Laura is the definition of a busy bee: buzzing around Haus 820‘s offices and always checking in on the bundles of bouquets in meticulously chosen arrangements. After starting her own event planning company, Ashton Events, Laura Helm’s realm expanded to a larger space on Massachusetts Ave, arguably one of the prettiest spaces in the city. Haus 820 has been home to weddings, work functions, and countless other events since its opening. A self-described “creative introvert,” Laura indulges in the deep details of each wedding and story that comes through her doors.
We sat down to talk to Laura about her own story, successes, and influence on the Lakeland community.
How did you end up in Lakeland?
I’m from Indiana, and I moved to Florida after college. I had interned at Cypress Gardens back when it was open, doing event planning there. I was determined to not do wedding planning because everything was outside, hot and stormy. Not the most fun combination!
Your background in event planning?
When I graduated from college, I came back down and worked for an insurance company, doing nonprofit and community events for them. In that experience, I found I was really hungry for something more creative. As much as I loved problem solving, I was missing out on the storytelling and the intentionality that event planning can have. Within six months of my first full-time job I realized I wanted something more creative. I started to look at what that meant, interviewed with several companies I respected, but I felt Lakeland was where I wanted to be and where I wanted to stay.
I started Ashton Events after some friends asked me to plan their wedding and I just completely fell in love with seeing them fall in love. When people really love each other, it’s really fun to do wedding planning. That was seven and a half years ago…it’s wild to think about. After that, I thought I could do this full-time. I started at Catapult, and then it was three years there.
What is Ashton Events, and how did you start your business?
Ashton Events started as just planning. I then went into design-into a design narrative of what a couple’s day would look like. It really opened up a new route for my work…because who else is going to create a wall of antlers? I guess I should. Started playing a little bit more, feeling more creative, and then that turned into working with flowers to make them pretty. I’ve learned to design them, and that’s been very enjoyable for me.
Haus 820 kind of came about because of my relationships in the industry and my relationships here in Lakeland. It’s kind of crazy, I never thought I’d own my own company, and now I own two. The Collective is where we sublet office spaces to creatives.
Can you tell us more about your involvement with Catapult?
When I first came in to Catapult, I didn’t know a lot of the answers. I was a part of the Co-Starters class with Bill Mutz as our facilitator. We had this core group of Catapulters that all just needed this extra boost of encouragement and motivations. I can’t even tell you how many late nights we had just trying to figure this out. What does it look like to be an entrepreneur? What does it look like to be involved in our community as entrepreneurs together? I started at one of the smallest offices at Catapult, and within a year I had one of the largest semi-private offices because my team was growing. We took over the back room for every wedding because we were doing flowers.
Catapult has always been a bridge, the fastest bridge to get you to the next step. There are so many people just so happy to help, and that is so unique for a city to have that. They give you advice and contacts and really make things happen.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I feel like I have always viewed myself as a hodge-podge person, if that makes sense. I’ve dabbled in sports, played collegiate tennis, grew up with two older brothers, so the tomboy streak in me is very strong. But then I also love flowers and art and community and relationships, so it’s interesting to try to pinpoint where my inspiration comes from. For me, it’s the experiencing that new environment, I think I tend to take things in as overall impressions. Sometimes it’s the little details that add up to that impression. So I’d say…life’s experiences give me inspiration.
What’s been your favorite event in Haus 820?
As much as I love event planning, there’s something so awesome about the markets that I really enjoy. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I’m working the whole day. We get to really interact with people and the community come together. We could talk about all the bigger, the large-scale stuff, but at the end of the day I think it comes back to our community having a place to gather. The market’s a big part of that.
Any upcoming events open to the public?
Haus Market is the 21st. We have 45 vendors, the biggest we’ve ever had. Those are quarterly, and we’ll have a holiday market coming soon. We will also have a wreath making workshop called “Make your house a home for the holidays.” It’ll have tips for your decorating and Concord Coffee and treats from Born & Bread.
Plans and changes for the future?
Yeah, so one of the big conversations we’ve had is about hosting corporate events. For Haus 820 to be a good fit for their event, we added tables and chairs to seat 125 people. We also just installed two brand-new projectors that are really high quality and have the ability for people to livestream on the walls. We’re also getting black out shades to control the amount of light in the building. So, more flexibility.
Favorite Lakeland venue outside Haus 820?
This little village named Hallstatt in Austria.
Favorite pizza topping?
I like pepperoni and pineapple. Sweet and salty. I can’t have cheese, so I gotta get flavor somehow.
Best TV series of all time?
There are so many answers to that question…I really love Parenthood.
One thing you can’t live without?
Last song you listened to?
Last book you read?
Jess Franks. I love her floral artwork.
Pancakes or waffles?
Favorite Instagram accounts you follow?
What’s your favorite thing to do in Lakeland?
I’m tempted to say the Lakeland Christmas Parade…everything slows down and it’s it’s own holiday on the calendar. You always have random conversations with people, which is always fun.
I feel like I found such a unique blend in Lakeland. I needed a lot of encouragement to get to where I’m at. There were a lot of people that poured time and resources into me and challenged me to do more. Lakeland has that perfect balance of that small-town feel of encouragement, but also this wide-open field of opportunities that are exciting.