Wedding Planning

Event Design in Action

AS-BeforeAfter
AS-BeforeAfter

As many of you know we launched an event design branch at The Plannery recently. Ann and Stephen were one of our first test subjects (!), so I thought it would be fun to take a look at how their moodboard from Kim came to life. Ann and Stephen wanted a colorful, modern wedding to fit in with their somewhat unique venue, Clarendon Ballroom. Kim came back to them with some beautiful bold colors in various shades of pink along with a deep blue, and accented by gold and green. As you'll see, Ann's bridesmaids dresses played into the darker pink tone, while her florist brought out the brighter pinks and green accents. We went with the dark blue linens which perfectly matched Kim's design board - as did Stephen's suit! The gold chairs, and gold table numbers were great gold accents - and though we didn't get photos of it, they served sparkling rose to their guests pre ceremony!

Please be sure to ask us about our design services whether you're a coordination or planning client!

Photo by Shandi Wallace
Photo by Shandi Wallace
Photo by Shandi Wallace
Photo by Shandi Wallace

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How The Wedding Industry Has Changed

For a variety of reasons I’ve been thinking lately about how much things have changed in the wedding industry in last 5 years or so. What has gotten better, what has stayed the same, and where it’s headed next.

I think the biggest shift is that, generally, sane vendors have infiltrated the industry. And by being in business and providing sane options, couples realize that they have choices - and those choices don’t have to be one extreme or the other.

I think back on my own wedding, and it almost felt like a teenager’s rebellious phase. It was at a moment when people were finally calling out the wedding industry, but we didn’t have other vendors to choose from. And so we rebelled. Everything had to be anti-wedding industrial complex. You couldn’t hire a florist, you had to DIY your flowers. You couldn’t go to a traditional bridal gown store. You couldn’t even have a traditional structure to your wedding - you had to mix it up somehow, make it a cocktail reception, have an alternative venue - all to give a big middle finger to the industry. Looking back on it now, it felt desperate (but, it WAS desperate - it’s awful to not have options or feel you have choices). And that rebellion was necessary. (and without it my business wouldn’t exist!).

Nowadays, it feels like couples have matured. They’ve calmed down a bit. Because cool, down-to-earth vendors exist, couples aren’t as upset at the wedding world. No big EFF YOU’s are necessary. Now, they can embrace some of the traditions that work (ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner and dancing works for a reason), and get rid of the ones they don’t. They don’t get enraged when they try to find a wedding dress that fits them or their style, when they want a planner that doesn’t tell them what they “have” to do, when they want a non-diamond engagement ring (or no ring at all). Because they take a deep breath, and low and behold, those options are visible, are available, and are attainable (thanks interwebs!). I’m constantly seeing things and thinking “goddamn it, wish I’d had that option when I got married!”

All that being said, as our friends at Catalyst Wed Co are well aware of - and as I mulled over in a post after their great (un)convention - the wedding industry still needs disrupters. We all need to keep showing those options, providing validation, and reminding people over and over and over again that they have choices. But as I see and feel the ease from the clients I work with, as I more and more notice that they’re feeling quite confident in their decisions and quite happy with their options, I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track.

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Groomsmen gift ideas

FullSizeRender_2 Gifts for your bridal party aren't necessary - I'm gonna just say that outright. However - a lot of my clients really want to thank their bridal party with a special something. And finding that special something can be hard - especially for guys.

But I recently learned about an online shop, Groovy Groomsmen Gifts, that has a bunch of great options for couples wanting to thank their groomsmen (or brides men, fyi!), in a personalized fashion. Full disclosure, they sent me a free sample in exchange for a 100% honest review. While they had a ton of fun options to choose from - you have to check out the Your Buddy's Buddies, their Prohibition Classic Flask, and the Cap Catcher - I opted for the hand stamped tie bar because I liked the idea of giving a gift of something the guys could both wear the day-of, as well as use in the future.

