Audrey Zahares is the founder and creative director of Azalea Events, LLC. For more than two decades she has been crafting elegant, fun, beautiful, and stylish weddings, never forgetting the element of surprise. The success of her events stems from her eye for style, her feel for elegance, her consideration of the client, and her sound relations with local vendors as well as vendors around the country. She was born in Maine, traveled the world, but continues to call Kennebunk home.
By Audrey Zahares, Founder and Creative Director of Azalea Events, LLC
Can you suggest how we can create a unique wedding with some ideas that guests will notice?
Creating something unexpected is a great way to make your wedding feel unique and reflect you. It will show off what makes you as a couple special.
As an example, lighting is the most dramatic way to create an incredible space. From your names in a spotlight to intimate candlelight, lighting is one element that you definitely shouldn’t overlook.
When planning a wedding I always like to find that ‘surprise’ element to bring to the day that guests will be talking about for months, and years, to come. There are so many ways to add a little unexpected flourish to your party:
• A “secret” lounge space where guests can relax, hydrate, and put their feet up.
• Gift bags for destination wedding guests. You can have them ready upon your guests’ arrival at their hotels with some essentials they’ll need for their stay: maps, snacks, restaurant recommendations, etc.
• Surprise entertainment is always a hit. From music during your ceremony to table-side magic at dinner, it’s a memorable way to get guests attention.
• Late night snacks. Truman Capote would bring out decadent late-night meals for guests at his famous Black & White parties. Yours doesn’t have to be a multi-course meal, maybe something savory will help keep the party going all night long.
Remember that inspiration for your wedding can come in unexpected places, too! Try to think outside the box and find those little unique parts of your relationship to celebrate. It could be from the story of your first date, vacations you’ve taken together, or where you’ve chosen to get married. Work to find those sweet details to make your day all about you.
Should we do a First Look?
One of the wonderful things about a First Look is that it gives you as a couple a quiet, private moment in what is most likely a very public day. Couples who choose to do a First Look are always happy with the decision because it takes some of the stress off of capturing photos between the ceremony and reception, allowing them to enjoy more time with their families and guests. The First Look can be a private moment or you can share it with your bridal party and close family. I find that couples that plan a First Look feel more relaxed walking down the aisle and are able to embrace the entirety of their ceremony.
However, for more traditional couples, I may not recommend a First Look as it may be more important to them to have the big reveal happen as the bride walks down the aisle.
In order to decide which is best for you, speak to your planner or photographer. Since they’ve experienced countless wedding celebrations, they can help you make the right decision and ensure that you enjoy as much of your day as possible.
Do we buy our parents a gift to say thank you for the wedding? Any ideas?
A wedding is an exciting day for parents, too! Today’s families come to a wedding in many different ways—divorce, step parents, and with varied economic resources. A gift can be a thoughtful way to make all family members feel cherished.
Including your parents in your wedding day by giving them a personalized gift is a great way to show your appreciation. It is also a great way to create a keepsake they will cherish for years and help them remember this monumental day fondly.
You know your parents better than anyone. You know what they’d like and appreciate so keep in mind hobbies, weekend getaways, or even restaurants that they love. It doesn’t have to be a large gift. The thought and gesture will mean so much.
I invited my friend and her boyfriend (by name on the invite), but they recently broke up and now she wants to bring someone I don’t like. Can I tell her no?
It’s tough to be put in a position where you invited a couple and they break up before the wedding. Since you worded the invitation correctly, using the ex-boyfriend’s name and not the generic “and guest,” you do have the right to refuse any new guest she wants to bring.
Explain to her that you are sorry, but you would rather she not bring another guest you don’t know as well and aren’t comfortable with. The invitation you wrote was specifically for her and him, and since he won’t be coming, you’d prefer the guest list to remain filled with good friends and family.
If she is worried about being alone, you can make sure she is seated with friends she knows so she isn’t uncomfortable.
This is one of the many situations that will arise and distract you with negative energy. Your wedding is about you and your fiancé. Handling these situations quickly in a thoughtful and discreet way will help get them off your shoulders so you can dwell on the wonder of the event.
Should I hire a full service wedding planner and what can I expect?
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. A planner’s job is to make sure it lives up to every expectation you have. Wouldn’t you want to make the big decisions, like who to invite and the location of your celebration, and leave a professional to handle the details? A planner will work to make your ideas and vision come to life from the moment guests arrive, to when you walk down the aisle, and until the last guest leaves.
A wedding planner is a friend, support system, confidant, and advocate to make sure every little detail takes place, because nothing is more important than you having the perfect wedding day.
