Hello All! The following are resources, tips and tricks that I learned while planning my own wedding on September 26, 2015. Working in this industry for over 15 years, has given me some wonderful contacts and resources that I want to share with you to possibly help you in your own planning. Please know that a few of the people mentioned are friends of mine but most of my picks are companies or persons that have been recommended to me, or I simply found out through other contacts in the industry or I have had great experiences with just being a huge fan of their work. Although my wedding was more of a rustic, vintage themed affair, many of my vendors have decor and services that can be used for any type of event. Many of you have asked me about my planning resources, so I wanted to give you information on every detail of my planning to help you with your wedding! This blog post is private so only my clients will have the link to access.

First, I just wanted to give you a brief intro on what type of wedding we wanted being an older couple, our style and what was important to us. My fiance’, Todd, and myself wanted a more casual celebration with an eclectic, artsy vibe and great food. Since we moved to Pilsen, we really wanted to have our After Party at our new home/studio space. All last year, I kept on hearing about a great, new venue called Honky Tonk BBQ Secret Garden. Todd and I decided to check the place out for ourselves and fell in love with the rustic, outdoors area and the whimsical buildings in the courtyard. And we also ate at Honky Tonk BBQ enough times to know that the food was everything we love! Equally important, was the fact that our new home for the After Party was 3 blocks walking distance from the venue to make all of this easy on our guests.’ We played with the idea of having an intimate ceremony with our immediate family outside at Adler Planetarium, with the Chicago skyline backdrop, but we ultimately decided to make the day less stressful and just have both the ceremony and reception in one place. Here are all the resources and vendors we used in our planning process:

Photography: Jeremy Lawson Photography 
The most important vendor for a wedding!!! Jeremy and I have been dear friends for years and he has been my mentor since I started in this business. I was his second photographer for three years and he taught me about the importance of developing a photography style, posing, light and most of all- to have fun! I couldn’t imagine anyone else shooting our wedding and most importantly, my fiance’ is good friends with Jeremy as well which makes him comfortable for pictures. Jeremy shot our engagement session which we threw powdered paint at each other. We had a blast and I used the pics for my Save The Dates and website (see below). For our wedding day, Jeremy really captured every moment and detail. And one of the highlights of the day was shooting our couple session for 2 hours in Pilsen and around our home. All the photos on this site are shot by him as well

Transportation: Chicago Trolley
An easy choice! After spending so much time with different limo and bus companies throughout my 10 years of photographing weddings, I have had more bad experiences than good. But I have always had a great time with Chicago Trolley! The drivers are experienced, know the Chicago streets well, can navigate through traffic jams or other mishaps, and all the drivers are friendly and courteous. Also, all the trolleys have open windows so if the weather is nice, the ride is all the more enjoyable with the big windows and open space. Chicago Trolley also offers some signage and beverage options for your guests, so you don’t have to worry about stocking up the trolley beforehand. On the wedding day, the Chicago trolley company did not disappoint. As always, the driver was on-time and shuttled my guests from my reception to the hotel efficiently. And some of our guests even commented on how fun the trolley ride was.

Photobooth: Photospot 
After seeing every type of photobooth imaginable, I decided on the modern photobooth. With a more “open” format with a choice of some great backdrops and props, I chose Photospot. I have seen this type of photobooth at many weddings, and for me, seeing everyone in action at the photobooth is as much fun as actually taking the pictures. We also chose the scrapbook option so all the pics are saved and we received a wonderful keepsake book at the end of our wedding day.

Rehearsal Dinner: Mia Francesca’s on Taylor
Boy, I spent way too much time trying to find a great restaurant to fit my $1000 rehearsal dinner budget. I checked into some wonderful restaurants in Pilsen and Bridgeport and I couldn’t find anything below $2000 for 26 guests, which we both thought was pretty expensive. We toyed with the idea of hosting the dinner at our home which is about 3 blocks from Honky Tonk, and having Todd’s brother who is a chef, cook the meal. After thinking about this option more, we decided to nix the idea because the thought of planning and setting up a dinner for 26 people the night before my wedding, didn’t sound like the best idea. So, I did some research into nearby restaurants in Pilsen and found Mia Francesca’s on Taylor Street, which is about 5 minutes from Honky Tonk. They have great menu selections starting at $28 per person, including dessert. I picked the host bar option which meant I just payed for drinks that were consumed and not an overall bar tab per person. This was the most reasonably priced restaurant I could find, that was near our ceremony space and offered delicious food. The final tab was $1400 which was a bit over budget, but we thought was pretty good considering the quality of the food and giving our guests the option to order as many drinks as they wanted.

