Why the Details Matter with Kaleb Norman James
Kaleb Norman James is one of our favorite wedding planners, his impeccable style and charming personality makes him someone you would love to have by your side at your wedding. A big thank you to Kaleb for sharing the intricate process behind his wedding designs and detail styling.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you started and how you would describe your style and process?
I got started in junior high, working for a family friends event design company. They did largely corporate events and some weddings. It was my first job, "under the table" if you will. They did my sister's wedding, which was my first glimpse into the event world and I was immediately hooked. They noticed how much I was into it and let me tag along. I worked with them all through high school, before I decided to start my own business.
I would say my style takes great inspiration from Italian and French design. Travel & architecture are my two biggest inspirations in life. I never feel more alive than when I'm seeing the world. I grew up spending most of my summers traveling between France and Italy and I can't get enough of these places. These travels have always inspired my style. I need to coin a term for this- something better than "Italian Villa Traditional " or "Elegant Chateau meets traditional Villa," It's a work in progress!
My design process usually begins by establishing a color palette. Color to me is huge and my favorite approach is to pick 2-3 main colors and work within gradients of those hues to create texture and variation. From there, I really study the venue- it's my goal to enhance the natural beauty of the space we're in, rather than compete with it. I try to find inspiration in the venue itself and find ways to bring in lush floral installations or something of the sort to really bring out it's best features. From there, it's bringing in all the pieces to accent and create a custom space. I love intentional touches that a guest will look at and go "that's so the bride & groom" so I try to figure out what those things are and capitalize on them. For example. i had one bride that always wore the same incredible Le Labo perfume. Every time I met with her, I was so happy because she smelled so good! It was her signature scent- so for the wedding, we brought in the candles of that scent and put them all around the room and I loved overhearing people walk in and go "it even smells like her in here!" Those personal touches are one of my favorite additions- the details matter!
We love your work! How do you create a timeless, classic wedding without sacrificing your client's individuality?
Well, thank you! I really appreciate that. It's definitely not always easy, but i think for me I strive to have an overall consistent approach to designing my weddings, so there's always something that feels like it it's familiar in all my events. Often, that’s done through my floral & centerpiece styles. Just about every wedding I do has the same floral order, just adjusted for quantity, color & season. I love seeing a consistent brand throughout what I do and this is one of the ways. I also tend to be very open with my clients and I don't hold back with recommending a particular direction- it's of course done graciously, but I feel like my clients come to my looking for my input and expertise, so I definitely provide consistent creative guidance from start to finish. Where a lot of people might present every option possible, i like to narrow things down to 2 or 3 curated options so a client feels directed and empowered, but I can ensure things are aesthetically on track! I also work with the same, consistent vendors as much as possible! We get to know each others methods, approaches & styles over time and it allows everyone to operate strategically and efficiently. I love working with a small network of film photographers, paper designers, etc. that all have relatively consistent styles, so our work together creates a similar, timeless feel!
What do you do to differentiate your flat lays so that they look unique from wedding to wedding?
The biggest factor is definitely the items themselves I'm working with. I work in-depth with my paper designers to create beautiful, statement paper that feels different than previous suites, so I can have unique styles. I always try to vary the approach of how I lay things out, whether that be very balanced & straight lined or more soft & layered. This is usually based on the style of the suite & overall wedding. I'm also always on the hunt for new trays, props, etc. to vary up my styling options and keep things consistent.
What is your styling process for wedding details, how do you start, and how do you know you're done?
It all comes down to the amount of time I have to style, but usually I start with the invitation suite, as that's the most important. Then I jump to the trousseau to get all bride's details. From there, I go into the more detailed flatlays like day of paper, the rings, shoes by themselves. etc. I tend to design more ornately than simply, so I tend to keep going with floral, props, etc. until I feel like it's full. Usually i have it shot then and then take some away to provide a less busy option too- I'm kind of a maximalist and some times I go a little over the top, but i kind of like it that way too, so sometimes it just works!
What are some of the styling tools that you bring to every wedding or photoshoot? How do you organize them?
Well of course my Heirloom boards. From there I pack my styling kit with a series of Mrs Boxes, acrylic & wood risers and small trays/plates. Those are my musts! I don't tend to do too much with ribbon anymore, I feel like it gets a little overly busy. I also try to incorporate some found objects that feel custom to the event- like if I'm in Italy, I want something that's Italian, such a vintage postcard or cool bottle of local olive oil, etc.
Your flat styling is so detailed, do you source different props for every wedding, if so, what type of props do you source and from where?
YES! As mentioned above, I try to get things that feel specific to the client and location. I think about who my clients are and what they love and find pieces that showcase that. I'm a big fan of antique shops so I can find one of kind, unique pieces. I also do a lot of vintage trays and small plates that are often things like ring dishes, soap dishes, etc. Etsy, eBay and local antique shops are my top spots!
Here's a silly question: what are some of the strangest things you've ever put into a flat lay?
Hmm...great question! I had a really ornately carved bar of soap of the a woman's face on it that I picked up in France- I don't think I meant to buy it for a flatlay, but it was the perfect color and I loved it! I've used vintage ash trays for styling dishes and one time drizzled honey all over a flatlay- it was for a brand, but was certainly on the stranger side of things!
Photographers love working with creative planners - what type of photographers do you work with, and what would be the best way for a new photographer to get a chance to work with you?
I love photographers and have so much appreciation and respect for them! I try to exclusively work with natural light film photographers. That light, airy feel is so timeless and captures color the way it looks in person and as a designer, it's my favorite way to have things shot. Plus, there's no better sound than a film camera as it loads the film/take a shot! I love it! I always love meeting and working with new photographers too! It's great when they reach out via Instagram or email and send a link to their portfolio. I have a great network of photographer friends that have all come through Instagram and I love how it connects people that way.
Have you ever received detail photos that you didn't like? What can photographers do to improve their flat lay photos? Any pet peeves?
Unfortunately, yes. There's been a few times that the photographers editing style totally manipulated the coloring and look of things and as a designer, I spend so much time curating colors and specific pieces, that when it comes back looking different than it was in real life due to intense editing, it's a big bummer. That's why I love film, it captures things how you see them in real life and I love that. I'd say my biggest pet peeve in addition to intense editing is when things are shot in bad light- harsh, direct light just blows everything out and it's just not nice to look at- or when it's shot really dark and everything looks like it was in some weird smoky room or something.
To see more work by Kaleb, visit his website at KalebNormanJames.com