Don’t Miss the Wedding of Prema Designs Owner Amrta Saliaj

A florist makes her own wedding arrangements.

Peter Tonguette
Amrta and Leonard Saliaj married April 8, 2021.

This story first appeared in the spring/summer 2022 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in December 2021.

Amrta (Kenner) Saliaj—Rita to her friends—spends most of her waking hours thinking about weddings. 

As the owner and lead designer of Prema Designs, Saliaj creates floral arrangements for weddings that stun with their originality, beauty and elegance. Although the company has branched out to include corporate events and private parties, about 90 percent of its clientele remain couples seeking to add fresh floral flourishes to their weddings. 

“We generally do between 40 to 50 [weddings], max, a year,” says Saliaj, who notes a recent bump in weddings due to waves of postponements in 2020. “This year we’ll be ending at 83 events.” 

While envisioning the weddings of others, Saliaj had plenty of time to dream of and gather inspiration for her own. 

“I know what I like,” says Saliaj, a native of Virginia who grew up in Puerto Rico and Texas before relocating to Ohio about 14 years ago. 

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“We grew up where [there] was just a lot of landscaping,” Saliaj says. “I like gardens—anything that’s garden-esque, that’s my jam. I don’t care if it’s a French froofy garden. I don’t care if it’s an overgrown whimsy garden. I’m there for it. I like texture and all of that—getting lost in details.” 

When it came time for Saliaj to plan and design her own wedding to now-husband Leonard Saliaj, initially booked for the summer of 2020 but delayed until April 2021 because of the pandemic, she had to avoid getting lost in the sort of details she normally immerses herself in on behalf of her clients. 

“The hat that I wear as a vendor [is] making sure everything is done for my client,” Saliaj says. “Now I’m the bride, and I was freaking out, thinking, ‘Was everything done? Is everything done?’” 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves: After dabbling in fashion, hospitality management and wedding planning, Saliaj founded Prema Designs in 2010. “My mom went to school for fashion, and she worked with this big company in Dallas [that] designed custom gowns for galas,” she says. “I’ve been around that my whole life.” But she had no background in blooms before being mentored by a florist in Columbus. “I’m very creative,” Saliaj says. “It was pretty easy for things to fall into place once I actually applied [myself].” 

Three years later, she met Leonard at a bar in the Arena District. “We went on a date at Bar Louie, across the street [from where we met], for the first time,” she says. “And then, he just kept popping up.” The relationship gradually evolved into something more permanent, and the two teamed to renovate a 1915-built, three-story house near Downtown, which they finally moved into in October 2020. “We put a lot of focus there and didn’t really think about ourselves,” Saliaj says. “[It] finally got to the point where we thought, ‘Oh, well, maybe we should be thinking about solidifying us.’” 

As owner of Prema Designs, Amrta designed the décor florals for her ceremony and reception.

But her husband, Saliaj says, is not a “big, showy guy.” She had already made a point to ask him that, if he ever did propose marriage to her, he make an effort in the proposal. Make sure that her family was there and that it was a real surprise to her, she had requested. 

What followed really was a surprise: In January 2020, Saliaj hosted a party at Via Vecchia Winery on South High Street to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Prema Designs. She was speaking to the crowd of about 150 friends, clients and family members. 

“I had just brought in new designers for the business, which is a huge thing,” Saliaj says. “I thanked [Leonard], and he came up out of the crowd.” Soon, he was standing beside her, interjecting comments. “I did my speech, and he stood next to me the whole time,” Saliaj says. Finally, he revealed why he had intruded: He was going to propose in front of everybody. “He said a lot of nice things, and I was impressed at his delivery,” she says. “And it was a surprise—a complete surprise. He had the ring for a year.” 

But, like many couples throughout Greater Columbus, the next year-and-a-half didn’t exactly go as planned. 

Initially, the couple planned to get married on property owned by Saliaj’s uncle in Wisconsin. “He rents out kayaks and boats, so we were going to have a wedding weekend and have a good time,” she says. “I’m really big on guest experience. We wanted to let people be able to experience the lake.” 

The weekend of July 4 was set. But, when COVID-19 hit, those plans had to be scrapped. 

Saliaj found herself in the same shoes as countless couples—including many of her clients. But she understood the situation of having to cancel from both sides. “I lost some deposits,” she says. “But the vendors were really sweet. And, being a vendor myself, I also know that that’s their way of living.” 

Saliaj then began planning a wedding in her adopted hometown. Naturally, she tapped the community she had become a part of. Her best friend is wedding planner Natasha Churches, the owner of Aisle & Co. “She gifted one of her lead coordinators” to help out, says Saliaj, who already knew who she wanted for her other vendors. 

After all, that’s the advantage of being in the business of weddings. 

“I have the connections, so I didn’t have to interview,” Saliaj says. “I knew I wanted certain names. Honestly, in the situation that we were in, so many of my friends who are in the industry all pooled together and then, next thing you know, I had everything.” 

Some vendors were already friends and colleagues, such as photographer Tessa Berg of Starling Studio. “She has always been a big supporter of my business and would come and do behind-the-scenes photos for me, just because she knew I needed that, so I wanted to return the favor [by hiring her],” Saliaj says. In the run-up to her rescheduled wedding, Saliaj began mysteriously messaging Berg asking about her availability on certain dates without explaining why she was asking. Then, when Berg was at her studio one day, Saliaj sprang the question in the form of a present. Recalls Saliaj: “I asked her with a box of cookies: ‘Will you be my photographer?’” 