Rings from Eve J. Alfille Studio, Evanston 
I love our rings! A friend of mine suggested Eve Jewelry because we wanted custom-made wedding rings that were really unique and different. Eve is a master at making jewelry and she creates stunning work in her studio in Evanston. And she works with all sorts of budgets. Our rings used sapphires that were mined here in the country and Eve had some gorgeous colored gem options for us. We are both in love with our rings and the whole experience with Eve was easy and fun.

Florist: Pollen 
I worked with Lynn from Pollen and saw her lovely, creative work at many weddings so for me this was an easy pick. I wanted really unique bouquets and reception flowers that were seasonal, organic and locally grown. Lynn specializes is more “green” practices which is important to both me and Todd. Also, she has tons of vintage glass vases which I wanted for my tablescape. Lynn used dahlias, amaranth, coxcomb, scabiosa and crabapples for the centerpieces and my bouquet. On my wedding day, I was so blown away with the wonderful arrangements that fit my theme perfectly.  

Makeup and Hair: Nika Vaughn for makeup, Gia for Hair from Nika Vaughn Bridal Artists 
This was another no-brainer for me. Nika and I went to art school together and have collaborated in the past on some great styled shoots as well. Nika did my makeup for the both my engagement shoot and wedding day. One of the things I am enjoyed about her business is that she has created a special portal for anyone using her services to store all your information, trials and inspiration. For my wedding day hair, Gia, one of her associates, had already colored my hair a couple of months before the wedding so I was very comfortable using her for my wedding. We did a consultation about two months before the wedding day, and she did exactly what I wanted! For my wedding day, both Nika and Gia were efficient with time and created a look that lasted through the night!

Dress: Dame Couture 
Buying a dress was really stressful for me. I went to Nordstrom, Weddings 826, BHLDN, Bella Bridesmaids and even drove all the way out to Wheaton to get a dress specially sent to The Dress by Nicole, only to try it on and deciding not to purchase the dress because it just didn’t fit right. I wanted a short dress, which is probably one of the reasons my whole dress shopping experience was so time-consuming. Wedding dress designers are just now creating short dresses, but the options are very limited. In the end, I just decided to get my dress custom-made at Dame Couture in Evanston. Holly has designed some beautiful dresses for past clients so I booked an appointment with her in February 2015. After trying on a few vintage options and looking at material swatches, Holly pulled out this awesome, pink and white vintage dress from a local designer and I loved the material and bodice. We decided on a slightly different style for the bottom of the dress, so Holly re-designed the piece. For my wedding day, the dress was comfortable, chic and fit my style perfectly! 

DJ-Dustin from Toast and Jam 
I have seen Dustin in action at some of my weddings and Todd has also seen Dustin’s super-DJ abilities at other events. Music is really Todd’s specialty, so hiring Dustin was something that he wanted pretty badly! In hiring DJs, I would HIGHLY recommend seeing your choices in action and asking them to provide you with videos of past events or events they will be hosting. Recommendations and reviews are great, but actually seeing someone at an event and how they handle the dance floor is really important to make sure they are the right fit for your wedding. Dustin was incredible during our wedding reception dancing! Everyone commented how great he was and he kept our dance floor grooving right up to the end!

Reception Entertainment, Patty Elvis 
This one was my husband’s idea, and she was a huge hit with our guests! Patty sang about 5 songs and really kicked- off the reception dancing. Afterwards, our family and friends lined up to take selfies with her and raved about her all night long. She really had a blast with our guests and the whole thing was such a surprise for everyone, it really set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Sweets: Fall Themed Sweet Table 
Since my wedding was in late September, I definitely wanted a foodie- infused sweet table with some of our favorite sweets with a little Fall inspiration. As many of you know, I am a sucker for sweets and so is my fiance’. A well stocked sweet table was definitely one of my priorities for the wedding! Here are the goodies I used for my sweet table:

  • Cupcakes from Molly’s like basic chocolate and vanilla options, banana with brown sugar frosting, vegan, filled cupcakes and my husband’s favorite cookie, peanut butter 
  • Pies from Hoosier Mama Pie Company 
  • Caramel and candied apples from Marianos

Save the Dates and Invitations: Kobie Lee Design 
I got lucky with this one! Kobie and I worked together during my advertising days and as a wedding gift, she offered to design my Save the Dates and Invitations for me. I absolutely loved my Save the Dates! One of these days, I will figure out how to post a video on my site so I could show you all how the flip-book works. Basically, the pictures are a second by second look at Todd and I throwing powdered paint at each other (as shown in the gif above), with our website, wedding date and place on the last page. All the pictures were taken during our engagement session, and both of us just love that the pics were incorporated into our Save the Dates. Kobie designed the wrapper and book and also assembled everything for us.

