Thursday 27 April 2017

All the right touches…

Calligrapher Sarah O'Dea in her studio in Churchtown. Photo: Tony Gavin
Calligrapher Sarah O'Dea in her studio in Churchtown. Photo: Tony Gavin
Cat Lawlor with one of her wedding cakes. Photo: Tony Gavin
Hair stylist Pat O'Neill at The Brehon Hotel, Killarney. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Florist Olivier Besombe pictured in his Harolds Cross shop. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Kate Rose Crean and Justin Campbell of Dusty Boy Designs. Photo: Shane O'Neill

Invites, flowers, cake, favours… Not only should your wedding choices represent you as a couple, chances are you want them to stand out from the crowd too. Here, Orla neligan meets some of the country's most creative wedding suppliers who each bring something different to the Big Day


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A qualified psychologist, Cat Lawlor (29) returned to her love of baking and make-up artistry when she realised her degree wasn't ticking the right creative buttons. She runs her business, The Cake Cuppery, from her home in Dublin, which she shares with her husband Garry.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing (and tasting) one of Cat Lawlor's creations will be surprised to learn she once had a fear of wedding cakes. "Until 2013, I only ever made cupcakes," laughs Cat. "I was terrified of making the transition to wedding cakes, they always seemed so detailed and just plain scary."

In actual fact, she admits, they are less time-consuming and stressful to make than smaller confectionery.

With an average of 85 weddings a year, Cat has certainly honed her baking skills, describing her style as bold, artistic and fussy, "more is better". Cat can't quite remember when she started the business, it was a natural progression that stemmed from her love of baking, inspired by her mother and her first cookbook aged three.

Her repertoire includes everything from naked-style cakes, to rich buttercream, traditional iced, chocolate ganache, cupcakes, meringue kisses, homemade marshmallows, macarons, tarts, doughnuts, all with her signature artistic twist. "I love that I can create something beautiful from just a few ingredients and that I've contributed to the best day in someone's life."

With so many weddings a year, there's bound to be a few challenges? "On the personal side, the biggest difficulty is working by myself a lot - it's hard not to procrastinate but it does make you confront your weaknesses. When it comes to cakes, I had a fairly big one a few years ago," she groans. A near-crash experience resulted in the interior of her car being decorated with buttercream. Needless to say, the cake didn't make it. The venue was two hours away and Cat had to go home, recreate a dummy cake, drive back to the venue and assemble it. "The couple were very understanding but my nerves never recovered." A few weeks later she made a similar journey for TV presenter Glenda Gilson's wedding. "The cake made it in one piece but small country roads are not my friend," laughs Cat.

The venue and overall style of a wedding is a huge factor when designing a cake. An elegant iced cake will often clash with a modern, industrial setting, so it's important to factor in the theme and location.

Cat's finished creations are always show-stopping, so is it possible to get a fabulous cake on a reasonable budget? "Using fresh flowers rather than sugar flowers helps. A good cost saver is a buttercream-finished cake. They look beautiful and it's possible to achieve lots of different colours and effects without spending a huge amount of money."

And her favourite cake to date? "It's not a wedding cake, but one I make for my husband regularly: white chocolate mud cake with caramelised white chocolate ganache centre. It never gets old."

I'm not just a baker, I'm also… a blogger, and very new to it. My blog can be found at


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Cork native Pat O'Neill lives in Killarney, Co Kerry, with his wife Geraldine and children Luke (11), Lara (9) and Finn (7). He runs his busy Style Suite at the Brehon Hotel.

"I don't leave home without a stash of wedding-related paraphernalia," laughs hairdresser Pat O'Neill, referring to the time he loaned a father of the groom his own cufflinks. "I've been in all states of undress," he continues. "I've given a groomsman my jacket, a groom my shirt, and a brother of the bride my shoes."

This goes beyond the remit of a wedding hairdresser, but then Pat considers it all part of his job. "I'm a wedding planner, a milliner, a seamstress, a singer, a bridesmaid, a groomsman, a counsellor, a florist, a cobbler." At one wedding, he arrived at the bride's house and the whole family was asleep. He opened the fridge and started making them breakfast. "I guess that makes me a breakfast chef too!"

