Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Rachel Jordan photography
A wedding planned by Jaime Johnson at The Club at Black Rock featured drapes from Swish & Co. in Coeur d'Alene and flowers by Garden of Eden in Post Falls. Studio Cultive styled the bride’s hair.

You're engaged! You've found your person! Now it's time to plan the celebration. There are myriad decisions to be made, from choosing a date and location, to selecting a dress, deciding on flowers and finding a photographer. The process can be daunting! But be assured there are many professionals in the Inland Northwest who have helped countless couples on their trip to the altar, and in the following pages they share their wisdom with Health & Home.

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Ifong Chen photo
Photographer Ifong Chen advises couples to relax and enjoy their special day. In particular she tells brides, “Don't worry about your dress!”

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Jaime Johnson

Q&A WITH A WEDDING PLANNER

Event planner Jaime Johnson talks about ways to make your wedding wonderful

HEALTH & HOME: What are some things people can do to keep the wedding planning process fun and friendly?

JOHNSON: Educate yourself. Know your boundaries. I'm a believer that with anything I do in life, at least when I know my boundaries, I can have the ultimate amount of fun within it, right? Overall, it doesn't matter what that budget is. It's just to know what that boundary is so that you can go and find the people that can work within and can make your vision come to life within your budget.

And the next thing would be to know what your vision is. And when I say your vision, might I add that your vision is often a collective? Not only bride and groom's, but of course the families'. And again, that's where some of that boundary comes in. And this is gonna sound like I'm taking the fun out of everything, but I really am not. So, with that vision, if you thought that your best friend was going to marry you dressed as a vampire because you thought that was gonna be fantastic, but that is going to break your mother's spirit, maybe that's not the vision collectively that you have. Maybe you compromise and that same friend is willing to wear a suit, and your mom's willing to let a friend be ordained and do the ceremony.

And the next piece of your boundary is your guest list. This is a tough one. People believe that if I have a space that is so big, why wouldn't I want to fill it? Well, you've got to look back at what was your vision? What was your budget?

What about choosing a venue and a date? How do couples go about doing that?

Once these brides sign up for something in the wedding world, they are sent stuff constantly. They see a wedding in Aspen, they see a wedding in the Bahamas, they see a wedding in the Palouse. And those are all very different. Don't swim upstream! Don't go to the Davenport Hotel and try to make it a barn. Don't go to a barn and try to make it the Davenport. That's going to cause more stress for you than it's worth. And that is part of that vision and that kind of boundary: understanding what it is that you have to work with.

What about the guest list?

There's no rule that says the more the merrier. I know they say that. But more people sometimes may dip into a budget that you were hoping to spend in other places. So having strong communication with your family and with your significant other is really important. I've had some weddings that have had so many people that the couple were never even able to get around to everyone. I've had others that have been really happy with 30 people. I just did a beautiful wedding that had 50 people. And they had to cut their list in order to accommodate that — there's a lot of people that love them. So everybody's a little different.

This may not be an extremely popular point of view, but it is the truth: A wedding is a luxury. There's really only two things that couples need in order to wed: if they choose to be legally wed in that state and if they choose to have their religion included. Everything else is a luxury: a dress, a cake, a photographer. That's all a luxury. So it's about your comfort. There's nothing that says you have to invite 250 people, you have to serve 250 people a plated meal, you have to have a DJ. You don't HAVE to have any of those things. Those are all luxuries and the opportunity that we get to offer those gifts in celebration to our family and friends.

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Ifong Chen photo
A bride and groom share a quiet moment in the urban garden courtyard at Spokane’s Barrister Winery.

Weddings can be very emotional. We've all heard stories of "bridezilla." How do you help your clients manage this stressful time?

I'm a professional adult babysitter for a highly emotional situation. (laughing)

I'm not going to say that the word bridezilla wasn't coined after some people maybe acted in a certain way. But I personally like to believe that you just took somebody that was pushed to that point, that was pushed to a breaking point, right? So I don't really like that term. Because I know as a planner and as somebody that walks through these steps with them, I'm seeing a reaction to something that was very emotional. There's a lot of tantrums, there's a lot of tears – there's happy tears, sad tears – there's just a lot of anxiety – and anxiety in a good place. There's just pent-up energy.

So you need to trust the process and find good vendors and good people that can work with you at any price point to trust them, and let them guide you on what they know best. Contractors know how to build a house. If I don't know how to build a house, I should probably trust them. A mechanic knows how to work on my car. I don't know how. I should probably trust them. So find the good people. There's a lot of them.

"There’s happy tears, sad tears – there’s just a lot of anxiety"

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While the wedding is about the couple, guests also have a big role to play. What are some of your observations on what makes a good guest?

If you're lucky enough to be invited, you need to remember that is a gift. That it is a great opportunity to celebrate two humans in the magic that they are going to create. So being a good guest is very important. Most invitations have a lot more information than you think. The design of an invitation starts to set the tone of what the day is going to be. The location gives you a good idea of what to expect and hints on what to wear.

