Spotlight on Valley & Co.

Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles sat down with Aleah and Nick of Valley & Co. to talk about some of their favorite wedding destinations on the West Coast. 


AA: Squeezed into just a few dozen words, can you give us the essence of Valley & Co.?
A&N: In short, we throw pretty incredible celebrations for our clients and have a ball doing so! We focus on the beauty and fun in life and incorporate realistic elements into our events. We truly love creating joy for others and Valley & Company is a reflection of our passion!

AA: Which came first, the business relationship or the life partnership?
A&N: Our relationship came before our business. We met during Aleah’s senior year in high school and Nick’s freshman year at university. Aleah followed Nick to college where we planned events with several student government organizations and some pretty impressive non-university related parties as well! You can say the rest is part of our history! We’ve been planning events together since we got together and formed our company in 2003, right after we graduated from college.

AA: You’re the masters of the best coast! What’s your single favorite thing about the mighty Pacific Northwest and the very best thing about the glorious south coast?

A&N: Oh, what a kind compliment, thank you! The Pacific Northwest is absolutely incredible. Both born and raised, there is just so much to appreciate. We love the sea and islands, the culture, the incredible food (especially Dungeness crab), and the majestic mountains. But the best thing about the mighty Pacific Northwest is the fact that you can drive out of the city to any number of spectacular places in just an hour or two. There are countless hidden gems for destination weddings that we love! California is also pretty amazing and we love events along the coast in San Diego and in the desert of Palm Springs. The year-round nature of events in California (except for the one unexpected November day mentioned below!) is special and you can’t beat the sunsets and cuisine. Our West Coast clients up and down the coast tend to share an underlying vision of wanting to create a true experience for their guests, so we put great emphasis on the setting, the local bounty and seafood and land food, great wines,, and showcasing the very best that our region and the coast has to offer.

AA: Can you tell us about an impossible to foresee (or just plain weird) logistical challenge and how you overcame it?
A&N: One November in San Diego we had a beautiful wedding planned on the rooftop of a beautiful hotel perched above the busy boardwalk in Pacific Beach. An unexpected and unprecedented storm came rolling in rather quickly, dumping torrential rain and gale force winds on our just-installed tent. As we were setting up the chairs, the tent (properly weighted!) started to take flight up and over the balcony, with weights and all. Nick and some of the crew quickly pulled down the tent and slashed the ceiling to let air through. They held it down until it could be taken away. We all worked extremely fast to move the ceremony into the beautiful restaurant below and dinner on the terrace protected by glass doors. Luckily as the ceremony was underway the skies parted and the sun came out, but that was the most unexpected weather incident we’ve ever encountered! Our team was swift on our feet and was so professional and cool under the pressure! It reminded us that there can never be enough back-up plans (this summer in Washington we rolled out a Plan J!). Foreseeing any potential issue before it can arise and already having a solution in place is a large part of our job.

AA: Please think back a few years: Are the any materials or themes that you were employing regularly that have completely dropped from your current repertoire? 

A&N: We love a good classically beautiful wedding with fresh and modern touches that reflect our couples. With that said, we are seeing a departure from too rustic, overly glam, and anything that can possibly look dated even a few years down the road. Our clients tend to want an extremely personal celebration that has roots in pure beauty, so we start from scratch working in details that truly mean something to them, like a special patterned china, an altar built with logs from the bride’s family home, traditions through toasts and activities, and a menu and drink experience that is expressive of them and their backgrounds. It’s refreshing and exciting that so many of today’s couples want to create their wedding vision with a totally blank canvas!


AA: And now for some fun: You’re stranded on a desert island with 100 other people. Thankfully, a couple of your fellow castaways have fallen in love and are getting married. You have no supplies. What five items do you wish you had and, if it’s not obvious, why?

A&N: What a great thought!

