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Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday with Amanda Orr of Amanda McKey Designs

You know the phrase 'I can't even'? Of course you do. It's 2019 and we live in animal print onesies and hyperbole.

It's basic AF but it describes perfectly how I feel about today's feature for Women of the Wedding Industry.

I can't even handle Amanda's infectious wit and sporadic creativity.

I can't even with her colorful and whimsical watercolor paintings that feel like they were created by Frida Kahlo's less nihilistic blonde, un-unibrowed American twin sister.

I can't even handle how cute Amanda's fiance is. Or her dog is. Or her sister is. Or her mom is. Or her grandma is. Some people just have cute in their DNA.

I can't handle how much I enjoy Insta-stalking Amanda at her art fairs, or Amanda making a bed, or Amanda arranging flowers, or Amanda taking a picture of her bulldog Lucy, or Amanda sharing some new watercolor painting.

Some people are just the bees knees and spread all of that good energy like a honeybalm over all of us.

And it's a given. I can't even that Amanda is one of my brides on The Revel Rose Roster of Love, 2019 Edition.

Yep. I'm interviewing my very first bride for this blog series. You guys. Shivers.

Amanda and James were the first couple to email me in January 2019 and when I opened my inbox after a prolonged little holiday (and a massive attack of my annual NYE flu). I breathed a sigh of relief that there was an inquiry and also had a tinge of panic at the realization that I was still very much self employed and about to enter the start of my second season as a wedding planner based in Northern Michigan.

Booking season is a little bit excruciating.

Getting an inquiry from a couple is a lot like speed dating. We have a set amount of time to determine if my services are a fit for their needs, and if their needs are a fit for my services. We have to have ​compatibility. We have to be able to talk on the phone without it feeling awkward. We have to have some similarities in personality and overlap in what we think a wedding should be or could be. They have to ask themselves "Is she worth it?" and I have to answer with "Are they worth it?"

When Amanda sent an email describing her desire to create and design a bar that feels like the famed Legs Inn of Harbor Springs and Candy Bar located in the Siren Hotel in Detroit had a love child, I knew. This was perf.

And from the minute we hung up the phone on that first call, I was hooked. Line, and sinker. They were just so damn easy. Amanda and James are laid back. They have huge families and care deeply for them. They share a wild friend group and want them all to be there, guest list bar none. They are hosting their wedding at her parent's farm in Ann Arbor and they don't really give a damn about formalities or pomp.

Amanda is an artist and designer who has her own illustration and painting product line through Amanda McKey Designs and is a design associate at Whitetail Farm in Dexter. When I imagine her dual sided creative spirit, I see it skipping on a tightrope high above some coastal city. On one side, the landscape is this airy, breezy, beach at sunrise. Quiet cottages with cozy, contemporary, open air, porches. A plein air painter who strokes like the wind blows. Bright peaches and citrus greens and a hair scarf tied just so on a girl reading a book under an umbrella. And on the other side of the landscape is a wild rumpus. A daytime disco rave. An elephantine scene second line with brass blaring. A hazy revelrous bash in the smelly underbelly of every good city there ever was. A sudsy bar maid calling down off her plant filled balcony to come n' get it. What it is, no one knows except that 'it' is good.

Basically I've never met a more Revel Rose.

Amanda is creating most of her wedding paper good pieces and decor, and carrying her playful, fun-loving design and ethos into everything from her flowers to her food. And of course that bar. She creates beautiful wedding paperie pieces for clients all year round, and is one of the industry's go to artists for custom watercolor portraiture. Holler at her.

I'm so thankful for every couple we serve. For their stories and their personalities and their wedding days. No two are even remotely alike.

And I am majorly excited for this one. I knew it was going to be good when Amanda's response to our final package proposal was,"This sounds perf. Let's do it."

I love the word Perf and Amanda and James love True Detective. We love our dogs most, leather jackets, taxidermy, smoked meat, reading, dive bars and boojie bars, My Morning Jacket, and beautiful art. We don't take life too seriously, but we seriously love it.

There doesn't have to be a ton of commonality in this vendor to couple relationship, but by george there for sure has to be some.

Anyways. Amanda uses words like llamazing and sold her cards in Anthro. Need I say more.

I can't even. Is it September yet?

The Interview

With Amanda Orr

You’re getting married!!! Tell us about you and James. You both are so fun.

We're so excited! James and I went to high school together and have TONS of mutual friends, but never hung out or dated until after college. We ran into each other at a bar downtown Ann Arbor about 5 years ago where James (over-served) tried on, and ripped the lining of, my favorite leather jacket. WHAT a charmer!?

