May is the month when Mike and I celebrate our wedding anniversary! It feels like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye all wrapped into one. From planning our wedding to buying our first home, expanding the business and introducing new planning resources, it has been a really full year in some hard and beautiful ways.
Today I’m giving you an honest look back on my own wedding day. This is something I ask my clients to imagine doing when they’re in the first stages of planning together. I ask them to think about looking back on their wedding day both in the short term (at the end of the day; and one year out) and the long-term (when they’re old and gray and reminiscing to their grandchildren). I ask them to imagine what pieces they really hope to remember. This gives great clues about what to prioritize during your planning and make time for on your wedding day.
What I Loved Most About Our Wedding Day
We Planned Time to Ourselves During the Day
One of the highlights of the day for me was having a private first look; just the two of us. Mike and I each arrived at our venue early, while our family and friends continued getting ready back at the hotel. Having our first look alone was one of the most peaceful and happy times of the whole day for me. It solidified the feeling of it being “our day” and gave me a chance to feel calm and connected to soaking in the moments as they happened. We chose not to have a formal wedding party, so we had a little more time in our schedule where wedding party portraits would normally have been done. We spent that time exploring the gardens with our photographer and taking portraits at a relaxed paced before our family joined us for photos before the ceremony.
The Community Atmosphere of our Wedding
This was one of our priorities from the very beginning and it was the driving force for a lot of our decisions throughout the planning process. Both Mike and I have lived in multiple states throughout our adult lives and family and friends were traveling in from all over the country to spend the weekend with us. Many of the important people in our lives had also never met each other. It was incredibly important to us that our wedding felt like a joining of our lives in all aspects. Most notably, bringing together the people who have surrounded us throughout our years. We chose a hotel close to our venue that had a large common area in the lobby with comfy sofas, a fireplace and long communal tables where everyone could gather in between events. In lieu of a traditional rehearsal dinner, we hosted a Welcome Party for everyone invited to the wedding with one of our favorite weekly rituals, “taco night.” It was a fun and relaxing atmosphere to greet people as they arrived and introduce everyone before the wedding day. Having two dedicated nights to spend time with the whole group was the best decision for us because it allowed everyone in our lives to get to know each other really well. We made some sacrifices in our budget to be able to host our guests for two separate events and it was 100% worth it looking back.
Something I talk about a lot is the idea of your venue being the “home” for the start of your marriage. In the same way that you feel connected to the space you live, your venue should speak to you on a similar level. It’s not always this cut and dry, and venue searches can be quite complicated, but when we walked into the courtyard of Elawa Farm for the first time, we both had that instinctual gut feeling that “this is it.” The old brick farm buildings reminded us of our travels through Europe together. It was tucked away and a little off the beaten path, so our wedding felt private and exclusive for our guests. And it met all our big requirements during our venue search (Outdoor ceremony space, rain back up space, BYOB options for our bar and beautiful enough to not need extensive decor). I love that this little farm has been standing for 100 years and is part of the community with farmers markets, nature classes, and workshops. I’m excited to visit the farm throughout our marriage and watch the gardens grow over the years, and eventually show our children where it all started one day.
Treating My Ladies to Makeup
We made the decision not to have formal wedding parties for mostly logistical reasons, but I still wanted to spend the morning getting ready and having fun with my best girlfriends. Even though they weren’t bridesmaids, each of them has played an incredible role in my life and have been by my side at my best and worst moments. I wanted them to feel just as special that day. I arranged with my makeup artist (Joanna B Artistry - Chicago ladies, she’s incredible - go check her out!) to surprise my closest friends with makeup services that morning. We all spent the morning eating breakfast together, listening to an epic wedding morning playlist they made for me and they got to feel pampered and relaxed while I got my hair and makeup done as well. Investing in treating them to this services was as much of a treat for me as it was for them!
What I Would Have Done Differently
Spending More on our Entertainment
Looking back I would have invested more money in our overall music and entertainment for the day. My mom really wanted live music for our ceremony and cocktail hour. It didn’t make our short list of priorities, and we ultimately chose to forgo it for budget reasons. We hit a wall near the end of our planning, where it felt like we just couldn’t spend money on one more thing. I know this is common for many couples. Staying within budget for our wedding was actually one of our identified priorities on our short list of values, so when we weighed the options, it felt like the best decision at the time was to do without live music. In hindsight, an additional few thousand dollars would not have broken the bank and would have made our day and guest experience feel more seamless.
My biggest takeaway lesson is that if there is one thing you’re really agonizing over near the end, that will likely be the thing that you wish you would have done. If it’s at all financially feasible, take the plunge and do it. The investment in your day will be worth it.
Scheduling Lunch Delivery for our Families
In true fashion, I had a very detailed timeline drawn up for our wedding day. I tell my couples repeatedly that your timeline is the backbone of your day. It doesn’t just keep things running smoothly, it’s the vehicle we use to make space for creating the memories that you want to have on your wedding day. Our timeline was shared with our vendor team as well as our family and close friends.
Mike and I were at the venue much earlier than our families needed to be that day. I had planned for everyone to have lunch on their own, at suggested nearby restaurants, or in the hotel lobby. In hindsight, I wish that I would have scheduled a catered lunch to be available for all of our families to stop by and pick up in one of our suites. At the time, I felt like it would be nice to let people have a little bit of free time that day before all the festivities started. What I should have thought more about was that they were from out of town, and it would have been easier and more enjoyable to provide that meal for them and give everyone more structure to that part of the day. Just like our music, this felt like one of the items that we just couldn’t possibly add to our budget at the end. When in reality, it would not have been a major expense and would have made the day run more seamlessly.
One of the reasons we loved Elawa Farm so much was because we could have our ceremony outside in the garden. The beautiful setting, natural lighting, and garden backdrop was everything I wanted. I also went pretty minimal on our ceremony decor because of this. Choosing to forgo a large alter installation or ceremony backdrop. Because our wedding was in early May (in the midwest), we did have two large evergreens behind us, but the garden wasn’t quite as lush and garden-y as I would have dreamed of. I wish I would have invested some money in a beautiful background piece to frame our alter. When I work with clients on their floral and decor budgets, I tell them to spend the money on the area they’re going to look back on. As someone who values visual arts, I would have loved to have more floral elements in the photos of us standing at the altar.
So there they are. My biggest takeaways both good and bad from my own experience as a bride. I am so genuinely thankful that both Mike and I, and our families invested in a wedding celebration. It was a pivotal weekend in our lives, created memories that I couldn’t even begin to understand how much I would cherish at the time, and formed a community of people around out marriage that feels like our own amazing little tribe for life. Every dollar that was invested in the day, came back to us 10 fold throughout the experience. I hope these tips and lessons are helpful as you’re thinking about planning your own celebrations!