I personalized it for my husband (why not?), and since his first name is three letters, I did his full first name rather than his initials. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. Frankly, from the photos I was concerned the metal would be a bit flimsy. But it arrived and I gotta say, it's really awesome - plus, the hubby really loves it! First of all, I like that it's classy with a bit of a funky touch: the hand-stamped lettering (meaning each piece will be different) funks this classic piece up nicely and makes it really unique and one of a kind. Also the weight of it and durability are way better than what I'd expected. It feels expensive (I know that sounds strange, but think of how it feels to pick up a light piece of silverware... sort of crappy, right? This FEELS good to hold and give someone).

And most importantly, it looks great! Check out www.GroovyGroomsmenGifts.com yourself!

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Guest posts on A Practical Wedding

Quick blog post to update you all on a project I managed to squeeze in before Tallulah arrived. I'm super excited that I was asked to do some guest blog posts for my most favorite of favorite blogs, A Practical Wedding. I've been reading A Practical Wedding almost since it's inception years ago, back when it was on Blogger and was just Meg herself ranting about the wedding industry. It inspired my own wedding, and frankly, it inspired me to start this business. So getting to write some logistics blog posts about finding a venue and doing a venue site visit for them was a huge honor and thrill! The first one ran on February 3rd, Tallulah's birthday. So I was a little distracted and wasn't able to share in a timely manner! This post breaks down how to get started and choose a wedding venue.

The second one ran yesterday, and is all about the essential questions you should ask when doing a venue site visit

Enjoy! And big thanks again to APW for the opportunity! Now back to breastfeeding...

venue-guide-02

 

How to Cancel Your Wedding

This July I had the unfortunate experience of helping a bride and her family handle the cancellation of her wedding - 6 days before the date.

It taught me a lot of great lessons - ones which I thought both couples and vendors could learn from - so I wanted to dive into this delicate, but real topic, and share some insight. Obviously one never wants to approach the planning of a wedding thinking about the worst-case scenarios. But whether one calls off a wedding due to cold feet or due to an act of God (hurricane, etc), those instances do sometimes happen - and it helps to be prepared.

The first is to have your contracts and vendor information organized. Have all signed contracts and vendor contact information in one easily accessible place so that you can review them and see what the next steps are - and so that you can easily pass that info on to someone else. Most likely, whatever the reason for the cancellation, you’re going to be dealing with a lot and there will be offers to help. Whether it’s your coordinator/planner, or a family member or friend stepping in to help alert vendors, it will make that transition as smooth as possible.

My main source of awe in this process was how many vendors didn’t have cancellation clauses in their contracts clearly outlining what they were to be paid in case of cancellation. Others had them but they were incredibly vague and confusing. It really surprised me. Because of this, some vendors lost out on the money they were expecting to be paid, while others had to negotiate with me and/or her father to figure out the next steps. Vendors - please oh please add a clear cancellation clause to your contract! And couples - please make sure all of your vendor contracts have a clear cancellation clause. If they don’t, ask for one to be added. The last thing you or your family will want to do if you’re dealing with the emotions of a cancellation is negotiate.

Unbeknownst to me, we also had one vendor who had never received a signed contract. Again, because of this, the vendor completely lost out on his payment (except the non-refundable deposit) - had the contract been signed, the cancellation clause would have been in place. Vendors - insist on receiving fully executed copies of your contracts! Refuse to move forward with a wedding until receiving the contract. Similarly, clients, understand that the reason vendors are asking for copies of these contracts signed is so that things are official and there is a legal document outlining services. Without a signed copy, the contract is worthless.

I also recommend to my clients that they purchase wedding insurance. Though even that may not cover ALL reasons for cancellation, it can help defray some of the costs should you need to delay or cancel your wedding. This could include loss of deposits, vendor no-shows, cancellation due to extreme weather conditions or acts of God, etc. I always tell couples that again - you don’t want to imagine it happening to you, but it does happen. A popular venue (where I actually hosted my husband’s 30th birthday party!) recently gained a lot of press because they shuttered unexpectedly, walking away with couples’ deposits and leaving them in the lurch with no venue. And let’s not forget all of the couples who lost big due to the hurricanes that hit our country recently. Wedding insurance is quite easy to purchase online from various sites such as wedsafe.com or wedsure.com (or just through your own insurance company). The couple hundred bucks is worth it for the peace of mind.