Wedding planners help make the planning process for your big day as stress-free as possible! They’re your partner from conception to completion. They’ve executed many weddings over the years and their job is to always be one step ahead. They will provide ideas big or small to create a unique, memorable experience for you and your guests.
The first step for a wedding planner is to understand you and your vision. Then they work with your budget to make sure that it can be allocated to the appropriate vendors and suppliers to meet every executional need. Their established relationships with wedding industry professionals allow them to find the right people to deliver your vision for the big day.
Every wedding planner’s goal and job is for you to enjoy the wedding process, not stress about the little details, and make your wedding day dreams come true!
Kristen Winters is the Queen Bee and Creative Director of Beehive Creative Events, LLC. Kristen’s approach to wedding planning and design is to create truly meaningful, fun, one-of-kind celebrations inspired by her clients. Each wedding is unique and customized to reflect the couple’s personality and style of living. Born and raised in the south, Kristen now calls Rockport, Maine home. In her down time she enjoys spending time with her family, hosting playdates, and entering the world of make-believe with her daughter, Molly.
By Kristen Winters, Queen Bee and Creative Director of Beehive Creative Events, LLC
You’ve taken a moment to celebrate your engagement. Now what?
It’s important to sit down together and discuss what kind of wedding you want. Often times, couples have different visions for their celebration based on their personal interests, styles, upbringing, and experiences. Here are some questions to consider to get the conversation going: Time of year? Indoor or outdoor wedding? Maybe a combination of both? Local or destination? A small, intimate celebration or a blowout with all your family and friends? Elegant or casual? What do you want your guest experience to be? After taking some time to think about these things you can prioritize! Evaluate what you have in common and where you’re willing to compromise.
Now that you’ve determined your priorities, it’s time to set the budget. Be realistic! Very rarely does a wedding come under budget, so I encourage couples to come up with two numbers: the target and the max. Know the maximum amount you and your families are willing to spend on the wedding. Once everyone comes to an agreement, you can set the target number. My formula for setting the target number is to subtract at least 10% from the max number. This helps to create a safety net for last minute changes or additions that could impact the overall budget. You might think that $500 more here or a $1,000 more there does not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind it can add up quickly. After the wedding is over, and all the bills have been tallied, I never want a couple to regret a decision because they were over budget.
Look over your priorities and your target budget. Will your priorities work within the set budget? It’s not uncommon to make sacrifices when planning a wedding. Let’s say you have found an awesome band for $8,000, but you have determined that a welcome party before the wedding is a top priority. You may opt for the $5,000 band that’s good in order to make the welcome party doable. Knowing your priorities and your budget will help make the important financial decisions easier throughout the planning process.
What should I expect from a wedding planner versus a wedding coordinator?
Many people are confused about the roles of a wedding planner versus a wedding coordinator. The confusion arises because so often these terms are used interchangeably, even within the wedding industry. However, there is a distinct difference in services provided by a wedding planner and a wedding coordinator.
A wedding planner is with you throughout the planning process. After sharing your vision for your wedding, a planner will offer guidance and advice on how to make your vision a reality. Planners will help with creating and maintaining a budget, finding a venue, and recommending a team of wedding vendors who are the right fit for you. They will also create a layout of your ceremony and reception, manage logistics, and facilitate production schedule. It’s important to note that not all wedding planners provide wedding design and styling, but those who do not will have wedding designers with whom they collaborate.
The biggest difference between a wedding planner and a wedding coordinator is a wedding coordinator provides a “day-of” or “month-of” service. They are responsible for managing the wedding day, overseeing the logistics and schedule, and potentially creating a timeline for how the day will flow. Coordinators act as a liaison on your behalf to ensure all the work you spent the last year planning is executed as you envisioned. This way you can kick back, relax, and celebrate the day!
How do I create my guest list?
If you have prioritized what’s important to you and know your budget, then you will have a clear idea of how many guests to invite to your wedding.
Before you start jotting down names, decide if you want guests to bring a plus-one. If you cannot afford to allow everyone to bring a date, it’s best to determine it on a case-by-case basis. I often suggest extending a plus-one invite to engaged couples, those who are in a long-term relationship (year or more), and couples who live together.
Another decision to make when creating your guest list is whether you plan to include children. Inviting children is a personal preference, and may be influenced by the time of the wedding or the age of the child. If you opt not to include children, please be sure to notify family and friends so they can make arrangements for childcare. If you elect not include children, you will likely receive some pushback--hold your ground! Keep in mind you are making decisions that are best for YOUR wedding.
