Feature Article: The Love Issue
He’s bearded, covered in tats and rocks hard to heavy metal, but don’t let it fool you. Antonio Bond of Transplants is making some of the most beautiful flowers in town.
Clad in one of the many metal band tees from his vast collection, Antonio Bond is in his happy place. The AC of his East Austin bungalow is turned down to refrigerator cool and his favorite Hank Williams record echoes throughout the house, interrupted only by giggles of his two young daughters. He arranges and then re-arranges a stunning grouping of pink roses, lush white hydrangeas and bright yellow mimosas into a bouquet. Peaking from his lumberjack plaid shirt is one of the many tattoos that covers his body, a tiger in honor of his daughter who was born on the first day of the year of the tiger. The finished arrangement is beautiful, but this isn’t your typical arrangement. That’s because Bond’s approach to doing flowers is anything but typical. Look closer at one of his arrangements and you might see a chipped hand sculpture peaking out the back of a bouquet or a centerpiece cascading from a wasp hive. His work is surprising, edgy and striking.
Bond, who grew up in Austin just behind the Austin Motel on South Congress, started working when he was just 14. He calls himself a “straight edge kid from a poor family,” and he lived for seeing live music. So as an enterprising junior high student, he convinced the management at Liberty Lunch to let him clean up after shows in exchange for getting into a concert for free. He spent the rest of his teen years working at stores in the mall and landed at Central Market when he was 18. He started in produce, and it was total chance when he was switched to the flower department where he began working in the cooler processing flowers for most of the day. From a creative family (his mom is an artist and his uncle, a sculptor), Bond often found himself becoming increasingly interested in observing as a co-worker put an arrangement together.
As he moved up in the department, his manager asked if he wanted to try and start making arrangements. “I still think about the first one I made. It was terrible,” he says with a laugh. “The lady returned it. But, after that I started experimenting and quickly realized that I had finally found my medium.” When friends would get married, Bond would offer to do their flowers for free if they paid for the cost of the flowers. So he slowly started building a business doing flowers for events on the side while still working at Central Market and bar tending at Emo’s. And then, his world was rocked when he became extremely ill with renal disease that caused kidney failure.
Bond, now 36, has a warm sincerity and speaks openly about his life threatening illness at age 23, when he completely lost function of the organ and spent two years on dialysis. “I was living off a machine. I was really a boy at that time, sitting in a room with people three times my age, many of whom I saw lose limbs or pass away,” he says. “It really changed my perspective on things, and I would spend my days dreaming about what I would do when I was out of there.” It was during one of his many treatments, as he waited for a kidney transplant (he received one from his brother in 2004), that he decided to name his floral design company, Transplants.
Post-transplant, he started to focus more on his business, but never advertised and clients would only find him through word of mouth. He loved working on weddings from the start. “Making brides dreams come true is the best part! I love figuring out what makes them tick. I have done gay weddings, straight weddings, and whoever it is, everyone has a childhood image of what their dream big day is going to be like,” he says. “I love figuring it out and giving them my interpretation of what they want. I usually meet with them, go to the flower shop, and ask them to show me what they like, and show me what they don’t like. More than anything, I love making brides happy!”
A big break came in November of 2013 when he did an event for Hotel Saint Cecilia. They were so impressed by his work that the Hotel hired him to be their in-house florist. Special Events Director for the Hotel, Emily Waldmann, remembers the first time she met him when she had the same surprise reaction as many others to see a “burly, tattooed, bearded” guy doing flowers. “The first time I heard him talk about flowers, it was just game over! I knew he was special. He really loves what he does and gets so excited talking about flowers,” she says. “In this era of Pinterest where everything starts to look the same, his work really stands out. He has such a clear vision and has an approach to flowers that is different than what anyone else is doing. His pieces are like art installations, not just arrangements.”
Bond has surprised many party-goers at events (including Senator Wendy Davis herself who became a fan after seeing his work at a fundraiser at the Hotel Saint Cecilia) by using broken statue pieces, bones, vintage trinkets and crystals in his arrangements. He has even turned an old meat grinder and car parts into a container for one of his arrangements. He says: “I like to take things that people might throw out and don’t think are good anymore and try to make them beautiful again. There is nothing I love more than giving new life to something, like taking rusty sheers people might ignore and putting them in the spotlight for a minute. For some reason, if you put them in the right light, they are transplanted to something new.”
Besides flowers, what Bond really lights up about is to talk about is his wife Camille (who he affectionately calls “my lady”) and his two daughters Bijou and Oona (5 and 2). He has spent a lot of time with the girls, especially as a stay at home dad for the baby years and the girls are well-known fixtures at the Austin Flower Market, as they often come along in the minivan to do floral pick ups with their dad. His hope is that one or both of his girls will one day want to take over Transplants. “I love my job. I have to create—it’s a life source for me. August 31 marked the 10 year anniversary of my transplant. I know I will have to get back on dialysis at some point, but I don’t even think about when that will happen. I will cross that bridge when I get there,” Bond says. “I am a cup half full kind of guy, so I just keep going.”