Laguna Beach Bliss

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    Orange County Weddings

    Ultimate OC weddings feature personal touches from start to finish. – By Cynthia Rupe

    Weddings are occasions steeped in love, ideals and promise. They are the romantic benchmark that evokes daydreams dating back to childhood. As such, they entrance old and young, married and single alike.

    It’s a day that should be beautiful and memorable—a day of dreams come true. And whether the ultimate dream is a grand lawn ceremony with rolling ocean waves as a backdrop, or an intimate garden setting amid lush foliage and twinkling lights, there’s no better location than Laguna Beach to say “I do.”

    Ultimate Locales

    Choosing a wedding venue is a foundational step in the planning process. It sets not only the wedding date, but the tone of the entire occasion. With so many amazing venues in Laguna Beach—from hotels on the sand, to beautiful gardens, to modern industrial spaces—a couple is bound to find their dream location.

    To help make the planning process go smoothly, brides who don’t hire a wedding planner should “select a site that has an on-site coordinator,” says wedding coordinator Maria Lindsay, of Laguna Beach. Many area venues have dedicated staff members who will guide the couple through the process from start to finish.

    “Weddings are a personal thing. It’s nice to meet the family and the parents, and by the time the event happens, we feel like we’re part of the family,” says Bobby Fader, general manager of Tivoli Terrace and Tivoli Too in Laguna Beach, and The Hacienda in Santa Ana, three wedding venues owned by Janice Neptune of Laguna Beach.

    Most venues book dates up to 18 months out, so once a couple decides on a wedding month or season, it’s time to start looking, says Maria. It’s important to look at venues that reflect the couple’s style, personality and wedding theme, she says.

    “I encourage my couples to tour sites that have both the style and flair of ambiance they desire,” she says.

    When touring wedding sites, budget is an important factor to keep in mind. “If the venue is absolutely spectacular, but the cost makes you compromise the integrity of everything else, then it’s really not worth it in the end,” comments Sarah Lawson, sales and catering manager of Hotel Laguna.

    Couples should also consider the level of intimacy they desire. Brides who marry at the Montage Laguna Beach, for example, enjoy five-star exclusivity for their big day. “We only have one wedding a day, so it’s literally their hotel for that day,” says Catering Manager Patty Burns. And couples who marry at La Casa del Camino, a European-style boutique hotel built in 1927, have the option of renting out the entire hotel for their wedding, says Marketing Coordinator Amy Amaradio.

    Those hosting a grand wedding, such as a weekend-long gala, will want to look for a venue that offers various ballrooms, restaurants and outdoor areas for their multi-day celebration. Dr. Monica Madan and her husband Ashish Ajmera, of Beverly Hills, chose The St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point for their three-day wedding, hosting celebrations in at least five locations on the grounds. “The views were amazing, and we really liked the ceremony area,” Monica says.

    Wedding cuisine is also an important factor for couples to consider, and many venues have outstanding chefs on-site who create delectable wedding cuisine. Couples at Montage, for example, can create customized menus for elegant sit-down dinners or informal post-wedding brunches, as well as signature cocktails and desserts designed exclusively for their wedding day. “Most of our weddings are one-of-a-kind affairs,” Patty says.

    The simplest rule for wedding cuisine: Stay true to yourself. “Your wedding is not a time to experiment and try something new,” Sarah of Hotel Laguna recommends. “If you never had oyster shooters in your life, do not serve them during cocktail hour. Stick with cuisine you know and love!”

    And couples who are health and lifestyle conscious don’t have to compromise either. Seven-degrees, for example, offers a sustainable menu featuring “organic meats and vegetarian and vegan dishes. And we use herbs grown in the rooftop garden,” says Dora Wexell, general manager of Seven-degrees, a modern special events venue and art gallery.

    Yet, even with these factors in mind, it’s common for couples to start looking for a venue without knowing what they’re really looking for.

    “When brides come here, they often don’t know what they want. They are looking at wineries, the beach, Santa Barbara. When I get the ‘Oh my god, this is where I’m going to get married,’ they know,” comments Sandy Shirgaokar, senior catering sales manager of Surf & Sand Resort. So while details are important, the choice is often emotional—and immediately clear.

    “When you walk into a venue, you know if it’s what you want. Choose where your heart takes you,” she says.

    Unique Details

    Rather than choosing the most expensive price tag, an ultimate wedding means infusing meaningful elements into the occasion to make it simply unforgettable.

    “I think it’s important to make it your own,” Sandy comments. “There are no do-overs in weddings. You should walk away from your wedding getting everything you wanted.”

