This Is What Our Universal Registry Redo Would Look Like

Hindsight is 20/20

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

apw x zola


When Michael and I started registering for our wedding, we quickly realized that the system wasn’t set up for us. First, we were planning on moving apartments exactly ten days after our wedding. And second, it became painfully obvious that our tastes were not exactly what you’d call… big-box registry tastes. The thing is, we wanted to build a registry that reflected us. We were young, we needed stuff, and our families were going to gift us housewares whether we liked it or not. But figuring out how to do that without reinventing the wheel? Easier said than done. It seemed that the only way to have our cake plate and use it too was to set up a bunch of different registries at different stores, hoping the big-box ones had stuff we at least liked, if not loved, and banking on generous return policies for the stuff we didn’t. It was an imperfect solution, and as a result, our current home is a mix of a few things from our registry we really love, and a handful of things we feel mostly lukewarm about. (Why, oh why, didn’t this copper KitchenAid exist when I was getting married?!)

Luckily, 2016 has way more options than 2009 ever did (including, but not limited to, online registries that won’t make you tear your hair out). And one of my favorite developments is the rise of the super functional, user-friendly universal registry. The nice thing about universal registries is that not only can we build something we actually like, but we can also fill it with things our people will actually want to buy usSo today, in partnership Zola, here is what I would register for if I were a time lord and could transport my wedding planning to 2016.


Unique housewares that we actually love: When Michael and I registered, we decided that fancy china wasn’t exactly suited for our (moving apartments every other year) lifestyle. But I still wanted daily dishes that had a little… personality. Sadly, nothing we found in the big-box registry stores felt like us. So we opted for a simple white dining set and went on our merry way. But if I could do it all over again? I’d mix and match unique day-to-day plates (dishwasher safe is a must) with a few special pieces we really love (like this whole collection, hello.) And Zola lets you add items from any shop, big or small (their registry app even lets you scan items in the wild), so I could throw in some handmade pieces from indie makers as well.


Experiences for the young and broke: Michael and I got married at the mature ages of twenty-three and twenty-six. Which means that on top of being “we’re planning a wedding” broke, we were also “we’re just getting started on this journey” broke. Which meant that there was little extra income for extracurricular activities. I would have loved the option to add a few experience items to our registry (and I know a few activity-oriented aunts who would have greatly preferred to buy us surfing lessons over something like a sugar bowl). But don’t worry, Zola’s activities aren’t all high-intensity. You can add more low-key bonding experiences like a cooking class or wine tasting if that’s your style.


Home DÉcor That Feels Like Us: When it comes to home décor, Michael and I have always preferred quirky over classic. But the traditional registries we signed up for all wanted to sell us on timeless, lovely items that just didn’t suit us. This welcome mat, however, speaks a little more closely to our approach to decorating (aka fun). Because while it’s good to have some registry items that will last forever, it’s also important to have stuff that reflects who you are right now. You know, kind of like your wedding. (P.S. I should totally get the Guns N’ Roses welcome mat for real life, though, yes?)


No-Guilt Big-Ticket Items: I was really hesitant to put any bigger-ticket items on our registry. What if people thought we were being greedy? (Spoiler alert: This generally has less to do with you than with them.) But with the option to add group gifting to our registry, I wouldn’t have hesitated. That way, we could add a few big-ticket items (Zola lets you include notes about what you plan to do with these items, or why they are meaningful), and our guests could pool together if they wanted to. Because the thing is, you won’t always get everything you register for, and that’s fine. But we shouldn’t have let guilt talk us out of asking for, say, this awesome rug.


Electronics, because that’s how we live our life: Most registry must-have lists focus on the kitchen. But if that’s not where you and your partner spend most of your time, then don’t force it. As for Michael and I? We’re couch-dwellers. So I would have focused more on the places where we actually spend our time, like our living room, and on things we’d actually use in our day-to-day lives, like this turntable (or at least I would use it, if my dad would finally fork over all those ’80s hair albums he’s been promising me, ahem).


Furniture that we desperately needed: Michael and I moved apartments less than two weeks after we got married, so we steered clear of ordering many big-ticket items that we’d end up having to haul from one place to the other. But surprise: That’s the stuff we needed the most (our faded denim Craiglist couch had seen better days). With Zola, you can choose when items get shipped to you from your registry (aka you can hold onto things until after you get back from your honeymoon), so we would have taken full advantage of that feature. Because this chair deserves to be in my house.


