Four wedding planning firms share their challenges in creating the most beautiful special day for couples on this popular destination — Martha’s Vineyard.
My Vineyard Elopement
Tell us about your special officiating services for weddings.
Jackie: I plan intimate weddings of 30 people or less, usually under 10. I plan every detail and also write the ceremony from scratch. I ask the couples about 12 questions each; ask them to answer separately, and to answer as if they are are journaling … and to not compare notes. Then I weave it all together into a beautiful ceremony that is actually their love story.
I also plan vow renewals. I ask just a few questions that are practical. Most people don’t want a religious ceremony, but they may want something of the tradition they grew up with. I’ve combined the essence of different religions, like Judaism and Christianity, into one ceremony. The journalling that I suggest they do gets them to dig deeper — questions that dig to the heart of the matter. People have written such intimate details of their feelings … I do feel like its a bonding experience for them. I’m really telling their story and their hopes for the future.
Jackie: I was a festival and concert promoter for a long time on the West Coast, but also here on the Vineyard, and eventually left the Island for my career. When I came back in 2012, I started a concierge business, and wanted to incorporate all the things I had done in my life. I become ordained in California when I was studying healing arts, and I had listed that I could marry people. One couple took me up on it, and before I knew it, I was organizing the whole elopement. I realized it was this fun little niche that’s never been done …Then I found the most amazing photographer, Larisa Stinga. She is now like a partner, and photographs 99 percent of my elopements.
Who are your clients, and where do they come from?
Jackie: My clients are all ages. Sometimes it’s a young couple starting out, and they want to keep the focus on their love, which is really my motto. They don’t want the big expense of a large party wedding. Or it may be a second or third marriage. I have the whole spectrum. I have same-sex couples come specifically to Martha’s Vineyard because they can marry freely here.
Most come from off-Island, and from all over the country. I have couples from England, but mostly the East Coast. A lot from Georgia, Texas, the Carolinas, D.C. — some from California.
When do you start planning? What is the fastest wedding you’ve ever done?
Jackie: I have actually had more than a year’s notice on a few elopements, but it can be anywhere from a year out to six months, and everything in-between. Of course it’s great when there is a lot of lead time, which is necessary for reservations that can fill up in high season.
The quickest has been the day of! Last year I got a call in the morning: Could I possibly do a ceremony later that day? Because I write from scratch, it takes me hours to write a ceremony. I suggested that we use the interview instead of the journal format. Speaking to the couple, I took notes and wrote their unique story as quickly as I could, and also wrote their vows. So we did it — we met by the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, and had their ceremony right there at the top of the path by the pond.
Any disasters or near-misses?
Jackie: This was a disaster — It was my first year doing elopements. I was marrying a very young couple from Phoenix. They had saved all their money to come to the Vineyard to get married. I asked Huey Taylor if we could use the front lawn of the Outermost Inn; it was just me officiating and them. I did not have a photographer at that point, so I used my iPhone for photos. The couple was FaceTiming with their families in other places … the groom had his phone on FaceTime. We had a ring pillow, and I said, “Let’s tie the rings onto the ring pillow.” We walked over the gravel to the scraggly grass, trying to find the best spot, walking back and forth until we decided to have the ceremony under the big tree. I placed the ring pillow down, and noticed that the bride’s ring was missing. I just wanted to die and crawl into the ground. I was horrified … Meanwhile, the couple was just so cool, so in love, it didn’t even faze them. The groom and I started crawling around, determined to find the ring. Meanwhile, everyone was watching on FaceTime. Finally, I just said, “I really don’t want you to miss the sunset on the veranda, we should go on with the ceremony”… We had the ceremony, and it was lovely.
Later, Huey and Jeannie helped me search the grounds. Huey said, “C’mon, we are going to mark the spots with cones where you walked — maybe we need a metal detector! Stop at the Police Department and let them know we are putting the word out: We need to find a metal detector.” Sure enough, early the next morning when I got there, a guy with a metal detector in hand was already searching … ”Is this it?” He had found the diamond ring bought with all their savings. The motto I came up with after that: When you are tying the knot, tie it tight!
How does being on an Island make it harder (or sweeter)?