    Instead of numbering the tables at their reception, one couple personalized their Laguna Beach wedding by sharing their love story with a “chapter” on each table for their guests to read; another couple documented one of their many world travels at each table.

    Ways to personalize the ceremony and reception are as varied as the bride and groom. At one recent wedding held at Surf & Sand Resort, the couple transformed a room at their reception into a Rock Band lounge for their guests to “rock out and have fun” during the cocktail hour—using pipes with draping to transform a standard ballroom into a black-and-white playroom, complete with huge flat screen TV and Rock Band video game setup.

    Another Surf & Sand Resort wedding, held in May 2010, was a complete surprise to all in attendance—except the bride and groom! What was scheduled as an engagement party quickly transformed into a wedding ceremony. “They had a Thanksgiving meal because that was their favorite. They took it back to what it’s all about,” Sandy says.

    Weddings can be personalized from beginning to end—right down to the exit. At a May 2010 wedding held at Hotel Casa del Camino, the couple left in a style all their own. “As the bride and groom left the party, the wedding party made a line with long sparklers. Then the couple sped away on a Vespa scooter,” Amy says.

    Dashing Décor

    No longer passé, purples “and all variations of” are a popular color choice for décor, says Maria Lindsay, who orchestrated a gorgeous purple-and-blue-hued wedding at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in December. Popular palettes vary from vibrant violets to rich plums, royal blues to navy, and regal reds to deep burgundies—even bright oranges and pinks, for that matter.

    Organic fusion is a popular décor style, says Maria, whose brides often request the blend of earthy and modern elements. Examples include Manzanita branches spray-painted silver and accented with orchids or butterflies, hanging crystals, lanterns with candles, or curly willows in a vase with polished rocks. “The look is contemporary, modern and clean,” she says.

    Some couples are repurposing ceremony flowers for use in the reception, says florist Katie Smallwood of Laguna Flower Company. “Column arrangements are set down the aisle, and then the arrangements are moved to the tables,” she says.

    Rentals are also popular, says Sergio Cecena of Indigo Event Centerpieces, an online company based in Newport Beach. His rental centerpieces and vases are popular with brides opting for artistic décor over the traditional, he says. Sergio sees many orders for his exquisite designs in reds, blues, dark purples and, of course, indigo.

    Elegant Sweets & Snacks

    Once reserved for the bride-and-groom figurine, fresh flowers and metallic monograms are now popular choices for wedding cake toppers. Decorative accents at the base, including flowers, votive candles, feathers, faux-butterflies and decorative cake platters, transform the wedding cake into a dazzling display.

    “People want extreme cakes,” says cake artist Lindsey Sinatra, owner of A Wish and a Wisk Cakes in Newport Beach. Known for her awe-inspiring cake designs, Lindsey was recently commissioned to create the cake for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows premiere in New York. Her clients typically ask for unique shapes, such as octagons and inverted squares. And they want a statement color, like black and white with a pop of lavender, with added shine, shimmer, sparkle, and textures that often resemble the wedding dress. “I made a cake last week that is Chanel-inspired and looks covered in sequins and pearls,” Lindsey comments. Her cakes are no less than four tiers, no more than six, and are offered in a variety of unique flavors, including carrot cake, s’mores and caramel apple.

    In lieu of a cake, some couples opt for cupcake towers, such as those made at Sprinkles in Newport Beach, says Amy from La Casa del Camino. Cake lollies, golf-ball-sized cake pops on sticks, are a fun option as well.

    Candy stations—a table full of colorful sweets that match the wedding’s theme and décor-—are extremely popular as wedding favors, Maria says. Guests enjoy taking home a personalized bag or Chinese take-out box full of treats.

    Late-night wedding food is also all the rage—munchies to keep guests happy while dancing, drinking and having fun. These tasty snacks include corn dogs, burritos, cheeseburger pops, mac and cheese truffle bits, mini-donuts and espresso shots—perhaps even a visit from the In-N-Out truck.

    “It offers a late-night lounge-type atmosphere, a different feel from the ceremony and the reception,” says Patty of Montage Laguna Beach.

    Ultimate Entertainment

    When it comes to choosing entertainment at the reception, the choice is purely subjective. Top disc jockeys are in, Maria says. “We’re talking smoking DJs with two turn tables.”

    And the choice for live entertainment is just as hot. “The key to a fun wedding reception is your band. It creates good energy,” says Tiffany McGovern, catering sales manager for The St. Regis Monarch Beach.

    One fun new trend is the after-dinner show, says Mike Steffens, executive talent manager for Essence Entertainment in Costa Mesa. The Three Waiters, for example, are three classically trained tenors who blend in as waiters with the catering staff, but break out and perform skits throughout the evening, culminating into a “spine-tingling classical performance” on stage.

