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planning tips :: getting the most out of bridal shows

Happy Monday friends! And a warm welcome to all of you newly engaged readers who may be popping in for the first time.

It’s that time of year–everywhere you look there is a bridal show or expo popping up! If you’re newly engaged, it can be so tempting (and exciting) to visit them all. But if you don’t have every weekend free, you’ll probably need to narrow down the choices. Here are some of our best tips for choosing which bridal show is the best fit for you and how to make the most out of your time when you get there!

Location Considerations

Where are you tying the knot? Attend bridal shows that are in the area where your wedding will be located. If you’re a bride in Chicago planning a wedding in West Michigan, consider attending shows in the area so that you can meet vendors that service the area where your wedding will take place. You’ll cut down on things like travel & hotel fees, and get to meet businesses familiar with the area and your venue which will benefit you in the long run!

Research & Pre-Screen

Do some research beforehand. If you know you’re in the market for a photographer, visit the bridal show websites and see which ones have some vendors you are interested in. That way you can come to the show already knowing which vendors may fit your style, and focus your time on those! Some vendors will also offer discounts for booking AT the show so doing some research ahead of time will ensure you don’t make an uninformed decision on the spot just for a discount!

Style & Budget

There are tons of wedding shows out there for every budget and every style of wedding. From those that focus on high-end affairs to others that focus on DIY & budget-friendly, pic a show that caters to what you have in mind. Same goes for style–if you’re eclectic, focus on the small, indie shows that cater to brides looking for ultra-local vendors, offbeat providers and unique inspiration!

Avoid Info Overload

As a wedding vendor I can tell you that businesses all want to get their hands on your contact details. And it’s not a bad thing…they just want to be able to follow up with you after the show, provide you with more info, extend offers to you and answer questions. Bridal shows are hectic, so they can’t spend a lot of time with everyone at the show. That being said, beware of the WAY you give your info out. If you take away only one tip here, let it be this: Set up an email address that is ONLY for wedding-related information. That way you can put your email address on every contest entry and inquiry form without fear that you’ll be getting emails from 100+ wedding-related businesses long after you’ve tied the knot!

Bridal shows can be a great way to meet vendors you have already researched, check out samples, and get excited about your engagement—so gather up your bridesmaids and get out there and have some fun!


videography at your southwest michigan wedding

You’ve dreamed about every detail of the day you say, “I do,” and when the day arrives, it can pass in the blink of an eye.  Along with photography, one way to relive the best parts of your wedding day is to hire a videographer.

As wedding planners, we regularly see videography services on the end of many brides lists when it comes to their budget, but we always hear rave reviews from brides who do choose video services. It’s certainly something you want to look into, and decide if it’s a fit for you on your big day.

Jessica + Matt – Pure Michigan from Highway 61 Films on Vimeo.

Consider the benefits of hiring a videographer:

  • Capturing the depth of moments throughout the day. Your photographer will catch the defining images of your wedding day. Your videographer will add depth to these images. Capturing expressions, sounds and movements on film will allow you to witness the full range of emotion that crosses the groom’s face when he catches a first glimpse of his bride.
  • Seeing moments you may have missed. Your wedding day will be full of activity, and you may miss small, meaningful moments among your guests or bridal party. Your videographer has the opportunity to notice and film these moments, giving you the chance to see every important part of your day.
  • Remembering well wishes from your loved ones. Your videographer can record sentiments from those closest to you throughout the day, as well as reception speeches and toasts. Being able to revisit the sweet words of those who love you will be an encouragement long after your wedding day.
  • Creating a unique story. Your videographer will edit your video, add music, and create a stylistic film that ties the details from your day into a story. Your video will express your personality as a couple and be one-of-a-kind, just like your wedding day.

Preserving your wedding day memories on film is a worthwhile investment. Browse online portfolios and ask your wedding planner or vendors for recommendations as you search for the right videographer for your wedding.