Finally, though this is somewhat off-topic, I wanted to mention cooperation clauses. Prior to this wedding, I’d never understood the need for cooperation clauses in contracts. As a planner, I couldn’t wrap my brain around someone who would engage my services and then not show up for meetings, or not respond to emails. But one of the first signs that this wedding was going to be cancelled was that the bride and groom stopped responding to my emails in a timely manner, didn’t show up for meetings, and weren’t available for phone dates we’d scheduled. Had I had the cooperation clause in my contract, I could have rightly ended things right there. Instead, I was forced to continue to TRY and do my job, despite not having any information or details on the wedding. So vendors - add it to your contract. And couples - don’t be offended if you see it in a contract!

No one wants to imagine the worst when you’re imagining one of the happiest days of your life. But as a down-to-earth planner, I’ll be the first to tell you that marriage is all about how you handle the bad and the good times. If you take these small extra precautions, those bad times won't feel quite so bad - and you'll be quickly back on your feet to start working towards the good.

DC Ballroom Dancing

DC ballroom dance Last May, my husband gave me my most favorite present ever. Three private ballroom dance lessons.

You see, I used to dance. A lot. I started taking classes in third grade and basically never stopped. I started with jazz, moved on to modern, tackled tap in high school (after seeing Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk), and hip hop in college. But I never did ballroom. My husband on the other hand, took ballroom classes as a kid (which, by the way, is why my mother-in-law is awesome and raised two great men).

Anyway, fast forward a million years and he gave me a gift certificate on my birthday and I cried from happiness (seriously). Then life intervened and we never got off our butts to schedule the classes. Fast forward another ten months, and we finally did. I dug my old character shoes out of the closet and we had our first class three weeks ago, and the second a week after. I really didn't know what to expect - but it was fantastic!

My husband got the classes from a small studio called All2Dance - located right on MacArthur Blvd (really convenient location, by the way). This studio offers private lessons as well as group lessons and a ton of other options.

It's a husband and wife team (we've been working with the husband only, so I can't speak directly about Ann but she seems great), and Victor is fantastic. As someone who has worked with a variety of teachers, he's really awesome. He teaches very important technique in an easy, light atmosphere. He's fun but also is actually teaching you (something I really appreciated - I'm all for having fun, but at the end of the day, I want to walk away having actually picked up some real skills). I'd highly recommend him to any couples looking to put together a special first dance for their wedding, or just get some basics so they feel comfortable on the dance floor. We started with a fairly easy style, the Sway. And we love it.

Now we just need to know where to go practice in the DC area! Any recommendations?

Dock 5 // DC event space

Last week I attended the launch of Dock 5, a great new event space in DC. Dock 5 is a very raw, warehouse-type space, and features over 12,000 square feet, 22’ high ceilings and glass garage doors. The venue is directly above the artisanal marketplace, Union Market, which houses over 30 of the top food producers in the region. By the way, the excellent photos, below, are taken by Mary Kate McKenna - the bad ones are by me (I was having too much fun to focus - isn't that the sign of a good party?) Dock 5

It was a really fun event. Buffalo Bergen provided wonderful cocktails and sodas. Dolcezzo Gelato had a Gelato truck with a choice of salted caramel gelato and blood orange sorbet.  Spilled Milk catering provided tasty passed hors d'oeuvres - but my favorite item was the bacon garden in which candied, spicy bacon was available on a stick. It was awesome. I've decided all events should now have bacon on a stick.

Spilled Milk Catering Bacon Garden

Rappahonnock Oysters also had a raw oyster bar (delicious and decadent) and we may or may not have taken some of Spilled Milk's bacon and used it as a topper on an oyster. Just saying. Maybe. And maybe it was delicious.

The space has a ton of possibilities. It is quite raw, so one definitely needs to consider lighting, decor, and furniture to create various spaces and help create a flow for your evening. The huge bonus is that it's very large for DC - it's hard to find venues this size in the area, so anyone with a large guest list and a modern sensibility should definitely check it out.

Big thanks to Dock 5 and the whole team for a really fun evening!

p.s. Sarah of Val & Sarah also most definitely created the next bridal trend. Two words: bacon bouquet

bacon bouquet

 

Elan Artists Showcase

Elan Artists Last week I attended one of Elan Artists' dance band showcases. They featured their very popular band, The Source, as well as their retooled version of Nation (they added some new lead singers). It was an awesome evening at the Ritz Carlton Georgetown, with delicous cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. But most of all, it was great, live music. I was really impressed with both bands.

