For Your Wedding: Paris, Manhattan, or Both?

People who come to see Pratt Mansions Fifth Avenue for the first time—especially guests at weddings and parties—nearly always remark that they are reminded of Paris. And they are right. All three mansions have the cut stone (“rusticated”) surfaces that you see all over Paris. The classically French glass and wrought iron doorways are beneath beautifully carved cartouches displaying the building numbers—all flourishes that are hallmarks of Beaux Arts architecture and very favorite features of mine that I never tire of.

Walking along the surrounding streets—the neighborhood is known to NYC natives and tourists alike as Museum Mile or Carnegie Hill—and you’ll quickly spot more than a few buildings that closely resemble 18th century Bordeaux chateaus. Plus, lots of carved stonework featuring cherubs, angels and dragon fish.

But, while I am as much a Francophile as anyone, I think the neighborhood is more than just “Paris lite” and I was pleased to see that Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times agrees with me. Kimmelman points out in his charmingly detailed New York Times article “Take a Tour of New York’s Museum District” that what makes this particular neighborhood of New York so delightful and fascinating is not the singular influence of the French Beaux Arts style, which is undeniably prevalent, but the very rich combination of influences. That chateau that looks like it came from Bordeaux is sitting next to a building that looks like it was shipped from Bedford Square, London. And next to that are two buildings that could have arrived straight from Beacon Hill Boston. The overall effect is, as Kimmelman notes, a certain ineffable “Americanness.”

Brides often tell me that they chose Pratt for their wedding because they wanted a feeling of a bygone era, as if they were in an Edith Wharton novel. It’s true. While the Beaux Arts style that you see all over the neighborhood is unmistakably Parisian, it’s also a visual metaphor for America’s Gilded Age, the explosion of wealth that began after the Civil War and that Wharton captured in novels like the House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. And that’s also the history of the Pratt Mansions.

The three buildings that make up Pratt Mansions were all constructed within a few years of each other, starting in 1901. They were all built separately, all by renowned architects, and were all occupied by incredibly wealthy families.

The first building to go up (1028 Fifth Ave), the mansion on the corner of Fifth and 84th Street, was to be the retirement home for Jonathan Thorne, a wealthy New York leather merchant. It’s a classically proportioned, five-story building with the hallmark, Beaux Arts, rusticated stonework on the ground floor, then a two-story façade that bows out over the entrance, a fourth-floor balcony to enjoy the views over the recently completely Central Park, topped by a decorative cornice and dormers embedded in a steep mansard roof.
The architect of 1028 Fifth was the well-known Charles Pierrepont Henry (C.P.H) Gilbert, who also figures prominently in Kimmelman’s story as the architect of the chateau-like Ukrainian Institute on 79th Street (where he included a lot of carved dragon fish) as well as the Warburg Mansion, now the Jewish Museum, on 92nd Street. Compared to the many flourishes on those buildings, his design of 1028 Fifth is downright restrained.

While Gilbert did not design the other two mansions to the south, at 1027 and 1026, you can see his influence all over them. The architects Joseph Van Vleck and Goldwin Goldsmith (the latter had worked for McKim, Mead & White) took pains to line up the mansard roofs, the cornice line and the windows across all three buildings. They retained the cut stone along the first floor and the dormers embedded in the roof, but faced the wider 1027 building in a flat façade of white marble and lovely iron balconies and then, in the third mansion (1026), more closely echoed the design of Gilbert’s original building with a two-story bowed bay of limestone and another, charming cast iron balcony. The result is that the three buildings, while very different, all work together architecturally and indeed in the interiors, as you easily pass from one to another, you might think they were all created as one building.
All three buildings changed hands many times over the years and the roster of occupants reads like a Who’s Who of New York’s Gilded Age including Thornes, Pratts, Vanderbilts, Milbanks, Kinglands, Clarks, Dukes and Whitneys. Through successive purchases, from 1925 to 1950, they became part of the Marymount School of New York, an independent, Catholic day school for girls (which is what they are today) while also being available for weddings and other private functions as The Pratt Mansions.

