Mother’s Day is around the corner and we know what that means: It’s flower time.
But if you’re looking for carnations or mums, don’t call Mark Masone, an out gay Southampton-based florist, event stylist, and owner of Designs by Mark Masone.
“I’m not your run-of-the-mill florist,” said Masone, who has been creating floral arrangements for single delivery and styling for special occasions for more than 30 years. His celebrity clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Tory Burch, Debra Messing, Jane Fonda, Jill Zarin, and Teresa Giudice.
“I don’t use carnations or daisies unless someone asks for them — I don’t even buy them,” he said. “Carnation is known as a cheap flower, seen at funerals, like mums. What’s funny is, they last forever as opposed to other flowers.”
Roses. Hydrangeas. Sunflowers. Peonies. Ranunculus. Hyacinths. These are the flowers that are most in demand, according to Masone.
Masone prides himself on being hands-on and expeditious in his effort to provide colorful arrangements for his customers. He said he “oversees everything” while he caters to clients from Westhampton to Montauk as well as in New York City, the west coast, and London.
“I think what my clients love is that I am the one who answers your phone call, I’m the one making your arrangement, and possibly the one delivering your arrangement,” said Malone, who notes that his phone is on 24/7.
“My father, who ran a construction business for 60 years, taught me it’s never too late or too early to answer the phone,” he said. “I’ve built relationships in the last 12 months just from COVID because customers like that feeling of connecting and dealing with me directly.”
Masone got acclimated to the flower business at age 14 when he landed an after-school job sweeping floors at a local flower shop in Oceanside, near Nassau County’s Island Park, where he grew up. By age 16, he found himself managing the store while the owners were out on vacation — and that experience laid the groundwork for his own future career.
At age 18, he opened his first store in Oceanside, and for the next 25 years he ran and developed his business there. He would commute back and forth to the Hamptons, where his family had a home, but everything changed when Hurricane Sandy slammed the region in 2012.
“After Hurricane Sandy, I decided to stay out east full time,” he recalled.
Masone moved to Southampton with his then-wife and two children — which was a pivotal decision that would impact not only his business, but his personal life. Eight years ago, after 13 years of marriage, Masone came out to his then-wife. He was 38.
“I knew I was gay as a young child, but for 20 years I had to suppress it,” he explained. “I came from a very strict, powerful Italian family, and it wasn’t accepted. It was something I had to suppress for so long because of my family.”
He added, “It was bad, then it was good, then bad, then it just went to good. I made sure at a certain point to tell my kids. At the time my daughter was eight; my son was four. I wanted them to hear it from me, not from someone in town.”
Today Masone, 45, lives in the same house with his ex-wife and their kids. His ex-wife has a boyfriend and at one point Masone had a three-year relationship with a man. His kids knew his partner.
“I like that everyone gets along,” Masone said. “My kids obviously are most important.”
The coming out process was not easy for Masone, however, and he faced adversity from both friends and family members who found it difficult to accept him as a gay man. He went on to develop some health issues, such as myocarditis of the heart and ulcerative colitis, throughout what he described as a “major life change.”
To this day, he does not have a close relationship with some of his family members, but he has found the community on the east end of Long Island to be a more accepting place. Had he not moved there, he believes he would not have been able to come out.
“I don’t think anyone should ever live their life as a lie,” he said. “It’s just sad that there are so many people out there going through what I went through. Unfortunately, some straight people don’t understand it, because they are not in it, and they think it’s a choice. And that’s something that bothers me — because it’s not a choice.”
However, Masone acknowledges that he does have a choice to be happy. He is surrounding himself with those who do love him and appreciate him for who he is, regardless of his sexual orientation.
“I have my own family and I wouldn’t change anything right now for the world,” he said. “I love who I am, my friends love me for who I am. I don’t need the negativity. I’m here for who knows how long, and I want to enjoy it. I want to be around happy people.”
Since coming out, Masone has supported local LGBTQ causes, in addition to many other charities, including the American Heart Association, the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center, and the Southampton-based Edie Windsor Center, which offers wide-ranging care, including HIV testing and support services for people living with HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community.
“I love living out here,” he says. “I love the people, the connection, the openness, the nature, the trees, the beach. It’s that small-town community and I can relate to that.”
In recent years, Masone’s business has also evolved in its own way. He abandoned the retail route and decided to switch his business operation to a studio, where he can spend more time catering to clients and does not have to deal with walk-in customers. The change in scenery has also translated into new opportunities for him during the COVID era.
“For me, my business actually increased because of COVID because so many more people are out here,” he said.
Masone is riding out the pandemic by serving folks at private dinner parties, delivering flowers every week, and creating “beautiful entrance pieces that change weekly.” His online store, where he offers flowers, gourmet chocolates, and his favorite flower — orchids — has become a central part of his business.
“I love when things come to life at an event,” he says. “It’s so gratifying, when the candles are lit, to see everyone walk in and say ooh and ahh. It’s just amazing, as is the relationship that grows with the client.”
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