At the beginning of the year, I received a call from one of my close friends, Lena Mirisola of Lena Mirisola Photography. She shared with me that she was asked to coordinate an editorial shoot at the Willowdale Estate in Topsfield, Massachusetts and asked for my help with the design concept and pulling a team together to achieve the vision.
When I asked her to describe the vision, I heard the words bright, colorful, and gay. No wonder Lena thought of me!
I have a love/hate relationship with editorial shoots: although they’re generally fun and low pressure (since we’re not working on a strict timeline and/or dealing with unpredictable guests), they can create a false expectation for couples planning their wedding. For example, I’ve seen editorial shoots that featured décor that violated the venues’ policies (open flames, attaching things to walls, etc.) and even ceremonies set up in areas that guests aren’t permitted. I even heard a story about a beautiful winter wedding editorial that took place at a venue that isn’t open to the public during the winter season…
On top of that, editorial shoots are generally over the top: as a designer, it’s tempting to upgrade all of the things and use only high end rentals. The truth is, when we do a shoot, we only have to worry about one, maybe two tables, so we’re able to manage the cost. Couples planning a wedding however, likely will have to replicate the design 12 or more times, for each guest table, and those costs really add up.
And don’t even get me started on the “couple” – because the point of an editorial shoot is usually more about the design and the products, the couples used for editorial shoots are usually trained models.
All that said, editorial shoots are great tools for those of us in the wedding industry, when executed well and responsibly. For our team, a shoot is a great way to regain some of that muscle memory we may have lost in the off season. It’s also a unique opportunity to showcase some unique design ideas that we otherwise would need a client’s unwavering trust to incorporate in their day. Editorial shoots give us the opportunity to test these new ideas and capture images so we can share with clients as they consider designs for their day.
Two other things I love about editorial shoots: they’re a great opportunity for us to partner with new vendors so we can get comfortable working with each other, and we get to incorporate some of our newest inventory items to share with you all!
A Colorful Wedding at Willowdale Estate: The Concept
Lena and I decided early on that this shoot was going to be fun, but we also wanted to maintain high standards for editorial shoots within the industry. We were firm about adhering to all of the policies at Willowdale Estate, so couples wouldn’t have any issue replicating elements from our designs. We were also mindful about utilizing the rental inventory that Willowdale makes available to its couples, supplementing with pieces from Party Rental LTD and even shipped in some pieces from Table Tales Inc. in Canada! We partnered with vendors featured on Willowdale’s preferred vendor list, and brought in a few of our favorites to round out the team.
Lena and I also made a conscious decision to feature a real couple. Although Allie and Emma absolutely nailed the shoot and definitely could be full time models with their energy and flexibility throughout the day, modeling is not a primary career for either of them. They married during COVID, and when Lena and I got their application to be included in the shoot, we both knew immediately they were the ones. With a real couple, I wanted to make sure we partnered with a bridal salon that aligned with my philosophy that there is no need for couples to feel pressure to look a certain way or lose weight before the wedding. I love that Bella Sera Bridal often uses their social media pages to remind us all that Every Bride is Beautiful.
Designing a Colorful Wedding: The Process
With the ground rules in place, I started the design process. First, by looking at the inspiration images Lena put together on Pinterest. She, like many couples I work with, cautiously shared the link with the disclaimer that it was “all over the place” and that she “didn’t really know what to pin” – if I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase, I’d have a lot of nickels. Looking at the images, I identified a few common themes: citrus, bright florals in loose and organic arrangements, and modern accents.
Now, I have to be honest: I was intrigued because this is very definitely an out-of-the-box design concept that isn’t common, which we all know I love. It became clear to me that we weren’t going to have a set color palette and Lena was okay with breaking some of the rules, but I also wanted to be mindful that Willowdale offers an elegant setting and I also didn’t want to do the stereotypical rainbow design for a gay couple. Don’t get me wrong, rainbows are fabulous: I love seeing pride flags because to me, I identify the rainbow flag with being in a safe space – but I hate when wedding designers default to rainbow themes for weddings featuring a same sex couple. Most of us don’t want a gay themed wedding; we just happen to be gay people who want to have a wedding!