We would wish for:

  • a stereo to provide music for the celebration
  • a pallet of champagne
  • a fishing pole to catch fish to feed all of the guests a lighter to make a roaring fire (Nick’s answer)
  • a sewing kit to fashion décor from palm fronds (Aleah’s answer)

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. 

jacin fitzgerald

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Spotlight on Amy Nichols

Dempsey & Carroll’s Austin Ackles sat down with bridal consultant, Amy Nichols, to talk about working on the East and West Coasts, her favorite venues, and more.

Amy Headshot Sm File

AA: You’ve worked extensively on both coasts. What’s easier about working in New York and what’s easier in the San Francisco Bay Area?

AN: That’s a great question! I think transportation is easier in New York — everyone fends for themselves and knows how to get places. In the Bay Area for weddings, clients usually coordinate transportation for their guests, which might mean several hotel pick-ups and multiple vehicles to book! For San Francisco, I’d say sourcing flowers is pretty fantastic here, since so many of the growers are local or in California.


AA: To generalize, do you find that your West Coast clients differ much from those on the East Coast?

AN: Not really — in general, my clients tend to be smart, professional and generally quick decision makers! They’re busy in their work lives, and while they enjoy the wedding planning process, they often have limited time to plan, so they make a decision and move on, rather than going back and forth on 10 different shades of pink. They also trust me and value my recommendations, which makes the process go smoothly!


AA: Please tell us about your favorite classic and elegant venue and would you mind sharing a hidden gem that we might not know about?

AN: Hands down, Beaulieu Gardens in Rutherford is the epitome of classic and elegance. I remember seeing a wedding at Beaulieu Gardens when I was a teen in Town & Country. I had no idea where it was (or that I’d become a wedding planner!) but when I saw beautiful lights under a tree arbor, I knew it was a special place. In terms of a hidden gem, I have always been obsessed with the South (my grandmother was from Georgia). Two places I’d love to work at Pippin Hill in Virginia, and Lonesome Valley in North Carolina.


AA: We’re seeing a return to understated yet still opulent wedding papers and even an uptick in requests for the most traditional fold-over invitations. Are you seeing any new recent trends in wedding invitations?

AN: I think that understated and classic wedding invitations never go out of style. There is something so timeless about thick ecru paper and gorgeous calligraphy, but couples can add their own spin with a color they love or a motif.GM_1137_King_B_3405


AA: We always love hearing about an incredible logistical challenge. What was your biggest and how did you turn it into a success?

AN: Early in my career, I had a client get married at a stunning estate in Montecito (near Santa Barbara), and all vendors and all guests had to be bussed in. There literally was not room for more than maybe 2 or 3 cars next to the house. A lot of vendors and guests are used to planners saying there is no parking, but there truly was no parking! This meant that every single vendor was trying to unload (imagine a band with 12 members, each carrying their instruments), a caterer, a beverage company, etc. all wanting to arrive and set up at the same time! We had a strict schedule of when everyone could access the space to unload and booked several vans to get the vendors to/from a nearby parking lot. And then we repeated the whole procedure at the end of the night. I learned a lot at that wedding!


AA: When you pack for a client’s destination wedding, what are the first five items that go in your bag?


  • Sunscreen! Not just for me, but for guests who forget it, the bride & groom, or anyone else who needs it!
  • Scissors. I use them at every wedding. And I like to have one really sharp pair for cutting ribbon
  • Hopefully a bathing suit in case I get a few minutes to relax after the wedding or event!
  • iPad mini for airplane reading, Pinterest, etc.
  • Camera, which these days means an iPhone 6 so I can document the day, my travels, and hopefully post a few pics to Instagram

AA: If you got to pick the next destination to design for, where would it be?​

AN: I have a serious case of wanderlust right now, I have travel on the brain! I’m dying to work on a wedding in Europe — Italy, France or Spain would be amazing. But a few domestic weddings outside of California would be amazing. On my short list — Nantucket, Montana, and anywhere in the South!


