Luxurious ballroom setup at the Blackstone Hotel with elegant chandeliers, floral arrangements, and candlelit tables, designed by Chicago wedding planner Savoir Fête. The ambiance is sophisticated and grand.

Behind the Design: Parisian Romance

An Introduction

Welcome to our “Behind the Design” Series, where we’re sharing a peek into the creative process of developing a one-of-a-kind design plan for a wedding. When seeking event inspiration, you’re inundated with images that are made up of dozens, if not hundreds of choices made for a specific set of circumstances. But when only those results are shown off in a splashy carousel, the context is rarely, if ever, fully revealed.

As wedding planners, our creative work is rarely without limitations: things like budget, venue logistics, where the sun sits in the sky, family dynamics, and many other elements shape our final result as much as our own ideas. Our work is also relatively intangible, as we collaborate with creative partners to physically produce the ideas we’ve synthesized with the other stakeholders. We also design in experiences, not images: the secret sauce to an event that feels as good as it looks is to bring on a team that thinks in multiple dimensions and senses. In this series, we hope to pull back the curtain on the process of balancing aesthetics and logistics, and shine a light on how even with a standard event “vocabulary” (tables, chairs, flowers, music), every decision is carefully and thoughtfully considered.

To begin, I’ll move to first person and walk through the major tenets of a portfolio wedding: A&A’s “Parisian Romance” wedding at The Blackstone Hotel. I’ve said this before and will say it again: this was a joy to put together from beginning to end.

Inspiration & Feeling

When a couple is starting down the road of planning, I’ll usually begin with a question along the lines of, “How do you want your wedding to feel?” In this case, A&A had an easy answer: “Royal Wedding.” As shorthand, this was a great foundation. (The phrase makes a few strong visuals spring to mind immediately.) We talked through their other priorities in terms of experience, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on the visuals that I was drawn through while putting together their color palette and mood board of “royal wedding.”

Venue as Foundation

The images above have a distinct architectural style, and what I immediately noticed was that on the whole, I was drawn to more Continental European spaces than British (as the first reference point most Americans will typically think of when they think “Royal Wedding). Images of French architecture, tiled floors, and ornate detailing stood out for their use of a very neutral but richly warm color palette that created a formal, regal atmosphere.

Luckily, Chicago is a city known for incredible architecture, and our search for a venue downtown yielded several options with this kind of awe-inspiring space. Finally, they chose The Blackstone Hotel, whose Crystal Ballroom dates from 1910 and has an unmatched Rococo-Meets-Art-Deco style that would create the perfect backdrop. In addition to the aesthetic match, the size of the room was ideal for their guest count and the included chairs and variety of linens would allow more of the budget to be poured into the floral design, which was a huge priority for them. As often happens, the right venue choice usually balances a number of aesthetic and logistic priorities.

The Crystal Ballroom at The Blackstone Hotel.

First Steps Toward Clarity

Once we had locked in the overall sensibility of the event and finalized the venue, I started on a key part of the creative process: stepping back from design altogether, and letting it simmer in the back of my mind. This is not to say planning stopped: in the meantime, we locked in photography (the incredible Christy Tyler), the band (Rod Tuffcurls, to everyone’s delight), hair and makeup (the lovely Debra Petrielli and her team) and hammered out guest details with hotels and transportation.

As we fleshed out the rest of the day, I zeroed in on a key moment of the evening: the experience guests would have entering the ballroom for the first time. Most often in rectangular ballrooms, the band will be centered on the long side, facing the entrance, but something about that felt wrong for this wedding. There’s only one chance to make a first impression, and I wanted this impression to be of the beautiful room, the overflowing flowers, and the wafting of ethereal music as guests found their way to their table. The focus could turn to the band for the latter half of the night.

So I drafted a floorplan framing out the dance floor with long tables on one side of the room and putting the band on the short side. One quick check with the venue for service paths and electric availability, and we had the signoff to turn the ballroom layout 90 degrees clockwise. This also solved a quirk of the ballroom that I had never loved: typically, the couple sits in front of the doors to the room, meaning there was always a chance that someone would come in or out of the space behind them at key moments. By placing the head table such that it was in front of the guests, their candid photos from dinner would find them surrounded by their loved ones, which would capture the energy of the room. From there, it all fell into place.

