The day went by in what seemed to be a few minutes. It was a mild and sunny autumn day near Madison, and a gentle breeze blew through the grapevines, drying any sign of rain from the day prior. Each table was being set in the historic barn on the property, and the branch arch (that was hand-built by my loving parents) was standing just at the edge of the field, framing the rolling hillside. Then it was time – time to slip into my dress, hug my sisters and best friends, and before I knew it I was walking down the aisle towards my then-fiance! We read our personalized vows (without tears, I might add!), and then got to enjoy our family-style dinner with our family and loved ones. Those moments will be held close to my heart for the rest of my life, I’m absolutely sure of it.
First things first though, I’m in no way trying to idealize our wedding day; it was a perfectly imperfect day. The important part is that I got to marry the one person in the world meant for me, surrounded by family and close friends, and the rest flew by so fast that it barely registered (besides the fact that I was blissfully happy). And that the pie rocked. Going through this whirlwind experience of planning a wedding and getting married was stressful and busy yet very fulfilling, and I want to share some of what I learned along the way in the hopes that this advice helps you in your planning!
One // First dream a little bit, then prioritize your wedding categories by importance, and then come back down to earth and make a budget. Yes, I am suggesting something different than most of the bridal magazines recommend to begin the wedding planning process; start with making a list of what is most important to you and your fiance. Maybe this includes the venue, wedding planner, photography, catering or flowers – depending on what you value the most. Consider 3 or 4 items that are at the absolute top of your priority list in terms of “must-haves,” jot them down on a piece of paper, and then go on to list the other items in order of importance as well (keeping in mind that your Top Priority items will likely make up a greater portion of your budget because they mean more to you). Remember, it’s never to early to reach out to your vendors that you place a high value/priority on for the big day, they are more likely to be available the earlier you inquire!
You’ll want to decide what is most important to you before you create a budget, this will help you apportion value and investment amount accordingly. It will encourage you as you make choices throughout the process, the fact that you are investing more in what matters to you and less in what doesn’t. You don’t always have to follow those “Wedding Planning Checklist” articles that you might find on The Knot or in wedding magazines, instead do what YOU feel is right for you two as a couple (and do things your own unique way, rather than do what you feel you are expected to do).
*Some of our own “must-haves” included the venue, our photographer, our stylist, and florist, and these items were all decided and vendors booked 8-12+ months before the wedding day. Since we booked our top priorities well in advance, they were still available for our wedding date and we were able to work with what we considered our ideal vendors and creatives. Again, it all comes down to your priorities! You get what you pay for, so we chose to invest more in what we cared about and less in what was trivial to us.*
Two // Importance of Natural Light – This is something that might not be at the front of your mind when it comes to planning, but hopefully it is after reading this! Whether its the area you are getting ready and stepping into your dress, your ceremony location, or your portrait location, think about how much window/outdoor light you will have. Discuss problematic spots with your photographer or coordinator ahead of time, chances are they will have some wonderful suggestions and solutions, depending on what mood/feel you are trying to achieve. Natural sunlight (or even sunlight diffused by clouds on an overcast day) is the most flattering lighting situation, so always consider how it will appear, both in person as your guests experience it, and also as your photographer will document it on camera.
*We chose an outdoor location for our ceremony because we were going for a very natural and organic setting and ‘casual elegance’ feel for our day. By getting ready in a naturally-lit farmhouse at the venue, we also were able to have getting-ready photos that were well-lit. Our ceremony was in direct sunlight (which can sometimes translate into harshly-lit photos, but we chose a photographer that we knew could work in those conditions), and our reception indoors in a historic barn on the same property. Our stylist and I worked to make the spaces as light-filled and organic as possible, and we were very happy with the end result, expertly documented by our photographer.*
Three // Plan Buffer Time – Planning a little extra ‘padding’ into a wedding day cannot be overstated, as most days just naturally run a bit behind due to so many unknowns! Consult with your planner (and maybe also photographer) when you are laying out a timeline, to ensure that you’ve left enough time for travel, setup, photos, dinner, dessert, basically everything. If you’re traveling between different venues for the ceremony and reception, leave extra time for potential traffic. Wrangling family for formal portraits might take longer than expected if you have large groups or wandering family members, account for that as well.
And then there is dinner. Delicious, but a real timeline killer in most cases. Even if it gets started on time, a dinner hour rarely lasts only 1 hour, especially for 100+ guests. I call this the “Dinner +30” rule, which means you can likely add 30 minutes to however long you and the caterer expect dinner & dessert to last and you’ll probably be right on. The bottom line is if you aren’t sure about timing, ask the vendors/creatives how much time they need!
