A few weeks’ ago, I celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary with my husband Jude. We did all the normal things normal people do when they celebrate a divorceless first year: we exchanged origami roses (our paper-based gift), ate part of our wedding cake that had been cryogenically frozen, and squeezed into our wedding dress/tux and watched our wedding video on repeat for five hours.
We also reflected on how planning a wedding, at times, felt like we were staging the Rio Olympics, so I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learnt, which may help you in winning wedding gold:
1. Take your time in choosing the right reception venue
The first test! Choosing the right venue is like the qualifying final, as if you cock it up here, you may as well go and elope. It sets the tone for the entire wedding day, in terms of style, mood and atmosphere. It also plays a big factor in how much the endgame bill will come in at.
Given I love my wine and wineries, I had my heart set on a winery wedding. Jude had to remind me that he hated wine and wineries. So if I was marrying myself, a winery would have been fitting but it was important to find a compromise – a venue that spoke to who we are as a couple, not individuals. Jude’s criteria was that we had to have good food and spirits, and lots of both. My criteria was that we had to have good wine, and lots of it, and preferably didn’t have to mortgage our house to pay for it.
I started looking into the concept of hiring out some of our favourite city restaurants, which we knew offered good food, wine and spirits, and I fell across Press* Food & Wine in the heart of the Adelaide CBD. Ticking all the boxes, we could plate up a four-course ahh-mazing tapas dinner (no cruise ship food), have our choice of wines and spirits, exploit a very attractive warehouse-type space (no extra $$ on dressing it up – although Mum was horrified at the lack of chair covers, eeek), and it all came in well under the cost of a winery wedding at $130 per person for everything. Well played Jude, well played.
2. Keep it small, intimate and relaxed
Having it at Press* Food & Wine meant we could only have 90 guests. Although this was originally like a slap in the face with a watermelon, I think this ultimately worked in our favour as we had to be ruthless with the guest list, creating a much more intimate and relaxed feel on the day. Plus, you’re not going to spend your wedding day awash with love if you want to punch Uncle Wayne in the face. Every guest was there because we genuinely wanted them there. Plus, there’s nothing like a tight guest list to prompt a much-needed friend cleanse.
3. Good food is always better than good scenery
You can have the prettiest setting, with a backdrop of pretty golden vineyards, but if guests are underfed and having to do a 9pm sprint to McDonalds, the grumpy guest-o-meter will be off the richter. Something you probably want to avoid.
Although good food and booze either comes with compromises or an elephant-sized price tag. Further to a 90pax cap, the additional concession we signed up for was that our restaurant-come-reception venue came with no dance floor. What we didn’t factor in was that with all that booze, people will manufacture their own dance floor, and given the way ours was shaking under some Paul Simon jumping, we’re quite lucky we all didn’t fall through the first floor of Press* that night…
4. Go simple with the dress
A big white ball gown of a dress looks beautiful in photos and it’s all very bridal but it’s a flippin’ pain in the arse to wear. I had to pop 10 Nurofen come afternoon because my back was giving out under the weight. Plus I had ants making themselves at home amid the hundreds of layers of tulle and part of me fears I looked like I’d been playing dress-ups in Mum’s wardrobe.
Thank Phillipa I had the smarts to cut the train off, otherwise I would have most definitely drowned in polyester by day’s end.
5. Do not expect anyone to read the run sheet, or even care
Come wedding day, I had circulated version 561 of the run sheet. I had this foolish belief that if people had access to all the information they wouldn’t ask the bride, say what time the groomsmens’ speech was, because the bride is busy trying to juggle 50 million bomboniere-filled plates. WRONG! Dad even went to the effort of printing out multiple copies of run sheet 561 for me but do you think he read it? Nooooo.
6. How do you feel about being a stand-up comedian?
As your names are squiggled on the invite in some fancy font, like it or not, you’re the day’s entertainment, so you better have some form of acrobatics up the sleeve of that wedding dress to keep the guests entertained.
The ultimate creative control freaks, we structured our bridal party’s speeches and delivered them with a clear brief. They were each required to talk for a minute on a topic we assigned (marriage advice for the bridesmaids, and how I made Jude a better person for the groomsmen, which was so not my choosing), for no longer than five minutes in total per group, the funnier the better, and we’d assign the most creative of the respective bridal parties to be the team leader. With Dad’s speech, I proofread it prior (or was that approved it prior, can’t remember) and helped him with his line spacing and font size to improve readability on the night. Yet, this complete self-confessed, micro-management created beautiful, entertaining, heart-warming (short) speeches, with no awkward mentions of any exes.
Jude and I are prone to some serious dance warfare, so we knew expectations were high when it came to our wedding dance, especially given people were trying to guess what we had planned like it was the sex of our first born. This meant we had to do something completely unexpected….