I get a thrill each day walking into these buildings. I love turning the corner on Fifth Avenue and seeing Pratt on one side facing the grandeur of the Metropolitan Museum on the other. I love the stonework on the outside and the beautifully detailed marble and woodwork inside, especially in the public rooms that are used for weddings and parties. Brides who are married here adore being photographed on the balconies overlooking the Met and Central Park. (Look at the Home page or the Gallery.)

Kimmelman notes that in House of Mirth, Edith Wharton’s heroine turns a corner and sees grand new houses, “fantastically varied, in obedience to the American craving for novelty.” Americans at the turn of the century, Kimmelman says, “felt they had inherited the whole of Western civilization, that it was theirs to do with as they wished.”

What makes it all the more bittersweet is that this period didn’t last long. The Depression and World War II brought a halt to new construction in New York for decades. But well before all of that, most of these mansions were headed toward the chopping block to make way for the modern luxury apartment houses that now line Fifth Avenue. The mansions that make up Pratt Mansions are among the last to remain (now, thankfully, protected with landmark status), a reminder of a bygone era of (until recently) unmatched opulence and inequality, but also one that set a standard for elegance in the buildings we now enjoy along New York’s celebrated Museum Mile.

The Coronavirus Dilemma: Should you postpone your wedding?

The Coronavirus has touched everyone everywhere, most especially my brides and grooms who are making the difficult decision whether to re-schedule their wedding day.  What should you do? May I suggest, as you consider your choices, try to make your decision as quickly as you can. As I write this in late March, if your wedding is just weeks away, obviously the decision is made for you.  Continue reading “The Coronavirus Dilemma: Should you postpone your wedding?”

The New World of Wedding Photography

Social media has changed the way we perceive photography—the cameras on our phones have made us all experts at capturing our own individual worlds and preferences. And, no surprise, this has had a big impact on the world of wedding photography. So, it’s no surprise that choosing a wedding photographer can be daunting for today’s brides and grooms.

At Pratt Mansions Fifth Avenue, you may choose any photographer you wish. To help with the selection, when you choose us as your venue, I provide a list of my favorites. If you scroll through our website, you can see their work.

Dave Robbins Photography

Photographers love Pratt Mansions and are always eager to return. Using a photographer familiar with the venue saves valuable time by cutting down your need to research websites and portfolios. Another big help is eliminating the need to educate your photographer about the venue. As you can see, there are favorite photo spots at Pratt that you don’t want to miss: the Beaux Arts doorways, the solarium, the balcony overlooking the Metropolitan Museum. By choosing someone who is familiar with the facility, you can relax on the day of, knowing that he/she will guide you through these different locations. You’ll be surprised at how comforting it is to eliminate the worry of missed photo opportunities or helping a photographer navigate the mansions.

Most important of all, it allows you and your fiancé to relax, which is essential in capturing the joy you’ll want to see in your photos. “Forget the camera” is an old Hollywood mantra that never fails. There is an intimacy in capturing wedding moments that can only happen when you have trust and confidence in your photographer. A good photographer knows that creating a relationship with you is essential in allowing that to happen.

Trust begins with a personal connection. Your first interaction, usually a phone call or email, should be responded to promptly with enthusiasm (week days are best). Anyone who is making you work hard for their business should be avoided at all costs. As you interview a photographer, look for a response that tells you that they are genuinely interested in getting to know you personally. There should be a connection.

There should also be clear consistency in the photographer’s portfolio, an identifiable style that will resonate with you and that you will want to recreate. You will get a great feel by checking out their social media and website portfolio, but make sure that the three of you also meet in person even if just for a cup of coffee. If you don’t think this person could become a friend, keep looking. Remember, they will be sharing the entire day with you, their energy is so important because it impacts the final product.
Also, don’t make the decision about photography on your own. Your fiancé needs to be comfortable with the decision too.

