by Layne Lynch
Photography by Dustin Meyer
Gazing over the geometric, grassy 90- by 17-foot wall at the new Whole Foods Market in the Domain, it’s hard to imagine the wall’s craftsman was once a Sixth Street bartender. Yet, it was the full-time gig at the now-closed Louie’s 106 that first inspired Monique Capanelli to embrace the luscious, wondrous world of flowers, mosses, cacti and succulents that are now such a big part of her company, Articulture Designs, LLC. “I never wanted to be a florist, per se,” she says.
“But when they started letting me put together these arrangements at the [Louie’s 106] bar, something in me clicked. I remember thinking I could really do something with this. There was a lot of excitement in bringing the outdoors in and turning it into something beautiful, fun and functional.”
In the years since Capanelli launched her company, she’s grown her profession by leaps and bounds—blossoming a gorgeous line of “living furniture” that inhabits an assortment of intimate, verdant spaces throughout Austin. And yet, unlike many mainstream artists and modern designers, Capanelli follows no consistent, strict style—each of her meticulous pieces is rooted in its own identity and thoughtfully brought to life by the scrupulous designer, who has considered herself to be an artist for as long as she can remember. Whether it was studying as a dance major at the University of Texas at Austin, mixing classic cocktails or piecing together her own homemade jewelry, the floral craftsman has consistently immersed herself in inventive endeavors. These days, she has fully embraced her inner plant nerd—studying any and all of the intricacies of horticulture, down to every last excruciating scientific detail. “I’ve become obsessed with it,” she admits.
As the daughter of two restaurateurs, Capanelli grew up in California’s Sonoma Valley—spending her days traversing the sprawling land, scraping her knees on rough rocks, tripping over thick tree roots and tending to homegrown gardens and fields of flowers. As idyllic as her childhood was, the family uprooted and moved to Austin in 1986. The change of scenery was a culture shock, but over the years, Capanelli developed a love affair with the local mosses, driftwood, cacti and other Texas staples that now saturate her one-of-a-kind designs.
Perusing her commissioned work unveils a world of coffee tables with beds of flowers, glass terrariums that dangle from the ceiling with fibrous moss and delicate succulents, shapely wall planters that turn gardening into a vertical affair, and vibrant, dreamlike furniture that challenges all preconceived notions about contemporary design. But you won’t find plants simply placed atop furniture pieces. Instead, Capanelli integrates plant life directly into the works by carefully weaving a variety of them into artisan-designed furniture, thus forging a truly living, breathing piece of photosynthetic art. “I like to be challenged and push the limits of possibility,” she says. “People are really fascinated with moss walls, terrariums and planters right now, but I feel like there is something more for us to explore over the horizon. That’s what I’m working towards.”
Audiences across Austin are taking notice of Capanelli’s talent. In fact, two of Capanelli’s most recognizable, large-scale commissions came her way last year: Whole Foods Market’s living moss wall and neon sign backed by delicate yellow flowers, as well as the floral arrangement at the TEDxAustin 2013 convention. The installments required hours of labor, massive working spaces and bed upon bed of plants. The 30-foot sprouting wall at TEDx was pieced together in a few weeks, while her role in the 1,325 square-foot Whole Foods Market project required months of arduous planning, preparation and construction. “It’s funny, but those projects are just as meaningful to me as my small projects,” she says. “I’m attached to all my work, so I could never point to one and say, That’s my favorite. It’s as impossible as naming a favorite child. What means most to me is what the audience takes away from my work.”
When she isn’t busy constructing lush items for her new Living Furniture line, the artist likes to seek inspiration and relaxation in yoga classes, test out new wine bars and tend to her three unnamed city chickens (it makes it easier to eat them that way). And even though it’s uncertain what the landscape looks like for Living Furniture in the future, Capanelli believes there’s nothing but growth ahead for Articulture Designs. “I feel like we’re on the precipice of something great when it comes to plant life,” she says. “People in Austin are genuinely passionate about the environment around them.”
For more information, visit articulturedesigns.com