January 18, 2020

Creating Modern Chuppahs for a Modern World

Photos courtesy of Andrea Cohen

Andrea Cohen finds inspiration in fashion designers and contemporary artists when it comes to designing her unique chuppahs.

“Bringing that angle to chuppah design is who I am,” Cohen, who owns the Los Angeles-based Chuppah Studio, told the Journal. “I don’t come from an event background or a floral background.”

Cohen designs her chuppahs on her computer. Without access to her own laser cutter, she outsources the manufacturing of the material covering the chuppahs to a company in the Midwest. She builds the structures, consisting of four poles and the overhead covering, in the garage she has converted into a home studio in Culver City.

Cohen said her work is a natural extension of her former life as a sculptor and assistant professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

In 2010, Cohen was living in New York, exhibiting pieces in East Coast galleries and museums when her sister, who works in arts administration in San Francisco, asked Cohen to make a chuppah for her wedding. 

Cohen, who previously had made large-scale structures and installations, created a chuppah featuring a geometric pattern of cascading circles for her sister. When friends and family praised that chuppah, Cohen was inspired to create and share prototypes of her chuppahs on the online site Etsy. 

Then, in 2012, she launched her website. She soon realized that if she wanted to create a successful company out of her newfound passion, she would have to ship her products across the country. 

“The trend in terms of big, extravagant, spectacle weddings is to have chuppahs with lots of flowers on them. What I’m doing is more design-driven. There’s less waste. It’s a little more contemporary and modern.” — Andrea Cohen  

Over the next couple of years, Cohen created several iterations of her chuppah to the point where she said making them began to feel like less like a hobby and more like a business. Incorporating skills she learned while earning her master’s degree in sculpture from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Cohen made structures emphasizing modularity, allowing the components of her chuppahs to be separated into smaller parts and shipped across the country. 

“The designs now are pretty versatile and it’s continuing to grow,” she said. “I’m always looking for what I can add and what people will like.”

In 2017, Cohen moved to Los Angeles. “I just decided I didn’t want to grow [old] in the art world and I needed to make a shift,” she said.

Chuppah Studio’s Chrysanthemum design. Photo by Rebecca Yale Photography

She hasn’t looked back and to date, Cohen has made chuppahs for local weddings, international weddings, beach weddings and mountaintop weddings, among others. She said she owes part of her success to going against style. While brides and grooms typically decorate their chuppahs with as many flowers as possible, Cohen’s chuppahs emphasize elegance, simplicity and sustainability, she said.

“The trend in terms of big, extravagant, spectacle weddings is to have chuppahs with lots of flowers on them. I’m offering an alternative to that,” she explained. “What I’m doing is more design-driven. There’s less waste. It’s a little more contemporary and modern. It’s sort of a modern design meets treasured tradition.”

While the majority of Cohen’s customers are Jewish, she also has helped non-Jewish couples that appreciate the aesthetic, if not the religious significance, of the chuppah.

“Even though a chuppah comes out of a religious tradition, some non-Jews are interested in it just as a design element,” she said. 

Her clients come to her through referrals, Google searches and even social media.  

“Brides are sort of obsessed with Instagram and Pinterest,” Cohen said, “so they are constantly looking at those two places and finding images for inspiration.”

About half of Cohen’s clients have been local, and the majority order one of Chuppah Studio’s nine rental options, including “Cascading Circles,” Cohen’s debut design, as well as her most popular chuppahs: one inspired by a Japanese chrysanthemum, and Modern Lace, which Cohen’s website calls “an original interpretation of romantic lace with a framing arch on every side.”

Rental prices start at $825. 

Cohen also does custom work, including for a bride who was not her client when she got married but after becoming pregnant hired Cohen to turn her wedding dress into a chuppah to pass on to her children. Then there was the couple that wanted their family heirlooms transformed into a chuppah. Despite her initial skepticism that the couple’s grandmother’s tablecloth and grandfather’s bathrobe would make an attractive chuppah, Cohen was happy with how it eventually came together.  

“It turned out really nice, actually,” she said. “I saw these fabrics that don’t go together and I thought, ‘It will be hideous,’ but it turned out well.”