Lastly, with more and more couples paying for their own wedding these days, the question arises about parents inviting their friends. If you are paying for your wedding, and can allocate a number of invitees for your parents, it would be the thoughtful and considerate thing to do.
What should I consider when planning a Maine destination wedding?
Maine is one of the top places to host a destination wedding. Those of us who are lucky enough to call Maine home know exactly the reasons why! With so many diverse locations, from the mountains to the coast to the lakes and farmlands in between, there is something for everyone. If you have never traveled to Maine, then the first place you will want to start conducting research is online. Take some time to browse and see all that Maine has to offer. Traveled to Maine before? Well, then it’s likely you already have an idea of where you want to get married.
Next, decide on a setting and the season. Are you envisioning a mountainside wedding in a rustic barn highlighted by the beautiful fall colors? Maybe your dream is to dance the night away under a tent on warm summer evening with the moonlight glistening on the water. After you decide on the region, setting, and time of year, it’s time to begin the task of finding the right venue. When researching venues, keep in mind the size of your guest list; proximity to airports, train stations, and overnight accommodations; and if it fits the style and vision for your wedding. Now that you’ve selected your venue, hire local vendors. They’re familiar with area and can keep true to the Maine experience and feel.
Should we provide transportation for our wedding guests?
Although not necessary, providing transportation for your guests is a kind and thoughtful gesture. It’s one of the wedding details not often on the forefront of most couples’ minds when it comes to planning their wedding, but is the sort of attention to detail noticed by their guests and overwhelmingly appreciated. Transportation allows your guests to relax and enjoy the wedding celebration rather than being concerned with directions, parking, and getting home after consuming one too many cocktails. Not everyone is able to work transportation into their budget, but if you are planning a destination wedding or have a lot of out of town guests, try to make it a part of your budget planning. It’s important to remember these guests have likely gone to a great expense to be there for you in creating a memorable wedding celebration.
By Lindsey Brook Norton, Founder and Creative Director of L.brook events
I just got engaged. What is the first thing I need to do?
Congratulations on your engagement! The first thing you should do is pause, take a step back, and enjoy and savor this moment. There are a lot of exciting things to come, and there will be big decisions to make, but the most important thing is that you give yourself a little time to let it soak in and celebrate this moment. As soon as your friends and family find out that you are engaged, there will be an onslaught of questions, but know that it is okay to tell people that you are focusing on enjoying the moment and that you will let them know as soon as you start planning the wedding!
I’m ready to start planning. What is my first step?
The very first thing you should do is determine what your priorities are with your partner. I suggest that all of the couples I work with do this activity: I ask that they sit down separately from each other and write down four priorities each. These can be really broad—for example, “convenience,” meaning convenient location, convenient time of year, a lot of options for accommodations, etc.—or they can be pretty specific things like “amazing Italian food.” Then I ask that the couple compare their lists and talk through their priorities in order to compile one master list. Once their priorities as a couple are defined, I suggest that they write them down on paper, because this list is going to act as your guide throughout the planning process and you want to be able to refer back to it. Your priorities will help you figure out where to invest your resources, which is helpful in figuring out how to allocate your budget and what professionals to hire first. Your list will also help you stay focused on what really matters to the two of you throughout the planning process.
I should book my venue first, right?
Before you pay a deposit and are locked into a contract, there are a lot of things you will want to consider—the biggest being your overall budget and the number of people you will be inviting (in that order). The venue can dictate almost all of your wedding planning decisions and it can be one of your biggest expenses. Ask the venue what the average overall budget is for weddings hosted there. Ask what the average size wedding the venue hosts is and for floor plans and layouts that show the number of guests you are planning to invite. Does the venue have space for the size and shape table you envision? Do they have enough parking on-site for all of your guests and the wedding professionals you will work with? Bathrooms that will accommodate all of your wedding guests? These are important questions related to how many guests the venue can accommodate.
I have no idea how much a wedding costs. How do I set a budget?
Every couple is different and no two weddings are alike, so every wedding budget is going to be different, too. There is a lot of information out there that suggests what the average cost of a wedding is, which is often skewed because it doesn’t account for your priorities, guest list, where you specifically are getting married, or what your financial situation is.
The bottom line is that you need to decide what you feel is reasonable to spend on a wedding and also what you are financially able to invest in a wedding. Be honest about this. Rather than come up with one number, I suggest coming up with a budget range, because there will most likely be expenses you didn’t account for or know to budget for.
