How Lisa Fontanarosa Built a Life Filled with Flowers

An international design business, a lavender farm, an apple orchard, and flower gardens. These define the life that entrepreneur Lisa Fontanarosa has built in an old adobe compound on Rio Grande Boulevard in Albuquerque.

Fontanarosa and JJ Ornelas bought the 1900s adobe in 2017. Since then, she has been reimagining the home and erstwhile mini donkey farm. The spot includes a casita, a wooden A-frame, a lavender and dried flower studio, a lavender field, and a chicken coop near the old stables. Flower beds containing dahlias and cosmos fill one section of the property. An apple orchard fronts Rio Grande Boulevard. At the time of this writing, a greenhouse is under construction.

Finding Inspiration

The compound reflects Fontanarosa’s eclectic array of business and personal interests. A trip to Naples as a young girl, where Fontanarosa experienced long lunches served outside with flower centerpieces and elegant table settings, sparked a love of international travel, design, and fashion.

She spent her early career revolving around the New York fashion scene, working at Conde Nast magazines such as Vogue and Architectural Digest. It was a window dressing job for the Henri Bendel store’s “Street of Shops” that solidified her love of interior design. This led, ultimately, to an international design career and the founding of Lisa Fontanarosa Collections in 1997. “I traveled the globe looking for handmade pieces that speak to my heart: lighting, textiles, and objects that are as visceral as works of art and that, like all of us, are beautiful in their imperfection,” she says.

In 2000, the New York Times featured her collection, and more international press followed. Since then, she has worked with artists and designers on custom pieces for Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys, and hotels and hospitality projects around the world.

One-of-a-Kind Creations

The business revolves around providing one-of-a-kind commissions from artists Fontanarosa represents, products showcased in the renovated, light-filled casita. Items range from delicate and sparkly sculptural lamps to textiles to rustic yet elegant handmade ceramics. Some of the items are one-of-a-kinds, now out of production, and all are handmade: Poetic wire chandeliers, sculptures from Marie Christophe France. Hand-dyed velvet and linen pillows from Adam & Victoria Sweden. Handwoven textiles of Bonita Ahuja, London. “And, of course, all of my artisan lavender products that I made from the lavender in my field,” she says.

Lisa Fontanarosa Collections’ success means she has one foot in France, whose culture and lifestyle for which she has a particular fondness. Her discovery of Marie Christophe while wandering the streets of Paris led to a favorite point in her career. In 2009, the Paris boutique Colette asked her to style an exhibition based on upcycled materials. “I conceived three pieces from three different artists, but the showstopper was the bicycle in wire I asked Marie Christophe France to create.”

Over 25 years, her career has taken her all over the world, working with A-List designers and style makers. “I style products and delve into the DNA of a brand, always imagining a fairytale, curating a world of beauty filled with poetic pieces,” she says. “I love unexpected details, overlooked materials, color, and elements of surprise.”

Falling in Love with New Mexico

While she moved to Albuquerque in 1992, Jo’s Farm — named after her mother Josephine — has influenced new creative, floral projects. “The property inspired us to add lavender, cosmo, and dahlia fields, garden patios, and fruit trees,” she says. Last summer, Jo’s Farm hosted a U-Pick event in the lavender field, and will be repeated again this summer. Community vendors will be inited to sell homemade wares. “I am playing around with … dried floral sculptures and embellishing my vintage dress forms (a few sourced from Paris) with flowers from my garden.”

As it evolves, Fontanarosa envisions Jo’s Farm as the palette for her creations: a living example of her deep and worldly mix of passions where people can discover unique décor, as well as lavender, vegetables, and flowers—a  celebration of home in color, texture, and style.

Story by Emily Esterson / Photography by Tira Howard / Styling by Keith Recker

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