THE STORIES BEHIND THE EVENTS (or random things we think are cool...)

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Zahra & Don, Take Two

This is the story of a boy and girl who fell in love, got engaged, planned their wedding and then abruptly called it off, three weeks before the big day. 

Rather than their tale ending right there and then (as I believe, statistically, most do), I'm happy to report that they went away, worked on their relationship and made everything right. And 11 months later, we all picked up where we left off and had the most glorious day. Here's the recap; almost two-and-a-half years in the making...

The importance of having great chemistry between a couple goes without saying; but it's equally important to have it with your wedding planner too. It was true love between the three of us from our very first meeting and we quickly discovered that we shared the same zany sense of humour. So when we were discussing what to do with the invitations the second-time-round, Zahra lamented that "her first invitations were so perfect, she couldn't think of a thing she could improve," That's when I suggested that we do the exact same invitation, only with the old date crossed off and the new one 'written' in. We howled at the idea and then decided it was the perfect solution and, with the help of Christine Flynn from Love the Design, we did just that! Letter pressed and all!

So now, the big (new) day was upon us and everything was how it should be: an amazing couple was finally prepared to proclaim to their friends, family and themselves that they were ready for the next part of their adventure. We gathered at the Royal Conservatory of Music and started it off with one of the most memorable and meaningful wedding ceremonies I have ever witnessed.

When we originally toured the venue together, Don mentioned that he had spent 10 years of his youth taking piano lessons there -- that's when I stopped, looked at them and said, "You need to play her down the aisle." And that's just what he did. He went home, dusted off the old piano and started practicing again. For over two years, we didn't tell ANYONE of our plans -- Zahra says that, to this day, it was the hardest secret she's ever kept. 

It was so top secret that the day before the wedding, we held two rehearsals! The first was the real one with just Z&D, their officiant, the photographer and videographer in attendance. To any future brides out there reading this, trust me: you'll always get the best coverage when your photographer and videographer know what's coming. Anyway, I digress. The other reason for the real rehearsal was for me to get the timing right: Don chose to play Bruno Mars' "Just the Way you Are" for Zahra and he wanted her to arrive at the top of the aisle at the exact moment where the lyrics say "And when I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change..." I had to send Zahra on her way so that she could be AT the right place in the room, IN the right place in the song for Don to look up and see her face for the first time on their wedding day.  

Are you getting shivers yet?

So then we held the fake rehearsal, where we were joined by the wedding party and the families. I was surprised that only one person asked if the piano was going to stay in the room for the next day, to which I replied that "I wasn't able to get it out of the room (partially the truth), so we're just using it as a prop, since we're in the Royal Conservatory!" And he accepted this answer... 

So on the big day, the ceremony started, everyone came out as planned, to a cello and ukelele. The parents, the groomsmen, Don, the bridesmaids, the flower girls and then, only when they were all in place, did Don walk over to the piano, sit down, lift the lid and slowly start to play.  

We sent Zahra on her way and she surprised me by doing something she hadn't done the day before in our rehearsal: she kept her head down all the way to the top of the aisle until the exact moment in the song where Don was to look up -- only today, they BOTH looked up at that time and the reaction was crazy! Everyone started crying -- and I mean everyone -- grown men, elegant women, crusty grandmothers, all doing the full-on Ugly Cry. If it hadn't been so darned moving, I probably would have been laughing my head off at the room full of bawling guests!

When Zahra reached the piano, she stood behind Don and placed her hand on his shoulder while he finished the song. As it got closer to the end, she joined him on the bench and then he smiled at her, the signal for her to reach down play the last, single note. It was monumental.

So this brings me to my take away lesson from this wedding: as the spectacle and production values associated with weddings these days seem to be spiraling out of control, I think this is the perfect illustration of how the simplest and most honest experiences often resonate the loudest. Now, don't be fooled into thinking this was any kind of low-budget, DIY wedding, because it certainly wasn't... but even though the decor was stunning and the food was delicious, what part of this wedding do you think every single guest will remember forever? 

