Just a few days ago, I joined Latwan Banks, the owner and balloon stylist of the Hudson Valley balloon decoration salon Madeline’s Room, at one of her latest balloon styling sessions at Cream Boutique in Newburgh New York and we had an amazing time chatting about balloons and styling, and art. Her work is so fascinating and I had tons of questions about it.
Here is how it went:
Dino: Why ballon decorations? How did it all start?
Latwan: Although I totally feel like I was destined to be a balloon stylist, because of how much I’ve always loved color, I got into it as a hobby in 2007 after attending a friend’s baby shower. Up to that point, I had never seen anything so over the top and amazing and it was the balloons that really turned her baby shower up. And interestingly, a few months after refining my skills and getting good at it, the economic downturn in 2008 happened, I was laid off from my job as a Human Resources Associate and started styling balloons as a way to earn income during the recession!
I would eventually return to a corporate structure in 2015 but decided to quit last February to do this full-time. I love the flexibility and freedom styling balloons afford me, absolutely adore my clients, and also enjoy having more time to do the things I love. I really enjoy meditating in the mornings, journaling, having a good French Press, and visiting and feeding the ducks at the Newburgh waterfront a few times a week.
Dino: Do you build the entire ballon structures on-site or bring pre-built pieces to assemble?
Latwan: Preparation is definitely key. While I do assemble a lot of the structures on site, pre-inflating is how I get everything done. Depending on the size of the job, I may start weeks in advance.
Dino: What the most challenging part of transportation? (Space, fragility, etc.)
Latwan: You might be surprised to know that it’s not the balloons breaking, but ensuring I have enough space in my car or van! In fact, we’ve gotten so busy post-pandemic that I am now a regular at my local Uhaul. It’s definitely time to upgrade to a larger van. I use really high-quality balloons, so they don’t tend to break. Also, balloons respond to our energy. When I’m upset, the balloons pop or deflate, so I ensure I’m well-rested, have done my daily centering meditation, have had coffee, and have music, usually smooth jazz or some kind of chill electronic music, playing before starting any inflating.
Dino: Are you using any special balloons and materials?
Latwan: Definitely the highest quality and luxury balloons. Dollar or party store balloons are a definite NO NO!
Dino: What’s the most important, or favorite, tool that makes your job easier, aside from the air machine that inflates the balloons?
Latwan: My most important tool is a positive attitude, a love for working with people, trying to improve on each installation, and a belief that I can get anything done. I know that sounds hokey but it’s true. I guess that’s more than one but I get a rush from making my clients happy and creating something beautiful that we will both remember. Those three things make styling feel like a hobby and fun versus work.
Dino: I noticed you were spraying the balloons with something? What was that?
Latwan: That’s a solution that helps minimize oxidation. Oxidation is a natural process that turns the balloons matte. The solution helps keeps the balloons shiny.
Dino: I can imagine the execution is very time-consuming, but we can’t ignore the great amount of planning and creative process behind your structures. What part of the process would you say takes up most of your time?
Latwan: I would say overthinking about what the client will think or feel before I’ve inflated one balloon takes up most of my time.
Dino: What part of the ballon styling job do you enjoy the most?
Latwan: I love the finished products. I love making clients happy and knowing they feel special. A celebration is a big deal and people invest a lot of time, love, energy, and money into their events, so I always want them to feel like a superstar once I’m done!
Dino: Would you be willing to share a secret or two, maybe a tip for someone who would like to DIY balloon decoration on their own?
Latwan: I would say definitely invest in quality balloons. There are lots of DIY dollar store hacks on YouTube that may look appealing, but those balloons aren’t decorator grade and deteriorate quickly. Also, avoid curling ribbon when tying your balloons. Curling ribbon weakens the necks of the balloons and can cause them to pop or deflate.
Dino: What is the scariest thing that could happen during the process of completing an installation? What’s your worst nemesis? Rain, snow, hail, porcupines, woodpeckers?
Latwan: People touching the balloons! I don’t know why party guests like poking and squeezing the balloons.
Dino: How big was the biggest installation you have ever done?
Latwan: The largest installation was for my sister’s Mermaid Balls at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and The Fonda in Los Angeles. The biggest challenge was that it was only me at the time and I had to train friends and other family members on the spot. It was also my first time doing a 2,000 balloon drop. It was wild but a lot of fun. The job in LA was further complicated because I didn’t have my license at the time and my driver got arrested the night before for a DWI! I was over 3 hours late for the set. I was also relatively new at styling and overlooked the importance of buying duplicates of balloons. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, one of my foil letters popped. We had the runner for the venue running all over LA for a replacement, poor girl.
Dino: Where would our readers find you and what areas do you service?
Latwan: I serve all of the Tri-State area, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They can also visit my website at www.madelinesroom.com, Instagram @madelinesroomny or also call me at 845-363-8213.
Dino: Thank you so much for your time and for the beautiful art you bring to life. Your work is such a ray of sunshine and at times a literal rainbow after a rainy day. We all need more of it in our gray and mundane daily lives.
Latwan: I appreciate you so much. I love your work as well. Your energy shines through. You are amazing!