As you look at different portfolios, be aware of the different styles: photojournalistic, traditional, editorial, etc. Learning to identify the different styles and deciding which you prefer is important. I will go into this in more detail in another blog.
A lot of photographers suggest an engagement or pre-wedding shoot. Some include it in their package. I think these sessions are invaluable. Consider it a little bit of a dress rehearsal and a great way to get to know how the photographer works without the pressure of the big day. And these photos are always a hit.

Even if you are a professional model or actor, or consider yourselves the king/queen of selfies, the experience of being photographed on your wedding day is different. This pre-wedding shoot helps both you and your photographer gauge what kind of shots you want and how to work together. Does he/she talk you through every click or leave you on your own and silently moves around you? It actually takes quite a few rolls of film for both you and your photographer to figure all of this out. At the end of these sessions, all the jitters and awkwardness should dissolve, making the wedding day that much more efficient.

I’ll have more to say about wedding photography and videography in future blogs.

Your Wedding and Your Wedding Video

I have a confession to make, when it comes to wedding videos, I was never a huge fan. Too many memories of the harsh lighting and awkward cameras and cabling. And who hasn’t had to endure a seemingly endless “moment to moment” wedding video of a family member or friend.  Well, thanks to big changes in the world of video, I have changed my tune. Let’s just say “night and day” doesn’t begin to describe it.  Why is that?

To begin with, the video cameras used today are small and can easily shoot in all different environments: low light, bright sunlight and with a very small crew, often just one clever person.  Even more important, today’s cameras have what is technically known as “narrow field of focus.” In layman’s terms, that means you, the subject, are in perfect focus but the background is out of focus. While film cameras have long had this quality, it’s relatively recent in video.  In the hands of the right videographer, that means your wedding video will have a beautiful, almost cinematic quality.

Obviously, there are many talented videographers out there especially in the New York area, as you will quickly see when you do a search. And I have my favorites.  I suggest reviewing the work they post online, just as you would any photographer, to see if their point of view and style speak to you.  But for the purposes of this blog, I wanted to ask the question, why choose videography at all?

One morning after arriving at my office, I opened up a grateful email from a now happily married bride and groom. They attached their Pratt Mansions wedding video and with trepidation I clicked on it.  Much to my surprise I was blown away.   Here was a 5-minute movie that captured just enough of every moment you wanted to see. The underlying music gave it that professional soundtrack and of course the post-production editing made it all work.  It was over too soon, and I had a lump in my throat.

I had been present at the wedding, supervising things. I saw the bride walk down the aisle, the exchange of rings, the first dance. Now I was seeing all of that again, but this time set to a lovely score and intercut with beautifully shot closeups of the bride and groom, the faces of family and friends, all sharing in the joy of the day.  I realized that while I had seen the wedding, I was now seeing it again in a very different way. It was powerful.  For family and friends who are far away and can’t be present, a wedding video is indispensable.

I’m often asked if using a videographer replaces the need for still photography. In my opinion, no. While with today’s digital cameras, it’s possible to pull pictures out of a video, nothing can replace still photography. Videography is great at capturing the movement and flow of an event. A still photographer captures a beautiful moment in time. One doesn’t replace the other, they are complementary.

If your budget allows, I think videography is something to seriously consider. And I think after you view some of the work of today’s best wedding videographers, you will agree.

A Quick Guide to a Sustainable Wedding

A few years ago, I was approached about having a “green” (i.e., sustainable) wedding at Pratt Mansions. I have always thought of myself as environmentally woke, but to be honest, I had never looked at weddings at Pratt Mansions from a sustainability perspective.

Pratt Mansions was built over 100 years ago. We’re an historic landmark, a world away from contemporary, eco-friendly design. But the couple planning this green wedding saw things I hadn’t really thought about:

  • Pratt can host the ceremony and reception all in one place, eliminating the carbon footprint of traveling from one to the other.
  • We are located in Manhattan, easily accessible via public transportation and, in this case, was chosen because of its proximity for family and friends.
  • Pratt Mansions is also fully furnished and that includes tables and chairs for the reception, cutting down on rental needs and the energy and resources involved in getting them delivered and picked up.