A lot of couples ask me who typically pays for what at a wedding, but the reality is that it is different with every couple I work with. Rarely does one family pay for the entirety of the wedding anymore. More often the couple pays for some items, parents chip in, and then other family members may chip in as well, but it really is different for every couple. You will want to communicate directly with everyone who is involved in order to come up with a budget range. This can feel a little awkward, but remember that everyone is excited for you and respect that people will offer what they feel comfortable with and are also able to. I also find that people are willing to contribute for parts of the wedding they value. This may mean they want you to work with a certain band, so they offer to cover that cost, or if they want to make sure their best friends and co-workers are invited, they offer to cover the cost of the reception. You will want to make sure that any expectations are communicated directly and early on in the budget conversation.
How many guests can I predict will come to my wedding?
You may have heard that, on average, two-thirds of your guests invited to your wedding will be able to attend, but it is really important to plan and be prepared for the fact that everyone you invite to your wedding may attend. There are a lot of factors that impact this (time of year, when save the dates or invitations were sent out, location of wedding, etc.) so you need to be prepared to host a full guest list. Make sure your venue can accommodate all of the guests you are inviting and that all of the quotes you receive when budgeting (catering, rentals, florals, etc.) account for your complete guest list. This may mean you need to evaluate your guest list a little more closely, which can often be one of the most difficult decisions you make throughout the planning process. A few questions I ask couples to think about when they are struggling with their guest list are: When was the last time you spoke to this person on the phone or in person? Will this person always be a part of your life? If you move or get a new job will you still keep in touch with them? Your guest list should reflect the relationships in your life that you care most about now, but also relationships that you will value in the future.
I have so many ideas for my wedding. Where do I start?
When it comes to weddings, there is no shortage of inspiration or tools to help you plan. Once you have established your priorities it's time to define your wedding style. To do this, first look at your closet and your home. Are there common themes or colors you notice? Do you prefer classic pieces and neutral colors, or bold, trendy pieces? Write down three adjectives to describe your personal style, and three colors you notice that are repeated a lot in your wardrobe or home. Next, think about how you met your partner and what you like to do together on the weekends. Are you social and met at a party in college? Are you introverts who prefer to stay in and watch movies? Are you the outdoor type? Write down three adjectives to describe how you met and what you like to do together.
The adjectives you came up with to describe your wardrobe and home should be able to guide what the overall aesthetic or look of your wedding will be. The colors you listed can guide the color selections for your wedding, but think about how you can incorporate them to create the aesthetic you just outlined. Finally, the observations you made about how you met or what you like to do together should help you describe the mood you are trying to create at your wedding and the kind of experience you want your guests have. Now that you are able to describe your aesthetic, have colors in mind, and can describe the experience you want to create for your guests, your wedding style is defined. When you are gathering inspiration or making decisions, make sure you are constantly referring back to these two lists. Your priorities are what will make your wedding meaningful and personal, and your wedding style is what makes your wedding uniquely you. Remember this and you will be able to stay focused and create a cohesive look for your wedding.
By Kate Martin from Beautiful Days
Where do I find ideas and inspiration?
Design is a process; it is expansive, it can click, it can be stubborn, and sometimes you need to just walk away for a bit. Design has a different language all it’s own. I hear so many times from my brides, “I know what I want I just can’t express it!” and that’s ok! My first line of advice is go with your heart. There are so many pretty things out there that anybody’s head can spin at the possibilities. Go with what you love, with what speaks to you, and you can’t go wrong.
Pinterest is a great tool for exploring, collecting, and organizing ideas, but it can be a rabbit hole—do not let yourself go down it. Turn it off! Pick up your favorite book or magazine or listen to your favorite podcast—anything to get you away from potentially doubting what you love as well as potentially thinking that the customized caricature cake toppers of you and your fiancé in the mix is a good idea.
Of course blogs are great, but again, a potential rabbit hole. You know how sometimes you are online and you are looking for the perfect dress and you keep searching even though you already have three different ones in shopping carts on three different sites? Just buy the dress! Stop looking! It’s the same with wedding inspiration—stop searching for THE one when you have already collected about 20 that you love and are inspired by! I have a current client who wisely stopped following certain feeds on Instagram because she didn’t need the wedding overload.
Look at the trendsetters beyond the wedding world—fashion designers (because the color and design of your wedding dress and maids dresses are trickling down from them), interior design (because the colors and patterns of linens are trickling down from them), and fabulous iconic movies that have the most amazing set designs (because, I swear, the whole family style farm table thing is s direct result from all those damn Harry Potter movies). There is a wedding from an Anne Hathaway movie called “Rachel Getting Married” that I wish I could replicate!
