Meet the Designer: Natalie Walsh

Natalie Walsh for HMR Designs. Photo by: Kent Drake Photography.
Natalie Walsh for HMR Designs. Photo by: Kent Drake Photography.

It’s no secret that HMR Designs is full of talent, from our imaginative floral studio to our expansive art department nearly every corner of our studio has a visionary mind at work. But where does the creative journey start? The answer is: with our designers. Be it a gala, wedding, or corporate function, behind every HMR event is a dedicated designer working to bring an innovative vision to life. Large or small, no detail is overlooked as they act as architects to the endless design elements that go into the making of a memorable celebration. No client, event, or day is the same for an HMR Designer and one of our talents who thrives in this ever-evolving atmosphere is Natalie Walsh. Though she’s only been with us since 2017, Natalie has racked up over a decade of experience in the event world; an industry she unknowingly (and accidentally) walked right into at the age of fourteen. Since then she’s found both professional and personal gratification through the creative aspect her role entails, a priceless benefit for a natural born artist such as herself. Keep reading to hear how Natalie got her start, what her favorite design element is, and how she spends her free time when she’s not on an HMR job site.

How did you end up in the event industry?

When I was 14 years old I went to visit my friend who worked in a flower shop on Valentine’s Day. I said, “Hi, is Heather here?” and they said, “Yes she is, honey. Do you want a job?” I didn’t. It was a mom and pop shop in Minnesota and they told me “Too bad! Hop behind the counter, we need some help.” I ended up working there throughout high school. Soon I moved to Chicago for college and I started my own photography business while in school. I was working in weddings, fashion, fine art, and interiors but all along I continued to keep my toe in floral which exposed me to the luxury event world. In 2005 I opened up my own event design company and 12 years later one of the freelancers who worked with me (Editor’s Note: Our very own Event Designer, Jessica!) made the introduction to HMR. The rest is history!

What kind of events do you design?

Primarily weddings with some social and corporate celebrations in the mix.

What’s the first thing you do when you begin to design an event?

I try to channel the vision my clients have, I really want to picture what they want their celebration to look like. It’s a very collaborative relationship as I want to ensure it feels like their day, not mine. From there I serve not only as their designer but an editor to their concepts, too. It’s very important that I listen and interpret their ideas so I can give them what they need and, sometimes, give them things they didn’t know they wanted.

What’s your design philosophy? 

I want my clients’ events to feel warm and welcoming and look gorgeous while people are there in the moment, but I also want it to look timeless and beautiful when they look back on their big day in pictures. Knowing how certain design elements will look “in the moment” as well as in a photograph helps me guide my clients with placement of decor, lighting, and color.

A recent wedding at Cafe Brauer designed by Natalie. Photo by: T&S Photography.
A recent wedding at Cafe Brauer designed by Natalie. Photo by: T&S Photography.

Where do you source decor inspiration from?

All over! Fashion, nature, fine art, residential design – I can, and do, draw inspiration from each of these but it always depends on the client. I might have a bride that is drawn to more nature than fashion, for example.  Everything is so personalized when it comes to weddings.

Can you think back to your most memorable event?

Every event is special to me for their own reasons but there is one that stands out a bit. I did a 70th birthday party for one of our sweetest clients whose lifelong dream has always been to be the star of a cabaret show. His wife and daughter came to us knowing he would never throw a party like this for himself and we took it from there. We knew he loved art deco, Erté, and jewel tones so we really upped the ante transforming the blank canvas of Chez into the cabaret club of his dreams. And then he put on a full show! Starring himself! He practiced for months with BeatMix Music, who helped produce all of the entertainment. He had costumes made, custom suits – it was incredible and on top of it all, they invited me to watch the show and celebrate with them. None of his friends who were in attendance even knew he could sing so he really blew them away with his performance and I got to witness the joy firsthand. That’s why I do what I do. We helped him create one of the greatest nights of his life, and that’s really powerful. (Editor’s Note: Click here to see a snippet of the celebration!)

A custom cabaret! One of Natalie's most memorable events had her client taking center stage at his 70th birthday celebration. Photo by: Studio This Is.
A custom cabaret! One of Natalie’s most memorable events had her client taking center stage at his 70th birthday celebration. Photo by: Studio This Is.

Do you have a favorite design element?

Floral. I’ve been a flower addict since I was a tiny kid in my Minnesota garden.

What’s your favorite thing about HMR?

Being able to create with no limits. Our capabilities are truly endless and it’s rewarding to be on a team that really has no bounds. Watching how our ridiculously talented and versatile team comes up with design concepts and decor combinations in such endlessly different ways is also very inspiring. Everyone’s vision is very distinctive, and it’s so fun to watch their events come to life.

Can you offer readers any wedding advice?

Be yourself and follow your gut. Don’t try to make your wedding look like somebody else’s. If you see something on Pinterest you don’t need to replicate it. Find the vendors you trust and let them help you pull out what is essentially your own style rather than do something that’s already been done. Make your day especially yours.

How do you spend your free time?

I love spending time with my son and husband, gardening, going out to dinner, and going on “adventures”. My favorite Chicago spots are the Garfield Park Conservatory, the Art Institute and the Chicago Botanic Garden. You see the theme here.

What’s your favorite way to relax?

Spending time talking with friends and laughing really loud is basically my favorite form of exercise. Singing also brings me great joy, and I sing all the time and anywhere. It makes me feel like me.

If you could pick up and move anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Maybe Hawaii. There’s a temperate climate and lots of flowers. I could grow so many beautiful things all year round.

What’s your biggest vice?

Wine and coffee, what a pair!

Who was the last performer you saw live?

Brandi Carlile at Northerly Island.

What’s the first thing you do when you get home after a long day at work?

Take off my heels and put on my comfy clothes, sometimes forgetting I still have my giant earrings on, ha!

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

I was in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on a Columbia College trip with fellow photography students. We had a meal in this teeny, tiny little restaurant. We’re talking one table in a garden. The food was so ridiculously good that we each laughed out loud after every bite. We passed the plates around and all tried each other’s meals, everything was so fresh and flavorful, and the house wine was perfect! It’ll be hard to top, but I’ll certainly try!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I would love to be focusing on singing and making art again, maybe writing a book. I love photography, painting, sculpting – I make jewelry, too. I have my hand in nearly everything when I can. Except knitting. I’m not a knitter. Yet.