Jun 28, 2008
*Caveat: at the time of this review, Ladera Oaks is undergoing renovations, so the grounds may end up looking different than what we enjoyed at our June 2008 wedding. However, as long as the staff and ground rules dont change substantially, future couples should have just as nice an experience as we did, because the people (and their easy-going and can-do attitudes) were what helped make our event a success.* Our initial visits and phone consults were with Jim Gorman (manager) and various members of his club staff. Upon our first visit, we felt the location, settings and conditions of use all fit very well with our style basically, no fuss, with a well-choreographed timeline and set-up taken care of by Jim who knows his venue inside and out. This was important, given Ladera Oaks functions primarily as a country club for residents of Portola Valley, so facilities are shared with people playing tennis, kids taking swimming lessons, etc. But the garden is quite clearly separated from the pool area, and for weddings the ballroom, bar/lounge and kitchen are off-limits to all except Ladera Oaks staff, the wedding vendors and guests. The garden is very well maintained, lush and colorful, with a fountain that Jim switches off during the ceremony. There is covered brick patio, and lots of floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors that allow guests to enjoy the garden view from the ballroom and bar area. We did our ceremony on the upper lawn, further away from the garden perimeter and the traffic noise on the other side of the fence. We had a total of 80 guests including about 10 kids, and everyone found a way to enjoy the late afternoon garden setting. The ballroom felt like it was just the right size with our 9 round tables, DJ setup in one corner and dance floor area up front. All in all, its a really intimate and beautiful atmosphere, perfectly suited for a summer wedding. There is no dedicated bridal changing room, and we just ended up doing the dress changes and touch-ups in the small bathroom (3 stalls and a two-sink counter), sharing the space with guests and even a few club members. Brides who must have the private and classy dressing room experience replete with velvet curtains, loveseat and vanity set will not that find that here unless this is included in Ladera Oaks current renovation plans. As for storing wedding party accessories and my two additional dresses while they were not in use, we opted to make use of the ample closet space built into the back wall of the ballroom, which we could discreetly access while guests were up front on the dance floor. Finally, ground rules: this venue is about as relaxed as they come. The only issue on which they kept very close tabs was the sound level. This is due to the clubs location Portola Valley is a rather exclusive town, probably with a powerful and vocal neighborhood association, and these people LIKE their quiet and rural setting. So before sunset, only non-amplified, non-vocal music (think string quartets) are allowed outdoors. After sunset, all music moves into the ballroom, and any time someone tries to open the patio doors, a switch is tripped to immediately cut the power supplying the DJs audio setup. Other than that, we thought the base rental cost was low ($2K for 8 hrs, with $50 here and there for overnight storage of reception items, use of a piano, etc.), there were no corkage or cake cutting fees, you can bring whatever alcohol youd like and also choose your own vendors (caterers, musicians, etc.), although Jim does offer recommendations. Lucky for us, the excellent caterer we chose (Frank Schumann of Schumanns Four Seasons Catering) turned out to be a long-time partner with Ladera Oaks. Watching Jim and Frank converse and decide on the wedding day logistics in their own lingo was impressive, and put us totally at ease that here we have two highly competent vendors who actually work well together and like each other! I cannot over-emphasize how important this factor is to the success of your big day.
Services used: Wedding Venue
For our June 28, 2008 wedding, I am eternally grateful that I booked WowPrettys services for my hair and makeup (H&M). Jira T., owner of WowPretty, was the first artist I visited, and I would gladly repeat my choice. Her talent and passion for the work is abundantly evident, and she is professional in every way. Trials: My first trial was in Dec 2007, for a cost of $125. I use make-up infrequently, so relied on photos from a recent issue of a Hong Kong wedding magazine to convey the effect I wanted to achieve: a natural, glowing look that is fancier than usual, but not overly dramatic. Jira listened and also gave feedback and pointed out which looks would work better for a real life wedding, as opposed to on models in a studio. I decided to try a few new techniques that I had not previously considered. The first was the air-brush foundation. All I did (and Jira continuously gave clear instructions) was close my eyes and hold my breath while she sprayed liquid foundation all over my face. Just felt like rain mist which dried very quickly into one smooth covering. Highly recommended. The second technique was false eyelashes. Jira attached them with minimal irritation to my eyes, and when I looked in the mirror, what a difference they do help to achieve a much lusher look, especially in photos. Again, highly recommended. I felt Jira was very down-to-earth and not pushy at all in trying to up-sell her skills and talent. She is decisive and efficient, but was constantly seeking my feedback. She also liked