Thursday, July 24, 2014

Truest DC Wedding Venues (Part III)

Last, but certainly not least, our final 4 Truest DC Wedding Venues…

8) The Ronald Reagan Building

It was built to "reflect the symbolic importance and historic character of Pennsylvania Avenue and the nation's capital." The Ronald Reagan Building, named for the President who authorized the construction, is the largest structure and the Official World Trade Center in Washington, DC. It's purpose is to advance US trade in the international marketplace.

The building can host social events from 20 to almost 1,000 guests.

HJ's Insider Notes: Our favorite spaces are the Rotunda and the Pavillion. The architecture and unique ceilings of these spaces allow for a lot of natural light. Both have outdoor balconies for your guests to access throughout the evening.

"Since it's heralded opening in 1908, Union Station has been witness to much of this nation's twentieth century history. This grand Beaux Arts building has served as the arrival site for dignitaries and has witnessed the tearful departure ad joyous return of our armed forces during the major international conflicts of this century. And, for many, Union Station is a first memory of a visit to Washington, DC."

Union Station weddings are reminiscent of the early to mid 1900's. The hustle bustle of travelers, the grand architecture, and the beauty of the railway station make this venue a unique and magnificent DC wedding venue.

HJ's Insider Notes: The Columbus Club used to function as a upscale soda fountain room and the East Hall was the dining room. The two are now separate function spaces and were part of the renovations completed in 1988. The East Hall has glass-coffered ceilings that make the space feel lighter - the perfect room for an indoor event with a semi-outdoor feel.

John Hay (personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln, US Ambassador to the UK, and Secretary of State under President William McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt) and Henry Adams (historian, Harvard professor and descendant of President John Adams and John Quincy Adams) once owned homes on the same site where the hotel now stands.

The hotel was built on the property in 1927 and underwent a $20 million renovation in 2001, to create the rooftop terrace and event space, Top of the Hay, which overlooks the White House.

HJ's Insider Notes: The hotel has kept the same charm of the 1930's, even though extensive modern renovations have been completed in the last decade or so. Make use of the lobby level rooms for cocktails, like the Hay-Adams Room, to introduce your guests to the history of the hotel. Top of the Hay is exquisite and needs very little decor, as the view and design of the room speak for itself.

The first inaugural ball of President Franklin Roosevelt was held at the Omni in 1933. 60 years later, President Bill Clinton played the saxophone at his own inaugural ball in 1993.

The Blue Room, still used for events, was a 1930's nightclub where Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland both performed. One can picture glasses clinking, diplomats and politicians chattering, and Ol' Blue Eyes holding a vintage microphone in the middle of it all.

The Omni was recently restored for a whopping $80 million dollars.

HJ's Insider Notes: The Gazebo is one of the few manicured outdoor areas to have a ceremony in DC. The Diplomat Ballroom, a replica of the East Room of the White House, comes with a Romeo & Juliet-esque balcony for cocktail hour. Oh, and ask about the Ghost Suite.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Truest DC Wedding Venues (Part II)

Picking up with Part II of our Truest DC Wedding Venues, here are the next 4 places that we think capture what DC is all about…

4. Newseum

"The Newseum Institute provides a forum for educational programs and thought-leadership initiatives, as well as educational materials addressing the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition."

Does it get more DC political than that?!

The Newseum has quite a few spaces for weddings. Our favorites are the Knight Conference Center, 7th Floor and 8th Floor Terraces. The first has floor to ceiling windows with a view of the Capitol and loads of technological elements to showcase everything from a wedding slideshow to high tech lighting. Wolfgang Puck is the exclusive caterer for the Newseum, and 100% lives up to the food hype. The Terraces, where you can have your ceremony and/or cocktails, have a direct view of the Capitol and an incredible overlook of Washington.

HJ's Insider Notes: We love that the shades can be dropped in the conference center while set up is happening and raised up to reveal the room after cocktails. The elevators in the Newseum are some of the most spacious in DC; upon entrance, guests get shuttled up to the 7th and 8th floor in record time.

It's exactly what it's name portrays: a museum for female artists. The original founders felt that women were underrepresented in the arts, and began a collection of artwork solely by women. The property used to be a Masonic Temple, and sits less than a half of a mile from the White House.

The marble, chandeliers, grand staircases and balconies will guarantee that you'll hear quite a few wows from guests. The space lends itself to different set ups, including ceremony and dinner in the Grand Hall, with cocktails on the Mezzanine or in the 3rd Floor Gallery or ceremony and dancing in the Grand Hall, cocktails in the 3rd Floor Gallery, and dinner on the Mezzanine. If you are looking for an enchanting DC venue, look no further.

