I’m always in awe of anyone who can sew well and Bride Siobhan is definitely one of those people. In fact she comes from a FAMILY of those people – with her Nana making her wedding dress and Siobhan making the Bridesmaids dresses – these women are seriously creative!
Siobhan and Mauri had a laid-back London pub wedding, filled with good food, good drink, lots of dancing and some very impressive DIY decor and flowers…Siobhan has created a stylish combination of feathers, succulents, gold spray painted animals and tulips. Perfect for the quirky Prince Albert in Camden.
Siobhan The Bride: We married on 15 February 2014. The day after Valentine’s Day. This wasn’t deliberate; it was just a date that worked for us. But everyone seemed to think it was terribly romantic and we’re hoping it’s going to make remembering anniversaries easier!
We asked each other. It was a few years ago and I was heading back to the UK to do a Masters, so there was naturally lots of talking about futures and dreams and feelings and things, and we realised it was what we both wanted. Mauri admitted he’d already spotted the ring though. In a second hand shop because he knew I loved things with history and with a pearl not a diamond, because we’d recently watched Blood Diamond and there’d been lots of tears and raging against the diamond industry on my part. I know that might not sound like every girl’s idea of romance, but to me that was him getting me like nobody else and the memory of that conversation still makes me smile.
We had the ceremony at Toynbee Hall, a fantastic community organisation that works to reduce poverty and disadvantage in the East End of London. The Hall itself is a beautiful Arts and Crafts building, right in the middle of the city, but set back from the road, so you wouldn’t necessarily notice it if you were walking past. For us the Hall had several major advantages over other venues we considered: first and foremost, it gave us a beautiful and atmospheric ceremony space. Neither of us is particularly religious so we knew we wanted a civil ceremony, but we still wanted it to feel special. On top of that, the team were extremely friendly and helpful from the outset, accommodating pretty much all our requests regarding decoration, logistics etc. Finally the Hall is really excellent value, with all proceeds going towards supporting the charity, which just felt good.
We had the reception at the Prince Albert pub in Camden, now a well-established London wedding hotspot. It’s a traditional pub building on the outside (with those great green tiles) but inside it’s got a brilliantly quirky, eclectic vibe. It’s also a space that worked really well for us, with two floors so you can separate eating and dancing. And of course the advantage of doing so many weddings is that the team really know their stuff. We were able to just drop the decorations off the day before and they made it all happen.
Our family hairdresser did all of our hair. She is a wonderfully warm, chatty person and it was great to have her there on the day. She also didn’t bat an eyelid when I produced a floral headband on the morning of the wedding, which she then had to accommodate!
I had initially planned to do my own makeup and went to a Bobbi Brown demonstration/afternoon tea with my Mum at Liberty (this was so much fun, I’d highly recommend looking out for another one!) However, ultimately I decided I’d be better off putting our faces in the hands of a professional and booked Jodie Hazelwood, who did a brilliant job – fresh and natural with some extra lashes and a slick of bright pink lipstick.
My amazing Granny Marjorie made my dress. She’s been making me clothes my whole life so this felt very natural. The bodice was a corded lace and the skirt was a rough-textured chiffon, both with silk underlay. In the evening I changed into a knee-length tulle skirt so I could dance. To fight off the February chill, I found a green tweed jacket in a charity shop and made a faux-fur collar to fancy it up.
I also made the bridesmaid dresses, using fabric Mauri and I designed ourselves. Fair warning to other brides – sewing your own bridesmaid dresses is not for the fainthearted! It was especially tricky as geographical limitations meant we only got to do one fitting before the day. If you are going to go down this route, I would urge you to start early and allow more time for fittings. That being said, I thought they all looked gorgeous on the day.
