Spotlight on Charley King

Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles sat down with event planner Charley King of Bluebell Events and spoke about the endless beauty of Southern California and beyond.

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AA: Bluebell is such a lovely name for your business. Can you please tell us about its significance?

CK: Bluebell is the special name my father called me ever since I was a little girl. Ten years ago, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and when considering what to name my company, I wanted a name that would remind me of my father and honor him. Five years ago, my father passed away from the disease. Now, anytime anyone says Bluebell Events, it makes me smile as I think of him and how proud my father would have been.

 

AA: With a background in theatre and film, how have those talents carried over to your work as an event designer?

CK: It was the next, perfect, seamless transition as both professions are very similar. I approach every event as I would a piece of theatre.or film It has many important facets to consider: lighting, costumes, set, makeup, hair, the cast of characters, the arc of the storyline, and everything in between. The event must flow like a beautifully written play or musical and take the guests on a magical journey. When I was a performer on Broadway and London’s West End, I focused on my piece of the puzzle, the performance. Now, as an event planner, I act as the producer, the director and most importantly, the stage manager.

AA: You’re based in Southern California. What exciting new venues have come on-line and could you name a favorite hideaway that we might not know about?

CK: I am so lucky to live and work in a place where you can have an ocean backdrop, a mountain view, an elegant hotel, or in a rustic vineyard. There are so many incredible wedding venues and estates here and we are completely spoiled. My newest discoveries that I have fallen in love with for events are Big Daddy’s Antiques and Epona Estate. Big Daddy’s takes the vintage trend to a whole new level. Big Daddy’s is a retailer of one-of-a-kind antiques and reproductions from Europe, Asia, and North American markets. It is incredibly eclectic and a designer’s dream blank canvas to work with. Epona Estates on the other end of the scale is a privately owned 40 acre working horse ranch and world class vineyard. It is located in the heart of the Santa Monica mountains adjacent to the Malibu valley. Both these locations allow clients to let me design every single aspect of their wedding.

AA: This has been a crazy year with El Nino, not only for California, but for much of North America. Has it affected any of your wedding days and what last minute changes had to be made to insure a brilliant outcome?

CK: Fortunately, El Nino never really hit us as hard as they expected it to. We always have a Plan B in place for inclement weather anyway. I am fortunate to work with an incredible team of vendors who are able to create solutions at the last minute.

AA: Would you tell us about a client relationship that started out on the cool side but ended up warm and wonderful?

CK: Client relationships are extremely important to me. My couples become like family to me and I become like Mother Bear for them. From start to finish of the planning and beyond, I nurture an open, connected, comfortable relationship with my clients and their families. I can’t imagine planning an event for a client that starts out cool.

 

AA: What is a favorite destination you’ve designed for and where is a dream locale you’d love to create for but just haven’t had the opportunity to quite yet?

CK: I adored designing a wedding at Emmanuel College, a constituent college of Cambridge University in England. The architecture of the chapel and the University was absolutely striking. I also loved working in Hawaii. My dream locale is a snowy, winter wedding in Aspen. My earmuffs are waiting!

AA: Let’s begin with the end in mind: When the ball drops this next New Year’s Eve, what would you like to say about the year 2016?

CK: Every year, an unexpected destination or fabulous opportunity comes into my life. I would love to be able to hold up my glass of champagne and say, “Wow! That was a phenomenal experience that I will never forget.”

Spotlight on Jacin Fitzgerald

Dempsey & Carroll’s Kara Alexander sat down with event planner, Jacin Fitzgerald, to learn about her work, her love for fresh flowers, and her impressive social media presence. 

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KA: You once said, “I stopped searching the world for my purpose… Realized my true passion lies within the details of life and that I want to help others achieve their dream event.” Where were you when you had this epiphany and what were you doing that helped you come to this realization?