Nation has two new lead singers - who sounded amazing. Nation's repertoire includes the very best of Funk, Soul, Motown, Sinatra-style Jazz & Swing, Rock, 80's, 90's, and Contemporary. What I personally loved about them was that one of their musicians doubles as a sax player and vocalist - and he was rad. It's always awesome to get some horns in on the action - I think horns add a ton to the evening. I also really liked Nation's vibe - they were laid back while still being full of energy and producing a high quality performance. FYI, this variation of Nation is so new, they haven't updated their website yet. I was told they'll be getting new footage and clips up soon - but I'd give Elan Artists a call directly if you want more info in the meantime.

In my opinion, The Source has a different vibe. This is a great band for people looking for a more upscale but still semi-traditional wedding band - i.e. they had choreographed moves and had a bit more showmanship. But like Nation, they sounded fantastic and brought really powerful energy. They also cover a wide variety of songs and styles through Jazz & Swing, Soul, Motown, R&B, Rock, Funk, Disco, Reggae, Hip Hop and more.

Everyone has their own personal tastes - based on this showcase I'd recommend either! Both did an excellent job with a variety of styles, sounded great, and brought positive energy to the room. Hearing bands live is the #1 way to tell how they really are, what they sound like, and whether you like them. I think it's fantastic how often Elan Artists do these showcases - if you're on the lookout for a band, keep your eyes peeled to their website and definitely attend their next showcase!

Tips on hiring a wedding band or dj // DC wedding planner

How to hire your wedding band or dj

Per my bio, prior to moving to DC and launching my own company, I worked for a high-end music production company that produced bands and DJs for upscale events and weddings in New York City. The owner was a fantastic businesswoman - and working with her taught me a ton about owning a small business, how to offer high quality services and products, and especially about what a wedding looks like from a vendor’s point of view.

Because of this background, I’m admittedly incredibly picky when it comes to DJs and bands. So here is my advice to you, some thoughts and things to consider when interviewing a DJ or band:

 

LIVE, LIVE, LIVE

For bands, especially, you’ll often be shown video and/or you’ll listen to some audio recordings of the band. Make sure you’re listening to or seeing real, live footage. You want to make sure the band and performers you hire are great in person, live. That’s difficult to prove since you can’t crash a wedding and since getting good quality live footage at a REAL event is difficult (the background/crowd noise can really affect the quality). So I generally recommend looking for a company that recorded their performers live - usually in a studio but sans crazy mastering and without too much editing.

 

Who the hell is that?

Make sure the performers you see in your meeting (or hear) are the actual people who will be at your event. Sometimes companies will sell you by using certain videos or recordings of people who are actually already booked elsewhere or frankly, don’t even work for the company anymore. Ask for a clause in the contract to guarantee the same performers - and real sticklers can even ask that all the performers be named in the contract. Note, however, that these are people and people get sick, get hurt or get pregnant (!) and might not be able to be there due to an emergency - so I’m sure the company will also insert a clause to cover emergency situations which is more than reasonable.

 

How do they run the event?

Everyone has their own style. So this is my own personal opinion based on attending and working many events and weddings: I think the music should motivate the crowd and should do the talking. Be sure there are no cheesy announcements and your DJ or band leader isn’t mic happy. No one cares about them. They care about you, they care about dancing, they care about having fun. Get off the mic.

Whether hiring a DJ or a band, I recommend that you avoid strict sets. A good band leader or DJ will be reading the crowd constantly and changing the music accordingly. My old boss was incredible at this - she specialized in a cuing system with her band so that there weren’t ever basic set lists. Instead, she visually cued them to go into another song, based on what she thought worked best for that specific party. Incredible.

Ask them if they integrate music - “integrate” is a great word and is what I personally think a good party needs. When you integrate music - for example, seamlessly transitioning from Otis Redding to Rihanna - you keep people of ALL ages on the dance floor. If instead, you have a motown set, and then an 80’s set, and then a 2014 set - only the people interested in that music will be on the dancefloor. Keep your guests on their toes by not knowing what danceable song is coming next and you have a packed dance floor.