Pat is one of those rare breeds who, on meeting, make you feel as though he's your long lost cousin. He is both instantly likeable, entertaining and just about the best 'hipflask' you can have on your wedding day. "My dad used to say it costs nothing to be nice. I believe in making everyone feel relaxed and have fun. If they have confidence in you then they will feel more assured walking into that church."

Every wedding is treated as though it's his first. "It helps that I love weddings, and I love people, but I try to make every wedding as fresh and exciting as the last. Ultimately you have to love what you do to be successful."

Apart from running his busy salon at the Brehon Hotel, Killarney, Pat has, on average, 70 weddings a year, which can take him anywhere around Ireland and overseas, some more demanding than others. "Not demanding necessarily," he demurs, "but some brides, understandably, get very anxious. We did a wedding a few months ago in Parknasilla, Co Kerry. There was a hurricane outside and the poor bride was so nervous and upset, she was crying. I stuck on a Bruno Mars song and we all started singing and dancing, by the end of it she was laughing and totally relaxed."

Another bride had her church choir cancel on the morning of the wedding. Pat made a few calls and by the time she was walking up the aisle, he had found a replacement - the guests were none the wiser.

Brides who book Pat are not just treated to a hair do on their wedding day, but as one bride described it, "an unforgettable experience". He brings that same passion to his hairdressing work. At least once a year, he travels to London to upskill. "I do love 1920s, '30s and '40s styles, but I'd happily leave barrel curls behind," he laughs. Pat considers the bride's personal style, shape of face, dress, location, theme and personality when deciding on a style for a wedding day. "It's important to trust in who is doing it for you. If it's a question of budget, I always feel it's better to be sure than sorry."

I'm not just a hair stylist, I'm also… a Jack-of-all-trades when it comes to anything wedding-related. A footballer, singer, golfer, gardener and qualified milliner.



Husband and wife design duo Kate Rose Crean (36) and Justin Campbell (40) own luxe paper goods company Dusty Boy Designs, specialising in beautiful and unique wedding stationery. They live in Wexford with their three dogs.

The commute is a doddle, the coffee breaks are plenty, the music is loud, and the dogs get to hang out too. These are just a few of the perks of working from home for design duo Kate Rose Crean and her South African husband Justin Campbell, who own paper goods company Dusty Boy Designs. Home and office is Kate's grandmother's house at the top of a country lane in Wexford, so inspiration comes from their doorstep.

"We both love nature and often the beginning of a project begins with a walk and something visual, such as a skyline or a particular colour. We both have very different visual concepts, I love a more loose design while Justin likes structure, but we manage to marry them well," says Kate.

When it comes to wedding stationery, Kate is delighted to see the back of vintage and DIY trends in favour of something more playful and loose.

"Couples are a lot more willing to take a risk and express themselves through stationery, it's become less formal - music to our ears." Not surprising that their favourite design to date is their 'Off the Cuff' suite - a beautiful collection that riffs on the playful side, definitely more left of centre than mainstream.

In the five years since the company's inception, Kate and Justin have hand-held many a bride and groom's hand through the stationary process, something they deem a delicate and personal process. "I always try to be kind and patient and remember that there's a real person on the other side of that email with stresses and worries of their own, and I think that's something we're very aware of. The run up to the wedding is lots of fun, but it's also emotional and so, it's important to tread carefully."

For couples that don't know where to begin with their invite design, Kate suggests starting with the colours and textures you are most drawn to and placing them on a mood board - the less wedding-related the better - and include anything that gets your pulse racing.

"A bride sent us a photo of a crockery collection belonging to her grandmother that she loved. We took elements of that and included it in the stationery as a nod to her grandmother who has passed away. That was a very special project."

Kate also admits to being "fascinated" by the personal readings, quotes and poems couples choose to include in their wedding stationery, even the odd request by one couple to include their dog's name. "His name was Diesel so we had to find a way to get it in there and make it work with everything else. We did! But then, I do love a challenge," laughs Kate.

We're not just stationers, we're… nature lovers, movie buffs, music fanatics and adventure seekers. Kate is also a trained make-up artist, specialising in weddings.

Picture: shane o'neill



Dublin-born artist and calligrapher Sara O'Dea (32) studied English and History in UCD, and Marketing in DIT before deciding to return to her roots as an artist, launching her business Three Bullet Gate. She lives in Dublin with her husband Eoin.