Kobie created and assembled my Invites as well. She sent me about 4 concepts, and we liked this one the best. The invites cost about $3.53 for the actual invite materials and about an extra $2.50 per box for the box, tape and labels. And an extra $75.00 for the map illustration. Sending the boxes was the biggest cost, at about $8-$10 each. We only invited about 120 people, so we actually sent about 65 in total. Still, the invites were not cheap! This was probably my biggest splurge of the wedding. But my family and friends raved about the invites and since I have a thing for paper goods, I was thrilled with how everything turned out.

Chair Rentals: Marquee Event Rentals 
In my experience both shooting and attending over 200 weddings, I know how important it is to have comfortable and ample seating for your guests’. I did a ton of research into renting chairs that had our rustic, classy look for both the ceremony and reception and decided to use Classic Party Rentals for several reasons. They are very responsive to phone calls and emails, which is a huge factor for me. In planning my own wedding, I am so surprised at the lack of customer service with many vendors. And in the party rental category, this seems to be a huge issue. In any case, this company seems very professional and offers a good variety for renting anything you might need for a wedding or event. Also, Classic Party Rentals had an actual showroom where I could see the chairs and pick out some varied colored, cushion seats that are going to coordinate with my overall Fall color scheme. I found through my research that their prices were very competitive and they also have reasonable delivery charges and set-up options. 

Linens from BBJ Linen, Tablerunners, DIY 
As far as my decor goes, coordinating my linens and making my DIY tablerunners was the most time-consuming and stressful experience of my wedding planning! First, the venue coordinator and I had a complete misunderstanding of what kind of tables they were going to set-up for the reception. I thought I was getting actual wooden-farm tables and in reality, I was getting black folding tables that were assembled “farm-style.” So, the week before my wedding I had to hunt down some rustic-style linens to go with my tablerunners that I already spent over 6 months making. In a panic, I called Jackie Belzone my DOC and she put me in touch with BBJ Linens. They had so many great options and a week before my wedding in September, a very busy month for weddings, they had a full-stock of great linens. The only thing with BBJ, is that the linen rentals are not cheap! They are more on the expensive side but as a positive, the representative from the company was extremely helpful and responsive at a time where I was stressing out big time. I recommend these guys if you are in a pinch and need some linens quickly or for a company that has a huge inventory of beautiful linens. If you want more information on my tablerunners, email me and I can tell you where I bought my trims and burlap.

Chalkboards, vintage suitcases, barrel for Todd’s whiskey bar and ceremony backdrop: Chicago Vintage Weddings, Kate Lerman 
I researched buying chalkboards and other props for my wedding and found that renting the props from Chicago Vintage Weddings was less expensive and I don’t have to worry about storing or finding a good use for purchased chalkboards. Kate also supplied the vintage doors for my ceremony backdrop and my florist (Pollen) made the flower strings. Chicago Vintage Rentals has a good inventory of vintage dishes, votives, furniture and other props that are very reasonable to rent. Also, Kate does offer wedding planning as well if you are interested in vintage themed weddings. 

Calligraphy: Write by Mike Calligraphy 
Mike was awesome! He did calligraphy for all of my signs and made sure that is was in the font style that I wanted. He finished everything on time, and his pricing is very reasonable. I think for like 5 large to medium size signs and all my 6 small table chalkboard signs he charged $140. Great guy and really professional!

Guest Towels and Stirrers: For Your Party 
I photographed a client’s wedding this past Spring and noticed she had these great guest towels in the venue restrooms. I did a little google hunting and discovered this company provides fun customized products for events and weddings. I ordered these great BBQ red, guest towels along with stirrers for my cocktail hour. For Your Party had a very large inventory for every wedding day detail imaginable. And I found the prices to be very reasonable.

Small Marquee lights: Michael’s 
I got extremely lucky and walked into the Michael’s store on Clark street, near Wrigleyville and literally stumbled on a sale for marquee lights at 50% off. I spent about $100 on 3 decent sized marquee lights for my reception and about $75 on the D & R lights. All signs are battery operated. Michael’s has other great ideas for wedding decor and has sales often. If you are interested in small to mid-size marquee lights, watch their sales because Michael’s has good coupons and sales throughout the year.

Etsy sellers 
The following are all the Etsy sellers I used for more of my smaller decor items

Ceremony bags from Once Upon Your Wall. Confetti from Party City. Kobie (my invite and Save the Date designer) printed the ceremony bags.

Ring box from Beacon Hill Candles.

Wine box from Beacon Hill Candles.

Card box from Borden Specifics.

Wooden signs for my Sweet Table from Designs By HuuR.