I knew all of these things, of course, but I had never put them together as part of a sustainable strategy. And my point is not to say that these are things you must do, eco-shaming is not the intention here. But I will assume that you wouldn’t still be reading this if you didn’t care on some level. The fact is, with a few simple choices, you can reduce your wedding’s carbon footprint tremendously and still celebrate with elegance and style.

So here goes–my quick guide to a few things you can consider for a sustainable wedding:

Stationery: “Save a Tree” is not just a funny slogan anymore. With climate change, it’s become an imperative. You may have already made a great eco choice by choosing to do all your wedding correspondence digitally and, if so, I applaud you.  However, for many others the tradition of choosing a font and creating a wedding invitation and all the extras is non-negotiable. So, news flash, and please don’t yell at me: You don’t have to compromise quality when choosing to reduce waste with wedding paper goods. I’ve seen stunning invitations (a great source is Bella Figura in New York City) using recycled cardstock and vegetable-oil based inks. I could not tell the difference.

Encourage your guests to RSVP to your wedding website eliminating postage and even more paper. While you’re at it, ask the stationer to provide coordinating graphics for printing on a signage chart instead of individual escort cards. Here is a great example I saw on Etsy:

Source: Etsy

Another simple choice? Instead of individual menus at each place setting, display two per table on a small easel. That’s not only eco, it’s a great ice breaker.

Catering: Which brings me to caterers and the role they play in sustainable choices. When interviewing caterers, ask if they embrace the farm to table concept, most already do.  Choosing menus in season is the easiest way to begin and most caterers are eager to oblige. They will be more than happy to guide you.  For example- you may love the idea of passing chocolate covered strawberries at your October wedding, but isn’t it just as easy to choose tiny pumpkin cheesecakes and just as delicious? Keeping in mind strawberries are in season around July 4th.

Liquor: And that open bar? Relying on local craft liquors (so popular these days) and breweries are decisions that make a big difference and send a subtle message to your guests. Wine can be more problematic—here on the East Coast we don’t have nearly the options available in California or the Pacific Northwest, but talk to your caterer and/or wine merchant. They will be sure to have ideas.

Flowers: Take the same approach with your flowers. The lilacs and peonies that you love in May are magnificent, but in other seasons make for a complicated choice.  Let Floral Designers know you want seasonable options. Believe me, they’ll appreciate it and their pricing will reflect that.

I could go on and on. There are so many ideas to consider. Antique rings? A vintage wedding dress?  All terrific choices.

You’re not going to solve the climate crisis with your wedding. And maybe you can’t use all of these ideas, so just choose one.  The key is, even one choice can make a difference and it  encourages others to make mindful wedding choices too.

Choosing a Wine for Your Wedding

Choosing a wine for your wedding can be an unnerving experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Eric Asimov, who writes the The Pour for The New York Times recently wrote a column reminding everyone of some basic advice: set aside worries about price or matching the wine to the food. The most important thing is to match the wine to the occasion. And since it’s your wedding, that means choosing a wine that matches you.  At a recent wedding here at Pratt, the couple chose a wonderful Brunello. It was a 2012, which was a great year. And we made sure to uncork it well in advance so it opened up beautifully. All perfect — but even more important: the bride’s family was from Tuscany. Serving a Brunello was a reminder of many joyous family occasions and now one more — her wedding.

Do You Need a Wedding Planner at Pratt?

In preparing for their wedding at Pratt Mansions, brides almost inevitably ask me whether they need a wedding planner.

Ultimately, this is a personal choice. And to help you make the right decision, let me explain a little more about what I do as the Events Coordinator here at Pratt Mansions.

Pratt Mansions is a unique, private wedding venue.  As you have probably already discovered, there are very few historical mansions left in New York City that are available for rent.  Couples that get married here are typically looking for something different and fall in love with the idea of a customized wedding in a private home.

