Unexpected (& Inexpensive) Ways to Add the “Wow” Factor

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There is nothing better than working with a couple whose focus is on making their wedding completely personal. I’ve seen many brides ask for everybody else’s opinions on what to do for her wedding. The thought of looking back on your wedding day and cherishing that fact that you made it unique to yourself and your spouse – and didn’t just aim to impress everybody – is what makes the whole experience worth it. In trying to personalize your wedding and add your own “Wow” factors, many couples face challenges. Anybody can spend the extra money on extravagant flower arrangements and grand ballrooms; what are some other ways to add unique touches? Allow me to offer a couple of unexpected ideas…

Go Different With Dinner

It’s pretty much a given: everyone will eat at your reception. But don’t think that you have to have a seven-course, plated dinner in order to make the dinner hour personalized. There are inexpensive ways to make the meal memorable. Try asking your caterer about a themed menu, and tailor it to you and your spouse. Are you going to Hawaii for your honeymoon? Add Polynesian flavors and dishes to your dinner. Was your first date at a baseball game? Have a hot dog stand with different toppings as a late-night surprise. You can also get creative with the bar. Are you having a brunch reception? Try a mimosa bar, with several selections of inexpensive champagne and sparkling wine; then add a variety of juices and frozen fruit garnishes, and let your guests create their own cocktail. And don’t forget about the guests that abstain from alcohol. Have your caterer create a signature “mock-tail”, which guests will find more delicious than a basic soda.

Really Take Care of Out-of-town Guests

If a large portion of your guest list is from out-of-town, they are already footing the bill for travel, lodging, attire, and a gift. There are creative ways that you can really show them how excited you are that they came to celebrate. Be generous with the information that you give guests. I utilize the free options online to create wedding websites for my clients. Block rooms at one or two hotels that are close to the venue (be mindful of the cost). Be sure to provide written directions on the website, as well as addresses, for those that may or may not have mobile navigation systems. If you have an in-town friend/relative that’s itching to help with the wedding, see if they might be willing to host a casual dinner or cookout the night before. Most importantly, leave an unexpected touch to welcome out-of-town guests. It could be anything from a small plate of homemade cookies that can be left at the hotel front desk for when they check in; or a simple personalized note with tips on shopping and restaurants, as well as a sentence or two expressing how much you love that they traveled to be a part of your wedding.

Include the Kids

Many couples choose to have adults-only receptions, which is perfectly fine. But if you are inviting little-ones to your wedding, make sure to look for unique ways to make them feel just as important as their parents. As an unexpected twist to the traditional role of ring-bearer, have your little guy act as “security” for your wedding bling! If you’re adding an extra table for kids in the reception, make some coloring books that are personal to you and the groom – it’s as simple as white paper, a black marker to outline your wedding fairytale, and a trip to the copy store to have it copied and bound.  As an added touch, address the kids personally in your invites. On the invitations that will be going to a family, leave a space on the RSVP card for the children of the family to include a fuzzy plus-one. Then, leave blank escort cards and crayons at the children’s table for them to write the names of their guests. A table of cute kids and their cuddly friends makes for some unexpected and adorable photography moments.

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Other Unexpected Party Touches

Now that the reception is in full swing, wow your guests by paying attention to the areas that many couples forget. Leave the ultimate first impression by focusing a little extra money into your entryway. Some extra flowers, lighting, and a creative picture or guest book will immediately set a tone of the festivities-to-come. You can ensure that your DJ is well-prepared by including a song-request line on the RSVP card; guests will get a kick out of hearing their favorite song played without having to talk to the DJ personally. Lastly, you can inexpensively leave a surprise basket of flip-flops in the ladies’ powder room for tired feet, or business cards from  local taxicab companies to encourage guests to find a safe and responsible way home. You won’t break your budget, and your guests will appreciate the effort you took to focus on some unexpected details.

Winter Wedding Trends, 2013-14

The spring and summer seasons are still my busiest time of year to plan weddings. But I am pleased to see more and more couples having weddings between the months of November and February. Especially in a climate as mild as North Carolina’s can be, winter weddings are growing in popularity. While holiday ornaments and snowflakes are still seen throughout many celebrations, brides are finding new ways to wow their guests at their winter nuptials.

