Louise the Bride:
Oli and I had known each other for nearly 10 years and been together for 5 by the time we got engaged, on our terrace at home in London surrounded by candles (nearly all extinguished due to the windy December night, but the thought was there!!), the night before flying to New York to celebrate New Years Eve. We share a big group of mutual friends and know each other's families really well, and so we knew from the start of the wedding planning process that more than anything, we just wanted to throw one big party - we wanted an intimate, relaxed and informal day, full of love and laughter, outside in the sunshine as much as possible, and with just a nod to tradition (to keep our mothers happy, mainly!)
We wanted a country wedding in an area close enough for friends in London to reach by train, and Sussex fitted the bill perfectly, also being close to some of my family in Brighton. For the reception venue, we looked at a number of barns in and around the South Downs in West Sussex, all beautiful, but I knew Grittenham Barn
was the one as soon as we walked in. The huge outside space, the view over the South Downs, the relaxed manner of the lovely Katherine and Nicola, the owners, who were more than happy (within reason!) to offer the barn to us as a blank canvas, letting us decorate and bring in props to create the relaxed garden party vibe we had in mind - it was perfect for us and we booked it there and then. We arranged for the ceremony to be held in the local church a mile away, in the village of Tillington. Job done!
I was more nervous about finding a dress than any other element of the planning process. I would flick through bridal magazines and see 100s of versions of the same dress - ivory, strapless and corseted, with a full skirt - that I knew wouldn't suit me or the vibe of the wedding we were going for. I panicked for a good few months of fruitless searching until I stumbled upon a designer called Lihi Hod
online. Her dresses were stunning, with not a pouffy skirt or corset in sight, and I loved the Sophia dress in particular, with its long sleeves, open back and insanely beautiful detail. There was only one issue - at the time I was looking, her dresses were only stocked in Tel Aviv and New York. I started to panic some more. I tried on dresses which were undeniably beautiful but I couldn't get the Sophia dress out of my head. Should I settle for a pretty dress which I knew wasn't the one? Should I dent our wedding budget with a flight to Israel to try it on, or was that completely over-the-top? With an amazing stroke of luck, after 6 months of lusting after the Lihi Hod dresses from afar (and days away from booking the next flight to Tel Aviv) she held a trunk show at Serendipity
in Weedon, near Northampton. I booked myself an appointment and once I got to the shop and saw the dress in the flesh, I got goosebumps and I knew it was the one before I'd even put it on. So it goes to show - sometimes you do have to hold out and trust your instincts! I wore the dress with some gold strappy sandals from Stuart Weitzman
and a burnt-gold headband from Deepa Gurnani
(an online purchase from the US, which arrived 2 days before the big day - another example of trusting your instincts!)
The Wedding Party
Oli and his six ushers all wore three piece suits from a tailor called Marc Darcy
, based in Manchester. My lovely six bridesmaids all chose their own dresses, within a general colour theme of nude / neutral - I wanted all dresses to be different textures and so some of the girls wore beaded dresses and some embroidered; I thought they all looked amazing and incredibly glam but also the mismatched dresses looked a little more informal - just what I was after.
Our Wedding Day
My bridesmaids, family and I all stayed at Willow Barns
in Graffham, close to the church - we stayed in rooms surrounding a courtyard which was perfect for rushing between rooms whilst getting ready, and for pre-ceremony champagne once we all had our dresses on! Our lovely photographer Allison Dewey
was with us in the morning, and then she headed off to join Oli and his ushers at the pub opposite the church for his last drink as a single man. As our guests started to arrive they all joined the boys in the pub garden for a quick drink; from the photos it looks as though we girls missed quite a fun pre-drinking session! Thankfully they all teared themselves out of the pub in time for the ceremony.
The ceremony was held in the local village church in Tillington, West Sussex. The church was small and intimate and was filled with friends and family; it felt like such a secure and special place to say our vows. My mum brought the house down by reading a poem by Bob Marley called 'He's Not Perfect', Oli fluffed his vows a little, which made everyone laugh, including me - it felt as relaxed as a Saturday afternoon pub session. Except we were married by the end of it!
After the ceremony Oli and I jumped into a 1960s E-type Jaguar and headed to Grittenham Barn, behind all our guests in an open top vintage London bus. When we got to the reception venue the garden party was in full swing, complete with Pimms bar, lawn games and swing band playing outside.
Canapés and the wedding breakfast were provided by Red Anywhere
catering company, who were incredible. Oli and I are really into our food and wanted our guests to have something special. They tucked into tapas to start, with burrata and peach, seared beef and king prawns, followed by belly of pork with a big selection of salads and sides to share, and deconstructed pavlova with gin sorbet to finish, washed down with Albariño and Vietnamese coffee, Oli's favourite.
Whenever Oli and I talked about what our hopes were for the big day, the same answer always came up - we wanted everyone on that dancefloor, right until closing time. So we had to get the music right. Luckily we found a great three-man band called The Hot Pepper Roosters
, who played some swing and upbeat jazz on the lawn during cocktail hour, giving it the casual garden party vibe we wanted, and then we found an amazing funk bank called Freak Out for the evening. The dancefloor was full all night so I felt like we did our job properly! We were definitely upstaged by Alan, the father of the groom cutting some seriously impressive shapes on the dancefloor - we tried to match him by attempting a Dirty Dancing lift but failed miserably...
Angel Skillman of Angel Like Flowers
was amazing. I wanted the flowers to look quite wild, with a lot of foliage and eucalyptus - nothing too precise or formal, and she filled the brief perfectly. She created an amazing arch over the church door that I totally fell in love with and was so sad to leave behind after the ceremony!
We were recommended Ally (Allison Dewey
) by a friend of a friend, and I couldn't recommend her enough. She was absolutely lovely and a real calming influence to have around on the day, and the shots she created were so beautiful and really natural - just what we were looking for.
The Next Day
The next day a number of our guests joined us at Goodwood racecourse, nearby in Chichester, for a day at the races. It was a perfect way for us to string out the celebrations by another day and to catch up on all the gossip that we missed from the night before.
Don't arrange to travel to the venue the day before in a car that has a history of breaking down. When the inevitable happens and that car does break down, leaving you to arrive at the venue for set-up 4 hours later than hoped on the Friday, don't panic and don't sweat the small stuff - no-one will notice if that S'Mores bar you had your heart set on putting next to the fire pit doesn't materialise, or if you forget to include your sister-in-law's boyfriend in the home-made table plan, or if you lose your banns certificate minutes before the church rehearsal (yes - all of those things happened). None of it will matter on the day, and your guests won't care if things are a little rough around the edges - a Pinterest-worthy
wedding may look perfect but probably isn't that much fun!