Start with broad strokes identifying the feeling you want on the day, the colors, what’s most important to you—then get more detailed from there. And then go for a walk, take a few deep breaths, and have a cocktail.
Do I need to invite all my guests to the rehearsal dinner?
With the evolution of the wedding weekend, especially with “destination” weddings, there has been the seemingly compulsory addition of a party for all your guests on the evening before the wedding day. I do love the idea of gathering your nearest and dearest who have traveled across the globe fueled by love (or familial obligation) to celebrate with you beyond the wedding day…BUT that doesn’t mean you have to throw them another party! If it’s in the budget then hosting a lobster bake or food truck picnic for 150 the evening before the wedding day is awesome! But don’t give up on having a more intimate rehearsal dinner—or even luncheon—for your wedding party and immediate family. I think missing out on that opportunity is a shame.
We often suggest to our clients having an intimate rehearsal dinner followed by a hosted drinks and desserts for all guests at the same venue as the rehearsal dinner. That way you have your lovely smaller rehearsal dinner then have the opportunity to hug and say hi to everyone else who has rolled into town without footing the bill for lobster and beer for 100.
I'm stressing out about money!
First things first...Oy! If only there was a formula that worked for all budgets! Don’t pay attention to the online budget estimators—those tend to take into consideration national averages, which do not adequately represent the market you are “shopping” in.
First things first—have an open honest conversation with the very generous people in your lives who will be contributing to your wedding celebration. Find out who will be contributing what. Have them give it to you and your future spouse to manage the spending from a separate wedding account. Your future mother in law might say, “I’d like to pay for the flowers, so just let me know how much it costs.” But she got married in 1972 when baby’s breath and daises were super hip and her flowers cost $750. When presented with your flower proposal for $6,320.73 she might say, “Well, I wasn’t expecting it to be this much. I was hoping to spend $2,000.” Then you are in the middle of a familial sticky wicket and back to starting from scratch. Unless parents have hosted (i.e. paid for) a wedding in the past 10 years, they do not know how much it costs, and it is up to you to educate them. But you haven’t done this before so how should you know?! Get where I’m going with this?
Secondly, don’t invite so many people! I’ve heard something like this many times: “I have a budget of $50,000, and we are inviting 250 people, but so many are from so far away we know at least 75 won’t come.” Wrong. People love Maine and are just waiting for the excuse to make the trip! And Maine is hip and you are so awesome that of course they are coming! So either come up with at least another $25,000 or more to entertain the 200 who will be at your wedding, or tighten up that list!
Lastly, don’t buy the horse before you have the cart! You have booked an amazing venue for $5,000 and right away booked a band that is just as awesome for $7,500—good for you! Your 150 guests will have a great time eating hotdogs and dancing to a kick ass band in a barn that has no decoration or lighting or tables to sit at because you didn’t realize that the venue just comes with…nothing! No tables, chairs, linens, forks, knives, glasses, catering facilities, or even a bathroom! And the average cost for food the budget calculator that BIG website gave you said you should be able to feed everyone for $35 per person—but that doesn’t include staffing, tax, tip, service fees, transportation, etc…). And you want local organic and seasonal ingredients, which not does not cost less but more.
And you don’t want your guests to pee in a Porta Potty, but that’s all you can afford now because you blew 1/3 of your budget on two items. Granted, they are two very important pieces, but their costs are making it pretty darn hard to afford all the rest.
Lesson learned: figure out what is most important to you for you wedding day, do the research, break down the budget, then commit.
Do It Yourself—Oy! Don’t Do It All!
The cost of having someone produce something for you on Etsy is short money for the pain and suffering you will endure making all those hand-painted dessert and directional signs (that you were inspired by Pinterest one late Tuesday night and gosh they look soooo cute and I can totally do that).
I had one couple a few years ago that did a ton of stuff—invites, programs, favors, etc...—but the groom was actively involved (not just a “Yes” man) but actively involved and engaged in the decisions, resourcing, and production of wedding pieces. I'm not saying your betrothed isn’t awesome, but let’s be real, the actual production of the 100 welcome bags, 150 escort cards, and the 120 jars of honey from your aunt’s farm, typically falls on our lovely brides. Most brides are lucky if they can get their man to choose a suit that actually fits, decide on a mother/son dance song, and get his guys off the golf course without being two sheets to the wind before they need to be photo ready on the wedding day.
If you want to DIY, pick, choose, and plan ahead. And remember, you don’t have to do it all!