Theme

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Since this is the time of year when the sun is setting very early in the evening, many wedding receptions are lasting long into the night. So why not make it a formal, glamorous extravaganza? Think, “The Great Gatsby”: vintage-inspired glamour with tons of romance and sparkle. Wedding gowns are taking a nod from the 1920’s with sheer necklines, sparkling embellishments, wispy, organza fabrics, and vintage headpieces; even grooms are looking amazing in dapper tuxedos. When it comes to décor, skip the fake “bling” everywhere, and opt for sparkle with tons of candles. Tapered white candles in crystal holders, off-set with strategic up-lighting around the room will create the wow-factor that a Gatsby event requires.

Something Blue

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When it comes to color palettes, blue has been extremely popular this year; it’s like the new black! Carrying this trend into the winter months, there are many shades that can add a bold, yet classic look to your décor; from navy, to cobalt, to royal, to teal. I recommend going all out, using your favorite shade of blue as a base, and then accenting with another color. Try silver or gold for a traditional, evening look; or a modern accent like fuchsia.

Flowers

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Even with its growing popularity, winter-season weddings are still more cost-effective than the spring-summer season. Given that, couples can afford to splurge on their flowers. Instead of flowers indigenous to warmer weather, include perennial cotton branches into your centerpieces to give height; or unique seasonal blooms like succulents, lamb’s ear, and thistle.

Cake

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The wedding cake has always been one place where the couple can be creative and non-traditional. Many have chosen elaborate cakes of different shapes and colors with whimsical designs and flowers. This season’s weddings are seeing a return to the “less-is-more” concept: a tall, wintery white cake with one bold accent, like a black bow on each layer or a tight ball of red roses as a topper. The clean, monochromatic design, with strategic placement and lighting in the reception, is sure to be a show-stopper.

Balancing the Budget

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Let’s face it: no one likes to talk about the budget. As a bride, you’d rather spend time dreaming of stunning gowns, amazing flowers, and turning your wedding into the Pinterest pictures that have become your latest obsession. But, having the unpleasant discussion about budget early can save a couple from a lot of disappointment during the planning process. I’ve seen many couples focus solely on the wedding and not the marriage; having a lavish, over-the-top, over-the-budget wedding that impresses all of their family and friends. Afterwards, they are left starting their new lives as a married couple – which is enough of a transition – with a mountain of debt. With a little planning, and a lot of reality, you can have a beautiful wedding that is cherished by all for a lifetime; as an added bonus, you can return from your honeymoon with the security that your wedding is already paid-in-full.

Be realistic about finances:

Before you put down the first deposit on a ballroom, or place the first floral order, take a long look at your finances. Yes, it’s boring and can really kill the planning high that you’ve begun to float on, but it will save you a lot of stress later. Honestly, few things can put a strain on marriage more than financial issues, and life continues long after saying “I do”. Take the time to plan out how much you can afford to spend after your monthly expenses each month, and set your wedding budget accordingly.

Set priorities:

“If you could describe your wedding in three words, what would they be?” This is the first main question I ask a potential client. It’s actually important for both me and the bride, because it encourages the couple to focus on what is really important to them. Once you have those words, brainstorm what elements contribute to describing your wedding in those words. For example, if one word is “fun”, then an energetic DJ and a photo booth for guests might be something to consider. Or, if your word is “sexy”, you might want a ceremony filled with candles and deep red rose petals. Whatever words you choose, focus your energy and budget into creating that vision, and don’t spend the money on other elements that won’t mean as much to you down the road. If you want a “relaxed” wedding, shelling out money for a formal, seven-course, sit-down dinner might not bring you the experience you want. I encourage you and your fiancé to sit down together and set the priorities that you want to focus on for your wedding; it streamlines the planning process, and allows you to create the perfect day for YOU.