Read the room! At the ceremony, if you can see that there's open seats, maybe scooch down, we're all going to be friends and family here soon!

There's a photographer. We don't need everybody to be a photographer. Having your cellphone out in the aisle... all you're doing is getting in the way of those photos the bride's actually paying for. So you're not actually giving her a gift of like, "Oh I'm gonna send you this amazing video later!" You are actually kind of hindering what she already did.

RSVP. Do go ahead, RSVP. That'd be great. That is so great. Do not make us hunt you down! RSVP and select that meal if you have the opportunity. The couple is trying to give you a gift. They're trying to honor you by having you there. And making it hard on them is not being a friend. It's just not cool. So if they're asking for certain information on the RSVP, please give it to them. And if you choose not to, you should also be aware that the professionals on the back end are very much aware of who did and who did not RSVP.

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Ifong Chen photo
Put your phones away and enjoy the moment while the professional photographer captures the images.

While the wedding is about the couple, guests also have a big role to play. What are some of your observations on what makes a good guest?

If you're lucky enough to be invited, you need to remember that is a gift. That it is a great opportunity to celebrate two humans in the magic that they are going to create. So being a good guest is very important. Most invitations have a lot more information than you think. The design of an invitation starts to set the tone of what the day is going to be. The location gives you a good idea of what to expect and hints on what to wear.

Read the room! At the ceremony, if you can see that there's open seats, maybe scooch down, we're all going to be friends and family here soon!

"Having your cellphone out in the aisle… all you’re doing is getting in the way of those photos the bride’s actually paying for.

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There's a photographer. We don't need everybody to be a photographer. Having your cellphone out in the aisle... all you're doing is getting in the way of those photos the bride's actually paying for. So you're not actually giving her a gift of like, "Oh I'm gonna send you this amazing video later!" You are actually kind of hindering what she already did.

RSVP. Do go ahead, RSVP. That'd be great. That is so great. Do not make us hunt you down! RSVP and select that meal if you have the opportunity. The couple is trying to give you a gift. They're trying to honor you by having you there. And making it hard on them is not being a friend. It's just not cool. So if they're asking for certain information on the RSVP, please give it to them. And if you choose not to, you should also be aware that the professionals on the back end are very much aware of who did and who did not RSVP.

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Ifong Chen photo
Beautiful outdoor wedding photos are possible in any season.

How far in advance do couples need to plan?

I would say in our regional industry we're usually about a year out. Most of the books don't open till a year out. Most of the bigger venues in our area do require an outside planner. They have teams that are responsible for the venue, but all the other details in getting to the day, they are requiring that you have somebody else. That's not you. You can't be the bride and be the planner on the wedding day.

What do you do as the wedding planner on the Big Day?

I'm trying to set people up for success. I try to let people know my job is to do the choreography of the day. We're storyboarding this whole experience.

"There are really great ways within a budget to create a wow factor"

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I like to remind everybody that really we're creating moments. So the day of, the planner is trying to keep everybody on time. It's not that we enjoy bossing people around, I can tell you that. But we are aware of the moments. I can't control the sunset. But I know that sunset imagery at Golden Hour is just so beautiful. If I can do my job behind the scenes to give them that moment, that's what I want. They don't know what time it is, but they know that they got these amazing photos in this moment. There's a little bit of the magic of Disney when you get to that point. And I do love that about my job.

I like to say we don't like to show the guests all of our cards at once. We stagger things out — you have a specialty cocktail and tray-pass appetizers. And then maybe it's been an hour, and there's a photo booth. And then we welcome you to come in and be seated for dinner. There are really great ways within a budget to create a wow factor — that timing and creativity is not always about budget. For example, if you greet your guests with a glass of champagne, they actually consume it, there's much less waste, and it was a beautiful welcome, right? It's something that was memorable.

click to enlarge Big Day, Big Plans, Big Smiles
Kelsey Adkins photography
A just-married couple celebrates with their guests at Beacon Hill Events and Catering.

You're married. Did you have a big wedding? Did you plan it yourself?

That's a fair question. I actually decided — and tomorrow is my five-year anniversary! — I took the opportunity to let it be a gift, in the sense of I turned to my florist who is a good friend — we met through the industry — and I just said, do what you want to do. And she exceeded my expectations and my dreams — I see these things all the time. It was so fun to let somebody shine through their talent and their gifts.

The DJ, you know, he actually came over and had dinner with us. And sat and chit-chatted with us and did some amazing mixes. And he just did some really fun things with the music to make sure that it represented both of us and our families. And people still talk about how much fun they had on the dance floor with him. But again, I didn't dictate every song. I didn't give him the playlist. I said, 'Here's the things that are important. And here's kind of the general vibe,' and he just created this beautiful party.

Here's another real big shocker. My dress. So my dress was a custom gown, locally made, locally designed by Nina Cherie Couture. I said I wanted a very light blue dress. And I said you tell me what would work for my body. I could have never imagined this dress. And I wouldn't want it any other way. This dress was absolutely amazing. And it was truly just for me.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

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