The Ambiance Authority
By Marni Elyse Katz
In 2009, Kelly Ucen and her now-husband, Matej, looked everywhere for long wooden tables for their upcoming wedding, to no avail. Unwilling to compromise their vision, the couple took matters into their own hands—literally—and built their own. These days, Kelly and Matej lend brides and grooms those same tables through their Hanover-based company, New England Country Rentals, which also offers chairs, distinctively patterned place settings, and a bevy of props (from modern acrylic Ping-Pong tables to claw-foot bathtubs to wine barrels). Ahead, Ucen shares her thoughts on this year’s biggest design trends, budget-friendly place settings, and celebrity-inspired wedding décor (ahem, George Clooney).
How did you parlay building furniture into a business?
When we finished building our tables—22 altogether—we figured other people might be looking for reclaimed-wood tables too, so we decided to rent them out before we got married. We still rent those exact tables. We’ve built about 200 of them at this point.
Why do you think the rental business has grown so big?
Over the past few years, weddings have transitioned from banquet halls to venues that reflect the personality of the couple. There is no such thing as a standard, cookie-cutter wedding anymore. Every nuance matters; each piece has to tell a story.
Do you help design the events?
We have two teams: one that works with professional event planners and another that works directly with the bride and groom, guiding them through the process. In that way, we are more hands-on than other rental services; we don’t charge extra for it. We have the bride actually set a table, pulling from our inventory, as we talk through the details. It’s our job to educate and explain how it all works—or won’t work. Couples are often surprised by how many details they hadn’t thought about.
Are tablecloths less popular now that wooden tables are in?
Linens have changed in purpose over the past decade. They’ve become accent pieces that complement the overall design. The curtains, the carpets, the tablecloth and overlays, and the napkins used to make the biggest statements. Now, especially at nontraditional venues, there are so many other elements that set the tone.
How can a cost-conscious couple still make their place settings stand out?
We advise using on-trend china patterns for the dinner and salad plates, but sticking to one of our four basic white styles for the rest of the setting. What matters most is what guests see as they approach the table, so there’s no need to spend money on fancy bowls, cups, and saucers.
What décor trends have infiltrated the wedding business?
We can never have enough copper mugs; we ship them all over the world. Mint julep cups are becoming popular, too. Mirrored elements have been big, and in the past year, geometric patterns have been incorporated everywhere. Vintage bathtubs are popular for holding iced beverages, and people love vintage bicycles propped up against trees.
Is there anything you won’t procure for a client?
Our custom design shop is busy all day, every day. We can do pretty much anything, but we sometimes make the decision not to. Someone might ask for 10,000 gray folding chairs, but since plenty of places can supply these, we would decline. If there is something interesting that we think others might like to rent, then we will happily do it. Many of our best items are the result of special requests.
What have you gone to extreme lengths to source or create?
For the Storybook Ball for Mass General Hospital for Children last year, we ordered 21,000 purple crayons from the Crayola headquarters in Pennsylvania. A client needed five Louis chairs, so we had them manufactured overseas and flown in on five different jumbo jets. My husband and I once drove an 18-wheeler back from the Napa Valley with 80 wine barrels because they were too expensive to ship.
Do clients ask for design details from celebrity weddings?
The George Clooney requests are already starting. The ceremony featured attainable elements, like gold ballroom chairs with plush velvet cushions. They had a candle wall, which is so simple, but absolutely beautiful. I guarantee we will create custom candle walls three to four times in the next year.
Do you think brides have become preoccupied with being featured on wedding blogs?
Yes, and it’s kind of sad. Sometimes it seems like brides are designing their wedding to make sure their photographs get published. It’s lovely when it happens, but I don’t like seeing it as the focal point.
Kelly Ucen picks statement props for six different wedding settings.
Vineyard: Use wine barrels as high-top tables or trash receptacles, or put a plank across a pair to create a bar.
Art deco hotel: Opt for wide-mouth champagne glasses and sprinkle black and gold sequins on tables.
Lakeside pavilion: Assemble a fire pit, complete with wooden benches and woolen blankets, for later on in the evening.
Orchard: Use a wooden market cart with big iron wheels as a food station, or as a place for guests to deposit gifts.
Mountain lodge: Scatter animal-hide rugs in the lounge areas.
Garden estate: Choose vintage china and flatware, along with vintage napkins in different sizes and colors.
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