HJ's Insider Notes: The 3rd Floor Gallery is an option for cocktails, and a great way to move your guests to a space where they won't see the transformation of the Grand Hall from the ceremony set up to the reception. The onsite coordinator at the venue can dim the chandeliers. Keep this in mind to get an even better ambiance for dancing later in the evening. The Kasser Board Room is one of the prettiest suites for freshening up and bridal portraits - and it comes with the rental!

"When Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr., and his wife, Susan, moved to the new federal city in 1816, they purchased land on the northwest corner of the President’s Park (today Lafayette Square) with the prize money Decatur was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812. The Decaturs commissioned Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first professional architect and engineer, to design a home “fit for entertaining." Sadly, just a little over a year after the couple moved into the home, Decatur was mortally wounded in a duel against Commodore James Barron. Decatur House is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Carriage House and Courtyard are perfect for an outdoor/indoor wedding and reception. The Carriage House was renovated in 2012. The high ceiling and new covered Portico added modern elegance to this historic venue. The White House and Lafayette Square are steps outside the entrance, where the wedding party and family can take beautiful photos.

HJ's Insider Notes: The Entertaining Parlors in the house are a great addition to your event for cocktail hour. If you choose not to use this part of the venue, tours are available to guests early in the evening, and we recommend it! Tenting the Courtyard for dinner or dancing is an alternative to using the Carriage House. This guarantees use of the outside, rain or shine. The Carriage House now has the option of a state of the are AV system - you can play a slideshow on their drop down screens or use an iPod for cocktail hour.

"Refined Doric details articulate the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, first known as the Departmental Auditorium, the most dramatic example of Classical Revival architecture in the Federal Triangle." It was "designed to reflect the 'dignity and power of the Nation."

And it's grand. Grand, large, gorgeous and, yes, screams powerful DC.

Mellon Auditorium is the ideal venue for large weddings and receptions. It can seat up to 696 guests in the Great Hall. If you have a guest count of 250, don't be deterred by the size. A dance floor, bars and other decor can easily be used to fill the space. The stage is great for bands. The third floor has a balcony for cocktails. The netting around the balcony allows guests to venture out for air even if it's drizzling.

HJ's Insider Notes: Since there are few historic spaces in DC that can accommodate the 300-600 guest range, this venue is very popular for larger weddings, so inquire well in advance to secure a date. Send your photographer up to the balcony over the Great Hall for some stellar photos.

We'll round off our list with the remaining 4 DC venues next week!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Truest DC Wedding Venues (Part I)

The DMV is one of the most popular areas in the country to host a wedding (for those readers who are non-locals, we're referring to the District of Columbia, Md, and Va).

However, since the three have so much to offer, we decided to do a blog series highlighting the venues that embody the spirit of each. So let's start with our Nation's Capitol, Washington, DC!

DC offers engaged couples a vast array of types and styles of venues. But we frequently get asked, "Which venues really feel like DC?" So here at HJ headquarters, we compiled our list of Washington proper's "10 Truest DC Wedding Venues." And here are the first 3...

Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Institution in DC in 1902 as an organization for scientific discovery. 

"As ex officio members of the first board of trustees, Carnegie chose the President of the United States, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the president of the National Academy of Sciences."

The history of the Carnegie Institution is just one aspect that helped this venue make our top 10 list. The venue is located near Scott Circle, and just a few blocks from the shops and restaurants of Dupont, which makes it an ideal location for out of town guests to enjoy one of the city's most vibrant neighborhoods. The Red Line of the metro runs through Dupont, giving your friends and family an easily accessible method of transportation to go exploring.
HJ's Insider Notes: The gorgeous columns on the Portico, the Library on the second floor where the wedding party can hang out, the exquisite rotunda.

The Willard "has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King finished his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while a guest at the Willard. Other notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, Lord and Lady Napier, and countless others. Walt Whitman mentioned the hotel in his works; and Mark Twain penned two books here in the early 1900s."

This venue is located across the street from the White House, and just steps away from fantastic restaurants, shopping and theatres. It's also walking distance to Smithsonian museums.

The Willard has 4 main ballrooms, all richly DC in style. From the moment you arrive, you will feel like you have stepped back in time to DC circa 1920. From the covered entrance to the attentive bellmen to the famous lobby, DC will come alive with every footstep in to the bustling hotel.

HJ's Insider Notes: The Breezeway and Courtyard are a great cocktail hour location to give your wedding an outdoor option, you can't take a bad picture in the Crystal Room, absolutely don't miss Peacock Alley afternoon tea on Sunday.

