Cultivating An Unforgettable Wedding Experience | Willow & Oak Events

Cultivating an Unforgettable Wedding Experience

If you’ve been engaged for at least a day, there’s a high chance you’ve been asking yourself how you can cultivate an unforgettable wedding experience. Not only meaningful moments for yourselves, but a design sense replete with anticipatory details that keep the comfort and entertainment of your guests top of mind. Trust me, I understand the feeling of overwhelm you’re probably experiencing at times. The anxiety over not knowing where to begin, the stress over what you might be forgetting, the realization that your time is in fact limited + you don’t want to spend your entire engagement season feeling exhausted and frankly, burnt out.

Lee Petra Grebenau wedding dress with illusion back and lace applique flowers, plus a sexy bridal ponytail; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

I’m not here to sell you on anything today. I’m here to serve you with a roadmap that will meet you where you’re at and ultimately, give you peace of mind that you truly are cultivating an unforgettable wedding experience for you and your loved ones – the kind of peace of mind that helps you breathe easier, sleep better and count down the days to the wedding with excited anticipation, rather than worry + dread. I want to share everything I know with you because in my heart of hearts, I know my mission is serving couples like you. It’s providing them with the resources and know-how that will make all the difference in a celebration they’ll remember with fondness their entire lives. It’s having an open conversation with you about your dreams, your fears, your passions and your concerns and working together to ensure this once-in-a-lifetime event is a reflection of the very soul mates it’s celebrating. Wedding planning doesn’t have to look like Mount Everest. It can truly be one easy, breezy step at a time – it’s simply about mindset, reflection and trust. So let’s dive in! 

chinoiserie bridal heels with gossamer ribbon and Old World romantic wedding invitations with handwritten calligraphy; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

If the foundation of style, vendors, guest list and budget are rooted in location, then an unforgettable wedding experience is rooted in creative, yet functional design. You want to immerse your guests into your story, but still make sure they’re taken care of. Consider the weddings you’ve attended in the past. What did you love about them? What did you hate about them? Do you remember anything at all? It’s quite possible that the only things you do remember err on the negative side – the couple didn’t give you a heads up on the terrain, so your choice of shoes might not have been the best… the chairs at the dinner table were stylish, but uncomfortable after sitting there for 2.5 hours… the food was alright, but from hors d’oeuvres to entrees, there was no variation of fresh + savory – you hardly felt up for the dance floor after all that food that simply made you drowsy! It’s these tiny details that are most often forgotten that make the biggest impacts on wedding guests. So how do you know what questions to ask or where to begin? 

spring ballroom wedding reception with a neutral table linen, soft silk runner and low garden centerpieces mixed with skinny taper candles; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

1. Consider the five senses

When in doubt, take your time. It’s so easy to plow through Pinterest and Instagram, consuming and consuming and consuming… saving images left + right. Even the most well-intentioned couple ends up slicing and dicing their favorite ideas from these saved images to create a hodgepodge design for their ceremony, cocktail hour and reception. Inevitably, the designs feel stiff, random and impersonal. Not to mention, cutting and pasting done-before ideas from different weddings, in different locations, with different vendors, different seasons, different terrains (you get the gist) means ignoring those factors that make all the difference. Sure, an al fresco dinner might work beautifully in Provence during September, but would it be as comfortable during September in Colorado when it’s 45 degrees F?

We’ll touch on the importance of starting from a clean slate next, but for now, we want to share one of the elements we’re thinking of with every single design decision along the way. Our secret sauce is most definitely our thoughtfulness when it comes to every sense. You’ve got to look past the visual! Close your eyes and picture how you want each moment to feel. When your guests arrive, what do they hear? Will the sound of the crashing waves overtake the solo harpist if you have your ceremony in that spot? Imagine the texture of the linen at the table… think about what they see when they sit down. What will they touch and pick up? They’ll be here for a long time and curiosity never fails! Meditate on the sense of taste. Is your wedding date during summer? Perhaps light, citrusy beverages and fresh berry salads should win over hot toddies and cinnamon doughnut balls. When you visit your wedding venue, think about what you’re smelling. Is it the scent of the camellia alles in the gardens? Can you ask your stationer to include subtle camellia illustrations in your custom motif for the invites, the lounge pillows or the welcome bag packaging? Not only considering the senses from a functionality perspective, but also from a cohesivity standpoint makes every difference in the world. This seamless blend is the je ne sais quoi your guests will take note of, and it’s the mastery that will have them saying “Remember Rachel and Michael’s wedding?” years down the road. 