Do your research:

Allow me to clarify this. By “research”, I do not mean focusing only on posting Pinterest pictures and attending every bridal show within a hundred-mile radius. Online resources and bridal shows are a wonderful way to gather information and inspiration for your wedding; I highly recommend them. But don’t overload yourself and become overwhelmed with the task of incorporating EVERYTHING you see into your day. I would encourage you to focus at least some research on crucial elements like your venue and vendors. Take the time to visit different venues and talk with their staff. Go to tastings with different caterers, and talk to several florists to see which one might be the best fit. Utilize the expertise of a planner that has experienced how different places and vendors execute weddings. A planner also has many vendors that he/she is used to collaborating with on events; considering these vendors could ensure that you are working with companies that are professional, provide an excellent product/service, and can save you a lot of money.

Control your guest list:

This can be a touchy subject, especially when dealing with family (check out my post: Navigating Family/Friend Drama). But here is the reality: your wedding is for YOU and whoever YOU want to be there. Try not to feel pressured into inviting people that you aren’t close to (or don’t even know), if your budget does not allow for it. If you find that there are some expensive elements that you desperately want to incorporate, consider that fact that pricing for a lot of vendors is on a “per head” basis. If you have a large guest list, factor that into your budget when considering these elements. I was given a good piece of advice when I was planning my wedding: if you haven’t spoken to a person in over a year, think carefully about whether or not to invite them to the wedding. Believe me, big weddings are awesome! Intimate weddings are too. The most important thing is to consider your guest list FIRST, before the major planning begins; once it is set, try – within reason – to stick with it.

Know your limits:

Think about the kind of person you are. Think about the kind of person your fiancé is. Now, have the planning process that works best for the both of you. If you are not the DIY type, don’t attempt to make thirty centerpieces and 300 favors the week before the big day. If you have trouble making decisions, don’t wait until the last minute to look for the perfect gown. If you are very traditional, consult with a planner early to be sure that all of the important elements of your ceremony are accounted for in the timeline. If you and your fiancé are paying for your entire wedding, don’t be afraid to have a long engagement and ensure that you have the budget for the day of your dreams. Do you see my point? This is your day, and you not only have to right to make it everything that you want; but you also have the right to make the planning process as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Upcoming Bridal Show!

It’s almost here! I will be showing at the Perfect Wedding Guide Bridal Show on Sunday, November 17, 2013, from 1:00 – 4:30 PM. The show will be located in the Empire Room of the Elm Street Center in downtown Greensboro. Brides: please contact me for free tickets!

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Important Moments to Savor on Your Wedding Day

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For a bride, it’s the one negative guarantee about the wedding day: it goes from beginning to end in the blink of an eye.  You receive all of the advice to “remember everything”, and you have every good intention to do so. But it is completely understandable to become overwhelmed; all of the time, planning and anticipation have culminated to the magical day that is FINALLY here! Before you know it, the day is over, and all you are left with are a lot of beautiful pictures and a hazy memory. While it may seem daunting to attempt to emotionally invest in every second, I do suggest a few key events that you should savor to the fullest…

The last hour before the ceremony:

It may not seem like a big deal, but relishing the last few moments before walking down the aisle is a wonderful way to prepare yourself for a beautiful ceremony and enjoying the rest of your day. I have received a lot of positive feedback from brides because, as a planner, I build an hour of down-time into the day’s itinerary before the processional begins. Many beneficial things can happen in this last hour: (1) if unforeseen circumstances cause your timeline to fall behind, you have an extra hour to catch up; (2) someone can be designated to assist with cleaning up your “prep” space, ensuring that your personal belongings are packed and there are no extra hassles after the reception; and (3) you have extra time to relax, grab a quick drink or snack, take a couple of extra candid pictures, and revel in a quiet peace that comes before saying “I do”.

Your vows:

This one kind of goes without saying; it’s the reason why we’re all here! But you’d be surprised how many couples don’t remember their ceremony. Whether you write your own vows or recite traditional ones, cherish every second. Take your time speaking, BREATHE, and squeeze your honey’s hands extra tight. This moment is sacred and just for the two of you; don’t rush and enjoy!

