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Wedding Essentials

My big fat void deck wedding

Malay couples go big on wedding decorations to turn public spaces into dream wedding venues
The Straits Times - January 15, 2012
By: Kimberly Spykerman
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My big fat void deck wedding Mr Helmindra Halim and his wife Fizah Nizam had a rustic-vintage theme for their wedding.

Traditional venues for Malay weddings have become more dolled-up, with young couples sparing no expense in turning public spaces such as the void deck, basketball court and other common areas into the wedding venue of their dreams.

A growing number are dressing up these spartan public spaces to look like lush gardens, magical fairy-tale settings and even a rustic kampung, wedding planners told LifeStyle.

Some couples have even asked for whimsical weddings, styled after literary classics such as Alice In Wonderland complete with a Mad Hatter's tea party, never mind that such customisations can cost 20 to 30 per cent more than the usual nuptials.

Ms Mastura Esnain, 43, owner of Anggun Andaman, a popular bridal boutique here, said that about 30 per cent of her clientele now opt to customise their weddings compared to 10 per cent about three to four years ago.

'These couples are willing to pay because they want something completely different,' she added.

Usually, couples can choose from a slew of templates that are colour- or theme-based, such as A Royal Wedding.

The void deck is still a popular choice, even as more couples begin seeking out alternative venues such as community centres, country clubs and even art galleries.

The void deck option is usually chosen for convenience and to accommodate their parents' guests, as the space is cheap to rent and can house a large number of people, said wedding planner Fatimah Mohsin, 36, who has been in the business for more than 10 years.

But as soon as the void deck is agreed on, the couple quickly start work to begin making it as pretty as possible.

She said that about 70 per cent of her clients usually opt to customise their weddings, with the popular choices being princess and fairy-tale themes, compared to between 10 and 20 per cent just three to four years ago.

She attributes this to the rising popularity of cable TV shows such as Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, a reality show about couples who get help in planning their dream weddings.

Malay wedding planners here usually charge between $3,500 and $6,000 for basic decorations, but the cost can go up significantly depending on details that the couple want such as exotic fresh flowers for a garden-themed wedding, mood-lighting, lanterns or furniture such as carved bamboo chairs that has to be specially ordered and imported.

Just to completely cover the walls and ceiling with additional fabric will add another $2,000 - an option which many couples do not mind paying if it makes the void deck look glamorous. And that is without taking in the cost of food.

In addition to the staple of briyani rice, couples are choosing to have add-ons such as candy counters bursting with sweet treats and manned stations that prepare food fresh for the guests, all of which can make a hefty bill.

These additions cost about $3 more a person and at a Malay wedding, with at least 1,000 people, the couple could easily end up forking out more than $2,000 or $3,000 extra on top of the original food costs.

'Food is definitely one area that couples are very particular about and are willing to splurge on,' said Ms Azlin Mainawi, 45, co-owner of Wedding Sutera, another boutique.

Freelance television director and cameraman Helmindra Halim, 29, spent close to $100,000 on food and decorations last November to make sure he had his dream wedding. The couple had 3,500 guests.

For his wedding theme, which was a 'rustic-vintage' combination, he had the neighbourhood basketball court completely transformed. The stage area was made of wooden pallets covered in hay, with a pastel-coloured vintage bicycle propped against it. Tiffany-blue lanterns were strung up alongside open parasols filled with dragon willow. Each table also had centrepieces handmade from recycled olive oil bottles and condensed milk tins.

Details like these, Mr Helmindra said, helped set his wedding apart from the rest.

'We wanted our guests to enjoy the space and experience. Aesthetics are very important to us,' he added.

Similarly Mr Zaki Razak, 32, who got married last month at an open space in Bishan, turned his wedding into an exhibition of rock music, poetry, dance and performance art. The researcher with the Heritage Conservation Centre even designed his own theme and colour scheme.

He also had a booklet printed for his guests containing photographs and poetry, as well as explaining the Muslim wedding tradition. In all, he spent $30,000 on his wedding.

'When it comes to Malay weddings, there is always a certain template that keeps getting recycled... I don't mind spending more on my wedding if that makes it more creative and meaningful,' he said.

Mr Helmindra set up Alchemy last month, together with wife Fizah Nizam and older sister Nina, to cater to couples like he and his wife who want distinctive weddings.

It specialises in customised weddings and events. They did so after garnering a lot of interest following Mr Helmindra's wedding.

Already, they have weddings scheduled from May onwards.

Said his sister Nina Halim, 32: 'Young couples have higher expectations now and so many diverse experiences. We felt that perhaps the current providers of these wedding services may not be able to keep up.'

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