Planning a Washington wedding

Wedding planning in D.C. can be a tricky business — from hectic Hill schedules to finding the right budget for the event, it’s easy for brides and grooms to feel overwhelmed.

Many local young professionals are now opting to take the stress out of the preparation process by handing the reins over to wedding planners, and few understand the method to the madness better than event planners Amber Karson and Emily Butler.

Billing themselves as “the only wedding planners on Capitol Hill,” the twin sisters have made a name for themselves by catering to a busy, successful clientele. Karson opened her business on Constitution Avenue in 2008 after falling in love with the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which she said works well because Hill “clients can walk over easily” for appointments. When her sister joined this past year, they rebranded the business as Karson Butler Events.

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Working around the chaotic schedules of congressional staffers and appointees can be a challenge, but Karson notes that flexibility is key for any planner.

“We understand when clients get called into an important meeting, so we are open to work around everything,” she said.

Election months, the sisters joke, are almost always off-limits for staffers.

When it comes down to the planning, the sisters see their main role not as directors, but rather as guides to help streamline and de-stress the process of choosing vendors, staying on budget and having a great day-of experience.

The two have arranged weddings for senior staffers, both those working on Capitol Hill and in the White House. Having a knowledgeable Hill planner has its perks: for their executive branch clients, they’ve been able to do things like arrange tours of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as part of a wedding weekend, and work with the White House florist on a wedding in Charlottesville, Va.

“One of the wonderful opportunities of being in D.C.,” Karson says, “is getting to plan for such interesting clients.”

For many of those couples, one goal of the wedding is to incorporate D.C. into the event without going overboard. Location is one major solution: Butler mentions standards like the Hay-Adams and Decatur House as places that give a historical nod to the city and have a classic, elegant feel for any reception. Many brides and grooms like the chance to incorporate the outdoors, and choosing a historical house with a garden can bring together the best of both worlds.

Karson points out that another subtle yet important element “is the view — it’s a wonderful way to get a D.C. experience, without feeling too cliché.” The two mention the St. Regis hotel as particularly popular for couples looking to impress guests with both the venue and the city skyline.

For those spreading their gaze outside the city, options continue to abound.

“Something great about D.C. is there are these great locations that aren’t too far away, with places like Alexandria or somewhere else with a similar rural feel,” Karson said. Going a few miles out can still give the bride and groom an “Old Town, Potomac” view and feel without making guests travel too far outside of the city.

The two also enjoy giving a hometown feel to the event through the use of gift bags and boxes with D.C. touches like “monument-shaped cookies and chocolates to White House playing cards.” Butler notes that weddings during an election year are “particularly fun,” and both women bring up signature cocktails (one red, one blue) as a way to bring some political fun into the event.

For the sisters, it is the ultimate joy of helping couples have their perfect day that makes the weeks (and months) of planning worth it.

“It’s fun for us to get exposed,” says Butler. “Our clients have such fascinating stories and jobs, and we always feel lucky that we get to meet these people, and to help plan the most important day of their life.”