JF: There’s a long and short version to this question but I’ll try to keep it brief…I got my start in weddings just out of college, working for an oceanside venue in Newport, Rhode Island. From there I went on to work for Sailing World magazine, assisting and traveling for their national regatta series across the country, and then went on to move to Australia to work in Sydney as long as my visa would allow. Following Australia I traveled and visits New Zealand and Fiji, then came home and felt like I was starting all over again. I thought in order to be successful I had to work in a corporate job, so I got a job for an agency representing a pharmaceutical company and managed accounts for strategic marketing events across the country. While working here I felt like I still hadn’t met my purpose in life, and though I loved my colleagues and clients in the corporate gig, what I really missed was the creativity that came with weddings, the work I started with from the very beginning. Honestly I think my epiphany came when I suggested to a corporate client that we use blue napkins for their event to bring in their branding colors, and I was pretty much told “no one cares about the napkins, just get the right audience in the seats.” I realized I wanted that creative outlet back and started my company as a “side project” towards the end of 2009, and ended up resigning from my corporate job at the end of 2011. I haven’t looked back since.

KA: The average person might plan one wedding their entire life; at Jacin Fitzgerald Events you plan four per year, plus find the time to travel and co-edit for @travelinsiders! How do you choose which clients to take on? Is it a first come, first serve basis or do you spread them out to one per season?

JF: I don’t choose my clients – we choose each other. My consultation process is very much a two-way interview, we are getting to know each other and see if we might be a fit. I would hate for anyone to ever think I’m “choosing” anyone – once my four weddings are booked, I close up bookings for the year. It’s pretty simple actually.

As for Travel Insiders, I co-edit this project with a friend of mine, Abby Capalbo, and we literally manage this as an outlet to share our love of travel and places we’ve visited, or places we want to visit!

KA: As a planner who services weddings nationwide, what would you say is the biggest difference you see in weddings from each region?

JF: That’s so so hard to answer – I think every region has their differences for sure, but it’s so fun to bring those quintessential qualities to life in the design. New England weddings tend to have more of a nautical, coastal vibe and the season may end sooner than down South where the weather may be more temperate later into the year. California is amazing weather-wise and my East Coast clients getting married out West are always surprised at the lack of rain plans needed (though we obviously always have a plan B in place).

KA: I imagine your office and home are always flooded with the smell of fresh flowers, what are some tips and tricks you can share about floral arrangement and keeping flowers lasting longer?

JF: Best tip for keeping flowers fresh longest is so simple – trim the ends at a diagonal when you bring them home from the store (if they’re flat they may cut off water supply) and continually change out the water, re-trimming ends if needed.

KA: Aside from your website, you have such a huge social media presence! How have you gotten 42 thousand+ Instagram followers, 6300+ Twitter followers and 9700+ Facebook likes?

JF: Honestly I have been on social media since the beginning, and my online growth has been organic. I try really, really hard to be authentic both online and in person – when you meet me you’ll meet the same person you “see” online. That’s really important to me. I keep my personal life and work life very separate, too, and I think that’s key for me to maintain a professional “gallery” to showcase my work, with an occasional photo of our dog, Rhody, thrown in for good measure – he’s the best dog ever but we are a little biased :)

Spotlight on Danielle Couick

Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles met with event planner Danielle Couick of Magnolia Bluebird for drinks at charming Orsay on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

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AA: Magnolia Bluebird is such a pretty name. How did you come to choose it?

DC: Thank you! Magnolia Bluebird was supposed to be a bed and breakfast somewhere in my far off future. When the opportunity came for me to start my own planning firm, it seemed like such a natural fit. I am from the South and entertaining is just a way of life. My grandmother hosted often and had a magnificent way of making you feel as though you were the only person in the room, even if you were amongst 200. She taught me how to make centerpieces using the leaves of her magnolia tree which to me has become a symbol of gracious hospitality and reminder to be present in all that you do. She also taught me that entertaining should be comfortable and a reflection of you. Anytime I entertain you can count on a bowl of French onion dip and Ruffles somewhere in the spread. It is such a simple and basic thing, but such a great reminder of the lessons I learned growing up. And don’t let anyone tell you they don’t love chips and dip.

Bluebird is from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and is a song I sang often as a child. It is about following your dreams and owning what is beyond the known. The longer I’ve been in this business the more I learn that my needs and dreams are constantly changing, growing and adapting. There is something really powerful in knowing that I will never reach the top, that there is always an opportunity to learn more, create more and that I am trusted to take incredibly calculated risks.

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AA: You’re based in the Washington D.C. area. How far flung have you worked?

