Ceremony & Reception

How to Throw a Hollywood-Level Wedding

New York–based event designer David Stark uses the lessons he learned as a former cater waiter and florist to create wow-worthy events; follow his tips to plan your own unique celebration.

photograph by Ira Lippke

You’ve probably thrown a party before—whether it was an intimate dinner party at home, an all-night birthday rager, or even your recent engagement partyoffered drinks, and most likely fed them something (maybe just nachos and beer, not a gourmet meal, but something). However, a wedding is party planning on a whole new level. You want your ceremony and reception to be beautiful and unique to you, but also fun for your friends and family. And you want to be sure you’re spending your money wisely on things everyone will enjoy and be talking about (in a good way) months later. To make sense of this monumental task, David Stark, whose Brooklyn-based design firm creates out-of-this-world weddings around the globe as well as major events for uber-cool brands like Allure and Target, offered these eight tips to help you curate your own one-of-a-kind memorable event.

Know the Difference Between Decorating and Design

photo by Aaron Delesie

“It used to be people would call us because they needed a centerpiece, a bridal bouquet, boutonnieres," says Stark. “The look was lovely—but ultimately more about the person who made it than the couple being celebrated. That’s decorating. What people are looking for now is design: a creative journey where the look and the feel of the wedding are extensions of the couple.”

Plan Like It’s an “Event”

“People remember the experience, not necessarily the chicken. As a cater waiter, I worked at a New Yorker anniversary celebration that Robert Isabell designed; I thought it was an Alice in Wonderland magical experience and one that stuck with me. The theater of it all was something that people sought out.”

Make It Uniquely Yours

“My goal is not to look at a bride’s tear sheets of weddings; I want to know more about the traditions that are meaningful to the couple, a trip they went on, or what art they like. You can find all kinds of thematic anchors. It can just be the stuff in life that makes you tick, that makes you excited, and that inspires you.”

Understand Storytelling

Photograph by Susie Montagna

“We do a lot of not-for-profit events where instead of just decorating, we also try to tell the story of the organization. For a Robin Hood Foundation benefit, we created New York City parks and found various ways to layer in Robin Hood messaging, like using maps that pointed to other organizations Robin Hood supports, and directionals with inspiring words like love and leadership. I apply that idea to couples, to tell their stories in the landscape of a wedding.”

Clarify Your Inspiration

Photograph by Ira Lippke

“Often, when I look at a photo the couple loves, it’ll be a whole grand scene—a draped tent filled with chandeliers and tables with garlands and candelabras—and nine times out of ten, I learn that it’s a detail, like the napkins or votive candles, they really liked. Be clear about what you want the designer to focus on.”

A Little Goes a Long Way

“A bride we worked with was marrying a Moroccan man, and she wanted to create something that was a nod to his heritage but didn’t want it to be the Disneyworld Moroccan theme park. She loved a picture of trees growing in a tiled courtyard in Morocco, so we did something with citrus trees that were growing out of the centers of the tables. The tree became a mini theme because it was symbolic of life growing together and a family tree.”

For a Destination Bash, Plan Close to Home, but Source Near Your Venue

Photograph by Ira Lippke

“It’s easier to have your designer understand your point of view if you have meetings in person, so hire someone near where you live. Then, let them find vendors in your destination, or they can decide what needs to be shipped. We did a big wedding in Venezuela for a client who loved peonies, but they don’t have peonies in Venezuela. We did a test run to see if they would make it through customs. The first time, they didn’t because customs there didn’t know the word peónia, so we tried again, only this time, we called it ‘rosa peonia,’ and when they thought they were roses they made it through customs.”

Think About the Day in “Acts”

photograph by Aaron Delesie

“In any good movie, there is an arc to the action; you’re building the drama, and then there’s a resolution. If everything at your wedding is amped up to be ‘4 a.m. at the club,’ then nothing really stands out. Start with something softer, then build the emotions throughout the night.”

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