DAR was founded in 1890 as "a non-profit, non-political volunteer women's service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children." Any woman 18 or older who is a lineal descendent of a patriot of the American Revolution can be a member.

The O'Byrne Gallery and Portico are perfect for an indoor/outdoor wedding and reception, with a view of the Washington Monument.

HJ's Insider Notes: The Portico is somewhat covered so weather isn't a big deal, it's across from the White House, super easy access to Route 50 and I-66 (which is great for guests coming from Northern Virginia or wanting to visit Virginia's historical landmarks), offers different and unique spaces for events of different sizes.

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

All About Escort Cards...and How They Are Not Place Cards!



You want your well-planned wedding to flow easily, right? We do, too! You are about to learn everything you need to know to help your guests find their table, their seat and start the reception off without unnecessary logistical hiccups. And we have a few creative tips to pass along, too...

Escort cards and place cards: did you know that they are actually two different things with two different uses? Many people reference them interchangeably, though. Don't make this rookie wedding planning mistake! Escort cards "escort" your guests to their table, while place cards "place" your guests at their actual seat. Escort cards are usually a necessity if your guest count is 30+. Place cards alone can be used for more intimate weddings, and be used in combination with escort cards at larger weddings.

Escort Cards are usually found in an area leading into the reception space, where guests find their names in alphabetical order to discover which table will be theirs for the evening. We don't recommend putting escort cards out at the beginning of the cocktail hour if possible. Many guests will feel the need to pick their card up right away, and then proceed to leave it in the bathroom or on the bar while ordering their glass of Chardonnay.  If there is a space for the escort card table right before entering the reception, it is best placed there. Otherwise, be sure that someone has a seating chart to assist those guests who misplace or lose their card during cocktail hour.

They are an essential for almost every wedding reception, so here are a few ways to get creative with them.

1. Make it edible or a wedding favor.

Not all escort cards have to be a “card.” They can be items, which your guests can take home as a keepsake. Some of the most popular escort card favors are soda bottles, jars of candy, cake pops, a signature drink, or picture frames. Having an item that is both a wedding favor and an escort card can reduce your overall budget (since you're getting two in one!) and add uniqueness to your wedding.              

2. Ditch the card and do one big chart.

Trying to save some money to put toward other parts of the wedding? Sometimes big charts are just as beautiful and effective as escort cards. You can either do a list of names with numbers or a diagram of each table with guest names. Although not as traditional as cards, this is a great idea to break the norm and cut costs. 
3. Vary the way you display the cards.

If you want to go with the traditional escort card, you can vary the way you display the cards to add some ingenuity to your reception. Rather then displaying the cards on a table, you can attach the cards to a ribbon tapestry, put them inside of a picture frame, or connect them to decorated boards. You can even spice up your table decorations by putting them on decorations to match your theme; colored stones, wooden blocks, or a bed of flowers. 


4. Go square (or octagon, or round, or rectangle)!

Changing the shape, size, color, or adding a holder adds spark to an escort card. By using a seashell, an elephant, or flower to hold the card, you can tie in your theme while making the cards stand out. You can put the cards in envelopes, make them into little booklets, or form them into chairs to add dimension to your card table.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Destination Series: Honeymoon Planning

Furama Resort & Spa -- Da Nang, Vietnam
[Photo taken by Kha Thai Vo | All Rights Reserved © April 2008]

The main focus of any couple’s special day is of course the wedding itself.  And considering all of the choices, decisions, and logistics that need to be determined, the whole process is more like a Hollywood production that can often times feel overwhelming.  So it’s no wonder that the norm is to hire a wedding planner to take care of all of the details and behind-the-scenes tasks to ensure that your ceremony and reception go smoothly.   

But what about your honeymoon?  

Have you carved out some time in all of your busy wedding planning activities to figure out where you will take your first vacation together officially as husband and wife?  Perhaps you have a general sense of where you’d like to go or the kind of honeymoon you’d like to have (i.e. adventurous, relaxing, luxurious, etc.), but just sifting through the mountains of information out there on the Internet is daunting.  From TripAdvisor to Jetsetter, there is an endless supply of opinions, travel tips, and travel photos to be reviewed.  And once you’ve done all of this (if you’ve done all of this), you still have the tedious task of booking everything yourself.  But what if I told you that you can have someone else, a travel expert, do all of the destination research, price scenario comparisons, and booking for you completely for free?!  Sound too good to be true?  Well it’s not!  

