Smile Politely

Andrea Hunt makes her own rules

A white woman with long brown hair, stands near a window wearing a white linen shirt and her hand in her front pocket. She is looking to the left at a bouquet of flowers.
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

Andrea Hunt considers herself a dreamer and artist at heart. After a painful divorce, she funneled her creative passions and independent spirit into floral design. The CU Flower House is a bit like a phoenix, rising from the ashes. It’s a space that not only houses her floral work, but is home to multiple other creatives who pay to use the space for their own businesses. The flower house sells flowers, gifts, and cake but it can also be rented for classes, workshops, and events. Hunt was born and raised in Champaign and while she spent a few years away to pursue college and other dreams, she ended up creating a beautiful business and life here. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Smile Politely: How did you get into flowers?

Andrea Hunt: I went through a heartbreaking divorce in my 30s. I had previously run my husband’s business and worked really​ hard on making all of his dreams come true for years and forgot about any of my own. He fell in love with one of my best friends and it was devastating. I was so lost without my husband, BFF, job, future, money, house…. (this is the very short version of this story, for full coverage check out the Hyper Locals Podcast). One day I decided to take some night classes on floral design, something I had always been interested in. And it clicked. It was a spark I had been missing forever really. The teacher pulled me aside and told me I had something and that I should pursue it. I never looked back. That was 12 years ago. It’s grown into something so beautiful, something so much bigger than I had ever imagined and I can’t help but think this is just the beginning. 

SP: Why Champaign? 

Hunt: Family. My twin sister, old sister, parents, cousins, and real​ best friends, they all still lived here. I’m still friends with the kids I went to kindergarten with. I’m a townie and I knew that this town would take care of me and welcome me and my business back with open arms. And they did, tenfold.

Three white woman wearing patterned shirts and yellow aprons, hold bright yellow flowers.
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

SP: What are your favorite flowers? 

Hunt: Is it weird that I don’t have one? I really love dahlias but they are such divas, they have a very short vase life but man, they are magic while alive and showing off. So much depth and variation.

I carry “Astrological Flower Packets” in the shop for sale, telling folks what the zodiac flower is. Sagittarius is the Carnation. Which is, “meh,” and I was a little put out when I read that at first but then upon reading the description, it made perfect sense: “The carnation is the last flower standing in all arrangements. While all the other flowers are giving up and dying around them in the vase, they stand tall, bright, and bold. Outlasting everyone around them. Strong and resilient.” I’ll take it. 

A white woman walks down a runway wearing an outfit entirely made of red and yellow flowers and sticks creating an elaborate design in the back.
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

SP: Aside from the CU Flower house and floral events, you also create amazing floral creations for a runway show every year. Can you tell me about that process? 

Hunt: Fleurotica! It is the annual fundraiser for the Garfield Park Conservatory, a magical place on the westside of Chicago. It is the highlight of my year. This year will be my seventh year in the show. It is such a challenge and a thrill. In 2013, a fellow Champaign native Irit Holte (Silverman) messaged me and asked if I would be in the show. I was a studio florist living in Kansas at the time — still so green — but she believed in me and my talents and said she’d get me in the show if I’d do it. She manages the show backstage. It was all Chicago florists and little ol’ me. The first show was at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art and I walked in there with my tail between my legs, but I did it. It was pure Project Runway back there and I was scared to death. I’ve now been asked to open the show and am considered one of the OG designers each year, and it makes me so so proud. 

My twin sister and I design the look every year. It has to be made entirely out of fresh flowers and has to be able to walk the runway three times (i.e., not fall apart as it walks). We start the design months in advance, trying to outdo ourselves each year with mechanics and wow factors. It’s such hard work and stressful but brings us so much joy. 

Two white woman in white shirts that say cultivate love and place pants walk in front of A white woman walks down a runway wearing an outfit entirely made of red and yellow flowers and sticks creating an elaborate design in the back.
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

SP: Why did you decide on a co-op space instead of a traditional floral shop? 

Hunt: The space we’re in was too big to be just my flower shop, but I really wanted it. It had a walk-in cooler that saved me a lot of money off the top. There was a whole “north wing” of the space that the landlord was willing to wall off and rent themselves but it got me thinking, “Can’t I rent it out?” I instantly thought of other mompreneurs who were doing really well with their businesses, but also working out of their home studios with kids, dogs, toys, and distractions. I approached Mary with Hunny Bunny Bakes and Kate with Apricity Ink first and said, “Hey, if I built this, would you do it with me?” And the rest is history. It just works. Rent is too much for small businesses to exist and thrive anymore. I wanted to build a beautiful, unique space where small businesses could share rent, utilities, expenses, POS systems, bags, etc., but more importantly, share support. Be there for each other to cover shifts when our kids are sick, sell each other’s products because no one can be there all the time, and promote each other’s business to help us all grow. It’s been an amazing experience so far and hopefully; it will just keep growing. 

A group of people sit around a large table with flowers on it in front of a window watching an instructor in the front of the group
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

SP: What’s your favorite part of sharing space with other businesses? 

Hunt: Seeing them succeed. Seeing how proud they are to be in there. Paying out their bi-weekly shop sales. It’s all awesome. 

SP: What is the hardest part of running a successful business? 

Keeping up. There are so many facets to the business and it is hard to keep them all thriving. I get pulled in so many directions every day. I’ve got an amazing team that I could not do this without, but I’m still in need of a few more key people to really get this rolling at its highest level. 

A group of people stand together showing off the floral arrangements they made. They are against a dark wall and are holding a variety of flowers.
The CU Flowerhouse by A. Hunt Design on Facebook

SP: Do you have a favorite floral bouquet or installation you’ve done? 

Hunt: Last year we did an 18-foot hanging floral installation out at Pear Tree Estate that I was pretty dang proud of. And a wedding on the balcony of the Intercontinental Hotel, overlooking the ocean in San Diego, that one was pretty great too. 

SP: What is your favorite thing to do in Champaign-Urbana? 

Hunt: Friday night date night with my boys, who are eight and ten. We sit at The Literary, buy a book, and have a glass of wine and two hot chocolates.

The CU Flowerhouse
2006 S Neil St
M 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tu-F 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Culture Editor

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