Posted By Kristen Larson, Event Assistant


hiring a wedding photographer :: friend vs. professional

Your wedding pictures forever capture each special moment from your wedding day. From first kiss to first dance, your wedding day images are reminders of the butterflies, laughter and tears. For the budget conscious bride, it can be tempting to choose a friend or family member with a nice camera if the photographer of your dreams is expensive. However, it’s important to know the value of hiring a professional photographer, and carefully weigh whether or not it’s the best area to make your budget cuts.

 The Pros of Hiring a Professional Wedding Photographer

  • Experience: Professional wedding photographers are used to shooting weddings. They know when to anticipate and capture big moments. Check out their website for their wedding portfolio. This will give you a good idea of the types of images you will receive.
  • Equipment: Skilled wedding photographers have a variety of lenses, flashes, and other tools to enhance your pictures. They can capture quality images indoors and outdoors.
  • Style: Photographers with several years of wedding experience have developed a style that comes out in their pictures. If you want your wedding pictures to portray a specific theme, they will know how to capture it.
  • Professionalism: Wedding photographers know how to build professional relationships with their clients. They know how to create natural poses and prevent awkward moments. They also have standards, such as contracts, set in place to insure your satisfaction.
  • Consistency: Professional photographers will provide consistent quality in all of their images.


Friend or Family: Pros & Cons

 If you decide to hire a friend or family member, make sure you are comfortable with them and know what to expect. Consider these pros and cons:


  • Experience: More people are buying nice cameras and labeling themselves photographers. However, a lack of training and experience can cripple their shooting or editing capabilities. Especially if your photographer has never shot a wedding before, it can be difficult for them to do the best job. And if your friend or family member is a professional photographer, consider if they have specific experience in weddings, as there are many moments in your special day that can’t be redone!
  • Pressure: Your Pinterest board may be filled with stunning images that you want your own photos to resemble. An inexperienced photographer may have difficulty producing your ideal pictures, and might feel nervous or under pressure to live up to your expectations.
  • Professionalism: Professional photographers have standards for their relationships with their clients. Lines can be blurred when your photographer is a friend. In addition, a photographer who is also a guest may have a hard time filling each role for the day.


  • Budget-friendly: If your budget is a main concern, this is an area where you can save. Make sure you provide your photographer with an appreciative gift if they volunteer to work for free!
  • Comfort: If you’re close to your photographer, working with them can be a fun experience.
  • Time: Many professional photographers clock out after a set amount of hours. A friend or family member may be more willing to stay until the night ends.

Wedding pictures should be one of the best ways for you to remember your day. No matter who you choose as a photographer, make sure your expectations align with their abilities.

 Posted By Kristen Larson, Event Assistant

michigan wedding weather :: for better or for worse, in rain (or snow) or shine!

“What will I do if it rains?” If you’re saying “I do” in an outdoor ceremony, this thought may run through your head more than once. Preparing a back-up plan is the most important step you can take to be ready for unpredictable weather, and to maintain your sanity leading up to your outdoor event.


Your “In-case-of-rain” plan:

Be familiar with your venue and location.  If you’re not familiar with the area, your wedding planner will be a helpful resource and can help you to research “Plan B” locations. If you’ve planned a ceremony on the beach in St. Joseph, be aware of reception locations such as The Veranda at the Whitcomb or  Shadowland Ballroom. Both are within minutes of the beach and can be found easily by your guests if your ceremony has to be changed to an indoor affair. Also consider using a beach that also has a covered areas, such as Shadowland Pavilion on Silver Beach or the pavilion on Jean Klock Beach. Either can be rented and used in lieu of a wedding out on the sand.

Consider using your reception venue as a ceremony back-up location. If your outdoor ceremony is taking place close to your reception venue, you can easily move indoors. Leave space in front of your head table to serve as an altar. This works well at location such as Millcreek Barns and the Blue Dress Barn, where ceremonies are held outdoors, weather permitting.

Be aware of how your ceremony decorations can fit within your reception. Flowers lining the aisle can be pinned to your head table as decorations. Flowers in mason jars can be incorporated into centerpieces. Special carpeting or petals can be used to define an indoor aisle space. Consider moving your arch or arbor inside, if the venue permits.