After getting to know him in the daytime, I very quickly learned that he's wonderful. James is endlessly helpful, far more thoughtful than he thinks, and just SO genuine. I am one of the MANY who love him and feel so lucky that I get to claim him, legally and otherwise.

You live kind of between small town Dexter and downtown Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is somewhere I haven’t spent much time, but when I have it’s been centered around music or art. What is it like as a community? What’s it like being a designer in this part of Michigan?

I was born and raised in this area, so the fact that I'm still here is a testament to how much I love it. The community is vibrant, artistic, and most of all, welcoming. There's such a great network of small business owners, artists, designers, and creatives in general who sincerely want to help one another. Collaborating with some of them has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of doing this kind of work. I've learned SO much from other designers who were kind enough to take time out for me. I try to pay it forward by doing the same.

You have one of my many dream jobs! Creating and designing interiors for people! How did you get into this process?

It's my dream job, too! My grandma (Moom) was an interior designer and I've always idolized her. Growing up, my cousins and I each carved out a few days a year to attend "Camp Mooma" at my grandma and grandpa's house in Grand Rapids. My "Camp Mooma" days were spent doing art projects, looking through Moom's design magazines, and leafing through her huge fabric books. Looking back, it makes total sense I'd end up designing in some capacity.

More recently, this amazing boutique and design business, Whitetail Farm, opened in my hometown. The second I walked in the door, I knew I wanted to be involved in that business however I could. The shop was just so warm and welcoming. The collection of product was beautiful and curated. I wanted one of everything. Then I met Mary, the owner and Lead Designer.

Mary is Whitetail Farm, personified: gracious, stylish, and approachable. One coffee with her and I knew I needed to be a part of whatever she was working on. She's truly everything I could hope for in a boss and mentor. Collaborating and designing with her has been a highlight of my career, for sure.

I owe so much of my professional happiness and satisfaction to the entire WTF team. All the gals I work with are creative, inspiring, and fun. It just doesn't feel like work. I AM NOT WORTHY.

A little taste of that Whitetail Farm design + style.

When it comes to your own living spaces, where do you prioritize your design skills?

This is a classic "the cobbler's kid's have no shoes" situation. James and I have been on the hunt for a house for A WHILE. Until we find something, I'm trying my best not to buy everything that comes through the doors at Whitetail. I'm doing an okay job: C+, I would say.

I'm a nester. Whenever I move into a new space, I instantly want to make it cozy. I love new things, but have found that I design my own spaces around the objects I've loved for years and refuse to give up; fawn rug, faux Eames chair, framed family photos, my sister's art. These pieces have traveled with me from home to home. They never go out of style.

We currently live in a large loft-style space. It's great, but definitely poses its design challenges; defining different spaces, maximizing space, storing the stuff I can't resist from Whitetail. In this particular space, I've kept much of the furniture clean, cheap, and functional (IKEA). A massive bookshelf housing our (out-of-hand) collection of design and fly-fishing/bbq books creates a "book wall" that hides our bed from the rest of the space. I love a big wall 'o books. This aspect of our space makes me happy.

I am OBsessed with your custom watercolor portraits. How do you like to incorporate them into your wedding paper goods?

Thank you!! Can I plz do one of you?!

I've done a lot of illustrations as wedding gifts for couples. Being able to help provide something so personal to a couple on one of the biggest days of their lives is so rewarding. I love the thought of a couple looking at their portrait and being reminded of the friends/family who were thoughtful enough to commission it for them.

Some of my favorite applications: Printing custom illustrations on napkins, coasters, and fabric. My own wedding will play guinea pig to a couple other ideas I've had holstered for a bit!

One of Amanda's custom watercolor portraits of a couple.

Does everyone need a watercolor portrait of their dog?

Yup. But I'm also obsessed with my dog. It's not to the level where I treat her like she's a human child, publicly, but let's just say she's the star of the show at home. I'm glad others can't readily see the extent to which Lucy is spoiled, coddled, nicknamed, and spoken to like a baby.

Sweet lucy.

When did you start creating wedding paper goods?

I started designing for friends and family and things just sort of evolved through word of mouth. My cousin (whom I adore) was getting married and his soon-to-be wife asked if I'd design their rehearsal dinner invite. I think I was 21 at the time? I jumped at the chance.

One amazing thing about designing for weddings is how quickly your work gets out there. In the beginning, the friends I designed for #1, insisted I create a website for my work and #2, INSISTED I put my name/website on the back of their invites - which was so kind of them and made me nauseous.