Yup. That processional... and the best part? 

It didn't cost a thing.

Alas, I'll stop now before you get even more emotionally invested in this tale, as this was a SpectacularSpectacular, after all, and there are still many more great things to share from Zahra and Don's wedding with you all... albeit not quite as sentimentally charged as what I just described above!

Design-wise, Lidia Tacconelli and I were thrilled when Zahra told us she loved yellow... it's such a happy, joyous colour and I think it's a shame that more people don't use it. Anyway, Lidia seemingly purchased every single yellow garden rose in the province to pull of this simple but effective design; the consistent and graphic repetition of black, white and hits of yellow worked beautifully in the stark, modern room at the Conservatory. Some of the roses were so big, people thought they were peonies!

Bobbette and Belle made the cake and incorporated our flowers into the design -- look at that sugar flower! I would have sworn Lidia had plucked it right off one of the tables...

Finally, I'll leave you with one of my absolute favourite design features: we arranged the chairs at the tables like the keys on a piano, as an homage to Don and his performance earlier in the day... I don't think one single guest noticed this small detail, but I can tell you that it delighted Zahra, Don and myself to no end! Partners in crime, from beginning to a sort-of-end, to back in cahoots and then, finally, to happily ever after. It was an honour to share every up and down (but mostly up) moment with you both...

What was it I was saying about chemistry? Just look at these two...

Special thanks to our friend Jackson -- you were there to document our entire journey together: from the engagement session, to the disappointment, the eventual perfect day, the trash-the-dress session, and now, little baby Story's portraits. Thank you!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ashley and Scott in WedLuxe Magazine

Seeing our weddings appear in this gorgeous, glossy magazine never gets old!

The latest issue of WedLuxe is on newsstands now, so please check out our feature of Ashley and Scott's spectacular wedding last summer on the bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. Or, click on this link to read the online version -- this one was a beauty!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Most Perfect Day for a Wedding

Some couples have all the luck when it comes to weather on their wedding day, but I have to say, this one might have been the most glorious day ever. All the elements fell into place: a picturesque church, a one-of-a-kind-tent at their cottage, a stunning bride and one of the most rockin' parties I have ever witnessed. You can read about how we built the tent for this couple in the previous post, but in the meantime, take a look at how Bruce Patterson and his team at Cloud Nine Creative captured the magic that happened that day. Keep an eye out for the charming church, perched on a cliff and the late afternoon light that shone on Patrick and Fernanda as they were boating back from their ceremony to the cottage -- it was almost otherworldly... Turn on your speakers and enjoy!

Fernanda + Patrick Highlights from Cloud Nine Creative on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Story of a Little Floating Tent

Once upon a time, we had a client with very steep property in cottage country... when the tent guys went to measure, they pointed to the water and joked, "we should just put the tent out there." The client, being something of a man of vision, jumped at the idea. And thus begun our odyssey to figure out how to not only make this happen, but to make this exacting man happy.

The first plan was to build the deck (or in non-event-speak: the tent floor) on top of scaffold, which would lie on the lake bottom. This presented us with all kinds of issues, the first being obtaining permits from the Department of Oceans and Fisheries in case we disturbed the natural habitat of any creatures who live below amongst the rocks and gunk. The second was that we found out that the lake bottom wasn't very solid at all; it turned out that our client had had to drive-pile almost 45-feet down to find bedrock when he erected his boat house. That seemed a little excessive for our One Night Affair... and so our quest continued.

Next, we looked at renting barges, tying them up together and putting a tent up on them... but the main challenge was that barges are in high demand in the summer months, being the workhorses that carry equipment and materials to properties under construction -- and, as we discovered, no barge operator was willing to give up three barges for the more than three weeks we'd need them. Not to mention that barges aren't very pretty. Yes, I said it: they're generally scuffed up, different and/or multi-coloured, with stuff all over their decks and sit very high above the water. Our aesthetically-minded client didn't care for this option at all.

