By Julie Lawrence Special to Published May 14, 2008 at 5:29 AM

While much of Water Street is known as a drinking destination, the 500 block of North Water is gaining a reputation as a destination for boutique shopping, hipster salons and, more recently, wedding planners.

The White Box of Wedding Design, a full-service nuptial consultation studio, opened one week ago at 522 N. Water St. in a suite above the street-level Fred Boutique and Red Heel. It also happens to be across the hall from Miss Ruby Bridesmaid Boutique. Oddly enough, says owner Monica Rae Gill, the pairing wasn't planned, but rather a business coupling crafted by fate.

While Miss Ruby strives to offer the best to local bridesmaids, The White Box focuses on the star of the big day, the bride-to-be. Of course, grooms are welcome, too.

"I call it the new generation of wedding consulting," she says. "I want brides to feel they can come in here and get design ideas, planning advice and vendor recommendations without pressure or feel like they're getting a sales pitch. That's not what The White Box is about."

In its simplest form, The White Box is totally a free service. Her store is stocked with local vendor information, innovative design concepts and accessories, Gill holds normal business hours for brides to browse, use their laptops, or just chat over a glass of champagne. If a bride wants to hire her for an hour's worth of consultation, she can do that. If she wants The White Box to execute the entire affair, Gill and her girls are on it.

But it's no bridezilla battlefield in here; Gill is calm and collected and ready to listen to a woman's needs.

"I find that women today don't want to hand it off to someone and say, 'Take care of everything,' says Gill, who previously ran an event planning business called J. Cricket and wrote for "Veil," a Wisconsin-based bridal magazine.

"We want to be involved in the design process. Our approach, even in full-service mode, is very collaborative. We want to learn about the couple -- what they like and what they don't like -- and we want to be able to think like them, so when something happens, we can react the way they would."

Gill has created a gorgeously comfortable place for women to explore the possibilities. The space is sophisticated and simple, clean and classy, and complemented by stark white furniture against Cream City Brick walls. There are racks for magazines and catalogs, jewelry samples and a private consultation area near the large windows where vendor members -- who must be invited to be a part of The White Box -- can make appointments and meet with the client.

"We think of ourselves as a match-making service in a way -- connecting the bride with the right vendors," she says. "We take personality, style and budget into account. We really want to emphasize the design of the wedding as opposed to just putting all the pieces together."

Gill is a detail-oriented person, and it shows. She's full of industry tidbits (Did you know September is the new June?) and is happy to share them with the happy couple. To cap off the experience, she complies a complete wedding day production schedule.

"We call all her vendors and make sure they're on the same page and we alert her to any red flags we see so she has nothing to worry about," she says. "We make it a seamless event."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”