Needless to say, the answer was yes. “She could have her pick from anybody,” Berg says. “I just felt very, very lucky, and very honored, because she’s wonderful and I just knew it was going to be an over-the-top, very detailed-oriented, very Rita kind of wedding.” 

It wasn’t just a matter of already having a contact, but also a question of trust. “As a vendor, you’re the person behind the scenes,” Saliaj says. “And now, I’m in the scene. I was so uncomfortable.”

The Saliajes and their guests headed downstairs for dinner before returning to the rooftop for cocktails and dancing.

There were other anxiety-inducing moments: Saliaj didn’t want to seem as though she was asking for a favor if she wanted a particular vendor to participate in her wedding, nor did she want to turn off other vendors if she went in a different direction. “I was conflicted, because I definitely felt like I was going to offend somebody, or someone was going to be upset that I didn’t ask them [to work on the wedding] because of our working relationship,” she says. 

Naturally, lots of local vendors wanted to be involved, including B3 Events, a décor and event design company. Owner Chanakya “CG” Gandhi, whom Saliaj had never met before, messaged her on Instagram. “He said, ‘I have to be part of your wedding. Please tell me what you need,’” Saliaj says. For Gandhi, it was a chance to work with a colleague he had long admired. “I see a lot of myself in her—a hard worker and a go-getter,” Gandhi says. “The only aim to be a part of her wedding was to unify our efforts and complement each other. The love, warmth and the friendship was all a bonus.” 

Not only was Saliaj happy with the results—“He has all these beautiful props—gold elephants and all of those gold, scroll-y, tall pieces that were there,” she says—but a new working relationship was forged. “Now we work together a lot,” she says. 

On the other hand, Meleka and Kinsey Jolliff, the owners of the rental company Aiden & Grace, were closer to home. “They’re my neighbors and [said], ‘What do you want? What do you need?’” Saliaj says. “It was definitely a collaboration of a lot of beautiful humans, coming together out of care for me. And I’m very grateful for it.” 

Naturally, Prema Designs handled the floral arrangements that filled the venue, though Evergreen Flower Co. created the bride’s bouquet. 

For her venue, Saliaj selected Revery at North 4th Corridor, an event space housed inside the Smith Bros. Hardware building Downtown that was formerly the restaurant and event space Juniper. Saliaj already had a professional connection to the space. “I did the very last event at Juniper,” she says. “Then I ended up being the very first wedding that they put on [at Revery]. That was kind of bizarre.” 

A happy accident, maybe, but the setting turned out to be ideal for the garden-infused look Saliaj preferred—an aesthetic informed by her roots in Puerto Rico. “My main thing was lots of greenery and organic, overgrown designs that looked like they had been growing there for some time,” she says. “We accented it with some really ornate, gold-etched and textural vessels and lots of candlelight.”

Gold details with cultural significance were a key décor element.

Given Saliaj’s background and expertise, those decisions were pretty easy. On the day of the modernized Hindu ceremony, however, she found herself full of emotions. “I didn’t think I would ever have been so nervous and as panicky,” says Saliaj, who had to calm herself and let the vendors do their thing. Following dinner at Brick & Mortar at North 4th Corridor, a restaurant and event space on the ground floor of the Smith Bros. building, the party of 91 returned to upstairs for dancing, drinks and dessert. 

“I finally was able to calm down,” Saliaj says. 

Her husband’s Albanian heritage was honored with the presence of Albanian singer Eli Fara—“She’s like the Celine Dion of Albania,” Saliaj says—and a customized “mezze” appetizer menu that had an Albanian flavor, including olives, focaccia and feta cheese. 

“It was just such a cool experience,” Berg says. “It definitely felt like a wedding that you would see on a New York City blog. It didn’t feel like any Columbus wedding that I’ve been a part of, that’s for sure.” 

It isn’t always easy being the center of attention in a wedding under any circumstances, but especially not when you’re accustomed to being behind the scenes. Yet Saliaj says that everything fell together. “It did end up being beautiful, and I love it,” she says. It turns out that, in one way at least, she’s just like many other brides: “I wish I could go back and we could’ve stayed even a little bit longer. It was over too fast, once I finally started getting out of my head and just enjoying.” 

In the end, the vendor who dreams up other brides’ weddings describes her own this way: “It did end up actually, really being a dream.”  

The Details 

Ceremony: The Revery at North 4th Corridor 

Reception: Brick & Mortar at North 4th Corridor and Revery 

Caterer: Milo’s Catering

Cake: Kuro Neko Cake Studio 

Dessert bar: 2C’s Bakery 

Day-of coordinator: Aisle & Co. 

Florist: Prema Designs and Evergreen Flower Co.; ribbon from The Lesser Bear

Rentals: Aiden & GraceGot Ya Covered LinensB3 Events 

Lighting: Neff Event Lighting 

Marquee letters: BurgundyGinger Events 

Music: Singer Eli Fara; DJ services by Plan and Party Columbus 

Photographer: Starling Studio 

Videographer: Vision To Life Productions

Photo booth: Weekend Vibes Photo Bar 

Stationery: LupineLetters.com 

Transportation: The BEAT 

Accommodations: Hilton Columbus Downtown 

Bride’s attire: Watters gown from La Jeune Mariee with details added by bride’s mother, Gucci Marmont sandals, Marchesa earrings and necklace-turned-hairpiece 

Bride’s hair and makeup: Clean Curl Co.Almaz Faces 

Groom’s attire: Suit from Pursuit, Gucci watch, Gucci Marmont shoes 

Rings: Renée James (Huntsville) 

Bridesmaids’ attire: BHLDN and Birdy Grey gowns, Hindu jewelry sets 

Flower girl’s attire: BHLDN gown