RIVER WEST — Stephanie Izard admits she understands almost nothing about flowers and is beyond thankful for having Lisa Paul in her life.
"I do not know enough about flowers to even say what I like and do not like," said Izard, the "Top Chef" winner and chef/owner of Girl & the Goat and Little Goat. "Luckily, Lisa says the name of the flower followed by 'ya know, that yellow ball thing.' Pretty flowers need an artist to bring them together in the right way."
Izard and several other high-profile clients in Chicago turn to Paul, the founder and owner of "Color & Company, etc. ... LLC."
"She does a lot of great dramatic pieces for us," said Rob Katz, co-founder of Boka Restaurant Group and a Roscoe Village resident. "She has this ability to match flowers to the space and vibe and feel of what we're trying to capture."
Paul, 55, who lives and works in River West, created Color & Company in 2003. Since then, she's built an extensive list of top-tier buyers, including Tuesday's agreement to place orchid arrangements throughout the upscale Conrad Hotel Downtown.
Her flower arrangements have been used as table centerpieces on the television show "Check, Please!" for six years. She most fondly remembers a creation of three purple allium "the size of softballs" surrounded by green orchids bent into arches.
"She got to know my style over the years and liked to select a palate that would match my clothes," said former "Check, Please!" host and Gold Coast resident Alpana Singh, now owner of The Boarding House.
"She also told me she selected the flowers that were a little lower so people could see my decolletage," Singh said with a laugh.
Paul was hired to create florals for Rahm Emanuel's 2011 inauguration, where a 65-foot stage was lined with blue hydrangeas, blue delphiniums and white lisianthus — all from Israel, in honor of the new mayor, Paul said. When the NATO Summit came to town in 2012, Paul brought hydrangeas, green trick, roses and branches for a dignitaries dinner at the Field Museum. In March, her work will be showcased at Macy's Flower Show.
"I'm working with color, which makes me smile," said Paul, who runs her business out of an 800-square-foot space at 509 N. Racine Ave.
Paul, a self-described "Conservative Jew with a wild side," always has been artistically inclined. As a 6-year-old growing up in Morton Grove, she would travel to Downtown to the Art Institute of Chicago for art classes. When she was 9, Paul used an empty Budweiser can as a vase and filled it with red wild silk flowers. In high school, she'd carve pumpkins and turn them into vases and add autumn flowers.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University with a degree in public relations, Paul embarked on a lengthy career as a saleswoman and director of marketing in the wine business. But by her mid-40s, Paul said she was "bored" and decided she wanted to work with her hands. In 2003, she enrolled in a three-week flower arrangement class at the American Floral Art School, then signed up for a business startup course at the Women's Business Development Center.
Weeks later, starting at her kitchen counter, Color & Company was born.
"I got to create living color every day," Paul said. "I was so much more relaxed than I was in the corporate world."
But the contacts she made in the corporate world were among her initial clients as a florist. Kamehachi restaurant Downtown was the very first, for which she made faux grass gardens and covered its back room with layers of sand and tree branches.
"Lisa's the type of person who collects people. Her network is vast and wide, and she's geniunely interested in people," Singh said.
She met Izard at a dinner for one of Paul's customers, Kendall College, about nine years ago. They bonded over their mutually curly hair and a few glasses of Spanish wine. Three days later, Paul was making arrangements for Izard's restaurant at the time, Scylla in Bucktown. When Izard opened Girl & the Goat in 2010, she again utilized Paul's services.
"She's never had the same arrangement twice," said Izard, of the West Loop. "How she does it, I do not know."
Paul's favorite flower is a daisy because of its simplicity, but she's also fascinated by orchids. She described her style as "very architectural and elemental and clean," but noted she's a "chameleon who can do anywhere from contemporary to vintage, traditional and whimsical."
Paul has one employee, Ashleigh Eaves, and she'd like to grow big enough to be able to afford a second full-timer.
But Paul said she doesn't want to become too busy because she enjoys giving clients her utmost attention.
"I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life," Paul said. "People seem to fall in love with me. I love to beat out the big guys, the large floral companies. And I like to stay under the radar because I can give more personalized service."