow of Vernon Hills have opened Zoup!, their first restaurant, at the Hawthorn Hills Square shopping center in Vernon Hills. Allan is a published children's author, with numerous magazine and book credits. He writes under both his own name and the alias Fowler DeWitt. Allan's next novel, "Class Dismissed," will be published in September by Scholastic. Lauren is a graphic designer specializing in textbook and educational development. As for Zoup!, it has 80 restaurants in 18 states and Ontario, Canada, including 10 in Chicago and the suburbs. FastTracks
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