Erg Chebbi -- Sahara Desert -- Merzouga, Morocco
[Photo taken by Kha Thai Vo | All Rights Reserved © April 2012]

Many travel agencies (yes, they still exist) work off of commission, which is paid to them by the hotel directly, so they don’t charge you a fee for their services.  And because they are able to negotiate discounted rates with the hotels, it’s a win-win for everyone!  While it can certainly be a fun and rewarding experience to read all the reviews and look through candid traveler photos, not everyone has the time for that.  This often results in overpaying for hotels or things going wrong because of limited planning or uninformed decision-making.  While blind-bookings on German Wings or other travel web sites can be a fun and spontaneous experience, would you really want to take any risks when it comes to having your dream honeymoon come true?

At HJ Planners, our resident travel expert and Managing Director of Global Operations at HJ International, Kha Thai Vo, will take the time to consult with you and review all of your likes and dislikes for an ideal honeymoon.  Whether you would prefer to spend your honeymoon skiing in the Alps or snorkeling in Bora Bora or riding camels in Morocco or simply just relaxing on the white sandy beaches of St. Lucia, Kha will research everything and find you the best pricing options for your honeymoon dates.  And once you’ve decided on a destination, she will book everything for you AND write you up a very detailed and customized travel itinerary.  With over 30 years of travel experience in over 40 countries, chances are she will even have all kinds of personal travel tips and recommendations if you end up honeymooning somewhere she’s already been!

Silvretta Samnaun --Ischgl, Austria
[Photo taken by Kha Thai Vo | All Rights Reserved © February 2013]
Ask your wedding planner to introduce you to Kha or feel free to email her directly at  Our honeymoon planning service is included in our full planning package, and is available at a nominal fee our partial planning and day-of package couples.

Erg Chebbi -- Sahara Desert -- Merzouga, Morocco
[Photo taken by Kha Thai Vo | All Rights Reserved
© April 2012]

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bring on the photos!

Most couples hire a photographer to capture the moments of their special day. Some couples take this desire to capture everything a step further and rent a photo booth.

Photo booths are typically a major attraction for guests: they’re entertaining and provide mementos of the evening, especially if a guest manages to pull one or both newlyweds into the booth. However, choosing a booth isn’t as simple as deciding that one is wanted. Due to increasing interest in these booths, manufacturers and rental companies have created a variety of types, giving couples several options from which to choose.

In general, there are two main types of booths: open and closed. An open booth has no walls, while a closed booth does.

  • A closed booth typically allows only 3-5 people inside, while an open allows much more.
  • The background of a closed booth may not be easily changeable.
  • A closed booth may produce double photographs, one for individuals in the photo and another for the couple. 
  • Depending on what the vendor offers, both types of booths can provide two copies printed images, one for individuals in the photo and one for the newlyweds. Some booths even create online galleries for the couple to peruse after the reception. 

Open booths come in one main form: “walls free”. This type of booth consists of a camera trained on an area designated by the couple. The area usually contains a background that may be changeable during the reception. Sometimes, this type of booth is called a “studio style” booth.

There are more types of closed booths available. A closed booth can be constructed of a hard shell, like a traditional booth, or a soft shell, meaning made of curtains or another fabric or structure that is created specifically for the event.
Antique booths: this booth not only creates black and white images, but also looks antique itself, displaying rounded edges adorned with art deco décor and porcelain doors and seats. It typically produces black-and-white images, but at a much faster pace than would an actual 1960s booth.

Digital booths: these photo booths contain a camera that shows photo-takers the image they’re going to create. This option allows for adjustment before taking the photo, meaning that nobody is left out of the picture.

Slideshow booths: these booths may be hard or soft-sided. In addition to creating a printed photo, they boast an LCD screen outside so that other guests can view the image being created inside. They offer a fun way for every guest to get a peek inside the booth.

When choosing your photo booth, consider:

The size of the space: each type of booth has a different shape and dimensions. Identify exactly where you want the booth placed and ensure that the one you choose will fit in that area.

The visibility of the booth: don’t waste the booth’s rental fee by hiding it in the corner. Make sure that guests can both see and have ready access to the booth at all times during the reception, and possibly the cocktail hour.

Your wedding’s feel and décor: match the booth’s appearance and the photos it creates to your wedding. For example, an antique booth will look out of place in a modern wedding and create images that don’t mesh well with your décor or other photos.

The length of your reception and typical booth rental time: many booths are rented on an hourly basis. Not renting a booth for the same amount of time as your reception means having it removed in the middle of your reception. This not only causes a commotion (booth are rather large and bulky and require several men to move), but might also leave some guests disappointed because they missed their opportunity to partake in the fun.

