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Planned to Perfection


Long gone, it seems, are the days of simple church weddings, followed by receptions with cake and punch at a local hall or restaurant. Wedding ceremonies are now elaborate events, which means a lot more work for the bride, who's already juggling a multitude of details.

Wedding planners can offer the bride peace of mind, the freedom to enjoy her engagement with less stress, and the opportunity to spend time with friends and family before the wedding.

Some of the area's busiest planners share their secrets to making the wedding day a success.

Jennifer McBride

Company: Occasions

Years in business: Seven.

The details: McBride sits on the board for the Richmond Bridal Association and is the exclusive planner for NBC 12.

Back story: After working as an event manager at the Martin Agency, McBride opened her own business.

Personal adage: She works with clients at all stages of wedding planning, even couples who call her and have only two months to go -- and yes, this really has happened to her, several times.

What sets her apart: "I really concentrate on the little details that make people say, 'Wow, what a great wedding or reception!'" McBride says. "They are not obvious and are things I don't want the bride and groom to be concerned with, but details that set their wedding apart from other ones."

Advice to the bride: Though bigger, more extravagant weddings may be the newest trend, what really makes a wedding special is in the details, in which the couple can express their personalities and their passions.

Most unforgettable moment: A wedding that involved a father with terminal cancer, who overcame his pain to walk his daughter down the aisle and dance with her at the reception. "That is what it is all about," McBride says.

Pauline Stevens

Company: Elations

Years in business: Five.

The details: Stevens just opened a new storefront in Carytown, with one full-time and three part-time employees.

Back story: She began planning small parties for friends, which turned into small weddings by request, and then into larger weddings. Finally, Stevens started her own business.

Personal adage: "I have learned to let things go in my job," she says, "but I still get so wound up before the weddings I plan, I don't sleep for a week before the wedding day."

What sets her apart: Stevens uses her creative expertise to design invitations and add unique details to each wedding.

Advice to the bride: She asks her clients to come ready with pictures of their dream wedding, items that represent their personalities and ideas to make it happen. She encourages her brides to call when wedding plans begin in order to save them a lot of stress later.

Wedding showstopper: "I had a couple who wanted to incorporate their African heritage, so at the reception we had African tribal dancers do a skit involving all of the guests." The bride and groom were then introduced and started their first dance. They were so moved they invited their parents to join them in that dance, a tribute to the example their parents had set.

Naomi Meyer

Company: Bridal Consulting by Naomi

Years in business: More than 20.

The details: Handles 30 to 40 weddings a year and sits on the executive board of the Richmond Bridal Association.

Back story: Meyer used to work for a photographer, who referred her as a planner to a client. From this job, she moved into catering but again found herself planning weddings. Eventually, Meyer gave up the catering and focused solely on planning.

Personal adage: "It is my job to stay calm for the whole group," Meyer says. "I once had a mother call me for no other reason than to hear my voice just for the calming effect it had on them."

What sets her apart: Meyer, who insists on being at the wedding itself, does all the essential work beforehand, preparing a detailed agenda of the rehearsal, the wedding and the reception for each member of the wedding party and all of the vendors.

Advice to the bride: Meyer, who has built her business almost completely on referrals, believes that brides should do their homework. She advises couples to look at the coordinator's background, experience, Web site and magazine advertisements. Not only that, they should ask for references and remember to call them.

Wedding showstopper: A wedding Meyer planned about four years ago. "It was a fairy-tale wedding, every single detail attended to," Meyer recalls. "There were flowers draping down from the ceiling of the tent, a beautiful cake brought in from New York with chocolate icing and flowers cascading down the cake. It was so beautiful, even the bread and butter knives were detailed with finger puppets of bees and butterflies."

Colleen Cook

Company: CCS Events

Years in business: Five.

The details: Cook has a store on Lafayette Street with four part-time employees.

Back story: Cook hated planning her own wedding, but people loved what she'd done, so they started asking for her help. From there, the demand for her services grew so much that she turned to wedding planning full time.

Personal adage: "Being a planner is not a job, it's a lifestyle," Cook says. "That is why I am available to my clients at all times of the day — they must come first."

What sets her apart: Cook likes to simulate the settings before the wedding so the bride and groom get a feel of what everything is going to look like.

Advice to the bride: Couples should "be open-minded. Think outside of the box when planning your wedding and be realistic not only about what you can actually do but what is worth doing."

Wedding showstopper: A Moulin Rouge/Vegas-themed wedding. "The bride looked like the Queen of Hearts coming down the aisle." The groom was a firefighter, so the couple had their wedding photos taken on his company's fire truck. Gambling tables were open during cocktail hour at the reception, and centerpieces were arranged with flowers, cards, poker chips and feathers.

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