I'm lucky to be surrounded by many (unpaid) marketing agents; family and friends who like my work and believe in me enough to recommend me to other people. I can't tell you how grateful I am for the work I get. Where it comes from isn't lost on me.

Oh these beautiful portraits.

A custom bridal portrait. Everyone should probably have one.

How has the wedding paper good side of your brand developed and changed over time? What are some pieces you’re excited to work on this year?

I first started designing wedding paper goods for friends and family only. I had no process in place and barely knew how to use a computer effectively. I remember hand-drawing an entire invite (including text) and having it copied at Kinkos for my cousin, Grace. I still think the design is so sweet and handmade (lol), but I've spent a lot of time learning to clean up designs digitally, and researching paper and printing resources. I would definitely say that my style has developed a lot over time, but it's still a work-in-progress, and always will be. Client work has definitely helped me to hone my skills and try new things!

So many exciting projects this year! One of my best friends, Jennarose, is getting married and they kindly (out of obligation?) asked me to work on their invites. I'm sure you know this, but working for friends can either be a blast or a nightmare. Working with Jenna and Derek is the former. They're just so damn laid-back. They've given me so much freedom to design something cool and it makes me want to work ten times harder to make sure everything is perfect.

I'm also designing a suite for a wedding on Cape Cod this summer. I love that nautical, "seafarer" aesthetic, so I'm pretty jacked about that project, too. I'm working on their rehearsal dinner invites as well which is a CLAM. BAKE. ON. THE. BEACH. What a fricken dream. I have 1000 ideas.

Flat lay perfection of one of Amanda's beautiful watercolor invitation suites.

You get to create for form + function as an interior designer, and for fun + freedom as a graphic artist and painter. Do you like that balance?

I do! As long as we're keeping things right-brained (and far away from math) I'm in my element. Even though interiors are designed with function in mind, the process still lends itself to painting/fine art to me. I love to start with a blank "canvas" (see what I did there) and layer color, pattern, and texture from there. My experience painting has made me a better designer from a layout/composition standpoint, for sure. After a while, you develop an intuitive sense of what goes where.

Although painting and interior design inform each other for me, I do like the balance of a day spent designing a home, followed by a nighttime painting session.

Design is such an ambiguous concept. Sometimes I feel like we’re well oiled to talk about it and sometimes I think we’re so far from being able to appreciate design as an art form. What is design to you? What is good design? What is bad design?

Defining design is DAUNTING to me. What's "good" and what's "bad" is so subjective. My number one priority in the designing anyone's space, including my own, is for it to feel loved and personal. A home should tell the story of the people who inhabit it.

One of my favorite design quotes is by Bunny Williams and it goes something like: “If you love something it will work. That’s the only rule.” I keep this in mind when meeting with design clients - if a piece of furniture or art isn't striking them, it's wrong for them. If they love it, even if they can't place why, it's right. This school of thought also comes into play when I'm at Treasure Mart and I see a vintage rug and know I need to take it home with me. Maybe there's not a place for it yet, but it'll find one.

This "rule" has always reminded me (so much) of my aunt, Peanut. Her home is a treasure chest of found, beloved objects; bird’s eggs she came across in the woods, kid art, totem poles, vintage photos, mid-mod furniture and over-stuffed sofas. Most people would never put these pieces together, but it just works. There's nothing better than walking into someone's home and instantly feeling how much they love it. To me, design is the tool you use to achieve this.

I love the way you set up for your art shows (just based on pictures, your booths look like the What are some tips for selling or marketing your creative services in a booth-setting?

Thank you! I really do love styling up a good booth (especially if I go get the coffee while James puts the tent up and carries the furniture in from the car).

Let's be honest - anyone who's participated in art shows like this knows they can be a bear. I was in the Harbor Spring Art Fair this summer (awesome and well-run, 10/10 would recommend) but it was HOT AF. Like, 100 degrees. I am not exaggerating. I had to go take little walks just so I could look at water and try not to pass out.

Amanda McKey Designs is #boothgoals

Even when a show is less than successful (or causes heat exhaustion), I've never totally regretted participating because they're a great marketing opportunity. A couple tips to make these shows worthwhile no matter how much you sell:

  • Utilize social media to promote your show, share behind-the-scenes pics and final booth shots.

  • Put effort into designing a booth that's representative of your brand. Pretend it's your own little shop and merchandise it accordingly - this is actually really fun.

  • Have marketing materials that include a list of the other services you provide. Let people take them even if they buy nothing.