Assemble a “rain team”. Your wedding planner will take action at the first hint of inclement weather, but talk with several people who can assist in contacting friends and family, and re-directing guests to the new location. Consider creating a calling tree for family to use in contacting guests about the change in venue!


No snow? No problem! 

Some brides get married in December or January in hopes of creating a winter wonderland wedding. If the skies aren’t offering hopes of snow, plan for ways to still achieve your vision.

Incorporate wintery decorations. White Christmas lights are an easy way to create frosty illusions. Snowflake napkin rings add subtle beauty to your reception. Considering incorporating white branches in your centerpieces to mimic the look of wintery trees.

Utilize your bridal party. Time to get creative! If your perfect wedding day picture includes snow, but the flakes aren’t falling, have white confetti on hand. Your bridal party can toss it around you for a fun and unique picture.

Talk to your photographer about day-after photos. Day-after wedding photos–sometimes called “Trash the Dress” or “encore” sessions– are a popular trend right now, so talk about this possibility with your photographer. Maybe the snowstorm you were counting on will come a day late. You’ll have the pictures you want, and a fun excuse to wear your dress for a second time!


No matter what the skies are holding, if you are prepared with a plan, your wedding day can be just as you envision. We wish you clear and sunny (or snowy) skies on your special day!

wedding websites for your michigan wedding

Websites for weddings, sometimes called “Wedsites” have seemed to grow more and more popular over the past few years. estimates “About 75 percent of couples marrying last year had websites.” For destination brides planning a wedding in Southwest Michigan, utilizing a wedding website is a great way to keep your guests informed on the local area and weekend events and accommodations!

With customizable templates and multiple page options for listing all the details of the wedding, wedding websites can be an extremely convenient way to share information with loved ones. They can also be a great way to relieve stress from having to repeat details and answer questions as the date grows closer–all the information is available for everyone you want to share it with in one place. You can easily share your website link on your social networking pages and include the link either on your save-the-dates or in the invitations.

A lot of wedding websites include features which can not only help relieve stress but help you stay organized. Most websites have a page for you to include details and directions to accommodations, attractions, the ceremony space, and reception space for your guests. Some websites also include a page for you to list or link to your gift registry and/or for guests to electronically send money or gifts.

There are quite a few free or low cost websites which are customizable to fit you and your needs. Here are a few to look into if you are searching for a place to host your own wedding website:

This site offers a free wedding website as well as a free mobilized website. Some of its features include customizable pages from preloaded themes and a personalized web address.

This site offers a free wedding website along with the option to upgrade to one of their paid packages (you have the option to pay either by the month or the year). Some of its features include an area for uploads for guests to download, optional password protection for privacy (your guests sign into your website with a password), and a wedding day countdown.

The Knot
This site offers a free wedding website which is also mobile friendly. Some of its features include multiple themes which can be filtered by color or style, a place for guests to RSVP, and a place to include a gift registry.

This site offers a free wedding website. Some of its features include a guest book visitors to the site can sign and an iPhone app. Their templates are extremely easy to use and modify.

Wedding Window
This site offers both a free and premium websites. Some of its features include templates you can customize according to color, a guest book, and an area to keep a blog.

hiring a wedding planner :: 5 things you need to know :: part 2

#2 – The different types of planning help available

There are lots of places to find help with your wedding, and when it comes to wedding planners–like all things–they’re not all created equal. None of them are all bad, and none are all good, but they each offer their own pros and cons, and you should consider the pros and cons before deciding on the type of help that is best for you!

The Venue Coordinator
I often hear brides say that they “don’t need an outside planner” because their venue has an on-site coordinator, and unfortunately, some brides find out too late that this is just not the case. The on-site coordinator is there to manage the services being provided by the reception hall, and the services they will provide are very different from those that a professional wedding planner will provide.

Pros: A good on-site coordinator will assist you with items like room layouts, place settings and linens and opening the building for vendor deliveries (depending on your venue). They’ll also be on hand during the earlier portion of your wedding day and reception in case of issues with venue services. If this is all you need help with, you’re probably not in the market for a professional wedding planner or coordinator.