That was when his landscaper suggested contacting the people that manufacture floating docks, and that's just what Dennis Large of Advanced Tent did. Experts were consulted (it turned out there were none -- as no one had ever tried anything like this before) engineers were called in, measurements and calculations were made, budgets were approved and finally --finally!-- the big day arrived. And I'm not referring to the wedding day... It was Let's Build a Tent on Water Day! The first to arrive? The pontoons: over 70 were brought in on a barge one sunny day, about a month before the wedding itself. The next few photos document how Dennis and his boys brought the vision to life:

Here are some fun stats about what went into it to make it float:

- 9 x 2000 pound weights went into the water to anchor the structure
- 75 pontoons: 18" in diameter and 24' in length
- 360 2 x 8 x 16's 
- 900 1/2" bolts
- 160 sheets of 3/4" plywood
- Dozens of trips to the closest hardware store, 30 minutes away
- Several involuntary 'slips' into the water

And so the boys went forth, connecting the pontoons together to slowly start building our floating palace. You can see it coming together now:

The finished deck measured 50' x 100' -- a full 5000 square feet of 'blank canvas' for Event Designer Bill Fulghum to conjure up his magic and bring the all-white vision our bride requested to reality.

So now it was time to build the floor and then erect the structure itself... 

Next came the rigging, draping and carpet. For the record,  white carpet in tents drive me crazy -- every single person has to put little blue disposable booties on once the plastic cover comes off; it makes setting up tables, chairs, plates, glassware, decor, bar ware etc. so much more work! 

The next picture is one I've already posted, but here it is in new context:

This was the view from the tent as the bathroom trailer came into the bay; you can see where we are in the progress of things: the drape is up, the railings are on, the wiring for lighting & sound and plexi shelves has been completed and the plush, white carpet has been laid. In case you missed my previous blog post about floating toilets, there was simply no place to put a 32' unit on this property. Plus, I figured if the tent is going to float,  we might as well do the same with the bathrooms!

So that brings us to the big day itself. This was our first time working with the internationally-celebrated photographer Jerry Ghionis and his wife Melissa and they captured the following beautiful photos:

Our bride had been inspired by another all-white, tented wedding we'd done a few years before that appeared in the Summer/Fall 2009 issue of WedLuxe magazine (click here to see it). No matter what chandelier/lighting alternatives we showed her, we couldn't sway her from the floating plexi shelves, hovering above the tables, laden with candles!

Here's a fun shot, showing one of the plexi shelves with the hundreds of glass balls that hung over the dance floor in the background. They alternated with candles or phalaenopsis orchids inside.

These are some floral details. Every woman got a single orchid at her place setting and the troughs running down the centres of the tables alternated: two rows had roses bordered with ferns and one had roses with baby's breath -- a flower that, apparently, has great symbolism in our bride's native Brazil.

Finally -- the Grande Finale -- fireworks out on the lake, with a great view of our Little Floating Tent from the water.

Hard to believe all this effort goes into one (albeit perfect) night, isn't it? But that's what we do and, quite honestly, challenges like this are what float our boats. Or in this case, float our tents...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gabi's Getting Married!!!

Wheeeee! Our very own Gabi and her Mr. Right got engaged earlier this month on a ski hill in Telluride, Colorado! I see a great opportunity for us to follow along as The Planner becomes The Bride and she plans her own wedding for August of 2014... Watch this space... this is going to be fun!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Night at The Museum

Another oldie but goodie -- it's beyond high time for me to share some of the glorious details from Shelby and Graeme's wedding, held at the Royal Ontario Museum (affectionately known as The ROM) one beautiful day in June...

