MONROE, CT — Wendy Headley loved birthday celebrations, while growing up with her five siblings in Haiti. Though she says her family was poor by definition, the amount of money her mother spent on parties is not what she remembers most.
“It was the time and effort she made to make us feel special and I always enjoyed helping her make those memories for us,” Headley recalled. “I remember making party hats and setting up the table with her to make it special.”
Headley puts the same care and attention to detail into making memories for clients of Mahogany Lifestyle, her new event planning business.
“Creating memories and planning is something I was always passionate about,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “I create visually beautiful spaces. I want people to experience the memory of their gathering in that setting.”
Mahogany Lifestyle plans boutique events, including private parties and luxury picnics for its clients, decorating for the theme, providing a charcuterie board, gourmet cookies and specialty drinks, as well as lists of local restaurants that deliver.
“I plan a socially responsible activity they can have with their loved ones and there’s no work for them — they just show up,” Headley said of her clients.
Headley, a Monroe resident since 2012, has always been encouraged to start a business by family and friends, who admire her knack for party planning.
Since starting the Mahogany Lifestyle in 2020, she has enjoyed the support of her husband, Courtney, and their daughter, Giovanna, 12, a student at Jockey Hollow Middle School.
“My husband tells me, ‘you’re such a dreamer,'” Headley said. “I will dream and have my best life. I will do things that make people happy and create.”
Headley’s creativity also extends to her job as a registered nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Yale New Haven Health Children’s Hospital, where she goes the extra mile to lift parents’ spirits.
“As a neonatal nurse, I do things to make the atmosphere for the parents warm and fuzzy and happy, because it’s a trying time to be in that atmosphere,” she said of babies being born underweight. “I decorate name cards for them, and play music that will make them happy during a stressful time.”
As more people are becoming vaccinated against COVID-19, Headley said social gatherings are on the rise, with people anxious to get together with family and friends. She had bookings for indoor events when she started her business in October, and outdoor events are already populating her calendar for April, May and June.
“I’m fully vaccinated and will have personal protective equipment on hand,” she said.
The setup for events is about a half-an-hour and, currently, Mahogany Lifestyle is organizing parties with a maximum of 10. Headley said she can set up a table space for 20, to allow 10 guests to socially distance. She also offers individual charcuterie boxes.
“As a health-care official, it is my responsibility to always follow state and CDC guidelines,” she said, adding her license as a registered nurse, gives her a vested interest in avoiding a super-spreader event.
Typically, Headley only interacts with the host of an event.
The creative process
Headley meets her clients for a half hour consultation to find out what they are looking for and gets back to them with an invoice they can go over to ensure it is exactly what they want.
Creative ideas often come to her during her daily runs at Great Hollow Lake, which she calls her favorite place.
“I write them down,” she said. “I can do 12 miles. I run a long time at the lake. These ideas come out of nowhere and I don’t want to forget them.”
Once she has the theme down, Headley goes shopping for things she will need to bring her ideas to life.
“It’s a pleasure for me to wake up in the morning, get my coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts and shop at HomeGoods,” she said. “When I think about it, it makes me happy. I can spend hours in a store.”
Headley has gone to the HomeGoods in Trumbull, Westport and Danbury — all in the same day. She also shops at Crate & Barrel.
“It’s the feeling that it’s right,” Headley said. “If I feel it’s right, I know my customers will have that same feeling. When I get an idea of how to visualize their day, I never stray from that feeling.”
If an idea doesn’t work, Headley won’t hesitate to scrap it and start from scratch.
She has done mock setups in her yard, at clients’ homes and even at Wolfe Park. When she likes what she sees, Headley will walk away and come back five minutes later to see if she still has that same feeling.
“You only have so much time to set up,” she said. “You want to get it right. I go to the destination and walk around. I’m a visual learner.”
After an event, Headley comes back to clean up and take everything down, usually with the help of her husband and daughter.
The maximum size gathering Headley will take on is a party or a luxury picnic with 20 guests. Mahogany Lifestyle will also plan romantic moments for two.
For picnics, Headley provides a low set table, comfy cushions for guests to sit on, rugs underneath, a decorative basket, and each guest is given a cozy blanket they can use. Mahogany Lifestyle also provides linens, forks, knives, plates, decorative pieces, a charcuterie board or individual box, and sparkling or flat water.
Headley also offers an umbrella for clients who want shade from the sun and teepee tents, allowing children to relax in their own space to read a book, play games or lay down.
During the pandemic, she organized a picnic for her own family to do something fun at home.
“I did an indoor picnic setup, used Uber Eats to order food from Bella Rosa and did a charcuterie board at home for the three of us,” Headley recalled. “I created that atmosphere because, why not? If I can’t do things to make myself and my family happy, I can’t do it for others.”
The Headleys do a lot to make their friends smile, including dressing up as bunnies and visiting their homes to wish them a happy Easter.
They’ve also dressed up as elves for Christmas and one Halloween, Courtney dressed as a member of Run-DMC and Headley and her daughter were the famous female rap duo Salt-N-Pepa.
For her business, Wendy Headley’s creativity has helped Mahogany Lifestyle attain clients in Fairfield County, New Haven and Hartford. She uses social media to show visual representations of her work with Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as a website.
When she launched her business on Oct. 28, 2020, her Instagram page had 10 followers. It has since grown to 1,773. On Facebook, Headley said she has received positive feedback from members of the Monroe Parents group.
“I’m humbled and grateful for that,” she said. “It motivates you.”