to keep a friendly banter going, although English is not her first language. I booked her within a week by sending her a check for 50% deposit. In May, I emailed Jira a photo of an up-do that I liked, and she thought it would work very nicely. She did recommend, though, that I get my hair trimmed appropriately before our second trial, so I had her do it at a salon space that she rents in San Mateo for $50. I was quite happy with the result long layers on both sides, with side bangs. After reviewing the first trial photos, Jira thought that the first color scheme lilac/purple might be a bit too pale. So at my second trial, two weeks before the wedding (another $125), we chose a deeper palette of brown and rose tones for a warmer and richer effect, with touches of lilac to match my sisters/bridesmaids gowns and make-up. Jira was also able to replicate the up-do that I requested. After my sisters saw the photos, we knew that we got it. Wedding Day: We were running late while Jira had arrived a bit earlier than our 10:30 start. But she just patiently waited outside the suite with all her gear while my sisters made a mad dash over to the hotel. Once everyone was on site, Jira got down to business. My sisters had only arrived from Canada a couple days ago, so never had a trial with Jira, but boy were they astounded! Jira gave them both air-brush foundation and false lashes, and they looked ravishing. My older sister, who had gone through the bridesmaid experience once before in Toronto and came out of that H&M experience feeling everything was too heavy-handed, could not stop telling me how much MORE she liked Jiras work. I arrived shortly before 1pm, and Jira did her magic once more. Within an hour, she had recreated the flawless look that lasted me until midnight that day. She also dusted some shimmer powder over my shoulders and collarbone, for the Hollywood factor, as she liked to put it! My fianc isnt one to rave about make-up (he usually barely notices its effects, and only points it out on other women / celebrities when its obviously badly/too heavily done). That day, though, when he saw me in the hotel room, he could not stop smiling and telling me how pretty I looked. So thats saying a lot Jiras efforts were noticed all throughout the day by family, friends and total strangers. The flow of compliments just did not stop! Even now, three months later, my relatives all over the world are still referring to the photos they received and telling us how beautiful we looked. Communication: Except on certain summer weekends heading into and during peak wedding season, Jira never failed to respond to my emails within 24 hours. She also called me to follow up on additional trial dates and logistics for the final location for wedding day H&M. Cost: Wedding day H&M services were $650 for us three girls. Compared to a lot of providers in the Bay area, Jira is affordable many places charge this sort of price for makeup alone. In an industry that frequently over-promises and under-delivers, and is fraught with ludicrous pricing because the word wedding is involved, I believe that Jiras services are first-class, and her prices quite reasonable.
Services used: Beauty & Health
Anne Nounou, owner of FlowersByAnne, was a dream vendor from her detailed and timely email replies, to her knowledge of flowers, to her wholesale prices. I got the most gorgeous plum and mauve bouquet of calla lilies, cymbidiums and roses that perfectly complemented our weddings lilac color scheme. You can see an image of the bouquet here: http://www.flowersbyanne.com/cgi-bin/list.cgi?action=detail&fID=891 For under $700 during high season (June), I also got two bridesmaids bouquets of calla lilies, 8 boutonnieres and corsages, and 10 centerpiece sets, each consisting of 3 glass vases of varying height, colored gemstones, and 3 long stems of purple mokara orchids (these were apparently flown in from Hawaii). The girls all loved their flowers, and we got so many compliments on the contemporary yet elegant centerpiece. Considering that callas and orchids are among the priciest wedding flowers, we could have paid a lot more for the quality, freshness, and generous sizes of the blooms had we gone to one of the retail vendors with the nice shop fronts closer to where we live on the Peninsula. Anne operated out of her home (in Oakley when we first met her, but she is now in Martinez), and I got a feeling it was pretty much a one-woman show, so she helped cut a lot of overhead and middle-man cost out of our bill. On wedding day, the flowers were ready at the hour Anne had promised, and when she took them out of refrigeration they looked as fresh as can be. Her taking the time to label each corsage/boutonniere helped us not to get them mixed up (she was super organized about everything). Finally, she is also quite flexible should you decide to change certain items after you first sign the contract. We found out rather late that our venue did not allow for open votive candles, so we asked Anne if she could swap out that part of the centerpieces, and she happily offered to replace them all with handfuls of loose orchids for us to scatter around the vases turned out a lot prettier and greater bang-for-our-buck! Go check out what Anne has to offer shes worth the drive, if you are coming from SF / the Peninsula. She offers a free online estimate when you describe the quantity and types of flowers you want and she has plenty of pre-designed suggestions on her website. The estimate I got came pretty close to the final amount that I paid. All in all, I highly recommend Anne!