crystal petal drip earrings from BHLDN with calligraphed vows on vellum paper; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

2. Make it personal

Ahh, the Golden Rule! The most unforgettable weddings are those that tell a personal story. A story of individuals, with their own unique passions, traditions, heritage, coming together as one to share life together for eternity. It’s a blend of families, a blend of individuals and a time to highlight their journey together in all its one-of-a-kind beauty. No one else in the world shares your first date, your weekend getaways, your favorite things to do together, your favorite movies/tv shows/books. No one else has the same proposal story. No one else shares the same sweet nothings. Your love story is it’s own glorious rom com, and it deserves its own original celebration. There is no limit to the ways you can incorporate these personal details in your wedding day or weekend, just always remember to make it yours. Our goal for W&O couples is to design and design until we create a wedding experience spilling over with personal details that they are exceedingly happy about. Don’t stop until you feel that delirious excitement over every little thing! 

English garden wedding with bride in a flowy silk gown, wild organic pastel bouquet and oversized sun hat; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

3. Be mindful of restrictions

Just as no wedding is created equal, no wedding guest is created equal either. Make sure to do your research on your guest list from the start, noting any disabilities, special needs, allergies or other restrictions that certain planning decisions might pose problems for. Taking care of every single guest will make them feel so held, and their gratitude will be evident forever. Trust me. It’s often the same guests whose needs are forgotten or put on the backburner every time, so be proactive, take initiative and make sure that they are taken care of whether that means special restroom access for a grand tented fete or choosing a menu that considers your gluten-free, kosher, vegan, etc. guests as well (and not just with one token appetizer at Cocktail Hour!) 

On a related note, have a conversation with your partner at the beginning about if you’ll be inviting children to the wedding. This opens the door for a whole new list of considerations and decisions during the logistics stage alone, and no matter what you decide, make sure to communicate all the details to guests with young children so they prepare accordingly. 

three tiered wedding cake with colorful 3D sugar flowers; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

4. Over-prepare your guests

Speaking of communication, the best way you can take care of your wedding guests is to provide them with as much information as possible from the very beginning. Never assume they will know anything! This is the beauty of wedding websites. They allow you to share more details than you can imagine in an aesthetically pleasing way whilst giving your guests an alternative resource to your cell phone (because yes, they will text you on the wedding day asking where to park otherwise). No longer is there pressure for the invitation suite to share every little thing across 6-8 cards, though we do love a solid invitation suite! Websites give you a place to share everything from the important addresses to room block information to sample itineraries or recommendations for the wedding destination. They offer you a chance to share your registry info and also go into detail about your wedding location. Hey, even if the exact spot is a surprise, you can still provide guests with a heads up of what type of terrain + weather to expect! And if you’re anything like us, you love a good opportunity to build anticipation. Get your guests even more excited about your wedding destination by sharing a link to a Spotify playlist with music from the region, local recipes they can make at home, sample packing lists, books or movies you’d recommend they read when they want to get in a Bali, Italy, France, Thailand, Iceland, etc. mood! More on that here 😉

Take it one step further and include a welcome letter for your guests staying in a room block. Whether this is part of a larger gift basket or not, it’s a small touch they’ll be surprised + delighted by, and it’s a way for you to say thank you whilst simultaneously reminding them of important timeline details (including where to meet + when). They likely didn’t bring their original invitation suite with them, so especially in the case of multi-day events, it’s a beautiful reminder that makes them feel exceptionally taken care of from the start. Bonus points if you include a whole destination guide in tandem! 

spring ballroom wedding reception with a neutral table linen, soft silk runner and low garden centerpieces mixed with skinny taper candles; photography by Julie Livingston at an English country estate Hedsor House with planning and design by Willow and Oak Events

I hope these starter tips for cultivating an unforgettable wedding experience got you thinking! This is just the tip of the iceberg, but these steps alone will make all the difference in the world to both you as a couple and to all of your guests traveling near and far to celebrate your marriage. 

’Til we meet again! 

Xx,
Haley 

All images by Julie Livingston Photography with planning + design by Willow & Oak Events // see more images from this wedding and the full vendor team here

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