*For our day, we did not see each other beforehand, but portraits of the two of us were really important to me! We left time after the ceremony for the types of photos we wanted, and worked closely with our photographer, Emily, to ensure we were planning the right amount of time. Since our ceremony and reception were on the same property, it eliminated any travel time and gave us more time for photos and cocktail hour (without a long time gap for our guests) – it ended up working out very well thanks to our photographer’s good time management and the caterer’s promptness serving dinner. For dessert we chose mini pies, so I made sure to plan enough extra time after dinner for dessert (before our first dance).*
Four // Hire a stylist or planner (or both) – If the thought of all those choices, color combinations, venue contracts, and varieties of flowers have your head spinning before you’ve barely popped the champagne, that’s a sign you’ll want to hire a planner! Sometimes planners work hand in hand with stylists, and sometimes you just need one or the other, but it’s always a great idea to hire someone to hone in on your vision and really bring everything together in a cohesive way. You’re a busy bride as it is, and your time and attention is stretched in so many different directions, so if you have the option it’s best to hire a professional.
*Our stylist was a key to the success of the day!! Anna came up with some wonderful ideas that fit our wedding style, which we defined as ‘casual elegance.’ She created our signage, sourced materials (like our seed-packet) favors, and really put my mind at ease that everything would come together. On the day of, she even improvised some of the decor when part of the original plan did not work out logistically – she was so collected and professional. We wanted a big focus to be on our guests’ overall experience, so our stylist was vital to bringing every element together cohesively in an enjoyable way for our guests.*
Five // Choose a photographer you really connect with – This means first of all (and most importantly) on a personal level, and secondly, with their work! This is SO crucial to creating natural-looking and beautiful photos, and I’m not just suggesting it as a photographer, but also as a bride! Find the person who you just absolutely have to have if photography is important to you (if you’re reading this, it likely is very near the top). Then, trust them because their work and personality speak for themselves. If you let them take the reigns, you can really get a creative and unique result, personalized to you and your honey.
The best part? These images are forever. Each image signifies a moment, and even if you don’t quite realize the significance during the whirlwind of your day, believe me, you will appreciate it SO much in the future! These are your first family heirloom, some of the first moments of your married lives, and you’ll want to proudly pass them down to your children and grandchildren. If you’re comfortable with your photographer, it shows in your photographs – you can almost hear the laughter and sigh of happiness when you look at the photos above, am I right?! Also, give your photographer the time they need – Have lots of personal touches and details planned? Do you have a large family? Are portraits really high on your priority list? Discuss all these things with them ahead of time, and then you can rest assured that they will be able to come well-prepared for your day and have plenty of time to be creative.
Six // Try to plan ahead & let immediate family enjoy the day. Meaning that, if at all possible, avoid enlisting family members to do big/many tasks on the day of the wedding, in order to let them be in the moment as well. Of course have your mom or close female relative help you into your dress, or have a loved one escort you down the aisle. But aside from those types of tasks, let family know how much you love them by giving them the priceless gift of time that day – time to really embrace the wonderful feeling of gaining a whole new family, watch or be part of the fun anticipation before the ceremony, enjoy dinner and conversation, and dance the night away.
*While my family and my husband’s family were all willing to assist in ANY way possible, I regret not having them spend more time in the moment on the wedding-day morning. I tried to plan as much time for setup as possible, but had to ‘let go’ of some control during setup and have them help. In hindsight, I would have hired a day-of planner to set things up, along with my stylist (who was AMAZING and efficient), because there just turned out to be tasks more than I anticipated and it took longer to transform the space than planned (in part due to some rain the day before). All in all, it turned out wonderfully, but that is the ONE thing I would have done differently to let my family enjoy the time before the ceremony a little more!*
Seven // The wedding day won’t be perfect – accept that, relax, and enjoy it as much as you can. It will be a perfectly imperfect day. In other words, small things (or big things) will not go according to plan, but if you choose to focus instead on the fact that you get to marry the person you love most in the world, everything pales in comparison. If you can, plan a few minutes sometime after the ceremony (maybe during the reception) to just take a quick walk or sit down with your new spouse and soak it in!
Finally, do things the way you want to, not the way that you are expected to do them – in the end it will work out and you will both be happier because you stayed true to yourselves. This will allow you to infuse your personalities into the wedding day, making it personal for both you and your guests. What a better way to celebrate the beginning of your marriage?!
*By cutting out traditions or things we didn’t want to have (like a time-gap between ceremony and cocktail hour, travel between the ceremony and reception, and the bouquet/garter toss) we were able to focus on what we wanted most, a fun guest experience. A meaningful and personal ceremony, a really delicious farm-to-table meal, an open bar and a DJ for our guests enjoyment. Also, we stayed on schedule – thanks to our experienced and wedding vendors/creatives – so we even had time to sneak in a few minutes of night portraits lit by strings of bistro lights in our lounge area!*
Our Wedding Creatives & Vendors:
Venue – Over the Vines
Photographer – Emily Steffen
Stylist – Anna of A. Styled Event
Florist – Alluring Blooms
Dress – Monirose
Caterer – Underground Food Collective
Pies – Bloom Bake Shop
Rentals – A La Crate, Lakes Area Rentals, & Event Essentials
Paper Goods – Monograham Paper
Calligraphy – Chelsea Petaja
DJ – Van Rixel Productions