Post-ceremony pictures (just the two of you!):

Let me preface this one by saying that you don’t want to drag this period out forever; try not to extend post-ceremony pictures beyond the cocktail hour. But if you can, take care of the wedding party shots first; then, allow them to go ahead to the reception. Spend the rest of the hour with just your sweetheart and the photographer. Your photographer can guide you to special locations in and around the venue for beautifully posed pictures. Or he/she can remain silent in the background and take candid shots while you two reflect on the ceremony, kiss, and enjoy the brief time of privacy. It’s actually quite romantic!

Enjoying dinner:

I tell my brides “don’t forget to eat”…. Later in the reception, I still put a large bag filled with to-go boxes from the caterer in the get-away car. I know that it might be wishful thinking, but I do advise couples to take some time to sit and enjoy the dinner that took a huge chunk out of their overall budget. I do understand the tendency to get caught up in all of the excitement, or spend most of dinner speaking to all of the relatives that simply must come up to the table to hug the happy couple. Allow your planner or DJ to encourage guests to allow some time for you to eat before visiting. Once you have finished dinner, you can always make the rounds to each table to greet guests.

Your first dance:

Some couples will spend time and money on dance lessons. Some will come up with a crazy, fun duet to surprise their guests. Some will simply choose their favorite ballad to sway back and forth to, while gazing into each other’s eyes. No matter how you do it, take all of the time you need. My favorite pictures, by far, are of the first dance, and many of your guests will enjoy celebrating that special moment with you. There are many popular songs that seem to be a staple at weddings; but I encourage you to spend time talking about your ideas with your fiancé. Allow this decision to be between just the two of you, and choose a song and dance that is special and speaks to your unique story as a couple. You are sure to look back on your first dance as one of the favorite moments of your wedding day.

Five Inspiring Celebrity Weddings

Of course, the weddings of Prince William and Kim Kardashian were huge. In Kim’s case, I’m sure the planning of that wedding lasted longer than the actual marriage! But I’d like to focus on a few other celebrity weddings that weren’t quite the media circus. Here are a few from the past few years that I’ve found particularly inspirational.

Lisa Ling & Paul Song, 2007

Journalist and television host Lisa Ling described her wedding to oncologist Paul Song as “not typical” and “Asian chic”. The couple made the traditional elements festive; from the vibrant Asian décor, to the five Asian restaurants that created food stations, to the bride’s amazing, red Vivienne Tam gown. Throw an event that’s anything but typical by focusing on the elements that are most fun to you, like an eclectic hor d’oeuvre menu, a huge dance floor, and a DJ that plays a variety of party music.

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Antonio Pierce & Jocelyn Maldonado, 2008

Now THIS is how you do destination wedding! Former New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce married model Jocelyn Maldonado in front of an amazing sunset on the island of Maui. With the backdrop of the ocean, a sunset-inspired color scheme of coral and pink, and a mai tai signature cocktail, this wedding beautifully complimented the breathtaking Hawaiian locale. For a relaxed destination wedding, I recommend keeping your guest list limited to close family and friends; then take advantage of everything your destination has to offer to make you and your guests feel like you are on a five-start vacation.

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Parminder Nagra & James Stenson, 2009

The nuptials of British actress Parminder Nagra and photographer James Stenson began with an intimate Sikh ceremony at their home. What followed was anything but intimate, as the couple hosted a civil ceremony and reception at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills that epitomized glamour. This wedding blended several elements of Indian and British culture; from traditional attire and cuisine, to rich colors and beaded fabrics, and even a Bollywood-inspired performance.

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Hilary Duff & Mike Comrie, 2010

Actress Hilary Duff’s late-summer wedding to hockey player Mike Comrie was the picture of romance. They took every advantage of the lush, Montecito locale and created a botanical dream; filled with blush and ivory florals, soft fabrics, and subtle lighting. To create the picturesque, garden theme, choose a venue that already has the setting (instead of, say, trying to turn a hotel ballroom into a garden) and focus your décor budget on floral using a soft color palette and whimsical touches of baby’s breath. If you don’t want an evening event, this theme also works perfectly for a Sunday brunch wedding!

