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.