"When a couple get married, they invest in beautiful stationery so it's a pity when the writing lets the side down," says calligrapher and artist Sarah O'Dea who, in the last year, has worked on over 30 weddings - including her own last October.

Her company Three Bullet Gate, named after her grandmother's house where many an evening was spent getting creative, was set up in 2015 after she realised a business could be developed from her love of lettering and painting. "My parents and sister are artists so I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember."

Although she studied English and History in UCD, any spare time she had was spent doodling and lettering. As well as being versatile in custom lettering and calligraphy styles, Sarah draws and paints, broadening the spectrum of design elements she can provide for weddings from lettering to invite suites, signs, personal memos and illustrations.

"My own wedding was my favourite to work on," she admits, "only because I got to design exactly what I wanted and spent a few days with my dad in his studio painting a large canvas backdrop together."

Sarah's favourite combination is light inks on dark backgrounds. She considers her style eclectic and loves experimenting with alternative scripts, colour and even material. "I've been asked to letter on all sorts of surfaces, from fruit to broken pots and marble, it makes a nice change from paper."

There have been some ink spillages to date, but no real disasters, although she does admit to always feeling nervous when she hands over the final product. "Weddings are so personal which is what I love about my work, but that also brings a huge pressure to get it absolutely right."

Inspiration comes from the drawings of Errol Le Cain who illustrated classic fairy tales such as Cinderella, a book Sarah has had since she was a child and refers to regularly.

This year Sarah will be hosting workshops for anyone thinking of becoming a calligrapher. "Learning the traditional styles is a great technical basis upon which to develop your own style." And to those couples getting married, she suggests choosing a flexible design since there is often changes in table plans right up to the morning of the wedding. "Also blackboards and signage are a great way of saying nice things to your guests you might forget to include in your speech."

I'm not just a calligrapher, I'm also… a fan of sea swimming, eating dim sum, and reading Agatha Christie - not necessarily all together.



When French-native Olivier Besombes came to Ireland in 2007, he was playing drums in various bands. In 2012, he opened his shop Les Fleurs in Harold's Cross, specialising in simple, yet artistic creations. He lives in Dublin with his partner and two children.

Olivier Besombes may have the harsh words of both his parents and an ex-boss to thank for his flourishing floristry career, since both were less than encouraged by his initial career trajectory.

"I left school to become a professional drummer until my parents kicked me out and told me to go and get a proper job. So I did," laughs Olivier. "A boss once told me I had no ambition, that's when I opened my own shop. I guess that was both the best and worst advice I've ever been given."

Born in Toulouse, France, Olivier's painter mother inspired his love of colour. When the drumming career didn't pan out as expected, he signed up for a floristry diploma and a two-year apprenticeship, before moving to Ireland in 2007. "Think of a wild and beautiful mess," says Olivier of his style. "Flowers are food for the soul and I get to create arrangements for people's life events, that's pretty special."

For those couples that don't wish to spend a fortune, his advice is to trust him. "A lot of brides want peonies but they are expensive. I encourage them to leave it to me and I'll create something beautiful with whatever budget they have."

Getting married in winter poses some problems when it comes to variety. "It's important for brides to be aware that colourful flowers aren't as readily available in winter. I like to draw on the season when I'm creating arrangements - you can still create something beautiful without a full palette of colour."

Creating something different and interesting can be challenging for Olivier. "I was once asked to place Lego in boutonnières, that was certainly different," laughs Olivier. But he admits that simplicity is the hardest thing to master and he is "still working on it".

He loves using flowers that have character. Currently, dark moody colours are a favourite, with inspiration coming from rural landscapes. "You only have to look at the light changing or the way the colours sweep across a field, inspiration is everywhere."

Olivier's spare time is often spent driving around the Irish countryside. "I like getting lost once in a while and finding tiny places I've never heard of. I once got halfway through decorating a church in the middle of nowhere before being told I was in the wrong church." He still made it on time, but only just.

"I try not to overcomplicate things. I don't think too hard about it, I just do it. It's my little mess every time but it's a pretty little mess."

I'm not just a florist, I'm also… a rusty drummer and a father of two.

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