A very big WOW

goes out to our customer, Arrangements Unlimited, for the amazing work they did on a Westin Hotel wedding back in November of 2014. Check out the incredible designs they created in the gorgeous detail photos below, along with an incredible time-lapse video from Cake Cinema.

Then, we’re topping it all off with a with a #TBT to the time I spent two days following their routine. Enjoy!

Click to play.

#TBT: TWO Days in the Life with  Arrangements Unlimited

 

It’s almost safe to assume that every person who will read this has attended a wedding in some sense. Whether you were a guest, in the bridal party, or were one of the 2 in the room actually gettin’ hitched, you know what it’s like to walk into a wedding and “ooh” and “ahh” at all of the beautiful floral arrangements, decorations, plate settings, lighting, and of course the attire of the bridal party. But it’s also safe to assume that unless you work in one of these industries, what most of us have never seen is how all of the glitz and glam comes together. The incredible crew at Arrangements Unlimited was kind enough to let me turn my visit into a 2-day event in which I also accompanied them to the Loew’s Hotel in Philadelphia for the set up of a beautiful, multi-cultural wedding!

Day One:

As I sit down to write this new post, about a new customer, in a completely different city…I realize I started the last post with me getting out of my car and into the rain. I hope it’s just a coincidence, and that I’m not bringing rain to every customer I visit. Anyway, I pull up to what looks like an industrial-type business park. You know, the ones that usually have a small office with a sizable warehouse attached? Where every building looks pretty much the same from the outside, and you’d expect to walk in to just one person at a desk, not looking very happy because…well, they’re the only person there…

Arrangements Unlimited was not just one person behind a desk, and it was definitely not a place where anyone looked unhappy. I was greeted by the cutest little old man offering candy (okay, it was a statue), a beautifully vibrant mural of a city sidewalk behind a strategically placed arrangement that matched its color scheme, and 3 lively AU employees – all saying “Hi! How are you?” in unison. The main reception area was much larger than expected, and was complete with a sitting area surrounded by magazines, business cards & postcards, several potted plants, customized Arrangements Unlimited portfolio booklets, and the most detailed paper installation I have ever seen…though, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen many paper installations, but this one was definitely the coolest of them all.

Alaine, the woman with whom I had been e-mailing back-and-forth to set up this adventure, happily introduced me to the front office crew before taking me on a tour of the entire building. I was introduced to co-owners (and sisters) Lynne Brownstein and Lois Caplan (who, together, started the business nearly 40 years ago), as well as Event Coordinator, Dorothy Wilson and Vice President, Dan Caplan. Welcoming smiles and handshakes were exchanged between phone calls, and a quick pause was taken to discuss the small bouquet Alaine held in her hand. It was for the upcoming wedding on Saturday evening, and questions arose in regards to just how dark the blue ribbon to hold it all together was supposed to be. If you think there’s only navy blue and midnight blue when it comes to just how dark a blue can be, you are severely mistaken my friend. Once the debate was quickly settled, we made our way to the design area, but not before passing several collage frames filled with previous work, and poking our heads into 2 more offices (one of which was home to a lip couch and an awesome baseball themed wall piece), a copy/print room, and the buying area. This was where Alaine and Santo sat while they were not busy designing. Above Santo’s desk was a beautiful sign from his previous self-owned shop. His file cabinet was decorated with a hand made collage of clippings from past DVFlora calendars, which I soon learned he absolutely loves.

The temperature dropped several degrees as we opened the door to the design room – which is not surprising to anyone in the floral industry. The cold chain is incredibly important, and you wouldn’t want to break it while you’re designing for a large wedding two days in advance. Hard at work were 3 additional designers – Santo, Sara, and Linda – each working on a different task for the day. Several finished center pieces covered the front table where Sara was working to complete the remainder. She would create a total of 13 of these brightly colored pieces that would later be complimented by 13 all-white center pieces. Santo and Linda shared the middle table, Linda cutting grass beds and creating unique center pieces for a corporate event that weekend, while Santo was working on beautiful arrangements that would be gifted by the same corporate client to a few of their guests who were visiting for the weekend. Alaine, between breaks for buying and other office work, worked at the third table – creating bouquets for the bridal party of the upcoming Madani wedding.

We continued the tour into the warehouse. While I expected a successful events company to boast a nice collection of supplies, I did not expect what we walked in to. High ceilings left plenty of space for shelf upon shelf upon shelf of almost anything imaginable. Linens lined the front row of shelves, organized by color, forming a rainbow-like pattern. Chairs were hanging from above, and hand-written signs were plastered every where you looked. These signs labeled thousands of boxes, gave instructions to “Clean up after yourself!”, and helped to organize the very large work area found in the back. A large walk-in cooler was positioned not too far from the design room, which made it easy to move finished pieces.