Every couple comes to me with their own vision and I love to find a way to match their expectations and ideally exceed them.  As the events coordinator, I make sure that every selection is thoughtful and appropriate for the property as well as my clients.  Since I assume that most people are not experienced party planners, I can provide as much or as little support as you may need whether you are planning a small intimate wedding for 50 close family and friends or a larger affair (150 guests is our max.)

No wedding is ever the same, which keeps me on my toes, but there are some basic steps.

For all of the weddings here at Pratt, I provide you with a list of approved caterers.  These are all caterers who have worked here before. Since Pratt is an historical mansion, its essential that the caterer have experience working in this environment. But the caterers on our list are all different and I’m happy to guide you to the one that’s right for you.

I also provide suggestions for music, photography, and lighting. As you can imagine, I have worked with dozens of vendors in all of these areas. But while I require that you choose a caterer from my approved list, the other vendors are suggestions and I’m always eager to hear about possible new additions as well.

On the day of your wedding, I am present from morning to night, including the entire event.  That includes overseeing all deliveries — rentals, flowers, lights, liquor, you name it – as well as fielding calls from anxious guests concerned about parking.  The caterer will also have a point person present on the day of and we will work together on an event timeline for you.

I also organize a quick walk thru of the ceremony (before guests arrive) with the officiant, family, and attendants so that everyone knows their place in the processional.

So, back to the main question, do you need a planner when you have your wedding here at Pratt Mansions? I think a planner is invaluable if you are planning not just a wedding, but a weekend filled with events: hair and make-up appointments for your bridesmaids, extensive photo shoots and hotel and restaurant reservations. But if the main focus of your wedding is here at Pratt — on site photos, followed by the ceremony and reception – you’ll be comfortable with my guidance.

I have worked with brides who love the thought of organizing every detail and others who might want to do that, but simply don’t have the time to research and make these vital decisions. No matter what category you belong to, I am with you every step of the journey.

I want your day to be perfect and most important of all, I want you to feel right at home.


The Music at Your Wedding and Why it Really Matters

Whenever I think about my favorite weddings at Pratt Mansions, inevitably it’s the music that triggers the memory, the underlying “soundtrack” of the event that created a magical feeling of never wanting the night to end.

Where do you begin? Think for a moment of some famous films and their inspirational soundtracks: Out of Africa, The Godfather, Titanic, Jaws, A Star is Born or The Way We Were. Where would “The Godfather” be without that incredible violin solo? When you hear those themes you’re immediately transported. Music plays an essential role, as important as the acting and directing.

Please note, I am not proposing using a movie sound track for your wedding, just making a point about the role of music in creating memories and setting the tone for a successful party.

Choosing live music or a DJ is the first question and I will discuss the pros and cons of both in a future blog. But whichever you choose, it’s important to break down the 4 parts of the event: ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner and after party. Carefully considering music for each part is a good way to start.

The ceremony requires thoughtful music whether it’s in a sacred space, on a farm or a hotel venue. At Pratt Mansions, strings, a harpist, or a flute and classical guitar combination all work beautifully and play off of the landmark nature of the venue.

Cocktail hour requires a different energy. Nothing is better than a cocktail pianist on one of our Steinways playing “Great American Songbook” favorites like “Just the Way you Look Tonight” or “Fly Me to the Moon.” Take some time to do a little investigation of what you like on Spotify or Pandora. Remember, there are many different generations to consider at a wedding, Pleasing everybody is not easy. Choosing familiar, romantic tunes that are recognized by every age group is a subtle way to use the cocktail hour to build an element of suspense and excitement.

Now onto dinner. As your guests enter the ballroom to find their table and meet other dinner guests, the music acts as an ice breaker. Here, different genres with a variety of tempos is preferable: Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, and who can forget “When a Man loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge. Cool and sophisticated without bringing down the energy in the room, that’s great background music. The next time you’re at your favorite restaurant, listen to the music (and the sound level). There’s a good chance there’s something about it that makes you enjoy the vibe and the food even more.