Jackie: For my clients, it’s kind of like navigating a foreign country, which is why they need me. So we make it easier. For them, getting here can be the difficulty. For me, it’s actually very sweet because the event is here. We have so many beautiful locations: from meadows to the Menemsha fishing village, from the lighthouses to the Aquinnah Cliffs and to beautiful beaches. I’ve had weddings inside lighthouses in the rain. I’ve done several ceremonies at the Beach Plum Inn, and some at the Menemsha Inn, on Vineyard wooded paths. Couples can choose from a portfolio we have, showing all different locations … There is so much to offer locally — the musicians, the flowers, the salon — so much talent here on the Island.
Do you have bands, florists, bakers and caterers on speed dial?
Jackie: Yes, I do. I have private chefs I call. Usually it’s dinner reservations I make, mostly outdoors. I have my favorite cake baker, florist, musicians, and salons. It feels like a team.
Do you find that elopement is a trend?
Jackie: I hope to keep it unique. I feel in general, the world seems to be on a trend toward lower cost, shifting the focus to the couple’s love. I am finding that the elopement trend is definitely on the rise.
Kate Conde Foster and Doriana Klumick
Plan It Martha’s Vineyard
Tell us a bit about your wedding services.
Kate: We are an event-planning company, offering planning services for the perfect wedding day on the Vineyard and Nantucket. Most of our couples are planning a destination wedding — they are from all over the country. Our wedding services include day-of coordination, partial planning, and full-service packages. It simply depends on how much each client is willing, or able, to take on themselves. Regardless of the package, we are able to execute their perfect wedding day for them. We also assist couples rounding out their wedding weekend with a welcome party, rehearsal dinner, and day-after brunch. A destination wedding day often becomes a wedding weekend full of awesome Island events.
What got you started?
Doriana: I was at the Beach Plum Inn as their events manager for years, planning and executing beautiful weddings at that gem of a venue. A few clients requested welcome bags and additional planning for other weekend events. Dedicated to the Beach Plum, I referred these clients to Kate, who had been working in events with the Harbor View Hotel. She was able to answer clients’ questions with ease and without hesitation. The next step was to start our own event-planning company, so we did!
Kate: We began in 2011 with just a couple of events; now we have dozens of clients, a dynamic team, and have even expanded to Nantucket.
Doriana: We used to work together on all of our events. Now, we have so many projects we divide and conquer.
Kate: We have several smart men and women joining our team each year, so we are able to manage our growing business. After the first of the year, we have a big team meeting where we take a broad look at the year ahead. We assign events to appropriate lead coordinators, advocating for our clients’ needs. Our team works one-on-one with the client to facilitate their wishes. We may have as many as 12 events on the same weekend, especially in June and September.
How do you divide responsibilities?
Kate: As a designer by trade, Doriana gets creative with our web design, and even offers this service to our clients. She also manages our highly visibly Instagram account.
I oversee all of the accounting, payroll, and budgeting, as well as managing our Nantucket-based Instagram account.
Doriana: Instagram has been a great success for us — a new way of advertising and reaching out to thousands of potential clients.
Kate: Our Instagram page drives everyone back to our website, where couples can see our work and read reviews shared by past clients.
How many wedding clients per year?
Kate: We have anywhere between 20 and 30 clients for weddings each year. We’ve had to say no on a particular weekend — we can’t do it all. But there is no ceiling on events here on the Vineyard.
Doriana: While we primarily do weddings, we also plan anniversary and birthday celebrations, cocktail parties, reunions, and fundraisers. We work in conjunction with the Vineyard Trust for several of their annual events.
Why do people want to get married on the Vineyard?
Kate: We always ask that — Why do you want to get married on the Vineyard? To us, the Vineyard is a very special place, so we always like to know what their connection may be. Most people have some Vineyard presence, whether they’ve been coming summers, their parents have a home here, or they got engaged here on a weekend getaway.
Doriana: There is always a connection, and we help them celebrate it.
How does being on a Island make it harder (or sweeter)?
Kate: We love working with our Island vendors; we promote them 100 percent. Sometimes we have a client who wants to bring in their own caterer or their own linens — those logistics make it harder only because there’s one more piece to manage. Working with Island vendors every weekend, we know we can count on them. It can be just a phone call, and they will come through to rectify problems for you.
Doriana: Weather and ferry delays can make us a little nervous — when people and products get stuck off-Island.
Kate: Last September we had four events on the same weekend as a hurricane! All our events that used Island vendors went without a hitch, while others had photographers or band members stuck off-Island.
Kate: Of course! But nothing that has impacted the wedding day. That’s why we are hired — we manage all those mishaps, and our clients don’t even know there’s an issue.