DC: We currently do a fair amount of planning and design work on the East Coast but have also designed weddings as far South as the US Virgin Islands. I have also been a speaker all over the country which is always fun! We are always open for a new adventure.

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AA: And were there any special challenges you had to overcome?

DC: Working in the USVI I quickly learned that accessibility was one of my biggest obstacles. What may be a basic staple and available at the ready stateside (candles… for example) are not so easily obtained (at least not without huge markup or lead time). Floral also has a high rate of spoilage due to shipping and travel timing. We were going for a more classic look for this particular wedding and did not want to use tropical botanicals. For example, a bouquet that costs $300 stateside could easily see a price tag of $500-600 there. We ended up flying a lot of our needs, linens, candles, centerpiece elements, details, etc. to ensure they arrived safely and on time and due to limited resources on the islands.

AA: Can you name a dream location you’d love to design for but have not yet had the opportunity?

DC: If we are talking dream world, then I would have to say The Palace of Versailles. The Hall of Mirrors is completely breathtaking. The views, the gardens, the detail, the inspiration… all of it. The intention with which the palace was designed and built, the artisans that crafted every detail, the sheer expanse and the meticulous effort to which it is maintained. There are so many elements about The Palace that resonate with elements that we value so strongly.

 

AA: We were at a recent Engage! conference together and a planner we both know and admire screamed about too many requests for clusters of chandeliers in trees. Would you mind sharing a pet peeve of yours?

DC: Ha! Yes, chandeliers in trees… this is a trend I don’t mind so much if it makes sense. I have more peeves when it comes to etiquette but trend wise, I have to admit that if I never see another mason jar again I would be alright and I am not sure how many more ways we can reinvent a S’more. I also think “naked cakes” are lacking. Icing is just so delicious and a beautifully finished and detailed cake can be a work of art. I would also love to see less blush and gold this year. I am craving color and curated detail.

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AA: And then what do you see trending that you can’t get enough of?

DC: Expecting the unexpected. I love creating experiences for our clients and guests. This can be done in so many different ways. Entertainment, food and beverage, lighting and mood, delightful details. Our guests and clients are smart. They attend weddings, galas and a variety of other events so creating surprise and delight is really important and often a very fun challenge to stretch our creative ideas.

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AA: You are expert at making a neutral color palette exciting but also excel at incorporating rich, vibrant color. What color do you plan on using more of?

DC: Thank you! You won’t see a lot of “blush and bashful” in our portfolio. I have always loved color and there is such a brilliant psychology behind the choices. In addition to weddings we also design a fair amount of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs so I think that is one reason we look for fresh palettes across the board. This year I am hearing a lot of requests for aubergine & shades of purple, strawberry & burgundy and pops of color infused into shades of neutrals. I am very excited about a wedding we have coming up this spring where we have designed a gradient color palette that flows from pastel for the ceremony to a bolder version for the reception into neon for the after party.

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AA: When you’re choosing your own personal destination for some down time, what is your ideal?

DC: My husband and I are constantly on the move and our vacations are no exception. We typically select a locale that will allow for 24-48 hours of R&R just to recharge a bit and then we are ready to explore. We look for culture, great food and I typically look for historical and architectural significance. Some of our favorite destinations have been US road trips, the rainforest and forts of Puerto Rico, London and France.

Real Weddings: Catherine & Robert

Real Wedding: Catherine Corwin & Robert Durante

November 14th, 2015

The Breakers

Palm Beach, Florida

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A perfect 75 degrees, gently swaying palm trees, and lush gardens surrounded Catherine and Robert as the Atlantic Ocean spread out beyond them. The renowned Breakers hotel would provide a fantastical setting for a gathering of dear friends and family as the lovely couple said their vows in mid-November.

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Built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, the Breakers opened in 1896 on the grounds of the incredible (and since lost) Royal Poinciana Hotel which was situated on Lake Worth Lagoon. Originally called The Palm Beach Inn, guests were requesting rooms “over by the breakers” and that moniker eventually took hold. After a devastating fire in 1925, the majestic current hotel would be modeled on the Villa Medici in Rome.

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The duogram we created for them was used throughout the events and shines here beautifully on the dancefloor.