Mauri The Groom: I decided to get a suit tailored. We looked at different options before coming across the site of Marc Wallace, who happened to be having a great sale. This was my first experience of going to a tailor but the guys at Marc Wallace are very cool and made it fun and easy. I ended up picking a grey suit with an emerald green lining and a green tweed waistcoat. The groomsmen all wore their own grey suits, which we tied together with matching accessories.
I made a floral headband from the blooms, leaves and feathers that were leftover from the bouquets. I ended up not having time to do a practice run (foolish!) but I had done my internet research and thankfully it turned out well. I think I may have stressed Mum out by doing this on the morning of the wedding, but for me it was actually a nice calming activity. My sparkly shoes were from Evans – I have ridiculously wide feet and so usually struggle to find pretty shoes that fit but these stayed comfy all day/night. I also wore a bold green necklace that Mauri bought for me on a weekend away, and a pair of pearl studs my Aunty and Uncle gave me for my 18th birthday.
The girls rocked their own choices of jewellery and shoes. They’ve each got such different styles and personalities, I wanted them to be able to express themselves. One of the bridesmaids has a crazy talent for nails so she also did all of our nails the night before. We eschewed the traditional French polish in favour of green/gold/glitter/diamantes – amazing.
Mauri The Groom: I wore a green velvet bowtie and a pair of cufflinks Siobhan gave me, made from antique typewriter keys. The guys had coordinating bowties, green braces and green moustache-print socks. Their boutonnieres were made from faux edelweiss (for a touch of Switzerland), felt, feathers and gold buttons. We also made a boutonniere for each of our “weddingmakers” – the family and friends who contributed something particular to the day.
It was important to us to find fair-trade wedding rings and a little research led us to Cred, a UK leader in ethical jewellery. We visited the Clerkenwell studio and met with Managing Director Alan, who took the time to talk us through the ethical supply chain and show us photos from his recent visits to the mines. We chose simple bands in yellow gold for me and white gold for Mauri, and had them inscribed in Italian – oggi e per sempre (today and forever).
For the music we are indebted to a couple of hugely talented friends – Cian and Yvette. They sang and played guitar beautifully before and during the ceremony. The processional was Marry Me by Train. Yvette’s gorgeous voice elevated it to a whole other level and I had goosebumps as I walked down the aisle. During the register-signing we had Make you Feel My Love by Bob Dylan and Anyone Else but You by the Mouldy Peaches, the latter of which raised a chuckle from the crowd. We exited to Somewhere Only We Know by Keane. Once out of the hall, we lingered in the corridor listening to the end of the song and had a little dance – a beautifully unplanned moment together.
At the pub we plugged in an ipod during the drinks and dinner. Everyone was chatting and drinking and hugging and laughing – in such a small space I think any live music would have been lost!! For the dancing part of the night, we persuaded Cian to reform his brilliant covers band – The Blues Experiment – who used to play the end-of-year balls at university. Yvette joined them to sing our first dance (Fallin’ by The Lumineers) and then left the boys to it. They went down a storm and got everyone dancing.
The Wedding Party
My bridesmaids were my three closest friends – Bryony from school, Catherine and Katherine from university. They were completely brilliant and threw me this fun, incredibly thoughtful hen do – afternoon tea, crafting, vintage makeup/hair, games, dinner and then dancing at the Rivoli Ballroom. The craft portion involved each of the participating ladies decorating a square of fabric with a motif or design that represented a shared memory (or was just very pretty). These were then collected by the bridesmaids and sewn into a stunning patchwork blanket, which they then presented to me on the morning of the wedding. It is so beautiful and personal; I will treasure it forever.
Mauri The Groom: Marco, the best man, has been my best friend since university. He also got married recently and I was his best man, so we had a shared bachelor party, which was a lot less glamorous then Siobhan’s hen do, involving paintballing and a local brewery. The morning of the wedding, we went to the Breakfast Club in Spitalfields with the rest of the best men group: Luca my cousin, Giuseppe a good friend and neighbour and Liam, Siobhan’s brother. Wisely, we all changed into our suits after breakfast, avoiding any ketchup disasters. We all got caught in the rain on the way back to the apartment but thankfully this stopped before the ceremony and gave us a perfect sunshiny London as a backdrop for the day.