Blue apron (or other adulting help): Like I said, Michael and I were babies when we got married. So it didn’t matter how nice our cookware was, because we, um, didn’t know how to use it. But with Zola we could have added a meal delivery service like Blue Apron (y’all know my love of adulting help from them). And holy crap, it would have made our post-wedding adjustment that much easier knowing we were covered for dinner for a few weeks. (Image by Ali Harper Photography.)


All the artwork: As I mentioned, Michael and I moved a lot after we got married. And as anyone who has done the same knows, setting up a new home can take forever. But now that we’ve established ourselves a little more, one of the easiest ways to make our house feel like a home is to quickly put the art up on the walls. Had I realized this sooner, I would have registered for way more quirky art pieces like this painting, or these weird hand hooks that are both slightly off-putting and practical (my favorite combo).


An amazing vacuum: One thing I don’t regret about our registry? Asking for an amazing vacuum. If you plan on getting a pet at any point in your married future, do yourself a favor and ask for the good stuff. It’s really a gift to your loved ones, anyway, since we’ve gone nose-blind to our dog’s… um… aroma, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t.

Are you registering for any nontraditional items? And married folk, what do you wish you had registered for?

 This post was sponsored by Zola. Zola is a new universal registry that combines form with function. With Zola, you can personalize your registry so that it actually looks and feels like you (and then add items from any retailer, so that it also represents you.) And then they’ve packed it with tons of user-friendly features from group gifting to shipping control (aka you tell your registry when you want to receive stuff), and the lowest fee in the industry for cash gifts if you choose to add a cash registry option. You can even register for activities to do with your partner after you’re married. And if you change your mind about something after you’ve registered for it? No problem. Zola makes online exchanges quick and easy. Click here for a full list of Zola’s features and get $25 in Zola credits when you create your Zola account today!*

*You will receive $25 to spend on when you set up your wedding registry on, and receive $250 in Zola gifts. Zola gifts will be defined as any physical products purchased on Cash funds or third party gifts from other websites are not considered Zola gifts. The $25 Zola credit can only be redeemed for Zola gifts and cannot be redeemed for cash, cash funds or third party gifts. Credits will be placed into the couple’s Zola account 4 weeks after a couple receives $250 in Zola gifts.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Her Lindsayship

    So first off I ADORE that dining table in the pic above big-ticket items. Thankfully my lust for it is pretty well tamed by the fact it would not fit in my apartment by any stretch of the imagination.

    And next, this line: “…or these weird hand hooks that are both slightly off-putting and practical (my favorite combo)” made me remember all over again why I love APW. <333

    • Ashlah

      I’ve seriously been trying to convince my husband we need those hand hooks for the past week. I’m going to make it happen, I swear.

  • anon

    I have really enjoyed Zola. I haven’t received anything yet (pretty early in the process) but it was/is the first registry service I’ve encountered that seems to really understand and embrace the fact that, to be blunt, not everyone has ‘some wealthy aunt who may buy you that thing, you never know!’ We already have almost everything we need, so the ability to enable group gifting for some larger ticket items was wonderful. I’m hoping that our friends who know our situation and are less item-oriented feel comfortable with that option (well, if they feel obligated to get anything – hopefully they don’t) and the item-oriented old school relatives can work with the small number of less expensive items. Definitely made us feel better about creating a registry at all.

  • Rebekah

    Our weirdo item was a fireproof safe. I spend a fair amount of my time in the kitchen for fun, so it was nice to get a few upgrades there. We also asked for a queen fitted sheet and king flat sheet, which has just been wonderful. No more complaining about sheet thieves!

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Ohhh, mixing sheet sizes is brilliant.

    • Kara

      Our weirdo item was a mattress pad, as a protector for our mattress. Not a cool or pretty item, but it is practical (especially because we have dogs and cats :)).

  • idkmybffjill

    We are using Zola and have generally LOVED it. Some advice I would give if you are a Thank You Note Stickler like me (I try to write them straight up immediately).

    1. If you register for non-Zola items and provide the option for people to purchase them directly at that store (the option where they give us money for the item didn’t feel right for us), wait until you actually get the gift until you send the thank you note. This is logical, but because I’d gotten in the habit of writing notes as soon as they hit our account (since with Zola items you choose when they’re shipped and we are waiting until after the wedding/honeymoon), I sent some early thank you notes! I don’t think anyone was mad about a too early thank you note but I felt like a real goob. This was really only an issue at our shower.

    2. PAY ATTENTION ON GIFT TRACKER. As noted above, you can generally choose when to ship items to yourself on Zola, but the gift givers can also have it shipped to themselves!