  • Be friendly and chatty. Be curious about other people - good general life-lesson, but also helpful in getting to know your customers and their needs.

  • Have tons of cool looking business cards. Don't skimp on paper quality and include your designs on your cards. People will feel like they're getting a mini piece of your art for free, and hopefully contact you for the real thing later. I can't tell you how many times someone came into my booth, bought nothing, and kindly passed my card along to their newly engaged niece who called me later.

  • Bring a cooler full of food and drinks (and wine)

One last logistical tip - if it's your first show, definitely set up your booth in your yard prior to your show. I'm talking, style the whole thing like you will at the event. You will be surprised by how long it takes. Make sure you have an efficient way to hang your artwork and a "booth kit" with the following items:

  • Scissors

  • Hanging materials

  • ZIP TIES (omg don't forget these)

  • Safety pins

  • Mallet or hammer for tent stakes

  • Pliers

  • Windex and paper towel

  • String/rope

  • Tape/glue

  • Mints

Where do you draw most of your design inspiration from?

As far as home design, I've always drawn tons of inspiration from my mom and her two sisters. They have excellent taste, but they're all super different, style-wise. One aunt loves very modern, eclectic design, the other is more traditional and my mom is somewhere in-between.

I'm also design book-obsessed. I have too many to count and my Amazon cart is always full. Some of my all-time-faves: Living with Pattern (Rebecca Atwood), Surf Shack (Nina Freudenberger), Kinfolk Home, Textiles; The Art of Mankind, Hue (Kelly Wearstler), Absolutely Beautiful Things (Ann Spiro), etc, etc, etc. They're my children.

Your paintings remind me of some of my favorite parties of all time and the feelings that go with them. Is that what they are inspired by?

Hahaha yes! Some of my older paintings are for sure inspired by this feeling. My dad also pretty much followed the Grateful Dead in his twenties (I think he went to around 100 shows?), so that style of music had a big impact on me and my work - especially in art school.

One of my favorite paintings by Amanda!

You’ve mentioned your adorable grandma, Moom, as a friend and key person in your life. What do you think you learned from her? What is she wearing to the wedding?

I credit Moom with any good qualities I may have been lucky enough to inherit from her. She and my grandpa (papa) are/were the greatest grandparents you could hope to have. Truly. Growing up, there wasn't a golf match, art show, basketball game, graduation, bday, holiday etc, etc, missed by either one of them. The have NINE grandchildren and live 2+ hours away from most of us. Everything we did felt important, special and fun because of them.

Moom has taught me pretty much everything worth knowing: how to make crepes, how to sew, how to show up, that we're not above putting ice in our wine. It's hard to describe her. She's not just a sweet, old granny who feeds us until we can physically feel her love - she's fricken astute. If Moom has an inkling that something is up, it is. She has an opinion on everything. Sometimes I want her to be wrong, just once. She never is. She's sweet and loving but also smart and complicated and cool.

Her style has totally informed mine, too. She loves simple, beautiful design: Black and white, ticking, plaid, neutrals, a real fireplace, wood floors, a functional layout. She loves books as much as I do. Her coffee table is full of them, and stacks of magazines. Some are from 2008, but you turn to a dog-eared page and find your current, dream sun-room inspiration or an article on an artist you just learned existed last week. Her style is classic, like her. She'll wear black to my wedding because she always wears black.

I wonder if we can talk Moom into wearing a custom Amanda McKey bedazzled leather jacket?

Can we talk your wedding? What are we doing for the paper goods. How is the bar design coming along?! I’m so excited.

Yes! Our save the dates were a funny little sketch of our dog. I surprised James with the design (because my only goal is for him to think I'm clever) and he loved them. Not 100% sure on invite design yet, but I'm thinking something classic with a fun twist.

We're getting married at my parent's house and planning on turning their garage into a cool bar area. Think: Siren Hotel/Candy Bar meets Mitchell St. Pub meets Legs Inn. Basically I love design and James loves taxidermy, so it's perfect! We'll see how it goes, but I'm hoping to wallpaper one section of the garage and create a sort of gallery wall with vintage mirrors, family photos, and art. It sounds like a big undertaking, but our overall goal for the wedding is that it be laid-back, personal, and fun for our people. We're not losing sleep over any of it - as long as we're married at the end, we'll be happy!

Stay tuned for the goodness that will be the Orr + Bell Wedding later this September. In the meantime, Amanda is accepting custom art inquiries and would be happy as a clam to create something special for you! Drop a line here.

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