Other Decor Resources 

Wedding Recycle 
I found this site through the owner and editor of Wedding Recycle who asked me to write a guest post on her blog. This site is an online garage sale of reusable items that are posted by former brides. So far, I have bought a cute little pail for my niece to hold her bubbles and flowers for the ceremony. But, there are tons of other offerings like table linens, paper lanterns, lights, containers for sweet tables and everything you can think of for your wedding. The only drawback is shipping costs if the posting is outside of Chicago. Most of the items are pretty cheap, but some are in limited supply. I hop on this site everyday in the morning to look at all the new listings and overall find the site to be a great resource for very reasonable wedding decor.

Ebay, Thrift Stores, Garage and Estate Sales 
Since I am having more of rustic, mismatched decor setting, I wanted to get some fun vintage napkins for the dinner service. My fiance’ is a picker and avid thrift shopper, so when we went on our thrift store and garage sale excursions, I was always looking for some cute vintage napkins. And when things got too busy for me to go picking with Todd, I bought a few napkins via Ebay. In my travels, I found tons of containers, vintage vases, old suitcases, window frames and picture frames for weddings that were super-cheap. I also bought my cute heart lawn decorations for $4 at a thrift store. Garage sales were also a wonderful resource as well. And Ebay and estate sales had some good offerings, but not as cheap as the thrift stores or garage sales. However, you have to make the time for scouring your local thrift stores and watching garage sales in your area, which can be very time consuming. If you do have the time and your wedding has more of a vintage, rustic theme, then traveling to different stores and watching garage sales is well worth the effort.

Apps, Links and Resources for Wedding Planning

Wedding Website: Riley and Grey
I searched and searched, and did trials on some wedding sites. Riley and Grey was the prettiest and simplest website I could find. I absolutely loved my website, the layout is very clean and chic and the functions are a breeze to use. Also, the website is very mobile and tablet friendly. The only thing is that it is a bit more expensive than the other wedding websites out there. I paid $240 for a yearly commitment. However, I am so happy with the whole look and feel of my site, to me the extra money is worth it.

Gathering and storing addresses for the invites: Postable
I came across this great resource to gather and store all my addresses. This link let’s you send emails to all your guests’ and they can enter their address information, or you can manually enter all the information. Everything is stored online and you can easily export your list via different formats. Postable can also be used to send out Save The Dates and Thank you cards, although you have to use Postable cards. I have briefly looked through all the cards and they have some really cute choices. Also, you can keep all the addresses online and send cards through the website for future birthdays and holidays.

Budget, Guest and Vendor List and Wedding Checklist: Wedding Wire
I looked EVERYWHERE for a good overall planning tool. I even bought a wedding planning binder/book to house all my contracts, budget, checklist and inspiration. The whole binder came apart and after using it for about 6 months, the whole thing was really antiquated. I researched wedding planning software, tried out a few apps, and nothing was really working. I literally stumbled upon the Wedding Wire planning site, after seeing a pin on Pinterest and the website is pretty useful. However, I never thought to actually use the site for myself. The budget planning tool is really nifty because you enter your entire budget and as you record all your expenses, the budget tool gives you an estimate of how much more money you have to spend. The tool also gives you an overall estimate for each vendor you are using, which is helpful. Also, the wedding checklist is one of most comprehensive checklists I have seen and each item is organized by the months so you know what is due, depending on your wedding date. However, there are some issues to use this free site. One, was importing my guest list in the site format which I never figured out. Two, you have to deal with annoying emails and special deals whenever you log-in. All in all, I think Wedding Wire is still the best site out there and it’s free.

Rehearsal Dinner or Send-Off Brunch restaurant resource: Suits and Tables
Kate Campbell (see above in Hotel Reservation help) sent me this handy site which helps you plan your rehearsal dinner or brunch. You can find restaurants depending on the neighborhood or area, enter the number of guests’ and your budget. And you can send all the information to your choice of restaurants to find the best fit. The site is a handy resource if you need to quickly find a good venue to host your rehearsal dinner or brunch. I ended up not using this site to book my rehearsal dinner, but it still was a useful site to research the average cost for a dinner for about 26 people.

Wedding Insurance: WedSure
With everything that I have seen over the years, I knew that wedding insurance was a must! I chose WedSure because you can pick and choose your policy options. Also, Wedsure gives coverage for any extreme weather event that occurs during your wedding and offers coverage for the couple if there is a medical emergency. These two things were super-important to me and as I was researching the different policies I found that not all policies offer both weather and medical coverage. With Wedsure, you need to purchase the policy 14 days in advance of your wedding to get the weather coverage, but it looks like the medical coverage is included. Also, Wedsure offers coverage for jewelry, rehearsal dinner, and deposits made in advance of the wedding. All in all, I found this to be the best service for insurance.