Cons: Unlike an actual wedding planner or day-of coordinator, your on-site venue coordinator will not call your vendors to verify anything the week before the wedding, find you vendors that meet your budget (though they may give you a pre-made list), call your bakery with your final numbers, or help you to trouble shoot difficult issues with vendors on your wedding day.  Venue coordinators are usually not on-site through the duration of your wedding, and will likely be gone by early evening. Don’t get me wrong, on-site coordinators are great, but it’s important to understand what they will and won’t do for you, so you can be properly prepared for your big day!


The “In-House” Event Planner

This trend is becoming increasingly popular. Venues and vendors (florists, caterers, etc) are seeing the market for planning services, and offering an “in house” coordinator or planner. Services will vary but in many cases, they’ll offer a wide range of services from helping you at the reception hall with day-of items, to travelling off site to assist with your ceremony.

Pros: They’ll know the ins and outs of your venue and its policies, what works well and what doesn’t.

Cons: Your planner is first and foremost an employee of the venue, florist, caterer, or whoever is technically employing them full time. So you are not offered an un-biased 3rd party opinion, and an issue may arise where your best interests are not kept in mind. For example, if an issue arises with the venue itself or the services it provides, will your planner advocate for what’s best for you, or what’s best for the venue? Do they have experience specifically planning weddings, and relationships with all of the vendors needed, or is their experience solely in one area of weddings, such as venue management, floral, or catering?


The “Hobbyist” Wedding Planner
Just looking at websites, it is often hard to identify a “hobbyist” wedding planner as such. They often have a business set up, are marketed as a professional wedding planner, and offer the same services. However, a “hobbyist” wedding planner is someone who operates their planning business as a side-business to their full time job, or who has set up shop without the relevant experience needed.

Pros: The price will likely be low as this isn’t their full time job or source of income

Cons: They don’t have much to lose–if family issues come up, or they run into issues with their full time job, it’s likely that your wedding will be pushed to the side. Or worse yet, they’ll back out on you. Unlike a professional wedding planner, they’re not relying on your satisfaction, and continued business from other brides, to pay their bills and keep food on the table. You don’t want your wedding to be something that gets pushed to the side when they don’t have extra time. And similarly to the “in house” planner, they likely don’t have the extensive well-rounded knowledge and resources that a professional wedding planner has. Also, their business may not operate to the standards of a professional wedding planner—for example they may not carry the liability insurance and other protections that a full service planner will. Hobbyists, “in house” and on-site planners may also be lacking first hand knowledge of the local industry as a whole, and rely on information they gather online.


The Professional Wedding Planner
A professional wedding planner operates a wedding or event planning business as their main occupation, and has hands-on professional experience in event planning. A strong network of vendors & venues is also the mark of a professional wedding planner.

Pros: A professional wedding planner is extremely connected to the local wedding industry, as well as versed on resources available. How does this help you? A pro wedding planner can tell you which  hotels work best for weddings on holiday weekends, which beaches are best for ceremonies, which vendors will work best if you need to function primarily through email. They’ll have personal relationships with vendors and venues, leading to a smoother planning process. They have first-hand knowledge of the local industry and can provide you with budgeting information that is locally-relevant and not based on costs nationally. A professional planner will provide stellar service, to ensure that you have a great experience, because they’re depending on referral business and good reviews to keep their business going. Professional planners have ample staff, often have additional planners or coordinators on staff and contingency plans in the case of a sick coordinator or staff member.

Cons: The price is likely to be the highest here.

So many choices! If you’re having a hard time deciding, I would suggest meeting with several different planners. Find out how much experience they have, how involved they’ve been in the full scope of a wedding, what they’d do in the case that they were ill on your wedding day or were somehow incapacitated. Will they stay throughout your wedding day? Ask for referrals for former brides that had the same services you’re interested in. If you’re interested in full service planning, be sure to ask to speak with a former bride who also received full service planning. Not every wedding planner is the perfect fit for every bride. You don’t have to be best friends with your planner, but you should feel comfortable with them, enjoy your planning time together, and above all, trust them fully! So meet with several, ask lots of questions, and make the choice that makes you feel most comfortable (and excited) about your wedding day!


dessert dilemmas

In 2013, it’s rare not to know someone who needs to or chooses to avoid foods with gluten or animal byproducts. When planning your dessert menu for your reception, however, accommodating the dietary needs of all your guests may feel a little overwhelming. If you are worried a traditional wedding cake just might not work for you there are alternatives out there; here are a few to consider.