My original floorplan proposal.

Layers Make the Difference

Once the key factors are in place, I put together their Design Plan document. This is a key part of the process, as it encompasses a broad-level overview of all of the aesthetic elements of a wedding day. There are pages for fashion, paper goods, centerpiece styles, tabletop rentals, and anything else that goes into how the event looks. To me, putting this together often feels like I am sketching out a picture from my imagination (more and more often, I am literally sketching or photoshopping ideas to communicate the vision!), to bring the document to creative partners who can iterate on it, and finally, bring that event vision to life.

Sometimes the Design Plan can feel like a puzzle, but this one came together quickly. Abundant floral from the botanical magicians at Life in Bloom would cascade off of the head table as a centerpiece to the entire room. A’s love of candelabras meant we used gold pieces with climbing greens in place of classic “tall floral” pieces. We rented formal, gold-rimmed china for all courses in addition to charger plates, to give the feel of a classic, elevated dinner service all evening. The paper goods from Steracle Press were almost entirely script fonts, throwing back to a supremely classic style, with ornate scrollwork reminiscent of French iron gates.

I sometimes think of a wedding like a large History Painting: the overall composition, subject and message are fairly clear, but examining small pieces will reveal moments of storytelling and attention to detail that make all of the difference.

Case Studies in Details

There were two finishing touches to this design that helped it earned the eventual title I would give the aesthetic, “Parisian Romance.”

First, something about this design plan kept me thinking of a gray marbled, checkered surface, with tiles laying out on the diagonal instead of square with the shape of the floor. The dance floor is a great place to make a statement with pattern, as the ability to print on vinyl is virtually limitless these days. So, I asked our production partners about this pattern. While waiting for the numbers to roll back, I realized: this floor pattern is in just about every formal, marble-floored space you can find in Paris, and around Beaux-Arts Europe as a whole: while coincidentally in Paris that fall, I snapped photos of it in the Louvre, Versailles, at our hotel, and anywhere else I stumbled upon it. For that regal, European feel, this became the natural choice.

A hallway at Versailles.

Second: A&A had said they wanted the music during cocktails and dinner to be romantic, Bridgerton-style string covers of popular music. Listening to some samples, I recalled how I was struck by the floral design in the show itself: they had taken the natural architecture of the spaces and “filled them in”, for lack of a better term. Archways, railings, and balconies seemed to have beautiful, container-less floral growing naturally along their lines, softening the architecture and romanticizing the setting. What if we found a way to have beautiful floral appearing to be growing out of the room itself?

A ball scene from Bridgerton, Season Two.

The Blackstone had lovely window boxes looking out over Michigan Avenue that seemed to be ideal candidates. It took several site visits, some clever engineering from Life in Bloom, and a signoff on a final budget increase to make it happen, but it was such a special touch that enhanced the atmosphere of the room, especially impacting that first entrance moment, where I had started the entire plan.

My photoshop mockup of the window box idea. (This image was taken from another wedding at The Blackstone with a similar floral palette, I took those textures and used generative AI to fill out the window box tops, so I could communicate the vision to our floral and production team.)

Final Results

I feel like I have only touched the surface of design decisions we made for this event: I could dive deeper in to the floral sample where we decided to have only textured crystal glass vessels and votives, or the choice to elevate the centerpieces of the other long tables, or opting for the clean facade for the band, rather than adding even more floral there (as knowing where to pull back is as important as knowing where to lean in!) Below are Christy’s stunning captures of the ballroom in all of its glory. For a fuller look at the wedding day, here is my portfolio page of A&A’s wedding.

In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that design is just one piece of wedding planning: most often it’s the place where people “don’t even know where to start.” When you have that thought, it’s exactly the right time to bring a seasoned team on board to produce the wedding of your dreams. Though different wedding professionals are certainly masters in their crafts, they don’t always have the larger context and underlying planning priorities in mind. A planner’s job is communicating and collaborating as much as it is imagining and creating, and with a full-service planner as the captain of your team, you’ll be assured that every detail layers in to a transcendent experience for you and your loved ones, stemming from that one kernel of vision you shared months and months ago.

To learn more about collaborating with Savoir Fête, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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