Regrettably, this tends to be a habit with me: we are so busy planning and executing events all the time that sometimes it requires real focus to go back in time and write about previous events. It's kind of like: "been there, done that." However, in the case of a wedding like this one, it's a crime for me not to have shared some of these photos before now and for that, dear readers, I apologize profusely.

I remember that we did things a little differently at this wedding and held cocktail hour BEFORE the ceremony. The problem with getting old is that I can't recall why we did it -- in that there were practical and logistical reasons -- but as I write this, it's not coming to me!! 

There's the stunning orchid arrangement in the middle of the Rotunda, that you will be able to get a better sense of the scale of it in the next photo. It literally towered above everyone's heads.

I love, love LOVE this photo -- it shows just how massive this arrangement was. And in a room that is this majestic, you really need something with true presence to even begin to compete with the spectacular setting.

Now we move chronologically with guests upstairs to the Bronfman Gallery, where the all-white ceremony took place in this clean, loft-like space. The aisle was lined with poufs of white hydrangea, as were the windowsills above. All leading down to the stunning chuppah in the centre of the room...

The four legs were pavéed with perfect, cream roses and finished with garlands of white dendrobium orchids. The canopy is something that deserves to have it's moment in the spotlight: Shelby's father had it made when her older sister got married and so far, only the two girls have their names and dates embroidered on a side each. There are two blank sides left, just waiting for Shelby's other sister and brother to join them up there when they each get married one day...

One other thing to mention is that, while it might not look like it, the chuppah was actually in the middle of the room and there was a whole other set of chairs mirroring what you can see in this photo. We had to maximize every inch of space in order to accommodate the 250 guests.

A close up of one of the legs of the chuppah. Each one of those roses was chosen for it's consistent size, condition and colouration, treated and then glued into place by members of the FIORI team. It took hours to complete. Each leg had four sides, and multiply that by 4 legs... I think you get my drift: there were a lot of roses!

So now, the ceremony is done. Shelby and Graeme are happily married and it's time to go back downstairs to the Currelly Gallery, where dinner and dancing await... In this photo, you can see the beautiful drapes we had custom made for the occasion: instead of typical, sheer fabric, these were sewn from 2 colours of gorgeous peau de soie. I doubt many guests noticed the quality of the fabric enveloping them in the room, but it was simply another small detail that went a long way to 'finishing' the environment.

Here's a close up of the head table. The regal gold cutlery sat aside beaded gold chargers and votive candles that the team at FIORI had gold-leafed by hand because we couldn't find anything we liked better! Even the menus were printed with raised, gold thermography lettering.

This is a rather abstract shot, looking head-on at the front of the head table. You can see the phaleonopsis orchids spilling over the front (casting such wonderful, animated shadows), the roses and the hydrangea behind them and then the custom-built wall in the background, behind the table.

And a cleaner view of said wall...

This wedding was the first time event designers Bill Fulghum of William Fulghum Design Associates and Lidia Tacconelli of FIORI had ever collaborated. When the original florist dropped out for personal reasons, Bill and I looked at each other and knew that there was only ONE person who had the team, infrastructure and organizational abilities to handle this job, and that was Lidia. The main reason is the museum itself: it is a fully-functioning MUSEUM! That means that we don't even have access to the rooms before 3:00 on the day of any given event. Now that you know this, go back, look at the pictures above (with the exception of the ceremony area, which admittedly we had more time in), and realize that all that set up was done in three hours.  Yes, three short hours. 

And yes, we were pretty proud of ourselves. THAT much I  do remember...

If this wedding looks familiar to you, it should! It was featured in the Winter/Spring 2012 edition of WedLuxe magazine. Click here for a link to the story and the photos.

Thank you to our friend Storey Wilkins for being on hand and doing what you do best: taking beautiful and meaningful photos of days that go by so quickly. Months and months of planning and then --poof-- it's over in a matter of hours. We are very reliant on our photographers to capture and immortalize these days for us. And Storey is one of the very best at doing that...