    Again – I don’t think anyone was pissed to get a thank you note too early, but… it was a little weird! Learn from me! lol

  • toomanybooks

    I knowwwww, that copper KitchenAid is so gorgeous. I’m tempted to register for it but I already *have* a KitchenAid (because my mom does so much amazing baking that she had, like, three, and only used two of them). So the classic registry item is kind of crossed off the list for me! (Don’t worry, I have lots of other ideas ;))

    • Jess

      I got a KitchenAid from R’s parents for my birthday one year (So. Generous. I could not handle it). We registered for EVERY KitchenAid attachment. We’ve already made homemade ice cream, and have a grinder, spiralizer, new glass bowl, pasta extruder….

      You name it, we can now make it with our KitchenAid. It’s so great!

  • the cupboard under the stairs

    I really enjoyed using Zola for our registry! We divided the registry into two categories–honeymoon experiences and actual tangible items–and were able to make it look nice and presentable for everyone. I only got two complaints for people who didn’t understand how to use the site, but these were people who have also had trouble turning on computers and using Google, so I wouldn’t let that deter you. The best part about Zola is the “export thank you list” tool…no need to track down gift-givers’ addresses yourself!

  • Cellistec

    The in-laws gave us an inflatable kayak as a wedding gift (hey, it’s what we wanted at the time), so our universal registry included life vests and kayak paddles. We used that kayak all year until it popped a seam, but we’ve never taken our (unsolicited but traditional) crystal sherry glasses (??) out of their box.

  • Lizzie

    I wrote the below review right after my wedding and posted it on an old Zola article months after it published, but I’m adding again here in hopes that it might help someone considering using Zola themselves. I had a hard time finding a lot of reviews of Zola online that actually got into the nitty gritty of what happens on the back end – shipping, credits, etc. Now that I’m almost 6 months (!) beyond my wedding, I still am really glad we used Zola – the headaches it caused were pretty aggravating and caused a ton of logistical stress for, like, at least a month. But by now the headaches are fading into distant memory, while the sweet gifts are still very much present! :) Also, I’ve also had to work with them on one item that recently fritzed out on us, and they were lovely and resolved it satisfactorily. I thought that was really great of them to help me out even after the return window had closed!


    I don’t regret using Zola overall, even with my below (ahem) litany of complaints, because it gave us a ton of great things – the ability to have a cash fund and a traditional registry in one site, the lowest cc processing fees around, shipping on request, a really intuitive and beautiful interface, and a great selection of items, to name a few. I found Zola to be way superior to Honeyfund, Thankful, MyRegistry, etc etc, for those reasons. I still do ultimately recommend the site, mainly because the headaches have been all ours to bear, and our guests loved Zola – and that’s the most important thing to me. We had an REI registry that created big headaches for our guests, and to me that’s absolutely unforgivable – I would never recommend REI to anyone for that reason alone.

    As for ME / US, though, post-wedding, Zola has been a pretty major pain in the ass. I placed an order in early May and am *still* dealing with the fallout from it, almost a month later. I have another several hundred $$ of stuff to order and I’ve honestly put off placing another order because I dread having to deal with a new wave of shipments. (…and I LOVE getting fun stuff in the mail. This is saying a lot for me.) I have to maintain a separate section on my to-do list app that tracks what I ordered and when, so that I can stay on top of them and proactively nudge for information on where items are, what the delay is, when will something ship, why did this change to “out of stock” and is it coming back? (and why did it come back at $10 higher than before?), etc. I never once received a proactive note explaining a delay or out-of-stock item; I had to initiate everything myself. The reps I’ve worked with have all been incredibly friendly and apologetic, so I do appreciate their kindness once I open lines of communication.

    I think a lot of the problems arise because they’re basically a middleman company – so when you buy, say, 10 items from Zola, you don’t get one shipment of 10 items, you get 10 separate shipments from 10 separate vendors (and, by extension, 10 shipments to track and have potential issues with). This also means that when you request an exchange/return from Zola, they have to turn around and work with the actual vendor to process it. I think they’re often slowed down by working with unresponsive or slow vendors themselves, not by their own slowness. Still – the result for the end customer (me!) is a huge amount of information to keep an eye on, incredibly frustrating delays in shipping, and poor communication about said delays.