Willlowdale Estate is an historic craftsman style mansion set in the middle of a State Park. It’s surrounded by nature, and most ceremonies take place outside on the back patio under bistro lights and the reception is held under a sailcloth tent. You can view Annie + Adam’s Willowdale Estate wedding here, for reference. Most couples who are drawn to Willowdale are generally inspired by the venue’s setting to continue the greenery concept, sticking with neutral flowers and understated décor, because the venue is so stunning. Bringing in bright and bold color would definitely be a unique design, so when I met with Gregory at Flou(-e)r to discuss the floral design, one guideline I gave was that I wanted the florals to look like they could have come from a local garden – like they belonged at Willowdale’s private wildflower garden. Gregory knew exactly what I was talking about and wow did his team deliver.
I also wanted to make sure our couple would be comfortable in their attire – so very early on in the process we asked Emma and Allie what they wore to their own wedding, and when we found out they both wore bridal gowns, we set up an appointment with Lisa at Bella Sera Bridal to select gowns for the shoot!
Colorful Wedding Ceremony at Willowdale: The Altar
The team at Flou(-e)r created the most amazing altar piece: a floating arch that encompassed the couple and their officiant, Maureen Cotton. Using acrylic pedestals, we were able to achieve a design that almost appeared to be levitating. We paired the altar with Willowdale’s white folding garden chairs to keep a neutral balance against all the color that we wanted to serve as the focal point, and lined either side of the aisle with wildflower arrangements that matched the altar piece. Maureen took into consideration that our brides for the day were technically already married, and modified the hand-fasting ceremony to create a meaningful moment (and keepsake) for Allie and Emma. I especially loved the attention Maureen put into creating this moment for our brides, and it’s a testament to the attention she gives to her couples. Maureen officiated Sammy and Frankie’s wedding and I cried through pretty much the whole thing because it was just so beautiful.
A Colorful Wedding Reception at Willowdale Estate
With the ceremony design complete, it was time to focus on the reception, which is where all the little details come into play. I wanted to add a modern touch under the tent, which would transport guests from a historic setting to a current party. We brought in iridescent glassware paired with acrylic shadowbox chargers and gold flatware. To keep the design from sensory overload, we utilized Willowdale’s farm tables and neutral linen napkins. FORM Creative Services brought in their custom wood and mirror bar, which was the perfect balance: it took the rustic elegance of the venue, but with the mirror details, incorporated our modern approach to the reception design. Not forgetting about Lena’s citrus request, we added orange slices to the shadowbox chargers, and kumquats were featured in the bar arrangement.
Our acrylic frame and easel made an appearance for the seating chart, which featured place cards with hand-placed pressed flower details. We also brought in our newest yard game, Putt-Skee, which Allie enjoyed between periods of downpour rain. Pressed flowers also made an appearance in our acrylic table numbers!
I was so excited to give the guys at FORM Creative Services freedom to do whatever they wanted for a lounge. The only direction I gave them was color, and to have fun with the design. Watching them pull up and unload the van was a lot of Christmas morning: each piece they pulled out had me more and more excited. The end result was true wedding lounge goals. Speaking of goals, the shoot also featured the most amazing desserts: a macaron tower by B. Wild Baking Co. and the most incredible tiered cake from Silver Whisk Bake Shop.
We had so much fun with this shoot, and working with this dream team of wedding pros who totally took the vision Lena and I shared and made it all come to life. I love having a video of the day from Andy at Some Fuzzy to help relive the day and all the details:
Full list of wedding professionals who made this happen:
Photography: Lena Mirisola Photography
Video: Some Fuzzy
Planning: Contagious Events
Floral Design: Flou(-ə)r
Lounge: Form Creative Services
Rentals: Table Tales Inc. + Party Rental LTD.
Macaron Tower: B. Wild Baking Co.
Hair & Makeup: Jenny Luu
Officiant: Maureen Cotton Ceremonies
Cake: Silver Whisk Bake Shop
Bridal Attire: Bella Sera Bridal
Venue: Willowdale Estate