Photo by Lamb + Lark

Gluten Free or Vegan Wedding Cake: One alternative to a traditional cake is to find a Southwest Michigan bakery who can create a completely gluten free or vegan cake. A word of caution though, be sure to discuss your exact needs with the baker, especially if you choose a bakery that doesn’t have a completely gluten free or vegan kitchen.

Cupcakes: Another alternative or supplement to a traditional wedding cake is to do a table of cupcakes for your reception. One nice thing about this option is it allows you to have both gluten free, vegan, and traditional options for your guests. The cupcakes can be arranged on different tiers or trays with labels that say which options are gluten-free, vegan, or that list the different ingredients. Labels are a good way to prevent confusion or possible cross-contamination for your guests. You may also want to label any flavors that contain nuts.

Photos by Lamb + Lark

Photos by Lamb + Lark

Dessert Bar: Another option to consider is a dessert bar with small, finger-food sized desserts. This not only gives you the option to have a variety of delicious treats for your guests, but also gives you the option to have certain desserts specially made and labeled for all the different possible needs and wants of your guests. Keep in mind that there are alternatives options to almost every traditional type of dessert now including favorites like cake pops, cheesecakes, and pies.

Fresh Fruit: Adding fresh fruit to your dessert menu can be another option–especially in the summer months. The natural sugars in most fruits are often a safe alternative for many people with gluten allergies or vegan lifestyles to the ingredients in other baked goods.

No matter what option you chose for your wedding always be sure to taste test the different desserts or get a referral from a wedding planner, before you purchase them from a baker or caterer. If you’re in the St. Joseph area one local vendor to check out is Kat’s Hot Cakes in Bridgman, specializing in vegan baked goods.

hiring a wedding planner :: 5 things you need to know :: part 1

#1 – Who needs a wedding Planner?

The first step to hiring a wedding planner or coordinator, is determining if you need one. As a professional wedding planner, of course I wish I could say that “if you are engaged, you absolutely, positively, MUST hire a wedding planner…you’ll never survive without one!” BUT, it just wouldn’t be true.  I also wish I could say that the list below is the end-all be-all, definitive guide to determining if you need a wedding planner. But I can’t. What I can do, is let you know that there are many reasons for hiring a wedding planner–it’s a personal choice for each and every bride—one that I believe in most cases helps brides and grooms to have a more enjoyable engagement, save time, reduce their stress, get exactly what they want (and sometimes much more) and can save them money!  Here are just a few reasons why you may find yourself in need of a wedding planner for your Michigan wedding:

in action wedding

Stella Lead Planner Jessica Pennington, sending bridal party down the aisle at an outdoor ceremony


  • You’re planning your wedding from out of state or out of town, or you’re unfamiliar with the area where you’re getting married
  • You have a demanding job or hectic schedule
  • You can’t find the perfect venue
  • You want to make the most of your budget
  • You are so stressed you cannot enjoy the process of planning your wedding
  • You don’t know how to get started
  • You’re planning your wedding in a short time-frame
  • You’re struggling to define the look and feel of your wedding style
  • You need a “go-to” person for your wedding day
  • You are concerned that the planning process will cause family stress…or it already is…and you need a middle man
  • Your wedding is being held at a non-traditional venue, such as in a barn, outdoors, or on the beach
  • You want to make the most of your budget, big or small
  • You want to plan an incredible event while staying stress free and enjoying your engagement!