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We started with our largest Empire invitation, the text was engraved with gold metallic ink, one-by-one on antique presses, a duogram was also blind engraved (without ink) near the top, with corners beveled and rounded by hand, and edges painted with gold. Matching engraved response card set and an itinerary card would complete the suite. Envelopes were lined with a slightly shimmering sand tissue paper and each was hand calligraphed inspired flourishes in gold ink.

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Glorious invitations for a most elegant couple. Congratulations, Catherine and Robert!

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Spotlight on Mary Bartolucci

Dempsey & Carroll’s Kara Alexander sat down with event planner, Mary Bartolucci of Island Style Weddings, to learn about her move to St. John and planning weddings in the Virgin Islands. Here’s what she said.

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KA: You specialize in destination weddings throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, but what made you set up shop in St. John out of all of the beautiful islands of the Caribbean?

MB: 18 years ago, I was a Director of Sales and Marketing for a hotel in downtown Baltimore. I got a call from a head hunter – was I interested in a hotel in Seattle?   This was right after a very long cold winter and warmer climates were calling me.  I told him “NO, NO, NO, not interested in Seattle, but find me an island and I will go!”  As fate would have it, there was a position on St Thomas, USVI at Frenchman’s Reef Hotel.  I had spent 5 years living on Grand Bahama Island and knew I loved island life.  Once it was put out into the universe it happened very quickly.  I lived my first two years on St. Thomas but kept feeling the pull of St. John.  When an opportunity at Westin St. John developed, I took it.  Once I moved to St. John, I felt like I had found my home.  The island lifestyle suits me perfectly and I love the small tight-knit community here.

 

KA: Destination weddings aren’t always so small and intimate, I’m sure you have hosted some exceptionally large weddings that include friends and family from all over the globe. What is the largest wedding you have ever helped plan and what were some of the pre-wedding group activities you coordinate to get everyone acclimated?

MB: A destination wedding brings people from all over the globe to come together for a celebration of love, family and friendship.  There is no “typical” destination wedding so each is designed with the couple’s lifestyle and interests in mind.  It is an opportunity to spend quality time with those closest to you.  There can also be deep healing as families come together for a united purpose – to support and celebrate the new union.  The days leading up to the wedding can be filled with group sailing trips, rum tastings, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and island hopping days. We have coordinated weddings with family traveling from the mainland of China, Australia, Europe and the mainland.  It is important to design your wedding events around who you have invited to ensure that they have the best experience possible.  How can you lose when your backdrop is the Caribbean sea and sweet reggae music in the air?

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KA: If a bride and groom are set on getting married in the US Virgin Islands during hurricane season, what advice or precautions do you take while planning?

MB: For the couple who choose to married during hurricane season,  my suggestion is to discuss your comfort level with the added risk of inclement weather.   Always have a plan B for weather backup and buy wedding insurance.  It is inexpensive and well worth it.  If you are going to stress and obsess about the weather, choose a different time of year. We do lots of weddings during the season and although I have not learned how to control the weather, I do have very good weather karma!

 

KA: On your website you mention your experience working with Heads of State, celebrities and corporations. Would you indulge us with a bit of name-dropping?

MB: A good planner always respects her couples’ privacy.

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KA: As a long time local, what can you recommend to a bride and groom who are considering the Virgin Islands for their destination wedding that would set it apart from any another location?

MB: The US and British Virgin Islands are unspoiled by development, the beaches are pristine, the language is English and they are an easy flight from the US.   I love the fact that on many islands there are no red lights, no McDonalds, no strip malls.  It is refreshing break from the fast-paced life that most people live.

Photo credits:

Carla Ten Eyck Photography

Louis Lucas, Louis Lucas Photography

Alain Brin, Blue Glass Photography

Spotlight on Sofia Crokos

Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles sat down with event planner Sofia Crokos of Sofia Crokos Events to talk about her favorite venues and more. 

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AA: Please tell us about your favorite venue in Greece and how you took advantage of such a spectacular location?

SCE: One of my all-time favorite venues is in Athens, called Island Art and Taste. It is located on the water, with a view that can take your breath away. The way that the space is designed and all the details of the venue makes you feel as though you were on one of the Greek Islands, all while conveniently in the heart of the Capital. From the food, to the vistas, this venue is truly a gem hidden in the Capital.

