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Friday, January 29, 2021

Leaving With Love: Longtime Fort Thomas Wedding Designer Retires

Kevin Ford retired after more than 25 years as one of the top wedding designers in our region.

40 years in the business! Home building, room additions, deck building, roofing, structural work, concrete, painting. (513) 205-4020

by Robin Gee

"When I turned 40, I decided I wanted to leave the business I loved while I still loved what I did," said Kevin Ford, owner of Ford-Ellington Wedding and Event Design, in a post to his customers and friends on Facebook.

Ford, who had recently turned 60, decided the time had come. He was ready to retire from the business—and lifelong passion—after more than 25 years in wedding design and another 10 as a florist in Fort Thomas.  
Ford-Ellington Wedding and Event Design was located at 16 North Fort Thomas Avenue. Ford owns the building and has put it up for sale. It makes sense as he has moved on to sunnier climes near Fort Lauderdale.
He said he is ready to relax a bit before new adventures.

"It’s definitely a job that I have loved. When you own a business, it’s a 24-hour-a-day job. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, designing in my head. I’d be thinking about contingency options like weather conditions... now, for my first few years, I want to relax, maybe look into volunteering."

Always one to stay busy, he said he’s already on the lookout for charities that might need his help.

From florist to designer 

Flowers are a big part of any wedding but so much more goes into the planning from lighting to linens to venue. Ford said he was on site to make sure it all went as planned.

Ford started in the business helping his mother who owned her own florist shop. She bought the business, he said, when he was in high school. He went on to college and earned a degree in psychology, but returned to the business he had grown to love.

"I started working full time as a florist in 1986, and after eight months I asked my mom if I could buy her out." She had two locations by that time, so she was happy to sell the Fort Thomas business to her son.

Ford operated his florist business for six or seven years, he said, before moving into wedding event design. In the early 90s, thanks to the popularity of Martha Stewart and better access to information via the Internet, people were becoming interested in and educated about the many aspects of big, creative weddings. It was a good time to be a florist, and he found it was a good time to learn about the wedding planning business.

Yet, it was when he provided the flowers for a large wedding held in the Omni Netherland’s Hall of Mirrors, seeing it all come together, that he decided wedding design was for him. As he learned more, he slowly moved his business exclusively into wedding event and design.

He said what he really loved about wedding design was having control over the big picture of the event while also being involved in the details. "I love the details, and I love always being busy," he explained.


The role of a wedding designer

This wedding, held in the Omni Netherland Hall of Mirrors earned Ford two national awards, one for Best Tabletop Design and one for Best Team Event.

Wedding designers work with the clients from initial concepts through the day of the big event. They handle the look and feel of the space, oversee contractors for lighting, installation and break down, all the details of how the wedding will unfold.

Unlike most wedding designers, Ford said, he has always tried to be present the day of, work on all the small details of getting the space completely ready. He meets the wedding couple after the ceremony to give them a private showing of the reception space before guests arrive. The wedding photographer is on hand to capture the moment. He calls this "The Reveal," and it is one of his favorite parts of the job.

When asked if he had some memorable weddings that stood out, he noted that one of his weddings, held in the Hall of Mirrors, won two national awards. It was nice to be recognized, he said, "But really it’s the reaction of the couple when seeing the space, that means the most to me."

Some advice from the expert

Ford said his background in psychology has helped him a lot, especially when he first meets his clients and begins to explore the possibilities. His goal is to take them from nervous to excited about the event.

He said he tries to listen to what his clients really want. To make sure, he repeats back and listens for their reactions. He wants the clients to be able to visualize the event along with him.

One piece of advice, he said, is to give yourselves plenty of time for planning. The more time you have, the more opportunity there is for fine tuning your vision—and for alternatives in case things don’t go as planned.

He also said clients should not be afraid to ask questions, the earlier the better in the conversation. And, if something doesn’t feel right, to let the designer know. You want to feel you are working as a team, he said.

Speaking of teams, Ford has worked with and relied on a small number of highly skilled employees. One of his longtime employees, Laura Schaber, has been a great support and friend, he said. His trust in her was important as she took over on Ford’s own wedding in 2013. 

Concern for the industry

This year with COVID has been devastating for the wedding design and event industry, and the pain its caused and concern for his fellows in the industry has not been lost on Ford. He was fortunate when it hit he had already been winding his business down and only had three weddings to move, but said he knew others in the business who had upwards of 40 weddings on their books to postpone.

"I think about all the photographers, caterers, venues, hotel employees who are losing work around the weddings. This has been awful for the industry," he said.

Looking back with warm memories

The memories of being part of so many people’s special days has been bittersweet for the designer. The walls of his business featured many photos of weddings past. He decided to return the photos to his many customers, affording him the opportunity to chat with them about their lives and happy remembrances.

Known as one of the top designers in the area, Ford has designed many large-scale weddings for high-end clients. There is a lot of pressure to get things right. You have to have nerves of steel, he said, and be ready to for almost any contingency.

The key to success, he said, is gaining the clients’ trust that you will make the right decisions for them no matter what. A good wedding designer needs to be prepared for anything from damaged flowers, to bad weather, to issues with the venue.

Yet, when it all comes together, and the clients are thrilled, that is the part that has kept him going. He said he still loves it, and that’s how he knew now was a good time to take his leave. 

The best part of his job, said Ford, was watching the reaction on clients' faces during "The Reveal."

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