Q&A: Behind the Scenes at 4121 MAIN
Thommy Conroy and Kira Hoeg combine coffee, floral design and event planning into one blooming Lawrenceville business.
photos by renee rosensteel
It was an informal brunch at Thommy Conroy’s studio that inspired the idea of adding an espresso bar. The idea became a reality a few months later when Conroy got together with coffee aficionado Kira Hoeg to open 4121 MAIN at his workspace in Lawrenceville on Valentine’s Day in 2015.
Dubbed a “concept shop” by the owners, it appears at first to be an intimate floral shop — but the business is much bigger than those four walls. 4121 MAIN combines a floral design and event-planning studio packaged with a high-end espresso bar in a sumptuous environment.
While the owners have diverse backgrounds — Conroy’s is in art and theater and Hoeg studied cultural anthropology and has extensive travel experience — they share similar values and vision, including a belief in drawing inspiration from your surroundings, living in the moment and unplugging from the world to spend time with friends.
Beginning in June, the shop only will be open on weekends, a move the owners say will allow them to focus more on clients for the event planning and floral design aspects of the business. Their hope is to expand their reach in Pittsburgh and beyond.
How did you become interested in floristry?
TC: I was an 11 year old out foraging evergreens to make garlands that would shed all over my poor mother’s house. I’ve been in the industry ever since. I grew up in Connecticut in the ’80s and ’90s, which was the heyday for Martha Stewart and florists like Madderlake. There was a movement during that time towards being very hyper-seasonal and very natural. Also, my mother was a woman who was on lots of boards that had very fancy parties; it was the early ’90s when things were still really glamorous. I would work on those things, which is where I learned a lot of the trade and made important connections.
Can you explain a little more about what exactly a “concept shop” is?
KH: In this country, there are not a lot of spaces that combine coffee and florals, and then go beyond that to breathe life into other spaces with event planning. Also, with this space we wanted something a little bit different that evoked more of an opportunity to have conversation and meet with people rather than your typical coffee shop, which turns into kind of an office space pretty quickly. So, our concept is still undefined, still evolving, and we don’t fit into one category. We had a really hard time with Google, because we don’t know what to call ourselves. We can only choose one thing. Do we choose coffee or flowers or events? We knew we had our hands full with the branding of the space because it isn’t a cut-and-dry kind of business.
What was the inspiration for shop’s aesthetic?
TC: It’s always changing. The designs that we do are informed by the seasons and our location. For example, in the summer, our wallpaper might have wild roses that you would find in the forest, and then you would see those in the arrangements as well. We’re just always sort of connected seasonally as a point of inspiration.
What’s your design process?
TC: I start by getting to know the client and their own specific story and the details of that narrative. A lot of it comes from my studies in directing theater; storytelling is always my focus. Kira’s background in anthropology also connects us to story and narrative.
What are some of your favorite things about designing with flowers, and how does that differ from your art?
TC: It doesn’t. I find that the most refreshing thing for me is to step out of one process and into another. So, one week it might be making a large painted backdrop for a wedding. Working on that painting can really change and inform how I understand composition in flowers, or my way of appreciating a space, or a newfound understanding of a specific color relationship. And in the same way, building the flowers could change the way that I understand designing a pattern. They constantly speak to each other, and I don’t really understand much of a difference between any of the mediums.
What are your tips for incorporating summer flowers into your indoor and outdoor decor?
TC: Be more inspired by the world outside than the internet. Go outside and look at your garden, look at your park, look at the land around you, and take inspiration from that — not some sort of multi-million dollar photo shoot designed to sell you something. Unplug if you’re going to think about flowers. Look at what’s happening here and be connected to that. Do things that are reactions to your environment.