 

Performers

Pay attention to what kind of performers your band members are. I think there’s a fine line between high energy, exceptionally talented singers, and over-the-top, can tell they wish they’d made it as a pop star, barmitzvah-motivating pushiness. A good performer should energize and motivate the crowd by being rad. That’s it. They shouldn’t NEED to get out in the crowd. They shouldn’t need to shout instructions over the mic (“get your hands in the air!!”). They should blow their minds with their talent and energy. Simple as that.

 

Other rules

A couple other items to make sure are either in the contract or discussed:

1. Talk about their attire. What will they be wearing? Will it match your vibe? Tuxedos at a casual barn wedding doesn’t make much sense, and flashy costumes with too much skin at a formal affair wouldn’t be appropriate.

2. NO DRINKING. You want them to stay hydrated. Of course. They’re working their butts off and sweating profusely. But no alcohol should be consumed. Ever. End of story.

One final note is that I personally think that a band or DJ is where you should spend your money. You want quality - you can’t skimp in this area or your party will suffer. And believe me, I’m all for budget weddings and saving money - hopefully by now you all know I’m a practical lady to a fault. But you have to pay for talent. And when it comes to DJs and bands - you need the good ones.

Why non traditional weddings matter (a.k.a. what zombies can teach us all)

My sister recently participated in a very non-traditional wedding. Before I share the details (which are ridiculously amazing, FYI), I wanted to talk about why I think non-traditional weddings are so important - for everyone. Even those who don’t consider themselves “off-beat.”

Here’s the thing: I think when making major life decisions - marriage, kids, career - it’s important to question. Why do you want to do something in a particular way? What might it look like? What are the other options? And beyond the questions, perspective is key. Understanding where your point of view is coming from, what traditions you’re drawing from, why you envision something a certain way is important.

People who break from tradition make us think. They make us question. Would I ever want a wedding like that? A marriage like that? A job like that? Seeing non-traditional choices reminds us that the choices are there. That choices do exist in this world - a world that often makes us feel like we have none or that things have to be done a certain way. They let us take a step back and realize how many creative, crazy, fun options there are in life.

Long story short, I find weddings like the one my sister participated in to be really refreshing and a helpful way to blow your mind while also establishing your own opinions. You can’t know what you like and what you don’t unless you actually ask the question. Until you consider other possibilities. And hell, this wedding is NOT for everyone. In fact, one might argue this wedding was truly for this couple and this couple only. But it definitely made me think. And more importantly - smile.

So - speaking of things that inspire and make you question - my sister has always done that for me. She’s always pushing herself to try new things - rollerderby, rock climbing, and she recently did some aerial classes. One of her friends from that class asked her if she’d be interested in being a zombie at a wedding. You read that right. A zombie wedding.

Here’s the deal - the bride and groom staged a fairly traditional-looking ceremony. They wore a white dress and a suit, and an officiant began with some traditional (but funny) vows. Halfway through the ceremony, zombies emerged from the sides and started attacking the bride and groom. The bride and groom tore off their costumes (yes, these were tear-away bride and groom wear), to reveal zentai suits and starting battling the zombies. I’m sorry, but that just makes my day.

And that was only the beginning. My sister had this to say about the whole experience: “It was very fun, liberating (I got to look ugly at a wedding!), fun for the guests (many people asked if they could have their pictures taken with us afterwards), and probably the most individualized commitment ceremony ever (aerialist performances, videos of the couple, their favorite band played, and both the bride and the groom wore fabulous evening gowns for the dinner and dancing)” - I told you this was non-traditional!

I don’t have photos of the whole shebang (yet! hope to share some once they're available), but thought I’d leave you with pics of my sister as a kick-ass (and really scary) zombie as well as this final thought: this wedding was pretty extreme - but whether you’re considering zombies, or just considering non traditional centerpieces - remember to entertain the possibilities and ask the questions that will lead you towards a wedding that is truly yours. Sometimes exploring non-traditional paths can lead you towards your own path. That's true for weddings, and for life.