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Amy Smart & Carter Oosterhouse, 2011

Who said a green wedding can’t be creative and elegant? Actress Amy Smart wed HGTV designer Carter Oosterhouse at the couple’s home in Michigan. They used natural materials like burlap, reclaimed wood, fresh moss, and gathered flowers to create an eco-friendly atmosphere that celebrated their home and community. My number one tip for going green: choose a caterer that focuses on using fresh ingredients from local farms and producers.

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Let’s Eat Cake!

Ahhh, the wedding cake: arguably one of the best parts of the wedding reception. We’ve all (hopefully) enjoyed a wonderful meal, and we’re gearing up for some lively dancing; so bring on the sugar rush!

Ever wonder about the history of the wedding cake? In ancient Rome, the groom broke a barley cake over his bride’s head to signify the marriage. In medieval England, a pile of buns was assembled, and the happy couple kissed over the pile to bring prosperity. Their unmarried guests often took a piece home to tuck under their pillow. By the mid-sixteenth century, sugar was abundant in England, and white icing became a staple on wedding cakes. The more refined the sugar, the whiter the icing was. Pure white wedding cakes signified both the bride’s virginity, as well as the affluence of the family. Tiered cakes also became a popular show of status in the Victorian age; the massive confection served at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip weighed over 500 pounds!

Today’s wedding cakes are the perfect way for the bride and groom to express their wedding style; from sophisticated and timeless, to fun and out-of-the-box. I truly admire the artistry used in creating all of the amazing cakes I’ve seen. I’d like to take a moment and highlight some of my favorite area cake makers. Be inspired (and hungry)!

Cakes by Chloe

www.cakesbychloe.com

919.599.1150 or 336.662.7576

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Dewey’s Bakery

Katy Hites: Katy@deweys.com

336.397.5587

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Delicious Bakery

www.delicious-cakes.com

336.282.1377

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Maxie B’s

www.maxieb.com

336.288.9811

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Navigating Family/Friend Drama

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I’ve experienced the following situation way too often: I’m meeting with a bride and her mom; her mom is going on and on about the things she wants for “their” wedding. The bride timidly tries to assert an opinion, only to be quickly shot down. Eventually, the bride gives up and spends the rest of the meeting looking shell-shocked. Sound familiar?

This is not a post to rag on the MOB. This is simply a chance to humbly give a little advice to the bride that is wondering where she fits into the whole planning adventure. Even as an outspoken, type-A personality, I experienced some difficult times when I was planning my wedding. I’m sure many brides can relate to dealing with the dad that wants to invite all of his golf buddies, most of whom you’ve never met; or the mother that throws a tantrum because she’s not getting her way; or the best friend that secretly tries to inject her personal taste into the décor because she’d rather be planning her own wedding.  As a bride, you should not have to defend the fact that the opinions of you and your fiancé are really the only ones that matter; especially if you are the ones footing the bill. So how do we go about keeping this theme prevalent during the planning? Here are four quick survival tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself. This is your wedding day: one of the most important days in your life thus far. You and your fiancé will spend a lot of time and money into creating a beautiful ceremony and a celebratory reception; you deserve to have it be everything that the two of you want. While friends and family can offer wonderful ideas and advice, it should come from a place of support, with regard to your taste and your vision. If you want the small wedding on an island resort – leaving the extended family behind – then that’s your decision. If you want to serve pizza instead of duck confit, then that’s your decision. If you want that “unique” shade of orange on all of the tables, then that’s your decision. These are your memories that will be created. Respectfully tell everyone that the wedding will be everything that the two of you want. I don’t mean to be a Debbie-downer, but some friends or family might not be on board, and that’s okay. Most of the time, they come around. If by chance they don’t, that’s their decision and their consequences to bear, not yours.
  2. Let the planner be the “bad guy”. Not to turn this into a shameless plug, but it does help sometimes to have a non-biased, third party to go to bat for you. As a planner, it is my job – and my privilege – to execute the bride’s vision. While I welcome all suggestions from family and friends, it is quite easy to decipher between those that truly have the bride’s best interest at heart, and those who have their own agenda. Allow your planner to be the one to politely thank them for the suggestions, but let them know that final decisions always fall with the bride and groom.
  3. Find creative ways to involve the family. Don’t feel that you have to have a twenty-person wedding party and 500 guests to appease everyone. There are special ways to include family and honored guests. If your bridal party has reached its limit, ask a special friend to be a hostess or usher. Include an extended family member in the ceremony by asking them to do a reading or light a unity candle. Ask an honored guest to give the blessing before dinner or a toast when you cut the cake. Your friends and family will feel honored that you thought to include them, and you will still feel at ease knowing that your desires were met.
  4. Try not to turn into Bridezilla. I know this can be difficult; sometimes the ones closest to you can be the most frustrating. But it won’t do you any good to spend the entire planning process stressed and angry. Try to find the joy in all of this. Relieve your stress with activities like exercise, extra date nights, and spending time with fun, positive people. The one unfortunate thing about a wedding day is that it flies by. At the end of it, you don’t want to look back on the journey and only remember the stress and frustration. Let go and choose to be happy!