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AA: And in New York?

SCE: In New York City, I would have to say, the New York Public Library, because in addition to being such a grand space, it is a landmark and in the heart of the city. The library’s extravagant size and beauty makes for some truly spectacular events.

Outside of the city, Locusts-on-Hudson is one of my favorite venues for an outdoor event. It has beautiful views overlooking the Hudson River Valley. I love creating tent events, and with the acres of meadows and gardens, this location is perfect for doing so.

 

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AA: What destination have you worked in that proved the most logistically challenging?

SCE: All destination events prove to be challenging in some way or another. Planning an event requires a lot of communication and a long checklist of items to be completed in a timely manner. In my experience, Turkey and The Caribbean have been some of the most challenging locations. Outside of New York everything is very lax. Try to plan a wedding in the Caribbean when everyone works on “Island Time”, it is the definition of challenging! The language barrier is another issue we have to deal with. This complicates communication, which is extremely vital to the planning process. However, no matter how many challenges my team and I have to face, because of my strong contact pull, support group, and positive outlook, everything always falls into both the client’s and my favor.

 

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AA: Any weather nightmares? And, if so, how did you remedy things?

SCE: Unfortunately, yes. At my own wedding! Can you believe the irony? After a track record of beautiful weather for every event I had done-weddings, dinners, milestone birthdays, you name it-there was a hurricane on my wedding day! After our clambake rehearsal dinner on the beach in the Hamptons, we quickly realized that with the brewing hurricane we weren’t going to be able to have our reception. Luckily the weather did not keep us from saying our nuptials, in the safety of a church. Almost five years later, I can finally laugh about the events of that weekend. My husband and I are planning on doing a “re-do” (minus the bad weather), with our closest friends and family in Greece or Italy for our five-year anniversary.

 

image001AA: When all the work is done, where do you love to go and recharge?

SCE: Whenever I am done with an event, whether it was a destination event or local one, there is nothing I enjoy more than returning to my home in Sag Harbor. I love the beach! It recharges me. The water is so peaceful and relaxing, and it helps me clear my mind to think of new creative ideas for my future events.

 

 

Photo Credits: Christina Oth Studio, Judith Rae Photography, Allan Zepeda Photography, Stephen Karlisch

 

A Spotlight on JZ Events

Dempsey & Carroll’s event curator Austin Ackles sat down with Jennifer Zabinski of JZ Events to learn about her work as an event planner. 

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AA: You’ve worked all over the world! Outside of New York, what city hosted your most exciting event and how did you take advantage of that locale?

 

JZ: I think one of my favorite locations has been in Fiesole, right outside of Florence. This location exposed our guests to the beautiful views of the countryside and allowed them to experience the true pace of Florence (including all of its sights, tastes and views).

 

AA: And which beach destination is an absolute favorite?

JZ: I’ve had many favorites but one that stands out is the Riviera Maya in Mexico. Few beach destinations beat its pristine water, sparkling sand and quality of food. Its proximity to New York is also extremely practical.

 

 

AA: What location provided the biggest logistical challenges and how did you overcome them?

JZ: The South of France is a region that definitely poses a range of challenges. With destinations that aren’t local, there is a great deal of pre-planning involved. You have to keep in mind that you are working during the height of their tourism season and this inevitably means competing against what they can offer for other events. Logistically speaking, you have to be thinking five steps ahead in terms of what needs to be shipped out, and what needs to be sent abroad. There are always many moving parts with a location that is not local and this will always be a challenge.

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AA: Is there a venue that you’ve always dreamed of designing for but just haven’t gotten the opportunity yet?

JZ: I’ve always wanted to plan an event in the Mauritius. Their melange of different cultures (Indian and French included) has been something that I have wanted to explore further. I think there is a great potential for different themes here, that aside it is absolutely beautiful.

 

AA: When you finally get a break, where do you like to go to recharge?

JZ: My beach house in Wainscott is my ultimate go-to. This is a time where I can totally recharge and shut down. During my time there I enjoy spending time with my kids, and of course the little things like bike riding, swimming and being out of the bustle of New York City.