Confessions of an Alexandria Event Planner

Q&A with Nicole Ryan of Gunston Hall Story by Liesel Schmidt

How long have you been an event planner? Since 2013. I oversee the entire private rental program at Gunston Hall, which also includes events such as baby showers, rehearsal dinners, luncheons, conferences, meetings, a British car show, a wine festival and more! What first interested you about the industry? I was a history major in college. I knew I wanted to work in the museum field, so during two internships at museums in the Richmond area, I was able to intern more specifically in areas such as donor/private events as well as marketing and development. I knew right away that my love of history, museums, hospitality and customer service would mesh well if I could find a job at a museum in the private event side of things. After moving to NoVA after college in 2013, I was able to land a job with a small event company as well as a job at Gunston Hall. After being promoted in spring of 2014, I became full-time at Gunston Hall and have been here since as the Leader of Business Enterprise, heading up the entire rental department and Museum Shop. What do you love most about your work? No event is the same! One day, we could have a wedding, the next could be a car show, followed by a dog draft test on our grounds. I pride myself on being focused on the contracting party from beginning to end and I feel like that shows when guests are having a wonderful experience. What is your biggest challenge in planning a wedding? Not every couple or event is the same, which is exactly how it should be. However, working for over eight years at the same venue can have its challenges when trying to be imaginative on new ideas for decorations, table decor, etc. for couples or contracting parties that want to be completely different from past events. The space is only so big and isn't a movable location, so I try to stay up-to-date on new ideas and trends through social media, Pinterest and wedding magazines for events to try out. How have you pivoted to make weddings a reality over the past two years? Micro weddings! Having personally had one, I couldn't speak enough about them and how magical the intimacy of a smaller event is. The ability to be flexible has been key during everything as literally one-day events could be 50 people and the next, 25 people. Smaller, more intimate weddings continue to be popular, which is why we are now offering a permanent Micro Package as one of our wedding packages. What keeps you passionate, despite the challenges? Love and the ability to see couples stay strong and work through challenges to still find a way to have their special day even if it means pivoting to a micro wedding or postponing for a year. What do people love most about working with you? My passion for my job, going above and beyond for special requests, being flexible in the moment to make a change to the event and my customer service skills of being hospitable and welcoming. What makes Gunston Hall such an incredible venue? With 550 acres of beautiful landscape and a breathtaking vista of the Potomac, the grounds make for an experience to remember. All rentals of Gunston Hall also include tours of the historic house, allowing for guests to learn the history of Gunston Hall and George Mason. What do couples love about Gunston Hall and having their weddings there? We have lots of outdoor spaces that can be used for ceremonies, lawn games, cocktail hours and even a full reception. The inside space is rather plain on its own, so we allow couples a lot of flexibility in decorating. If no other events are scheduled the Friday before a wedding, we even allow two hours of complimentary setup time for decorating and a rehearsal walkthrough. The inside space opens to a beautiful private courtyard, which is half brick and half lawn, allowing for another great space for cocktail hours or even a tent and heaters to be used year-round. What are the amenities/services offered to wedding parties? We offer an assortment of indoor/outdoor tables and chairs included with the venue rental. Wedding packages may include tours of the historic mansion, private bridal changing quarters and a dedicated staff member throughout your wedding planning process. The Ann Mason Room features internet connectivity and audio-visual capabilities for receptions and a full-size catering kitchen is available adjacent to the Ann Mason Room.