Photo credit: Gertrude & Mabel

A Spotlight on Alicia Caldecott

Dempsey & Carroll’s event curator Austin Ackles sat down with Alicia Caldecott to learn about her work as an event designer. 1543image001

AA: By now, you’ve done just about everything imaginable lakeside but what was one of the biggest technical challenges? 


AC:  This summer we designed and produced a destination wedding for over 300 guests and for the wedding reception, we built a dock over the water at the client’s cottage! We have been very fortunate to work at some truly remarkable and beautiful locations around Michigan’s Gold Coast however this was a chart topper! The lawn of the cottage was not deep enough to host the reception and the only solution was to select another venue or venture out into the water. After surveying we discovered that the lake bed was not solid enough (too much decaying matter and clay) to lay footings and have the flooring rest on the lake bed- we needed to jettison the supports of the flooring into the lake bed just like you’d do to the pylons of your dock. 330 guests plus a stage, dance floor, lounge area and ample gathering areas require an abundance of space and the resulting platform that was constructed from timber and hand painted was just shy of 16,000 square feet.


Building the dock wasn’t the hard part, but it was a challenge. The length of time required for the build meant strict schedules and when Mother Nature wasn’t playing nice either with thunderstorms or small craft wind advisories we had to push through. The biggest challenge was the painting of the dock in the bride’s signature colors, Lilly Pulitzer Pink and white stripe, on the bias of course! The weather pushed our painting schedule back and we had to install the main tent structure while priming and painting were taking place under the canvas. Being on the water meant working in a constant humid environment on top of the humid summers we have in Northern Michigan. Large thunderstorms the week before the wedding meant warping wood and veneer had to be replaced and restained.


When the sun finally came to stay on Wednesday before the wedding we were blessed with great weather, the kind you dream of on the lake, and our teams kicked into gear putting the final touches on our happy couple’s special venue!


AA:  What’s your secret weapon for a buggy August evening?Stegner (542)


AC:  We have a “layered” strategy for helping make our guests comfortable when insects can be a nuisance. First, start with the welcome bags or gifts. Include a few bug wipes for their convenience. Next make sure to have on hand additional towellettes in the restrooms. If it’s a particularly challenging case of bugs, keep some spray on hand behind the bars. Citronella works like a charm and a quick and easy remedy is to swap out your standard votive candles with citronella scents. Also, around the inland lakes “up north” we have mosquitos and they are not particularly fond of garlic. Now, I don’t recommend having an entire meal of garlic or over seasoning, however it’s amazing the difference even the slightest bit of garlic in one’s diet makes in the resistance to those pesky bites!


AA: Has there ever been wildlife making a surprise appearance at one of your events?


AC: Working around state and national parks there are abundant amounts of wildlife. Thankfully we have not had anything “large” crash a party but we did have a very interested and rather sizable, momma raccoon make her way into a tent the night before the wedding while we were running and lighting and rehearsal. She was hanging onto the tent pole behind the drape and when I turned to adjust the uplight I was greeted with a gnarly hiss and growl!


AA: What’s the hardest thing to make happen in a remote location?


AC: With enough time and resources there isn’t much that is that hard or too difficult to happen. I will say that one repeated challenge is lack of modern conveniences. You have to know your resources before you arrive on location and most importantly, their hours of operation! The mom and pop hardware store may have everything you need to McGuyver the problem you need to solve but if they close at 4:30pm and don’t open until 10am no amount of duct tape or zip strips will make them open for you! Knowing your resources can result in more work for our team but it’s not an unsolvable challenge. The biggest challenge and hardest thing to work with in many remote locations we work with is the lack of total or reliable cell phone services. Short of getting a satellite phone, which those have even been a challenge at one particular “remote” destination we have produced two events at, there isn’t much you can do. In today’s day and age, it’s amazing how dependent we are on our mobile devices and when you don’t have them, or a way to make them work, you best hope that the team you have assembled is sharp and on point!


AA: When you’re doing an event out west, what do you miss the most about working back home?


