Carlen and David, the husband and wife team behind host & toast, have an eye for creativity and some seriously big hearts. At host & toast, an online wedding and decor shop for the creative bride, they understand that most couples don’t have all the time in the world to make their own decor for their wedding — so they do it for you! They wanted to create a source where couples can still have those special, personal, heirloom-quality pieces for their wedding without going DIY crazy and making everything themselves. They combine laser-cut, handmade, and hand-finished methods to create high-quality products that you will instantly fall in love with — we know we did! It was an honor working with them at our very first Denver NotWedding.
“Carlen has an infectious personality and the sweetest heart! Combine this with her eye for style and amazing talent and you’ve got a girl who can find just the right additions for your wedding! Signage, cake tops, chalkboards, you name it. This girl is amazing!”
The Denver NotWedding Team
Tell us a little about the inception of host & toast.
David: Carlen and I met in the summer of 2007 (she was 18; I was 21) working for a wholesale merchandiser designing and building displays for wholesale gift shows in Atlanta. We started dating during my last year of college, and a year later, when I graduated from the University of Georgia with a business degree, I knew I had a passion for business, but I wanted to do something creative where I could utilize and expand my design and woodworking skills; thus, I started my initial woodworking business, DA Custom Frames.
Carlen: Three years later, when I graduated from UGA, we decided to move DA Custom Frames to Colorado, where I got a job teaching low-income middle school students in Aurora. I fell in love with my students, but didn’t have a passion for teaching, so during my second year, I had to decide what was next. I quickly realized I had a passion for four things: branding, design, making, and wedding blogs. We spent nights and weekends brainstorming, and, over time, came up with a concept. We realized most brides and grooms were making their own wedding decor (we sure did!), so we wanted to create a source where couples can still have those special, personal, heirloom quality pieces for their wedding day without going DIY crazy and making everything themselves.
Who or what inspires you?
David: Well, we want to purchase a venue, so hopefully in the near future, we can make that happen; it’s a big dream, but it keeps us motivated! For me personally, getting outside and moving keeps me fresh and inspired. Skiing (of course!), playing twice a week in a volleyball league, basketball, corn hole; you name it. Something about being outside and active keeps my mind inspired to create new things.
Carlen: When we first started, I found a lot of inspiration on wedding blogs, and, to a certain extent, I still do. I think now, however, I trust myself in the design process more than I did at the beginning, so I try to “go with my gut” in product design. As for me personally, I find inspiration in branding, trying new things, and tracking others on social media to see what they are doing. New haircuts, music, and wine definitely help, too!
What is the best part of your day?
David: The best part of my day is definitely the time I take to experiment with new designs. Whether I am sketching an idea in my sketchbook or crafting a prototype in the wood-shop, I love seeing a vision of mine come to life. Sometimes, new designs turn out better than I hope, while other times, they take further development, ultimately challenging me to become a better designer and wood-worker.
Carlen: My favorite part of the day is taking small breaks to post what we are making or doing to Instagram and Facebook. I have learned so much about other companies in the wedding industry through social media platforms, and I think it’s important for people to see and understand the behind-the-scenes components of our business. Over the past year, I have definitely found an unexpected passion for social media, and my goal is to show people not only what we design and make at host & toast but also the realistic, everyday ins-and-outs of owning and operating a small business. We are entrepreneurs in a learning process, but we are honest and willing to try new things!
What advice would you give to aspiring small business owners?
David: Design and offer products you love. If you have a passion for your work, you will be more likely to talk about it, share it with others, and get others excited about it. Don’t get caught up comparing your work to what others are doing because eventually, your uniqueness will be lost. Don’t follow trends, set them. This is one of our biggest goals at host & toast.
Carlen: If you want to start a business, go for it, but you better be all in! Coming from someone who left behind job-security, guaranteed income, great health benefits, and a retirement plan, I know what it’s like to take that leap of faith. If you’re ready for adventure, don’t be afraid of what others will say or think. On the other hand, expect late nights, eating ramen noodles, and exhaustion because it’s hard work!
What is your favorite part of The NotWedding experience?
We both agree that our favorite part is definitely set-up! As some of the first vendors there in the morning, we were able to watch the space transform over the course of a few hours at the hands of so many creative vendors. We all got the same inspiration board from The NotWedding team, but witnessing how each vendor interpreted the inspiration in their own way was really powerful. Good design takes multiple perspectives and ideas, which is what The NotWedding is all about!