Services used: Flowers
Matt Kim Photography
We couldnt be more pleased with our wedding photos. Matt is superb at his specialty (photojournalistic style), capturing so many emotion-filled moments that otherwise would have passed us by. He is a total professional we never got the sense that he was one of those photographers who was working weddings only until he gets hired by National Geographic. Compared to other photographers we interviewed, Matt did not seem over-the-top artsy (doing Photoshop edits on every other picture to create sepia-tone photos with just that one rose boutonniere in full color), and did not push us into buying albums (in fact, I dont think he evens offers any). As far as we could tell, his sole emphasis seems to be getting beautiful photos -- people first and details second -- to tell your story. On top of it all, Matt was within our budget -- $3000 is not chump change for wedding photography, but certainly better than the $4000-5000 that seems to be mid-range in the Bay area. And he was just a great guy to work with organized and experienced enough to know how to keep things moving along so you dont have to worry about missing a particular photo op, serious about his job, but not above cracking jokes to put you at ease. Our wedding day schedule was pretty tight, but Matt started right on time with the girls getting ready, then arrived ahead of us at the Stanford campus to scout out logistics of our portrait shoot (necessary to avoid colliding with all the other wedding parties late June Saturday = peak wedding season). Looking back at our Stanford photos, we are always amused at thinking about just how much work Matt had to do with military precision, lugging around his two big cameras while keeping a sense of humor the whole time and trying to get the guys to loosen up! For those of you who see the easy-breezy poses of wedding parties strolling down the street, or jumping up with arms over the heads, heres a secret: the process of getting those shots is NOT easy-breezy. There is a lot of coordination, walking and talking back-and-forth, much like shooting a 5-second scene on a movie set, over and over again. Before the shoot, Matt literally gave us a 2-minute lesson on where each should be according to his orders of Formation 1, Formation 2, etc., and so then whenever we moved to a different location, we didnt have to fumble and waste time figuring out where to stand. Not to say it felt like work, because we just had to listen and smile All that said, the portraits came out great, with some fantastic close-ups, and I think that is a testament to Matts effectiveness at getting the wedding party to gel together, and to get the best out of everyone in an admittedly more formal atmosphere. At the reception was where Matt really shone we had less than an hour to get family photos during cocktails (between the ceremony and dinner reception), and Matt was formidable at rounding up the different parties and lining folks up, and moving on to the next set, all the while getting some great candids of guests. He finished with the posed photos a lot sooner than expected and offered to run through some more combinations (we had prepared two lists ahead of time must-haves and the nice-to-haves), but we decided that a dozen or so of the must-haves were enough for us, as we preferred to be free from photos obligations so we could enjoy the company more. Throughout the dinner and dancing, Matt went around and around the ballroom for the most comprehensive coverage. The entire night, from our entrance to the last dance, I never really noticed Matts presence, yet it was only when I first saw the hundreds of close-ups that he got of us sitting at the table listening to speeches, getting our food, dancing, visiting other tables, cutting the crme brulee, and dancing some more that I realized how he never stopped clicking away. Thats how unintrusive he was! A month after the wedding, Matt mailed us a DVD with about 300 touched-up JPGs, and over 1000 more JPGs. All files were very high resolution. We have gotten so many compliments on the results we just cant thank Matt enough. Check out his many online albums of full wedding coverage youll see what we mean!
Services used: Photography
An Elegant Touch of Strings
For our ceremony and cocktail hour, we had been undecided about hiring someone to provide live music vs. asking our DJ to perform said duties. We didnt know if the live music effect would justify its expense per hour, on average its about twice as costly as using a DJ. After some debate, we finally decided to hire Elegant Touch of Strings at our wedding, and what a great decision! Looking back, I dont think those portions of our event would have been nearly as memorable if we just asked the DJ to play tracks from a CD. Having a couple of obviously talented musicians seated in plain sight, playing on beautiful instruments, without any artificial sound amplification, instantly creates an aura of class and refinement that would be hard to replicate with a DJ hi-fi system. Since we had a wedding and cocktail reception for 80 people in an intimate garden setting, we decided to go with a violin and cello duo, which worked out very well. Sherry (violinist and owner) and the cellist she played with (I never got her name but she seems to be a long-time partner) were absolute professionals they arrived and set up half an hour before guests started to arrive, discussed timing issues with our officiant, played our ceremony selections right on cue, and then continued to play another 1.5 hours (taking only a short 5 min break once or twice, at most), when our DJ took over for the dinner reception. We picked mostly Baroque and Classical selections for the ceremony, while the reception was a fun mix of recognizable waltzes, Jazz, and well-known movie love themes. Everyone seemed to recognize one piece or another, and a number of guests even came up to us to compliment the selections. Sherry was very helpful in answering my questions and suggesting appropriate pieces. Her website has samples of many of the most popular selections. Importantly, we wanted a nontraditional piece for the bridal walk that not many musicians seemed to offer, and lucky for us, Sherry had played it years before and still had the arrangement. Overall, Elegant Touch of Strings will set you back a good $500 for 2 musicians hired for 2 hrs (inclusive of set-up/break-down time), so its not cheap, but worth the money, in our opinions.
Services used: Ceremony Music