Who’s Who of Event Planners: Marina Birch of Birch Design Studio

Chicago Planner Magazine is excited to present another “Who’s Who of Event Planners”.  Today’s feature is Marina Birch.  As all professional planners know, events come in all shapes, sizes and budgets.  They require meeting client expectations while delivering that “wow” factor.  No one offers more visually stunning events than Marina Birch, founder of Birch Design Studio. BirchStudios-CulturalCenterRedChairs

Born in Manhattan, owner and principal designer, Marina Alexandra Birch spent her childhood crisscrossing the globe while living in New York and London, gaining a unique and worldly perspective at a very young age.

With degrees in the arts from both Princeton and Harrington College of Design, Birch fuses her extensive knowledge of art, architecture and fashion to shape impeccably planned events, and create singular and personal celebrations for her clients.

Led by impressive word-of-mouth, she has quickly developed a national presence and continues to be a recognized and passionate voice in the field of event design.


Chicago Planner Magazine (CPM): So many people are looking to break into the event planning world – how did you end up doing not only events, but high end events?

Marina Birch (MB): I started the company as an interior design studio, with mostly residential clients, and a few of them asked me to design parties for them.   I fell in love with the ability to create an environment that truly transported people – not just visually, but by using smell, taste, sound and touch.  With residential interiors, you cannot typically pull all the senses together at once to create that fully experiential environment in the same way – the goal is very different than that of a special event.

From my first handful of clients, the company slowly grew.  I always knew that I wanted to work on larger scale events, and I wanted to work all over the country and the world, but I was always very careful not to bite off [too much] more than I could chew.  I slowly built the business by expanding our skillset and experience, and working on increasingly high profile and high end events.

BirchStudios-FireBreather(CPM): What is the most unusual event you’ve ever done?

(MB): I would say that every event has something very unusual about it – one aspect that sets it apart from any other event.  One of my favorites was taking a ballroom that had a very southwestern theme (it was in Arizona), and building a new ballroom inside of it that looked very old world European.  The Bride wanted to host the wedding in her hometown, but she also wanted her wedding to feel as though it were taking place in a gorgeous, traditional ballroom.

(CPM): In your experience, aside from big budgets, what defines a luxury event?   

(MB): For me, luxury is really about not having to worry or really think about anything at all – but just to experience and enjoy.  This is our goal, not only for the guests, but also for our clients.  We have spent years refining the way in which we work with clients to create a luxury experience for them.

From a client’s perspective, that translates into our crafting a process that takes the stress and worry away from our clients, and presents them with the best possible options in the best possible way so that they are armed with information, as well as the knowledge that they have the best possible team working for them. That way the planning process becomes fun for them.

From a guest’s perspective, that translates into our thinking through every detail of every experience to make sure it unfolds naturally for them – even if there are 300 people in the background actually making it happen.  Even the most dramatic moments should not feel complicated for a guest – we never want people to question where they should be, where they should go, or what they should be doing.  It should all feel sort of like a seamless dream they are just floating through effortlessly.

BirchStudios-WeddingTent(CPM): Do you feel it’s possible for brides without giant budgets to put together a fabulous wedding? 

(MB): ABSOLUTELY!  Money doesn’t often equal fabulousness.  The most impactful, meaningful and beautiful weddings I have ever done all started with a lot of consideration about how everyone would experience the whole day.  They also always incorporate some sort of surprise – an aesthetic one (thousands of paper butterflies fluttering overhead in an old warehouse), or a personal one (a handwritten note to each guest at their place setting from the bride and groom), or even a entertaining one (have a surprise performance during the evening – maybe a gospel choir bursts into song at the end of the ceremony, or a parade of violinist encircles your guests and serenades them during dinner).  The ability of a surprise to stir up emotion and take people out of their heads and into the moment is powerful, and very very memorable!

(CPM): What is one wedding that has really stuck with you and why?

(MB): Any wedding where the bride and groom were truly happy just being a part of the day.  That energy is infectious and fills the spaces and every guest with authentic joy and a celebratory mood.

Specifically, but maybe more superficially, the wedding we did in Saint-Tropez last year will always stay with me as special for both professional and personal reasons.  Professionally: it was my first international job, and every celebration we planned went off without a hitch – everything went perfectly.  It was a major milestone for me, and I can’t wait to work more internationally.  Personally: my first child was four months old at the time, so she and my husband came along for the ride.  It was her first international trip, and we three had so much fun together eating delicious food and trying out our French.  I loved learning how to travel as an expanded family, and seeing that my daughter was as interested in people, language, food and culture as I am – she was a natural traveler, which was thrilling.

BirchStudios-CivicOperaHousefromStage(CPM): What are some of your favorite vendors and venues in Chicago?

(MB): I generally don’t like to single out specific vendors because we work so hard to match the right vendors to the right clients.  There are so many wonderful vendors here in Chicago, and they each have their strengths and talents.  The ones I choose to work with vary by event and the needs of the client.

As far as venues, I tend to personally love any venue with historic and architectural interest, such as Union Station, the History Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center.  Those are some of my favorites.

I also really love creating parties onstage at our gorgeous local theatres (Civic Opera, Chicago Theater, and Auditorium Theater) – it is so incredibly dramatic to invite guests into an auditorium, and have the enormous stage curtain rising before them to reveal their dinner tables.  There is nothing quite like sitting on stage and looking out – it is a unique perspective not may have experienced.

(CPM): When you aren’t planning the event, what makes an event enjoyable for you to attend as a guest?

(MB): Thoughtfulness more than anything – thinking about your guests’ perspective.  I am actually a terrific guest because I am so keenly aware of how hard each decision is for the hosts, and I understand better than anyone how much thought, effort and money went into an event, regardless of how simple it is.

BirchStudios-WeddingTentDancing(CPM): Who is your ideal bride to work with?

(MB): Someone who trusts my aesthetic, my competence and my experience.    I work so hard to get to know each client and their preferences and tastes that we get to a place where they are comfortable delegating to me and my team.  When we are given the space to imagine and create – that really sets the stage for a fabulous event:

(CPM): What do you find most frustrating or challenging about your work?

(MB): One of the hardest things for me is not having a great partnership with a client or vendor.  It happens very very rarely, but it can make the process difficult.

(CPM): What do you enjoy most?

(MB): I enjoy getting to know each client, and gaining their trust to create something that goes beyond even what they imagined.  I love delivering the dream and more – when a client feels the event is a huge success, and also feels the planning process and working with us was professional and easy, that makes me happy.  And getting thanked in the toasts – that always takes me by surprise and brings tears to my eyes.  The fact that anyone in the family is thinking of me when they are standing up and giving a toast is the most moving thing ever.

If you’d like to work with Marina visit the website: http://birchdesignstudio.com or email studio@birchdesignstudio.com


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