 

Fall Wedding Trends, 2013

Fall is my favorite time of year! I’ve always been a cold-weather girl, so there is nothing more exciting than experiencing the change from sweltering humidity to autumn breezes, as well as the brilliant colors. Fall weddings are growing in popularity in North Carolina; and I especially love discovering the new trends, both to enhance my own work, and to share with brides.

Fashion

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Shorter dresses aren’t just for summer destination weddings anymore! Hemlines have lifted on many of the bridal runways for fall and winter. As a bride, the combo of nerves and adrenaline will make a woman hot regardless of what time of year her wedding takes place; why not be comfortable? This year I’m seeing tea-length gowns that tastefully show off the toned legs and arms that you worked hard all summer for. As you dance the night away, a flirty A-line in romantic fabrics like tulle and organza can enhance those amazing shoes that might have otherwise been hidden underneath a floor-length gown.

Food

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Forget about saving the bountiful, family dinners for Thanksgiving. Wedding receptions this season are seeing true celebrations of love, family, and togetherness. What better way than to celebrate with food? Buffets are taken to the next level with “farm tables”: rich, colorful displays of everything from dishes made from fresh, locally-grown ingredients; to chic, modern versions of comfort foods. If you’re not into a buffet, try serving dinner family-style at each table. For my “foodie” brides, try going Tapas – a Spanish style of dining, serving a variety of small tasting dishes. Go beyond the typical salad-entrée-dessert dinner, and wow your guests with a modern, dinner party-inspired tasting menu.

The New Neutral

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A fall wedding doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use a color palette of orange, red, and brown. Don’t get me wrong, I love paying homage to the gorgeous changes of color that nature displays during the autumn months. But don’t feel like you have to be pigeon-holed into pumpkin centerpieces. Here’s an idea: go neutral! Monochromatic color palettes are a great way of adding a modern and sophisticated twist to a fall wedding. Experiment with tones of ivory, taupe, and gray (my personal favorite this season); then break up the tones with pops of black or navy, which look especially good for an evening reception. If you still want some color, try shades that are not typically fall, like fresh green and acai.

Marrying Glamour & Rustic

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A glamorous wedding doesn’t have to overdose on fake crystals everywhere.  A rustic wedding doesn’t have to involve a single bale of hay. Marrying the two concepts together can create a truly unique and memorable event. There are several venues across the Triad that combine the rustic elements of wood, exposed brick, and nature, with glamorous elements of chandeliers and chiavari chairs. Try places like Revolution Mill Studios, Adaumont Farm, and WinMock at Kinderton. When it comes to décor, skip the tall, identical centerpieces, and opt for an eclectic grouping of vintage-inspired vases with different varieties of flowers, for a textured, gathered look. And, because every glamorous wedding needs some sparkle, create the ultimate atmosphere with an abundance of candles in hurricane vases, or vintage chandeliers used in unique places like tents, barns, or even hung in trees.