Putting the Fun Back into FUNdraising

Back in November, we planned a cocktail reception for the Lung Cancer Canada annual gala at The Arcadian Loft. Our mandate was to design an evening that was as far-away-as-possible from the typical sit down dinner/rubber chicken affairs that too many gala-goers have to endure. We were also asked to come up with something novel to replace the omnipresent Silent Auction... And to that end, we incorporated a "game" into an otherwise elegant and on-point evening. 

I can't take credit for the idea: my mother used to do this at my birthday parties when I was but a young 'un. Everyone would sit in a circle and pass a present (wrapped in multiple layers of paper) around, while some random song played on my 45RPM record player. When the music stopped, the person holding it would unwrap a layer and so it would go until the final layer revealed the prize inside. We thought it might be fun to try this on a larger scale -- because, really, who doesn't love to open presents? -- all while raising funds for lung cancer research. I'll show you the pics from the game, but first, a little background:

The Lung Cancer Canada logo is a pair of green leaves, attached to look like a set of lungs. The symbolism of the leaf was a big part of our mandate that evening. This photo is of the pins that were given out to guests when they registered that evening.

Decor was kept simple, both for financial and esthetic reasons:  vases, filled with salal leaves and green votive candles everywhere.

A big, (wo)man-made tree stood in the centre of the room, representing The Grove, a memorial area in Sunnybrook Park where trees are planted in memory of people who have lost their battles with lung cancer. You can see some of the leaves that we 'sold' that evening to play our game dangling from the branches.

The next photo lists the prizes to be won and the costs associated to join the fun. This is something we stressed very heavily to the committee: we didn't need a lot of prizes, but we needed really, really great ones. There was nothing on that list that was worth less than $500; the Grand Prize was a diamond necklace worth $2200! Talk about a good return on a $20 leaf!

So here's the promised explanation of the gist of the game: there were 11 presents, all wrapped in different shades of green on the table. Guests needed to 'buy' leaves from volunteers wandering the room; and could, in turn, redeem each leaf to unwrap ONE layer of paper on the present of their choice. What people didn't know was how many layers of paper there were on any given box... some had as many as 47 (and yes, Gabi and I had the pleasure of wrapping each and everyone one of those!) and some had as few as 10. An important rule was that people couldn't touch the parcel before taking off a layer, because you could feel which ones had a lot of padding... And that would be cheating...

And so, once the speeches were done, our little corner of fun opened up and it was so exciting for Gabi and I to see the great response to our idea. Not to mention the gratification for the seemingly endless hours we spent wrapping... Here are a few of shots of the first people to partake:

Here's a picture of the very first winner, who won a $500 gift certificate to William Ashley! Look at the smiles on their faces -- one of the best parts of this game was how people reverted to their childlike selves:

Next I'm going to show you an uninterrupted series of pictures of a woman who THOUGHT she'd won, only to discover that we'd tricked her. Here's the reason: some of the wrapping was getting so thick (and you could visually tell there were a lot of layers on there), that we started putting boxes inside boxes, so that we could start with a clean slate, wrapping wise. Watch the progression of her experience:

What a fun part of the night it was -- people LOVED it and it created excitement all 'round. We sold out of leaves sooner than we ever could have imagined; the response was that enthusiastic. Gabi and I looked at each other at the end of the evening and said, "Could you imagine how much more we could've raised if we'd had more prizes and more people to help us wrap these damn boxes?!!" Alas... It's good to set goals and now we have something to work towards for NEXT year!

Very sincere thanks to our friend T.H. Jackson Huang from IKONICA for donating his time and talent to take photos for us. And to DJ Michael Coombs for spinning the tunes and giving the space a great atmosphere from the moment it kicked off. And to Gisele Sterling from Sterling Kjargaard for tying all those ribbons on the leaves, making our tree and for working so tirelessly, even with such a small budget. Go team!