Q&A: Elizabeth Graves

Elizabeth Graves went from working at Sendik’s to editing Martha Stewart Weddings. She knows nuptials. And Midwestern values, too.

Photo by Liz Banfield.
Photo by Liz Banfield.

Is this the career you always envisioned?
No. I started out – I went to school in Maryland – doing poli-sci, and I got into psychology. But someone gave me good advice: ‘Make sure you do what you love.’ And on a day-to-day basis, what I really loved doing was writing. My grandfather was a writer. I liked the idea of learning as much as you can about something, writing it up, being done and moving on.

What kind of writing did you love?
I worked at Sendik’s. I worked for a catering place in Whitefish Bay. I kind of grew up around food. I always loved cooking and entertaining in general. So I started out as a food writer. I worked for a small newspaper in North Carolina. And then I thought magazines were the answer, so I moved to New York. I worked for Allure, then Self. I was a freelance writer, a contributor to InStyle and MORE, and then I started working at Real Simple. I’d actually worked for Martha Stewart before at a magazine called Blueprint. I had always wanted to work for Martha.

What was it about her?
Back when Living came out, I didn’t even have a house. I was living in a college dorm with, like, cinder blocks – and I was decanting my dishwasher soap. I’d come home and I’d be redoing my mom’s house. When they offered me the editor’s job of Weddings in 2010, by then, I’d planned my own wedding. It’s everything that I loved. It’s a big moment in fashion, the most thought you put into one outfit in your lifetime. It’s a major entertaining thing, so it had food. It’s a huge beauty moment. It’s also planning the home that you are creating, through registry. So it really appealed to me, that, wow, I get to cover all the topics I love to cover under this happy umbrella that’s a wedding.

Your husband, Jeffrey Young, is from Milwaukee, too.
We met at Shorewood Intermediate School, but we did not date that long, believe me. We didn’t really start dating until I was 28. We live in New York now, but getting married at home [in Milwaukee] was a no-brainer, as was getting married on the water, since I grew up going to Atwater Beach all the time, and my family is big into sailing. My mom is on the board at Villa Terrace, and it was always really special to us, just an amazing place to get married. My father is no longer with us and his ashes are scattered in Lake Michigan, so it was really important to be there.

What did your guests make of Wisconsin for a destination wedding?
We were inviting people from all different parts of our life, from Maryland, North Carolina, New York. A lot of people had this idea that you grow up sort of tipping cows, so we wanted to show them how amazing Wisconsin is. We had Northern Chocolate, local microbreweries, Alterra [now Colectivo] coffee. Gracious Events catering made sure we had all the award-winning Wisconsin cheeses. We had amazing food stations and really wanted to try to throw a great cocktail/dinner party, intimate but relaxed. It was funny, so many people wanted to move to Milwaukee after our wedding. They were like, “This is amazing.”

How often do you visit now?
Probably between eight and 10 times a year. My mom lives there, and some of my best friends are there. I love coming home. You’re dealing with people who are very down-to-earth and kind. I love that old joke, you know you’re in a Wisconsin store when someone who doesn’t work there helps you. In New York, that just does not happen. You’re on your own.

What do you bring from the Midwest to your job?
I think coming from the Midwest, and from Milwaukee in particular, has been one of the biggest assets. Because in New York, you can get a very left- and right-coast perspective, especially on all of the national magazines that I’ve worked for. But I well know that there’s lots of land in between there. And having Midwestern values, and being in touch with what’s important to people, and what a true budget is, I think has been my barometer.

Do your friends ask about Martha?
They do. People really want to know what she’s like. And the answer is, she’s one of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked for. She has a voracious curiosity. She wants to learn everything. She can make a soufflé, and I honestly do think she could change a carburetor. That’s very infectious. And she’s funny. She’s really funny. I didn’t expect that.

You see so many weddings. What do the best ones have in common?
Whether you decide to have a big wedding or a small wedding, whether you have a lot of money or a little money, it doesn’t matter. The best weddings really celebrate two people. There are no cookie-cutter weddings anymore. People are really free to express themselves and celebrate in the way they want, which is fun and freeing. Just as no two people are alike, no two weddings should be alike.

0116_Weddings_Martha-Stewart-Weddings-bookJust published in December, Martha Stewart Weddings: Ideas & Inspiration is a hardcover book full of… well, you can probably guess from the title. List price, $60.

‘Point of View: Elizabeth Graves’ appears in Milwaukee Weddings, a brand new addition to the Milwaukee Magazine family.

Find Milwaukee Weddings on newsstands beginning Jan. 4

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Maggie Ginsberg is an award-winning freelance writer whose work has also appeared in Madison Magazine, Midwest Living and Wisconsin Bride.