Additionally, we recommend:

  1. Viewing the actual photos the booth will produce. Don’t just take the vendor’s word for it; see what you’re purchasing.
  2. Inquiring into available props. Guests love using hats, fake mustaches, and glasses in their photos. Don’t assume that a booth comes with these extras. Ask what is available and if props are included in the rental price.
  3. Asking about the company’s licensure and insurance. Closed booths are electronic machines and quite heavy, thereby carrying a risk of injuring someone. Additionally, some venues require that all vendors be insured. Check into this early to avoid problems later on, after you’ve already made a deposit.

Happy photographing!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dressing Your Tables

You’ve dressed yourself, your fiancé, and your bridal party. You’ve most likely also had input into what your parents wear. One think you might have overlooked, however, is what will adorn your tables.

The tables? Yep!

Unless you are using glass or tables that are fantastic in and of themselves, you most likely need to select linens to adorn your reception. Selecting linens, however, is no simple or easy task, mainly because of the variety of available colors, styles, and textures. Keeping all your options straight is challenging, but mixing and matching linen colors and textures can be downright mind-boggling.

A Few Linen Types

Shantung: this fabric is made of raw silk, has sheen to it, and is similar to Dupioni silk. However, it has less slubs (irregularities), making it smoother, and is slightly thinner, (although still a medium-weight fabric) than Dupioni.

Rosette: this satin fabric is composed of ribbon cuts in the shape of a spiral pattern, creating the look of rosettes.

Satin: this ultra-shiny fabric is smooth and somewhat heavy.

Taffeta: heavy, smooth, and plain, this semi-shiny fabric can be made of silk or rayon.

Brocade: this fabric is “embossed”, meaning adorned with weaving in addition to the fabric’s main components. The embossing is usually raised and the fabric rather stiff.

Damask: like brocade this fabric is embossed, but the embossing is usually flat. It can be made of linen, cotton, rayon or silk.

Lace: lace is lace is lace, albeit with different patterns, heaviness, and textures. Lace usually looks best when layered over other fabrics.

Some Fabric Styles and Patterns

Many fabrics come in different patterns, giving you even more choices. Linens containing dot prints, ribbon embellishments, and sequins are pretty self-explanatory, but other options include: 

Pin-Tucked: small seams are sewn throughout the fabric, usually in a square pattern. This type of adornment is often found on taffeta and cotton fabrics.

Shimmer: these fabrics include a sparkle or sheen that makes them shine in and sometimes reflect light. Shimmers range from subtle, with only a little bit of light-catching addition, to heavy, containing large wefts of fabric that catch the light.

Crinkle: a crinkle fabric contains non-uniform “wrinkles” throughout the surface. These wrinkles are soft despite being raised.

Basic Linen Sizes

Most linens come in multiple sizes (round, square, rectangular etc.) to match basic table sizes. However, varying lengths are also available, allowing for layering multiple linens with each being visible.

Using Multiple Types of Linens

Is your head spinning yet? Well, it’s about to start to spin faster, because you can use multiple types of linens in a single room!

Consider this, you don’t have solely one type of table in any given reception room – you’ve likely got ones of different sizes or, at the very least, that serve different purposes. Mixing and matching linens on tables makes the room more interesting, eye-catching, and serves the purpose of allowing you to indicate that some tables are special.

For example, consider using pin-tucked linens on your cake and gift tables, but use crinkle fabric linens on your dining tables. Another option is to adorn half your dining tables with damask and the other half with shantung. Rosette fabrics look great on escort card tables and match well with taffetas on cake tables.

And don’t forget about your sweetheart table! Nothing shouts “for the special couple” more than adorning a sweetheart table with linens not found anywhere else in the room.

How to Mix and Match

When mixing and matching linens, we recommend that you:

Not mix and match too many textures: tossing together rosette, crinkle, and pin-tucked linens can make a room look too busy and unconnected.

Stay within the same color scheme: the more types and styles of fabrics you choose to display, the more difficult it becomes to tie a room together. Sticking with colors that are similar or within the same color scheme helps reduce this problem.

Starting with one: when choosing linens, pick one that you like the most and place it in special areas around the room, such as sweet heart or escort card tables. Next, identify those tables that do not have linens and choose a fabric that compliments your first choice. Finally, add a third fabric to complete the rest of the room.

Don’t forget the other linens you’ll need: remember, you’ll still need to add other linens to your reception room, such as napkins. Napkins and other linens also usually come in many different textures and styles, allowing you to add in other linen types and styles without making a room overly busy.

Your wedding planner is the best resource when selecting linens. She’s more than familiar with and has memorized the different types of linens, styles, and patterns, and can recommend what will look best with your venue’s surroundings and the lighting you’ve chosen.