An Interview With Christopher Dodgen
President, Wedding Association of the Brazos Valley
Head Designer, Carriage House Floral
Venue Manager, Astin Mansion
Answers by Christopher Dodgen
As Head Floral Designer of Carriage House Floral Design, Venue Manager of the Astin Mansion, and President of the Wedding Association of the Brazos Valley, you do a lot of things! Can you share a little about your career journey in the wedding industry?
I originally was introduced to the wedding and event industry through a local flower shop in Rockport, Texas. After the shop closed, I got a call from Nita’s Flowers, offering me a job to move to Bryan-College Station. The first time I ever came to the Astin Mansion was to deliver flowers for a wedding. The moment I walked in the door, I said to myself, “I am going to work here one day.” Fast forward to June 2012, I was casually looking for more opportunities, and saw a listing for a floral designer. The venue was not specified, but I applied. The stars aligned, I was asked for an interview—and that’s when I found out the venue was the Astin Mansion. I started as a part-time floral designer. Wanting to build a full-time position, I talked to the owners, and that’s when we created Carriage House Floral Design. I also started doing extra house maintenance tasks around the Astin Mansion. Eventually I took on a more managerial role with sales, tours, and consultations, with present and potential clients. I became the Venue Manager in 2017.
About 2015, I started to become active in the Wedding Association (at the time it was the Bridal Association). I started volunteering with the Events and Shows Committee, which led me to another committee, and another, which put me on the Board as a Director. I moved up the ranks from there to my current tenure as President of the Wedding Association.
What are you most passionate about as far as your work with Astin Mansion/ Carriage House Floral?
The end! The end is my favorite part—not because it’s over, but that’s the part where you know that you did a good job. As a designer and creative person, everything that I create, I put a little tiny piece of my soul inside of it. So for me it’s even more important that it’s exactly what the client is wanting—that there is that “Ah!” moment or the gasp moment or the “Oh my gosh it’s so beautiful” moment. I am a “words of affirmation” person, so when someone comes up at the end of the event and says “That was perfect, the staff was amazing, the food was great, the floral was gorgeous,” that is the best part for me.
As Head Designer for Carriage House Floral Design, do you have any recommendations for couples as they consider how to approach floral aesthetics for their wedding?
Have a realistic expectation for your budget! When the shutdown happened, the floral industry had to cut everything down. A plant once it’s planted is not immediately ready. It takes days, weeks, months—certain things only produce once a year. Because of the floral industry basically having to start over, flowers are more expensive right now than they’ve ever been.
It also doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of research. What kind of aesthetic are you going for? What kind of flowers appeal to you? Are those flowers seasonal, or are they available year-round? Like peonies: Peonies are extremely popular, and very, very seasonal. They are only grown for floral production in specific parts of the world: Holland, Israel, and Alaska. So the ones in Alaska are available in August, July; the ones from Holland are available in our springtime; but they are contingent on the conditions of the weather in those places. If wherever they are growing, they have a longer, lingering winter, they are not going to be ready by the time we are in spring here. So a little research can go a very long way. It helps a client put their expectations in real-life perspective and have a little more knowledge going into a consultation.
What are some features that make the Astin Mansion a unique venue in the Brazos Valley?
The Astin Mansion is a pretty niche venue in the Bryan-College Station area. We are a 102-year-old home that was converted to a wedding and event venue in 1998. The property boasts a plethora of original 1920s architecture, design and culture. In addition to all of our in-house services (floral, coordination, catering, set-up, breakdown, trash removal, tables and chairs) we have a house staff. You always have access to an Astin Mansion employee if you have questions. Also for the event, children have access to the original Astin children’s playhouse. Not many venues here in the area have entertainment options for children.
As President of the Wedding Association of Brazos Valley, can you share about how the WABV network can be a helpful resource for successful wedding and event planning?
The WABV is a collective organization of all things event-related, not just wedding. The WABV allows people to visit one website and select a category from local services that they’re potentially going to be needing, without having to scroll through search ads, and without a commitment or “hard-sell.” You can access vendor social media and websites through the links in vendor bios, you can send vendors direct messages through the WABV website, and you can access their phone numbers and emails as well to contact them.
What are some areas of growth or change you have observed in the local wedding industry in the last 5 years?
Inadvertently the Bryan-College Station area has become a quasi wedding-destination place. Because of the size of our town compared to the larger cities we are surrounded by, we have a much higher appeal at a reasonable price point. You are still getting amazing vendors, amazing food, amazing photos, all of those things, it’s just a little bit more economical here. It’s not uncommon for us to have Aggie seniors, but it’s also not uncommon that we have folks from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, because we have a central location. It’s close enough for you to drive, do the event, and then get a hotel—or get some coffee and drive back home. This area offers a lot of convenience for out-of-town party-goers and wedding couples.
How do you think the Brazos Valley wedding industry will continue to evolve in the years ahead?
When I first moved to the BCS area 17 years ago, there was nothing at Highway 6 at William D. Fitch except a water tower, a gas station, and a McDonald’s. This entire area has exploded. The great thing about our local event and wedding community here, especially our WABV members, is we are a community. We look at each other as “friendors,” not competition. There are plenty of events to go around. We are in a very cool location, and we get the full benefit of that because we have so much to offer here—and that will just continue to grow, and be better and better. While I have no doubt the Brazos Valley is going to grow and develop—there will be more venues, floral designers, photographers, caterers, bar services—my hope and my dream is that the community over competition aspect of all those industries stays intact and never changes.
Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share with our Brazos Valley Bride readers?
We are so inundated with the above-and-beyond, that’s everything we see. I wish people would realize they don’t have to be trendy. They don’t have to do what they see on their social media feeds. I wish they would be more true to themselves, and do things at their event that are more reflective of who they are as people and as a couple—the different interests and aspects of their life that are important to them as a team—rather than the latest TIkTok trend or Pinterest DIY.
It has been ingrained in our industry for so long that the groom is an accessory to your wedding, instead of being half. Because I am a man, I would also like to see not necessarily a more active groom role, but more inclusion of the groom’s role—in addition to the groom’s family. A lot of people forget that a marriage is a partnership above all things—that it’s a team thing, we’re handling this together. But without your partner, your fiancé or fiancée, you don’t have a wedding. So that’s something I would personally like to see change.
Christopher Dodgen is the Head Designer of Carriage House Floral, Venue Manager of the Astin Mansion, and current President of the Wedding Association of the Brazos Valley (WABV).
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