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July 22, 2011

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Cake decor tops off the dream day

THE only part of a wedding cake that does not get eaten, preserved in the freezer, or smudged across a bride or groom's face is the cake topper. Why not make it something worth saving?

From wooden figurines to monogrammed eggs in a nest to teacups from Grandma's china cabinet, cake toppers at weddings have become more personalized in America. Increasingly, couples are working with artists to design the perfect cake topper, unique to them.

"The cake topper is one of the few things that will be part of the wedding that the couple will take home afterward and maybe display in their house," said Portland, Oregon-based artist Hilary Pfeifer, who designs customized cake toppers.

"It's not just a plastic topper they use for that day; it becomes an icon in their house afterward," she said.

Pfeifer sells her cake toppers out of her online shop, Bunny with a Toolbelt ( The figurines are made of reclaimed wood and painted with acrylic. They are typically animals, and often are customized to fit a couple's tastes and interests.

Pfeifer's creations have run the gamut from colorful elephants for a circus-themed wedding, to a pair of robots with a robot dog, to a duck bride and groom wearing Converse sneakers.

She has made cake-topper alligators, deer, squirrels, giraffes, flamingos, turtles, penguins, monsters, space monkeys, flying pigs and more. Often they are turned into sports mascots. "Having customers bring you ideas is great," Pfeifer said. "It takes me places I wouldn't have gone on my own."

Another artist who has worked with brides and grooms to customize cake toppers is Heather Ward-Migner, based in Asheville, North Carolina. Through her online store, Star House (, Ward-Migner sells a variety of figurines made of local poplar wood that are then cut, burned and painted with watercolors to create specific images.

Her cake toppers have included couples on double bicycles, pairs of love birds, and a bride and groom in a yellow canoe.

Typically, her wooden characters are based on a photograph, and closely resemble the actual couple, a far cry from the standardized cake toppers of yore.

The effort that goes into creating such a personal memento contributes to its ultimate staying power.

"I love thinking about how 100 years from now some bohemian college students might have their grandparents' cake toppers displayed in their apartment," Ward-Migner said.

The customization of wedding cake toppers is still a niche trend, but one that has been growing, according to Anja Winikka, senior editor at

"Your wedding cake as a whole is such a great way to add your own personality, and it's a great way to make a statement at your wedding without going over the top," Winikka said. "The cake topper falls into that category as well."

She has seen various handcrafted toppers recently. Love birds are a popular choice, she said, including options made out of felt, fabric, wood or other materials.

Winikka also has seen the vintage craze enter the wedding-cake-topper arena. Couples are reviving their parents' and grandparents' cake toppers as their own.

You can also creatively use trinkets from your grandparents or tiny teacups from their china cabinet as your cake topper, she suggested.

In the case of a cake or cupcake tower that is not suited to having a topper, the bridal couple can turn the entire cake table into a sort of display area with mementos or figurines that add personality, Winikka said.

"I've definitely noticed that when a normal person thinks of a wedding cake topper, they think of the plastic bride and groom," said wedding planner Laura Auer, whose company is about to plan its 300th wedding.

"But I've probably seen that only five out of the 300 times. People want different skin tones, or they aren't male-female couples, or they just don't want old-school traditional bride-and-groom cake toppers."


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