Arrangements Unlimited not only specializes in floral decoration for events, they are also experts in full event coordination and additionally have the ability to provide linens, vases, chairs, party favors, costumes, and SO much more. They house so many linens that they have an on-sight laundry room and a machine from the 50s called a ‘mangler’ that Joe, my new friend from Hawaii, was using as we walked through. Why it’s called a mangler, we’re not sure seeing as what it does is flatten the linens, not mangle them. Either way, it was pretty cool to see in action, though it didn’t help the already balmy temperature these workers face in the summer time. They always have their own in-house spray paint room. This comes in incredibly handy because unlike most other shops, they don’t need to head outside on hot, cold, or rainy days just to spray what they’re working on. The fumes are exhausted out of the building, and protective face masks are worn to ensure safety, of course.

Almost 40 years worth of inventory comes in rather handy to brides, corporate entities, and bar/bat mitzvah hosts. As we walked to the back of the warehouse, we were met with several tables covered in boxes and supplies that were being organized for the weekend to come, all of which was cornered by an L-shaped work bench. At this point, I almost forgot that I was actually visiting a floral events company and not a carpenter. There were tools hanging from the peg board backing, drawers and drawers filled with appropriately labeled screws & nails, several shelves of colorful duct and packing tape, and perfectly organized wrought-iron candle holders on the shelves above.

I was introduced to additional staff members – all warehouse experts and all happy to welcome me to their domain. Sue and Matt sat at one of the tables, working on pulling the correct items for the wedding ‘necessity baskets’. “You know, we figured out that a true necessity basket should contain things like canned foods, maybe a cross-bow, and the types of things that will get you through a Zombie apocalypse…but I don’t think we’ve ever had a wedding with a theme like that…yet anyway” Matt says jokingly as he tapes a hand-written paper sign to another box and puts it on the shelf of a rollable cart. It’s clear that though at times work such as this may be tedious, these two found entertainment.

We talked for several more minutes, laughing at silly jokes but also discussing the duties they carry out on a daily basis. Matt would be a part of the crew to set up the wedding on Saturday afternoon, but Sue would not. She gave me a more in depth tour of the rest of the warehouse, pointing out some of the ‘oddest’ things they housed. A wooden cowboy, a lobster costume, and one of those wooden photo face cut-outs that you stand behind and put your face through…this one featured a couple sporting old-timey striped bathing suits – stylish indeed! Perhaps my favorite item in the whole place was a ferris wheel. Yes, that’s right, they own a ferris wheel that has ‘seats’ for flowers. They way it was positioned in front of a massive painting reminded me of a scene straight from Mary Poppins – you know the one when they’re on the merry-go-round? It was awesome!

Sue then showed me the ‘one of a kind’ shelf that was home to so many great chachkies that were just that, one of a kind. These items had no place in the organized warehouse shelves, so they found a home together, creating an interesting scene of characters including not one, but two mustache-sporting beer men (they were place card holders) and a pair of ceramic overalls.

I learned that AU has only been in the current facility for a little over three years, and since the move they have been reinventing the way they keep inventory. Hand written lists of the contents of boxes have been being entered into their computer system to make their picking process easier for everyone. When an event is booked and created, the designers enter the items they will need, and the warehouse receives the ticket which breaks down everything they need to collect – a very familiar sight coming from DVFlora as our warehouse runs on a similar system.

The final leg of the tour was the consultation area. The walls were lined with 8×10 photos of past events, several photos boasting familiar faces such as the Cake Boss. There’s no better way to show a potential client that you know what you’re doing than to have photos with reputable sources! Shelves held different trinkets and vase/votive options for center pieces. At the back was a room dedicated to bar/bat mitzvah clients. Let a 12 year old kid loose in this room and their heads might explode with excitement! They work with other local vendors to showcase items like customized t-shirts and hoodies, but AU also has the ability to create a ton of eccentric items in house, like the one of a kind sneaker rainbow they have hanging on the wall.

As the day came to a close, I found myself more and more excited to continue my adventure with this crew on the coming weekend, which brings us to…

Day Two:

After finally finding a parking space in the center of Philadelphia, I headed toward the beautiful Loew’s Hotel to meet up with the AU crew to get the day started. During my day one visit, I learned that all events were split through the entire crew, meaning this particular event was under the supervision of Lois and Dan, and the next event to be put on by AU would fall under Lynne & Dorothy’s supervision. A really great way to give much-needed ‘time off’ to all employees (I use ‘time off’ loosely, because I’m sure these hard-working folks don’t take much of a break with how much they love doing what they do)! After taking a few wrong elevators, I finally found my way to the room where the ceremony was to be held for the multi-cultural wedding that day. As I walked in, I was taken aback at how large this room was, and just how many seats were set up. I’ve been to my share of weddings, but this event was the big leagues.