At Pratt Mansions we offer a European-style reception. Instead of dinner and dancing all in one room for the entire evening, we leave the ballroom after dinner. Your guests descend the grand staircase to the first floor. Now the music has taken on a new role, establishing the atmosphere for an after party and dancing. Pratt Mansions becomes a nightclub. Pulsating music greets your guests. Now is the time for the First Dance followed by plenty of Motown, Top 40 and 90’s pop. You get the idea. Nothing gets people on the dance floor faster than “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas or “Sweet Caroline” – there’s a reason these songs are hits: people love to hear them.

The next time you are at a wedding and having a great time, take a moment to think about the role the music is playing. You can’t have a movie without a soundtrack. You can’t have a wedding without one either.

Taking the Stress Out of Choosing a Wedding Caterer

When I am helping brides and grooms plan their wedding, we probably spend more time on catering than anything else. I thoroughly enjoy this because I am a real food person and one of the joys of my job is the opportunity to work with the caterers who are on our approved list here at Pratt Mansions Fifth Avenue.

That might immediately prompt some questions: “Approved list of caterers? What’s that? Don’t you have an exclusive caterer at Pratt Mansions?”

Well, let me explain and, I hope, shed some light on the best way to find the caterer that’s right for you.

When you are researching locations for your wedding, you may very well look at restaurants or hotels that provide both the location for your wedding as well as the food. When you are provided with an estimate for your wedding, or a price per person, it’s all inclusive.

Here at Pratt, we work a little differently. If you are considering us for your wedding, it’s typically because you are researching the idea of an elegant wedding in a private home. You’re looking for something different and the elegance and location speaks to your vision. Because we have an approved list of caterers, this will allow you  to customize your menu and your event as well.  Pratt has a set facility fee, but we don’t have a catering staff on site or an exclusive caterer, so the price of catering is separate.

That gives you a lot of flexibility. New York has some of the country’s top caterers who are happy to help you consider all their creative options for menu selection and event ideas as well.

To get you started on your selection, I provide you with the list of caterers that are approved to work at Pratt and you can call or email them to discuss menu ideas. These are caterers who have worked at Pratt many times before and have done a beautiful job. I have complete confidence they will arrive on time, the wait staff will be professional and polite, they are familiar with the challenges of working in an historic location and the food, of course, will be impeccable.

Many people get a little uncomfortable at the idea of contacting caterers. Don’t be. The caterers I work with are all very experienced. Once you provide them with your vision, you will be surprised at how they can elaborate on it. This should be exciting and creative for both you and the caterer.

Of course, price is always a major factor.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a sense of your budget before contacting a caterer.  Without this, the caterer won’t know if they’re creating a menu for sandwiches or filet mignon.

There is no question that catering in New York is expensive. And you might be surprised to learn that the food itself is just one part of it.  Your caterer will be preparing for your event long before it occurs. On the day of, they will be delivering the food, liquor, linens, glassware, silverware etc., setting up hours before you arrive and cleaning up hours after you leave. And while the caterers on our list come in at all different price points, they are on the list because they do a wonderful job, not because of their price.

It’s always a little awkward to open up the discussion of pricing with a caterer and rather than getting off on the wrong foot, take some time to educate yourself about what catering costs entail.  A great way to do that is to talk to recently married friends who may have chosen a similar venue with an approved list. They will likely love to relive their planning days and have an excuse to talk about it.  A discreet question like, ”I loved your menu at the wedding. Was the open bar included in the price per person?” is a great way to get the conversation going. Remember, no one is expecting you to be an expert on all things wedding, but a little information can go a long way in these first steps.

Keep in mind that deciding on your venue is the biggest decision you make when planning a wedding.  It sets the tone for the entire event. It’s important that the people who are part of that event are enthusiastic and approachable.  Yes, guiding you through this is a job but those of us who do it love the creative process and the satisfaction of knowing you and your friends and family will have a memory for a lifetime.