    Couples also hire ballroom dancers to add atmosphere and glamour to their reception, he says. At the Madan-Ajmera reception, four to six dancers moved gracefully upon white pedestals while violinists played. “They changed into costumes that were more colorful and interesting as the night went on,” says Monica of her St. Regis wedding.

    Others opt for dancers to infuse tradition and culture into the reception. One couple from Russia hired a classic American dance band but also had Russian dancers, Mike comments. “You want people to remember the fun they had. You want them to remember your wedding,” he says.

    At a recent royal affair, held in fall 2010 at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, the bride and groom hired eight fanfare trumpeters; each was dressed in pageboy attire in rich red and gold, complete with plume caps, and each carried a fanfare trumpet with hanging banner. The trumpeters announced the bride before she walked down the aisle and joined a double-string ensemble to play the brides’ processional. At the reception, the fanfare trumpeters formed a perimeter around the ballroom and announced the couple by playing the English “Wedding March,” Mike recalls.

    At The Resort at Pelican Hill, one couple wanted a Hollywood-inspired wedding and hired celebrity impersonators to attend, he says. Jack Nicholson officiated. Cher arrived late and sat down in the front row next to Tom Cruise. Elvis performed at the reception. The guests took photos with the look-alikes, and everyone loved it. And Sinatra, no doubt, could have serenaded the couple with the lyric, “I did it my way.” Which is, of course, exactly what they did. LBM

    Saying Yes to the Dress

    When it comes to choosing the right dress, there’s one simple rule to follow.

    “You have to the pick the one that makes your heart skip a beat,” says Shawna Flatten, buyer at Mon Amie Bridal, a family owned business in Costa Mesa.

    “It’s the most photographed piece of clothing you’re ever going to wear.” Since the wedding of Chelsea Clinton, who wore a stunning Vera Wang strapless ivory ball gown, dresses have featured various textures.

    “A lot of three-dimensional roses, ruffles, pleatings and layers,” she says.

    Blush, champagne yellow and antique ivory are popular hues. And brides are reaching for hand-embroidered and hand-beaded accents, as well as Chantilly and other French laces.

    “Lace is very popular, especially since the engagement of Kate Middleton. Whatever she ends up wearing is going to send a lot of new trends,” Shawna says of the soon-to-be princess bride, who is engaged to marry Prince William of Wales in April. Gown designers sure to inspire include Monique Lhuellier (as well as her lower-end line, Bliss), Ines Di Santo, St. Pucchi, Vera Wang, and Liancarlo, whose romantic designs offer a breathable silk lining ideal for beach weddings.

    Once Upon a Time

    Montage Laguna Beach plays host to a fairytale wedding.

    When local resident Kacey Spies-Bruno planned her wedding to Stan Bruno, she created a new definition for a destination wedding. While Montage Laguna Beach was conveniently located for the bride and her family, it also provided guests with an amazing mini vacation at a top oceanfront resort.

    “Everyone thought of our wedding weekend as a vacation for themselves, which is the way it should be,” Kacey says. “I love going to a wedding in a wonderful location and staying at an incredible hotel.”

    Sunny Ravanbach, president of the Costa Mesa-based event company White Lilac, helped Kacey select a theme for the wedding, including colors, flowers and décor. “For a fall wedding, the burgundy and dark tones look beautiful,” Kacey says.

    The Pacific provided the perfect backdrop to kick off the reception and showcase the personalized touches.

    “Following the ceremony at St. Edward’s Church in Dana Point, all guests came to Montage for a cocktail hour on the Pacific Lawn with tray-passed hors d’oeuvres and a very popular martini bar,” Kacey remembers. “In November the sun sets early, and we wanted our guests to be able to watch the sunset during cocktail hour.”

    She notes that guests loved the custom “Stan-tini,” as well as the jazz musician during cocktail hour. Then, the entourage moved to the Grand Ballroom, where a 10-piece band kept the dance floor rockin’ all night long.

    “That is the sign of a great party,” Kacey says.

    Kacey’s dress was by designer Melissa Sweet. Friends Traci and Troy Arntsen, owners of Lake Forest-based Voluspa candles, helped Kacey create custom scented candles as favors.

    The three-course menu created by the Montage chefs included Montage lobster bisque, followed by a salad of watercress and frisee, with prime filet mignon and herb crusted halibut for the entrée. As the night wound down, guests were invited to put together goodie bags for themselves from the “Sweet Dreams” candy bar—the ideal ending to the fairytale affair.



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