We didn’t foresee that My Heart Will Go On would become our song.
7. Add 25% to your budget
We started off with a budget of $30k. After all the invoices were paid post-wedding, we’d spent $39,980, so let’s just say $40k. What I realised is that EVERYTHING is more expensive than what you expect and everything has a wedding tax. Even magazines have a wedding tax: Cosmopolitan, $7.95; Cosmopolitan Bride, $14.95. Scandalous!
Spend money where it counts, on the things that are going to contribute to the quality of the day (food, drink, venue, etc), and try desperately to save where you can on the things that don’t really matter (i.e. flowers, table decorations, cars, bridesmaid dresses, etc).
8. Add a bucketload of unique touches
Weddings can be batshit boring if they take a cookie cutter approach. Our big, little defiances to the wedding factory model were having Jude’s sister sing the bridal party down the aisle, despite being in the bridal party herself (thank you, Esther); and getting Mum to make the wedding cake, which she was incredibly hesitant about, despite a previous career as a cake decorator. I had to tell her that it didn’t matter if the cake tasted like mud (which it didn’t! And I knew wouldn’t!), it was the sentiment that mattered.
At the ceremony, to set a tone of celebration and fun, we trucked in a mini skip of champagne and cider (and non-alcoholic drinks too), so that people could start having a good, relaxed, un-stuffy time pre-vows. Something that was very important to us. We also controversially didn’t have a bridal table because we wanted our bridal party to sit next to their partners, which was partially due to the fact that 9% of the guest list were in the bridal party.
With only 90 guests, Jude and I were able to use our wedding speech to individually go around the room and thank everyone for some funny, unique reason, which is still-to-this-day something we get pulled up on as a highlight. It baffles me that the ornate-framed seating chart didn’t get the same attention.
Our final last-ditch tactic to facilitate fun, was to have the photo booth props strategically positioned near the bar, which meant for the second half of the reception we had grown men dancing about in bunny ears, tails and Harry Potter glasses.
9. Don’t lose sight of why you’re actually holding this wedding
While it’s important to create the best party for your guests, it’s more important that you and your chosen team mate for life have the most memorable, enjoyable day possible. This means tuning out the gluttonous opinions, of which there are many (hell, we would have ended up with white chair covers and pink bow sashes if we hadn’t).
The most memorable weddings are when they’re personal, authentic and speak to who the couple is. Something Jude had to remind me constantly when I was up to my elbows in party logistics and opinions. He also often reminded me that we weren’t actually staging the Rio Olympics, we were just throwing a party! Don’t lose sight of perspective.
Wedding suppliers and stats
- Number of guests: 90.
- Ceremony venue: gardens of Stangate House, Adelaide Hills.
- Reception venue: Press* Food & Wine, Adelaide.
- Celebrant: Marina Whitham.
- Photographer: Kerin Burford Photography.
- Videographer: Kris Jenkinson.
- Theme and colour palette: a soft, modern take on Art Nouveau glamour, with lots of pearls, lace and rose gold highlights.
- Flowers: Nadia Straschko.
- Bride’s dress: Jenny and Gerry’s Bridal House.
- Bridesmaid’s dresses: $50 from Light in the Box – why pay the price of a small car when there was slim chance the bridesmaids would ever wear the dresses again?
- Mother of the Bride’s dress: Woolcocks of Reynella.
- Bride’s accessories: earrings were from Miss Martini, shoes from Myer and the headpiece was custom-made by Jeanette Maree in Victoria.
- Bomboniere: I ordered boxes with a thank you message for people to take home the wedding cupcakes.
- Wedding dance lesson: Madeleine Dance Emporio. Running out of time, we did an hour dance lesson, getting them to create a dance routine that was minimum effort, maximum impact – it was the best wedding $$ spent.
- Groom’s suit: black tuxedo from Hugo Boss.
- Groomsmen’s suits and shoes: their own black suits. Can you tell they don’t match? Ties are from Myer.
- Transport: In Vogue Limousines for the bridesmaids/bride/mother and father of the bride. Why spend a fortune when no-one saw us arrive? It was more important to me that we could all travel together on the hour-long drive to the ceremony. Jude rolled up in his daily driver: a Renault.
- Music: ceremony – acoustic music by Dusty Stephensen. Reception – DJ Joe Kemleh. Having two professionals handle the music was worth every cent – it took the pressure off us and they created a great party atmosphere.
- Hair: Christine Versace – regular hairdresser.
- Make-up artist: Karen Brown, Kaz make-up.
- Ceremony styling: Chaircovers Over All (chiavari chairs) and LB Events (ornate mirror and chaise lounge).
All images courtesy and copyright of the supremely-talented Kerin Burford Photography.