Doriana: It’s hard sometimes to anticipate what might pop up. That’s what we do — problem-solve in the moment.
Kate: It’s about being resourceful. It’s a matter of being able to manage and troubleshoot on the fly. Some events have more issues and we can be constantly running. Our service is a non-tangible item — you can’t put a price on it when it’s your wedding day.
Kate: We’ve seen more rustic, farm-to-table-style weddings. Clients who choose the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury like its open-air feel with barn appeal.
Doriana: There is more signage at the wedding: personalized chalkboards, French door seating chart, etc. …
Kate: We’ve been working with Emily, owner of Maidenwood Signs. She’s super-talented, and we love her work. A few years ago we noticed a higher trend in regard to beverage service. Couples also seem to be looking for an upgrade at the bar, requesting a whisky-tasting or signature cocktails, and having servings from a statement bar piece. Island Cocktail Co., the Island’s only beverage catering service, manages every aspect of the bar. Clients love their attention to detail; Island Cocktail Co. will create signature “his and her” cocktails. For example, “Melissa’s Mule” or “Pete’s Paloma.”
Doriana: We really listen to our clients in what they might like. We work closely with Jim Eddy at Big Sky Tent and Party Rentals to create signature bar pieces. He will build it or figure out how to get it.
Kate: Everyone wins, especially the client — which is what the day is all about.
On wedding planning…
Patrie: I’ve been planning weddings for so long, 30-plus years now, it’s just something that is part of my life. I have a very low-stress, hands-on approach, a plethora of experience, and an exceptional team year after year. I love the many moving parts of wedding planning; it’s typically a long process that takes one to two years — although I have put extraordinary weddings together in two weeks. It is necessary to begin far in advance, allowing time to find a venue, meet vendors, make choices that are a fit, and then add certain touches that make the details personal to each couple. We are available for whatever it takes to fully support the couple and their families, and graciously welcome their guests.
Why the Vineyard? Have you seen it increase as a destination?
Patrie: The Vineyard is popular for weddings, and rightfully so. It is truly a memorable place to get married. There are so many beautiful venues, favorite sites, and talented vendors for an Island wedding. I think [Bill] Clinton put us on the map. After his visits, reports were the Vineyard became “second only to Las Vegas” as a destination wedding choice. Recently I heard it’s No. 1 in the country. In earlier years, people didn’t necessarily know where Martha’s Vineyard was. Once Clinton, and then President Obama, came, it became a destination not to miss.
Where do you like to host your weddings?
Patrie: I primarily, but not solely, host weddings at the Allen Farm in Chilmark. It takes my breath away every time we do a wedding there. Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin are some of my oldest, dearest friends. With their generosity and their family’s hard work, they not only maintain a working farm, but make having weddings there possible. The Allen Farm is where I first lived when I came to the Island 42 years ago. I am devoted to supporting and taking care of the farm so it continues to be a place where people can celebrate their day in such unsurpassable beauty. The farm is well-loved, cared for, and revered — not just a pretty place. It shares a lot of history … You can feel it when you walk onto the property.
Where do your wedding couples come from?
Patrie: All over the world. Often, but not always, there is an Island connection. I think I answer 10 to 20 inquiries a week, and then it pares itself down to who the Vineyard is a fit for. Whatever kind of assistance couples want, we are here to deliver, talking through different options and customizing a package for their needs.
As for the client contact, 25 years ago I was solely dealing with moms; brides were often much younger. Now, more couples are a bit older, on their own, and clear on their tastes and aesthetics, and at times paying for their own wedding. Whereas moms used to arrange all the details, now parents invite their daughters and sons to make their own choices — that’s a change.
Have you noticed any trends?
Patrie: Absolutely. We’ve been in the farm-to-table, rustic mode for awhile now. The Island lends itself to that. It seems to have lasted here longer than some places. I see it as a good fit; it can be dressed up with elegant, sophisticated touches and a plated dinner, or more casual, with enamelware plates and a BBQ buffet. In the beginning, I think I only ever did tables with cloths — that was the only option.
Also, the introduction of the welcome bag and welcome letter — again this ties into the Vineyard being a destination place. For guests to get a welcome letter at their hotel when they arrive is truly helpful. The welcome bag may be a personalized canvas bag, with local products and edibles. They are always well received, especially for those guests who come early or stay late to enjoy the Island.