    For example: I’ve ordered several items that are available when I place the order, but then I learn weeks later – only after I’ve taken the initiative to reach out to customer service to see why it’s still “processing” – that, whoops! the item is out of stock indefinitely and here’s some Zola credit to buy something else. That feels shitty, frankly, and has caused me to spend my own money to buy some wedding gifts (from Amazon, of course, where they are still in stock) that I know were very thoughtfully selected, and that I want to receive.

    Another example: One of the items from my big May order was listed simply as “processing” for weeks, and, again, only after nudging customer service several times, I learned that the item won’t ship until August. August! And then, weirdly enough, the item showed up the next day. A lot of agita for nothing.

    Another example: A few items on our registry decreased in price – one by a significant amount ($50) – after our guests purchased the items. It ultimately was fine from our end, because it meant we had more Zola credit to work with, but I feel terribly that guests spent more money than the item ended up costing us. I would rather give our guests the extra cash back, but that’s incredibly awkward and impossible for several reasons.

    Another example: I requested a return for an item two weeks ago, and am still trying to get the information from customer service as to how I should go about processing it.

    COUNTER EXAMPLE: I received one item that was damaged in the mail, and the service rep was friendly, quick, and sent me a replacement set right away. That was a lovely Zola moment!

    OTHER COUNTER EXAMPLE: Their cash fund was a total breeze! Highly recommended.

    All of which is to say: Know when you go in that you’re gonna have to really *deal with* the shipping portion. Short(ish)-term massive headache for you, which may ultimately be worth it in the same way it was worth it for us.

    • laddibugg

      “Another example: A few items on our registry decreased in price – one by a significant amount ($50) – after our guests purchased the items. It ultimately was fine from our end, because it meant we had more Zola credit to work with, but I feel terribly that guests spent more money than the item ended up costing us. I would rather give our guests the extra cash back, but that’s incredibly awkward and impossible for several reasons.”

      I don’t think you should feel too terrible about this. Your guests spent what they felt comfortable spending. And you get a bonus gift!

      • Lizzie

        Hah, yeah, you make a good point. Now that I’m getting back to a normal, non-emotionally-heightened mindset post-wedding, I am leaning more toward your take, for sure. Plus, this happened enough times that the bonus cash equaled an awesome big Cuisinart food processor (!) – and I love thinking of it as an extra gift brought to us with little bits of love from a group of people!

        • Grace

          I just wanted to point out that this can happen pretty much anywhere. Your guest buys something, and then it goes on sale. It happens.

          ETA: At least with Zola, you still got to use that money. In the purchased before sale scenario, unless someone takes the time to go to the store with the receipt, that money is gone.

  • Shawna

    Zola was a slam dunk for us. We didn’t want things, but we felt like we had to register for SOME things so we did that easily on Zola and they dealt with something arriving broken swiftly and simply. We took photos of it, they dealt with the original vendor, and didn’t ask us to send it back, just sent a replacement.

    Where they really shone was in the cash funds. Protip: Use a basic cash fund that can be broken into smaller amounts (ex. $25 each but we want five of them) and then personalize the heck out of it. We created collections for each country we were visiting on our honeymoon and then came up with general activities we wanted to do that the registry would help us fulfill (even though we hadn’t planned the whole trip yet): theater tickets, boat rides, train tickets, a night in a fancy hotel, wine to go with dinner, breakfast in bed, airfare, etc. Then we added some downright silly activities that were low cost so that people who wanted to just give a small gift would feel encouraged: pay fine for swimming in private lake accidentally, get us out of jail, bribe the customs official, zoom about on a Vespa, gorge ourselves on cheese, gladiator lessons so we don’t die in the Colosseum, etc. We added Flickr Creative Commons photos for each of the gifts and wrote a brief blurb for each of them. Zola makes that easy.

    The feedback and interaction was amazing. We thought we might get pushback from our families for asking for so much “money” instead of “stuff” but we’re in our 30s/40s in a small city apartment. We have no space for the fancy stuff we want someday and are too practical to upgrade stuff that may not be our style, but is still in perfect condition. People got it. And not just my Indian family who gave money in cards at the wedding (yes, the card box gets used, I learned). His family, our family friends, basically everyone told us how much fun they had shopping on our registry and that they wanted to keep getting stuff for us because it was clear we were going to have so much fun and they were excited to send us on a particular adventure. I freaked out a month or so before the wedding and added objects like sheets to pad out our physical objects section and no one bothered with it. We got a grand total of four physical objects off our registry (and a few physical gifts at the wedding from people who had decided that was what they were getting us anyway – you can’t stop them).

    So the cash registry can totally work – just be specific with what people are getting you and have some fun with it!