For most people, the municipal green bins on city street corners are for chucking garbage. But, for Lewis Miller, they’re oversize vases and an ideal canvas for his gargantuan, guerilla-style floral installations that have earned him a reputation as the “Banksy of floral design.”
By day, Miller creates lush, lively arrangements for galas, weddings, and other upscale events at venues across New York, including the New York Public Library and Maidstone Country Club. But by night, Miller and his team work fast to enliven urban streetscapes with flashes of beauty. They’ve been known to quickly jostle and jounce colorful buckets of begonias, carnations, daisies, and roses, nestling stems into garbage cans, throughout construction sites, around statues, and outside of Mister Softee ice cream trucks. Come morning, passersby are so astonished and touched by the unexpected spectacle that even the city’s sanitation workers do not dare disturb them.
“It’s easy to get stuck doing flowers for the top tiers and kind of forget how important flowers are to everybody,” Miller says. “I’m always trying to make flowers more joyful—I mean, that’s their whole reason.”
Miller has been surprising New Yorkers with his “Flower Flashes” since 2016, and it’s given him the mythical ethos of other magical, benevolent characters such as the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. But now that he’s opened a new Palm Beach outpost for Lewis Miller Design and purchased a Spanish-style home in West Palm Beach, many locals are wondering not only if Miller’s bewitching arrangements might pop up in a nearby trash receptacle someday soon, but also how a man who reveres garbage cans as art would decorate a place as sacred as his home.
“Wherever I am,” Miller says with a cryptic smile, “I will continue to do Flower Flashes.”
As for his nearly century-old, two-story property off South Olive Avenue, Miller spent almost a year sprucing it up, which included sourcing antique prints from as far away as Paris and hiring an artisan to hand paint wood floors.
“I definitely wanted it to feel congruent with Florida and Palm Beach without being typical,” Miller explains. “The colors are also unusual with the greens and tobacco. I wanted it to have a masculine vibe, a kind of Ernest Hemingway style. Obviously, I’m a florist, so I love flora and fauna, and I try to incorporate birds in every room to pull in this English country look. It’s a true calico cat, but it feels Palm Beach without being pink and green.”
Last year, Miller developed the habit of waking up before dawn with a cup of coffee and scouring the Palm Beach zip codes on real estate websites. His close friend, celebrity event planner Jennifer Zabinski, had long been flying down to South Florida to throw elaborate events for her clients visiting during the winter months. The pair regularly collaborate, and Zabinski couldn’t help but notice more and more clients requesting their expertise in the Sunshine State.
“It was always my older clients who came down in season, but now younger people are coming down and really want to entertain in a way that they do up north,” Zabinski explains. “We’re planning to be here much more this season, which is fun.”
However, if the pair were to open a Palm Beach hub for their extravagant operations, Miller would need a nest, which is how the floral designer found himself making an offer on a charming three-bedroom, two-bathroom, circa-1926 Spanish mission home sight unseen in September 2021.
“It all happened very fast, and I feel very lucky,” Miller says. “We still have our apartment in [New York City], but this is my primary residence now.”
In the ensuing months, Miller traded his pruning shears for a hard hat as the extensive renovations began. The Florida room became the foyer. The family room became the formal dining room. The formal dining room became the library. And the breakfast room became the family room.
“I’ve always loved this kind of architecture, and it had a lot of great features,” Miller says. “To zhuzh it up, we opened up a few doorways [and] smoothed some things out. A lot of it was bringing in finishes, from hand-painted floors to the tile in the kitchen to all the wallpaper, soft goods, and bookcases.”
Many of the home’s original features remain, including the colorful, geometric, Spanish cement tile on the second-floor veranda, as well as the curved stairway, grand archways, and bath with a clawfoot tub. Miller kept the master bedroom but converted one of the remaining upstairs bedrooms into a spacious closet and the other into what he calls the “napping room.”
Like one of Miller’s fanciful floral installations, his home is immediately arresting, with its unconventional use of color, texture, and patterns. However, a discerning eye can revel in Miller’s attention to details, including hard-carved wooden bedposts, knobby bamboo staircase railings, and subtle bird motifs specked on the whimsical wallpaper in the first-floor bathroom, antique paintings in the library, and Victorian taxidermy display in the family room.
“There are a ton of birds in this house,” Miller says as Tug, one of his two border terriers, dutifully tags along for the tour.
The two self-contained apartments in the carriage house on the property were a big draw for Miller, who looks forward to hosting guests comfortably. Though it’s technically his second holiday season at his new home, it’s the first one where he can throw dinners and parties now that renovations are complete. “We’re looking forward to spending another winter here and having more space, but, most importantly, getting to entertain and reciprocate to all the people who hosted me last winter.”
On one recent evening, Miller hosted guests for canapés, cocktails, and dinner, with catering by Carla Ruben of Creative Edge Parties of South Florida. Naturally, Miller handled the floral arrangements, crafting a centerpiece of clematis, vanda orchids, sweet peas, persimmon, date nut palms, scabiosa, anemones, hellebores, and dahlias.
Holiday accents typically incorporate Fraser firs and poinsettias, but those plants are native to the Appalachian Mountains and Mexico, respectively. For entertaining during Florida’s mild winter, Miller suggests thinking seasonally and locally. Try nearby nurseries for green foliage, shrubs, and vines, and farmers markets for fresh fruit, such as persimmons, dates, plums, and cherries.
“Throw them all in a beautiful basket and voila! You get a lot of bang for your buck, and also it’s a lot more fresh, chic, and interesting,” he says. “There’s a certain sensualness to pairing fruit and flowers; it’s sexy, it’s lush, it’s natural. I’m a little bit of a hedonist, like a decadent Flemish still life.”
Whether for a Manhattan garbage can, an A-list celebrity wedding, or a Palm Beach holiday dinner, Miller’s creations are always abundant, layered, and colorful. Those same words can be used to describe Miller himself.
“I love color and I like a certain simplicity,” Miller says of his style. “I don’t want it to be too wrought or over-touched. [I like] to keep a certain wildness to it and a certain imperfection and spontaneity and to spark joy.”
It’s not so much that Miller’s art seeks to imitate his own life, but rather the thrill of being alive more broadly.
“There’s something about a full bloom being in its full glory,” he says. “But I think the process of collapsing blooms, petals falling, and turning to seed is just as beautiful. A good flower arrangement has the whole cycle.”
On the Menu
All food by Creative Edge Parties of South Florida
Beet Purse: beetroot tartare, tarragon aioli, Champagne gelée, balsamic pearls
Salmon Gâteau: saffron crepe, smoked salmon, lemon crème
Caviar Éclair: Osetra caviar, chive diplomat cream, gold leaf
Surf & Turf Wellington: beef tenderloin, Maine lobster tail, wild mushroom duxelle, fine herb crepe
Sides: hasselback butternut squash, herb-roasted romanesco, sweet potato mille-feuille
Wild Berry Pavlova: orange chips, strawberry cream, chocolate shavings, micro mint
Hair and makeup: Deborah Koepper, Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach
Photography assistant: Robert Swinson
Catering: Carla Ruben, Creative Edge Parties of South Florida