Santo wasted no time getting me over to check out the Sofreh table – something I had never seen before, and took some time to learn about it here.

Traditionally, the Sofreh is made of luxurious fabrics such as silk and “Termeh”, a rich hand embroidered fabric originally made with cashmere. The collection of items on the Sofreh varies based on the Sofreh’s designer, the couple, and their likes and dislikes. However, there are several significant items which are found in almost all Sofrehs for their symbolic meaning.

This table was no exception, and luxurious could not be a more fitting word for the items found placed upon it. While AU did not actually set up the significant items on this table – they did add florals, and were responsible for the draping. As I photographed the details, Santo climbed a 6-foot latter (which was not tall enough) to tie a floral piece to the center of the covered ‘gazebo’ type area. Nerves rattled as he stood on the top step to get everything just right, and a deep exhale of relief was let loose when he finally stepped down. All worth it, of course, as the floral piece in the center really tied it all together and gave the white drapes an extra kick of color.

Other crew members, including co-owner Lois Caplan, quickly began off-loading carts as the ‘truck guys’ brought them up from the loading dock. Speaking of the loading dock, trouble was faced when the truck arrived as no open spots on the dock were available. The truck had to park behind the hotel’s dumpster, leaving the crew no platform to easily pull carts out of the trailer. Luckily their truck is large enough to have a lift, and these guys were able to pull the carts one by one, then push them up the ramp, and over to the freight elevator. Just a little extra work in the 90 degree heat. No biggy!

Plastic wrap was sliced and torn from the cart, and flowers, vases, wrought-iron candle holders, and more linens were relocated to their new homes. Strips of velcro had to be cut and strategically placed along the platform where the ceremony was to be held so that the linens could be hung. Flowers in silver vases and champagne flutes were added to the Sofreh table, and the runner was placed, but not rolled out to keep messy footsteps from dirtying the pure white cloth.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of setting of the ceremony room, I almost forgot that there was a completely separate room being set up for the reception. Back to the wall of elevators I went to navigate my way to the Millennium Room to see what the rest of the crew had been up to.

Tables were almost all covered with linens, the hotel staff was setting up the bars, and the crew working on lighting that day was almost finished with set up. Matt was finishing covering the round tables, while Dan and Joe worked on placing clear vases filled with clear ‘rocks’, and votives on each table. It was decided that the tables were too close together, almost forming straight lines, so they were strategically moved to give more space and to ‘offset’ them from a straight line (which apparently looks ‘very corporate’…who knew?).

More plastic wrap was torn from the carts, this time to release the center pieces that would sit atop the clear vases. There was an equal number of vibrant arrangements and white arrangements (the ones we saw Sara making two days before). Every other table was set up according to plan – the colored arrangements were accompanied by a different shape vase than the white arrangements, and the placement of the table number and votives also varied according to what color flowers accompanied these accessories.

As I glanced at the clock, I wondered how they would get it all done in the short amount of time they had left. The room wouldn’t be fully finished for another several hours, and unfortunately for me, I would not see the completed result in person. Luckily though, Arrangements Unlimited holds such great relationships with fellow vendors that the photographer hired for the event (Tony Baiada) was kind enough to share some great images with me. While the difference between the room while I was there and while Tony was there was literally day and night – the transformation that Arrangements Unlimited was able to pull off was just the same.

It’s truly amazing to see the tables go from completely bare to fully decorated and equipped with place settings and lit candles/floralites. The next time you’re at a wedding, take a few minutes to appreciate all that goes into the occasion, and applaud the job well-done by all the unseen faces that were somehow involved – from the amazing floral designers, to the lighting crew, they all deserve a big pat on the back!

As always, I would like to thank my gracious hosts at Arrangements Unlimited for hosting me for not one but 2 days of fun! To see more work from Arrangements Unlimited, check out their website and Facebook profile linked below. An additional thank you to Tony Baiada for sharing such beautiful images with us in such a short amount of time! Until next time…

arrangements-unlimited.com| AU on Facebook | Tony Baiada Photography

DVFlora on Facebook| @DVFlora Instagram

DVFlora

Author DVFlora

For over 60 years DVFlora has been providing professional retail florists, wedding & event coordinators, and garden centers with the finest in Fresh cut flowers and greens, floral supplies, and botanicals.

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