If you feel like you could use some help, you don’t have time to plan the wedding you’re dreaming of, or that the planning process is overwhelming you, set up a consultation with a professional wedding planner in your area, or the area where you’re holding your wedding.  A professional planner will be more than happy to talk through your issues and concerns to determine if planning is right for you, and what level of assistance would be the best fit to ensure your day is fabulous, and you remain a stress-free, beautiful bride on your wedding day! Or, in some cases, they may be able to direct you to resourced that can help you in lieu of a planner. Truth be told, I have a handful of brides each year that come in for an initial consultation, and leave with the realization that they don’t need a planner. A professional planner will be honest with you about the services you need, and if, based on all considerations—budget, time frame, schedule—you need to hire a planner.

So if you’ve determined you need a wedding planner, the question you’re probably asking yourself is “How much is it going to cost?” and “How Do I Pick one?”…this week on the blog stay tuned as we tell you where you can find a planner, the different types  of planners & options available, how to pick the right one, why it costs so much (and what to be aware of if it’s cheap) and more!

tented weddings – the myth and the math

We’re currently in the process of planning many beautiful weddings for next season, and in 2013 we’re planning more tented weddings than ever before. So as we’ve been submitting rental quotes and creating budgets, I can’t help but be reminded of how much goes into a tented wedding, and many things people forget to consider when planning a tented wedding. If you have a planner, then it’s smooth sailing, as they can handle the ins-and-outs for you, but if you’re flying solo on your wedding planning, then there are some things you need to keep in mind:

A 2010 wedding on Lake Michigan, photograph by Jennifer Mayo Studios

The key to creating a tented wedding on your own property (or even a rented space), is keeping in mind all of the rental costs you are going to incur. While a tented wedding may seem like the budget-friendly option, let’s take a look at how the numbers break down when comparing a wedding of 150 at a local venue that has a flat $3200 rental fee, to a tented wedding:

Tent Rental (main tent & catering) $1,600 Room Rental $3,200
Tent sides, in case of rain (10) $350
Lighting $400 Lighting included
12×12 Dance Floor $300 Dance floor included
Guest tables (19) $285 Guest tables included
Tables: Cake, gift, food, bar (8) $120 Tables included
Basic white linens for all tables $624 Basic white linens included
Chairs for reception (150) $600 Chairs for reception included
Restrooms $800 Restrooms included
Rental Delivery fee $125
Total $5,204   Total $3,200


This chart only touches on the main rentals needed, and doesn’t even touch on things like china, silverware, staging, bar setups, generators, flooring needs and other additional items that are unique to each event. Keep in mind that the above cost break-down does not include any fees you may be charged if you’re renting a location to host your tented wedding. If you’re hosting on a rental property, you’ll need to consider the site fee as well.

I am not by any means saying you shouldn’t get married in a backyard or on a beautiful piece of family property—that can be a very meaningful and beautiful option for your wedding location—the thing you have to consider is if you are choosing that option only because it seems like the cheaper way to go.  Because in most cases, bringing in all of those rental items will cost you much more than renting a venue (not to mention all of the extra work for you and your family), and that’s something you should realistically consider when choosing between a tented wedding on private property, versus a reception venue.

Besides the actual cost, you also need to consider logistical issues like where everyone will park—do you need to provide shuttle service? Are there any municipal restrictions on cars on the property? Will your music will effect neighbors or cause the police to be called? What you will do in the case of inclement weather—do you need to rent heaters at an additional cost? If you’re having the ceremony outside on-site, you’ll need to consider how you’ll accommodate the ceremony inside the tent in the case of rain.

I’ve said it many times before, in many posts, that not every wedding and every bride needs a wedding planner. But if a tented wedding on private property is something that is definitely the right choice for you after considering the cost and logistics, then you can take a lot of stress off of yourself and your family, by hiring a wedding planner. A professional and experienced wedding planner will be able to ensure you aren’t forgetting or overlooking any of the key elements needed to make your tented wedding a success, manage your rental orders & logistics, and will help you and your family to actually enjoy your beautiful wedding day!

newly engaged? let us show you around!

This time of year (engagement season!) we get all sorts of new readers—so first, we want to say CONGRATULATIONS to all of you newly engaged brides who are visiting the blog! Secondly, if you’re new to the Stella Blog, we want to give you a quick overview of everything the blog has to offer…we’ve got lots of great resources and inspiration!

On the blog you can….