AC: Aside from working around Lake Michigan, we have been fortunate to travel to California, Colorado and Texas to name a few, to produce events for clients. Working at “home” is never really “home” for us. We are always traveling to our venues so operating in a mobile capacity is something we are very comfortable with. With that being said, I don’t know that I really “miss” working at home when we are in a new state or across country. New locations, challenges and venues are inspiring just like the families we serve and although we may not be able to bring our exact tool kits, team of vendors or families we sometimes have more fun learning the new and reinventing what we do on the road!

AA: What can you get in northern Michigan that you can’t find anywhere else?


AC:  For those that are fortunate enough to have spent time around Northern Michigan I think you would agree with me in saying that there is a certain sense of self and wholeness here that resonates in one’s soul. Our clients may not reside up north year round but it’s their favorite address and they want to share the magic of what we have here with the ones they love. The natural beauty found along our shores, crystal clear waters and intoxicating sunsets provide the back drop for the effortlessly perfect summer day. Now, if you are a four seasons lover like I am, you’ll have no problem swapping your swim fins for snowshoes and your fresh roadside fruit for campfire chili!



A Spotlight on Molly Middleton Events

Events Curator Austin Ackles sat down with Molly Middleton to discuss her wedding & events business. 

AA: You hail frommm3 the Atlanta, right? Sadly, I’ve never been to a big southern wedding. What’s so different about them and what makes them so incredible?

MM: BIG is right!  Everything is better when it’s bigger in the South!  Actually, I think that is more of a Texas thing.  Everyone is so hospitable and friendly in the south and they want to share their big day and celebrate with as many friends and family as possible.  I think the southern charm combined with the amount of people creates an amazing energy. Everyone is so happy and they just want to eat, drink and be merry together!  Also, I find that southern weddings are often a celebration of all things southern, like the strong food culture, southern drinks and the beautiful landscapes (think live oaks dripping in Spanish moss).

AA: Do you still work down south often?

MM: Yes, I have been so incredibly fortunate to be able to continue to work down south.  Most recently, I have done a few weddings in Sea Island, GA.  It is such a DREAM to work down there!  The level of sophistication and professionalism is incredible and they still manage to be calm, cool, collected and so much fun to work with!  Sea Island does a great job of balancing luxury and professionalism with that family feeling of the South.

AA: What’s the biggest difference between working with clients down there and those in the New York area?

MM: I would say that the southern weddings tend to be steeped in rich, family tradition.  I recently had a bride from Chattanooga, TN who wore a beautiful cathedral-length Duchess Lace wedding veil that her great-great grandparents had purchased on a trip to Brussels, Belgium. The veil had been passed down to all of the women in the family to wear on their wedding day.  Now, this is not to say that I don’t have traditional clients from New York, because I do.  I also have a lot of highly successful professional couples who come to me who might be getting married in their mid-late thirties or forties for the first time and they are paying for the wedding themselves.  When the parents are not footing the bill, they have free reign to express themselves however they want!  For example, last year I had a client in New York who processed down the aisle to Alicia Keys’ and JAY Z’s Empire State of Mind and then I had another couple who recessed down the aisle to the theme-song from Superman.  Being from the South, I so appreciate tradition, but I also LOVE it when clients want to mix things up.  It’s fun for me from a creative standpoint.

AA: For every wedding there’s a rain plan. Have you ever done a wedding that required a hurricane plan?

MM: Good timing on this question.  I’m planning a wedding in the Bahamas for next spring.  Technically, it isn’t hurricane season, but I’ve got to take that into consideration in the planning process.  Stay tuned!

AA: If your daughter was to get married in 2040, what will her wedding invitation look like?

MM: If I have anything to do with my daughter’s wedding invitation, it will be a beautiful custom letter-pressed invitation on a nice 6-ply card stock.  I happen to love charcoal as opposed to black ink, and I may add a little pop of color with a beveled edge. Laura Holder & Will Menkes