Creating a “Pinterest perfect” wedding can be a tremendous amount of work and stress, which is why couples so often hire a wedding planner. In addition to helping couples develop a realistic vision of their big day—based on the date, time, location, number of guests, vendors, and budget—the planner and his or her team will ensure the event unfolds exactly as hoped, whether it’s a boho bash in a favorite barn, a sun-drenched affair overlooking the ocean, or a black-tie gala in a swanky location.
To help you get started, we’ve asked three of the area’s top wedding planners to share their thoughts on how best to bring your dream day to life—from the location of the ceremony and celebration to all those clever design touches that put a signature spin on your special affair.
First, Amy McLaughlin of Amy McLaughlin Lifestyles in Newburyport shares her tips for planning the ideal seaside celebration. Next, Janie Haas of Janie Haas Events in North Andover suggests unique ways to host a traditional elegant soiree. Finally, Tiffany J. Learned of Detailed Engagements in Newburyport explains how to create the ultimate barn-based fête.
Couples eager to tie the knot with a coastal theme often turn to Amy McLaughlin, who has masterminded ocean-based weddings from the rocky coast of Maine to the sandy shores of Nantucket. In addition to her expertise in flowers and interior design, she brings the “classic taste and style of New England with a glamorous touch of Hollywood” to each event she plans. For a unique invitation, she once sent out a corked glass bottle with the invitation rolled up inside, “as if it was a message from the sea,” she says. “We’ve also done a really cute outline of Plum Island as the backdrop to the invitation.”
Her favorite venues include the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, which highlights the area’s maritime history and has a back lawn overlooking the Merrimac River. She also likes Blue, a boutique hotel on Plum Island Beach, as well as the modestly priced Pita Hall, also on Plum Island, which is basically a lofty white space with endless design opportunities.
Her touchstones for beachy décor include decorative elements like starfish, shells, and sand dollars, along with color themes of dark and light blues paired with white or, most recently, blush. For one wedding, she draped lobster pot netting over tablecloths and then scattered seashells and sea glass on top.
“One bride’s fiancé even took pieces of found driftwood and carved table names onto them, like Vinalhaven and Kennebunk in Maine, seaside locations the couple had visited together,” she says. For flowers, she often suggests blue hydrangea, along with hurricane lamps filled with water and submerged sprigs of baby’s breath and floating tea lights. Alternatively, she’ll suggest all white flowers, which tie in nicely with a seaside theme.
Regarding food, “many people have a New England-style clambake,” says McLaughlin, noting that several area catering companies will come to the location and offer steamed lobster, corn on the cobb, steamers and all the trimmings. She’s also noticed a trend away from formal sit-down dinners, with couples preferring lots of small-plate food stations or food trucks serving their favorite foods.
For brides who want a formal, chic wedding, Janie Haas is a go-to gal. “These sorts of weddings are still in demand because of the grandeur of the occasion,” she says, “and couples want their big day to feel very special and ‘wedding worthy.’” That said, Haas notes that even the most formal couples aren’t necessarily sending out engraved invitations. Letterpress has become quite popular, along with more contemporary invites. She’s seeing this looser approach also applied to wedding gowns.
“Even the most traditional bridal gowns have room for skin showing or fun details like a huge bow in the back,” says Haas, “and some brides, even though they’re wearing a formal gown, might wear sparkly converse sneakers or a wedge shoe for comfort.”
Some of Haas’s favorite venues are luxury hotels, like the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, InterContinental Boston, and Boston Harbor Hotel, whose gorgeous spaces and ballrooms provide a stylish, formal setting for a traditional ceremony and sit-down dinner. “The Beauport Hotel Gloucester is a cool venue in keeping with the climate of the North Shore,” says Haas. “It’s not too ornate, yet the ballroom has been painted in lovely muted colors with touches of gold.” Of course, she adds, what’s really traditional on the North Shore is to have a big tent at the family’s home. It doesn’t get more personalized than that.
To help her clients “brand” their weddings, Haas looks beyond the obvious. “We recently did a dance floor, not of wood, but composed of high-gloss acrylic. We’ve also done mirrored dance floors.” Instead of traditional candles, Haas likes computer-generated lights that can cast different glows on the guests throughout the night. To add luminosity, Haas suggests adding hints of metallic.
“If you go back in time to what people’s grandparents used as serving pieces, it was lots of sterling silver and vintageware.” Thus, matte metallic flatware, chargers, and even rose gold chandeliers can add elegance, but in a modern way.
While place cards and table numbers are the most time-honored ways to guide guests to their seats, Haas suggests updated alternatives, such as hanging place cards from decorative trees or writing each guest’s name on a mirror in calligraphy. Instead of standard floral arrangements centered on each table, Haas likes individual blossoms or garlands of flowers “floating” overhead.
Food, even at the most conventional weddings, has become less formal, too, notes Haas. Couples now offer several menu choices, aware that many diners may be vegetarian or gluten-intolerant, and eschew fancy foreign ingredients, like foie gras, in lieu of locally sourced and sustainable options.
For dessert, “it’s obsolete for the bride and groom to cut the cake,” says Haas, noting that after the couple has been photographed with their cake, the staff takes over and cuts it up for guests to enjoy over by a coffee station, accompanied by one-bite desserts passed around on the dance floor.
Couples eager to celebrate their nuptials in a barn have plenty of options, given the bounty of these farm-based structures throughout New England.
“Barns evoke positive emotions,” says Tiffany J. Learned, who excels in planning barn-based affairs. “They have a comfortable, cozy feeling, like home, without being part of home, and cross all demographics, ethnicities, and religions.”
Barns also offer couples a seasonless space, giving couples plenty of room to make their mark. “And it doesn’t have to be all wildflowers and burlap,” says Learned. “You can do a black-tie wedding in a barn.”
Some of Learned’s favorite barns include Hardy Farm in Fryeburg, Maine, which has beautiful white washed boards inside. She also likes Peirce Farm at Witch Hill in Topsfield, whose newly restored barn recently became available to the public.
For couples in general, Learned has noticed a desire to go green, so instead of using paper programs, she suggests writing the details of the day on a standing chalkboard. Long barn boards devoid of cloths can be used as tables, and instead of Mason jars of flowers, Learned suggests flowy, organic centerpieces made from candles, evergreens, berries, and vines. For place cards, she’s seen seed packets or childhood photos of the bride and groom used to designate each table, with a list of names assigned to each seed packet or photo.
When it comes to the menu, “farm-to-table is very big and ingredients are sourced locally or on the farm where the barn is located,” says Learned. “Menus with lots of greens are very popular, as well as stations using local cheese and charcuterie.” Organic and cage-free ingredients are trending, along with highly seasonal ingredients—tomatoes and corn in summer, apples and pears in fall, and asparagus and alliums in spring. For a locavore twist on the traditional wedding cake, says Learned, “I’ve seen a huge stack of cider donuts or a ton of different pies with a little milk shooter.” For favors, she likes locally made items, such as small jars of apple butter or maple sugar candy.
No matter your style, New England provides the perfect setting for your wedding, whether it’s a sparkling white wonderland in winter, a riot of pastel blooms come spring, the beachy, carefree warmth of summer, or the glow of fall with all its earthy richness. From there, the rest of the magic is up to you.
Amy McLaughlin Lifestyles
Janie Haas Events