One more trend is having a friend or relative be the officiant for the day. Now you can have anyone be your officiant, and in such cases, we are there to run the ceremony rehearsal, which first-time officiants are grateful for. These days I see more outdoor ceremonies, more mixed-faith marriages, and fewer weddings with religious components.
Do you have many Islander weddings?
Patrie: This year, as it happens, we have a lot of Islanders getting married, which is very sweet. They do tend to be a bit less realistic about how expensive it actually is to have an M.V. wedding, but with all hands on deck, they work out perfectly. I offer Islanders who grew up here 10 hours of free consultation, just to get them started and questions answered. People who live here or have summer homes here make up about one-third of the weddings — maybe closer to half. The other half are couples who have come here for a visit and always wanted to get married on M.V.
Who wouldn’t want to have a business that’s all about love? It’s the greatest show on earth. I end up falling in love with my clients — I have a wall full of baby pictures from past couples. I’m blessed to be of service in this industry.
Kristen and Meghan Gosselin
KG Events & Design
Tell us about weddings at KG Events & Design.
Kristen: About 75 percent of our time is devoted to weddings. We do have to plan the weddings accordingly to be available for pop-up events for our social and corporate
clients. However, it’s the wedding clients who are booking so far in advance.
We have four full-time employees, including myself. Then, we have eight to 10 part-time on-call staff for event weekends. Depending on the complexity of the event, we may have up to eight staff on one job. There are a few weekends in the fall where we have two or three wedding groups, where we will devote three or four staff to each job. For day-to-day business, it’s the four of us full-time in the office.
This is our fifth season — it will be our five-year anniversary on New Year’s Day. I’m the principal and founder, and my sister Meghan has been with us since the very beginning. It is a family business.
We have a production season, April through end of October, and then a planning season, November through March. We are here year-round and we like to get as much done as we can throughout the winter. Once event season starts, it’s difficult to get the Monday through Friday planning time in the office, as we’re in the field most days — Wednesday through Sunday or Monday.
Prior to moving the Vineyard, I completed the event management program at San Diego State University. I also hold a Certified Meeting Professional certificate for conference management. Kim Scott and Kristina Kenyon, our event coordinators in the office, have gone through undergraduate training programs in events.
How many weddings per year?
Kristen: Last year, we ended the season having executed 90-plus events. We have between 30 and 40 clients at any given time, and most clients host several events associated with their wedding.
When do you start planning, and what’s the fastest wedding assignment you’ve ever done?
Kristen: The quickest was about six weeks’ notice, and it was a massive production. Our planning schedule depends on the time of year the client starts working with us, and when they want to have the wedding. We do have a checklist and a timeline, which we customize as it’s different for every group. Our ideal lead time is nine months to one year.
How does being on an island make it harder, or sweeter?
Kristen: People have this assumption that Island events are harder, and they can be unless you have a strong vendor team. But we find the vendor community on-Island to be some of the most hard-working and amazing individuals. Since we all live and work here, we can problem-solve at a moment’s notice, as opposed to being off-Island, where the vendors could be driving in from wherever.
It’s also what I love about living here — your Island friends become your family.
The community here is our biggest asset and strength, especially during the stress of the peak event season.
The hardest part of Island business is the mail ordering and getting things that come from off-Island here on time. We’ve had to refund a lot of money to clients for products that didn’t arrive in time, or arrived on-Island only to sit in the Post Office for two weeks until they were sorted.
Kristen: We always anticipate ferry and weather complications. During certain times of the year, we ask the client to book a weather-backup location in case of natural disasters, like major high tide or tropical systems. We know of the locations that may flood, and other venues that will work if a hurricane hits.
Meghan: We had a wedding four years ago with a venue on the water in Chilmark. A
tropical storm was heading directly at us, but luckily Kristen acted fast and locked down the Chilmark Community Center early that week as an alternate. You just shift from plan A to B to C.
Kristen: We ask all our clients to take out liability insurance, and encourage cancellation insurance as well. A hurricane, family emergencies, etc. It’s a lot of money on the line. It’s a no-brainer.
Talk about KG as a certified green company.
Kristen: Events are unbelievably wasteful, so If we can just help a little bit over the scope of a season, it makes a difference. No more single-use plastic. Our bars are outfitted with glassware and straws made of hay. Just thinking about each piece of the puzzle: We are using real materials that are reusable. We help guide our clients to use products that are more environmentally friendly, from the products we use to treat ticks and bugs, to the linens we choose, and products used in the restrooms.