My Stepmum Mary has a real talent for flowers and did an amazing job, decorating the ceremony space and arranging bouquets for me and the three bridesmaids. The flowers mostly came from Covent Garden Flower Market; we did a reconnaissance mission about a month before the wedding and Mary took details of the vendors so that she could reserve what we needed on the day.
I don’t know much about flowers, but I lean towards ones that are structurally interesting, rather than anything too flower-y. The aisle was lined with potted ferns, while the alcove above the fireplace was filled with white tulips, thistles, succulents and greenery. My Dad anchored twisted willow branches into wooden bases, which stood in front of the windows with pots of white narcissus. The bouquets meanwhile were lovely informal mixes, including succulents, bright green button chrysanthemums, feathers and a few dark roses for contrast.
I was pleasantly surprised by how touching the standard civil ceremony text is. I don’t know what I was expecting, something more business-like I suppose! But instead it talks about caring and supporting, honesty and patience and all that good stuff.
We had two readings: our good friend Dana read extracts from Sandol Stoddard Warburg’s “I like you”, which is sweet and very funny, and my Nana read extracts from Wilferd Arlan Peterson’s “The Art of Marriage”. My Nana and Granddad were the most wonderful, loving couple and the best of friends right up until he passed away a few years ago. So to have her read those lines was hugely powerful, and she did it absolutely beautifully. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
Another memorable and hilarious moment was the kiss, which prompted raucous clapping, cheering and whooping from the crowd!
We had a Routemaster bus to get guests from the ceremony to the reception. I wasn’t completely sure about how this would go down, especially since so many of the guests live in London, but everyone LOVED it! The hire company was brilliant. They decked the bus out with custom signs and flowers, their prosecco and canapés went down a storm, they gave a great tour round all the big landmarks and the conductor was generally so friendly and welcoming, a couple of people asked me at the reception where my “other uncle” was!!
Our other transport on the day was a classic black and cream Daimler car, driven by a lovely chauffer, who was working on his birthday as it turned out! The car was really roomy, with space enough to take me, Mum, the three bridesmaids and Tarah the photographer from the apartment to the ceremony.
Décor-wise, the reception was a complete DIY-fest. We came over to London the week before the wedding with Mauri’s mum and cousin, who worked tirelessly with us to put it all together.
Upstairs, the tables were decorated with an eclectic mix. The runners were simple hessian strips and the table numbers were Hobbycraft basics, customised with paint and gold paper. Each table had an assortment of plastic animals – sourced over many months by my Nana and Aunts from various charity shops then spray painted gold. We added succulents potted into old teatins, feathers in bud vases, and candles in brass candlesticks (again all sourced from charity shops). Mauri’s cousin is a bit of an origami king and crafted us four beautiful ropes of origami animals which were strung across the room. We also set out little paper favour bags with thankyou notes to all our guests. For the girls we made pocket mirrors, using the leftover bridesmaid fabric, and for the boys we customised simple hipflasks with tweed sleeves. The bags also contained sugared almonds (an Italian tradition) and bottles of bubbles, that people immediately started blowing.
Downstairs we kept things a bit simpler. I ordered a paper tassel streamer to go around the bar, and we re-used the flowers from the ceremony space on the tables. In one corner we had a dressing-up box – an old suitcase, which the bridesmaids filled with a hilarious collection of props. We hired a Polaroid camera, left it out with a ringbound album, a bunch of washi tape and coloured pens, and let people go crazy. The resulting guestbook is brilliant. As a slightly classier reminder of the day, one of the bridesmaids drew us a wizened tree, which guests thumbprinted a leaf and signed their name on.
One of our favourite memories from the reception is that just before dinner, Tarah the photographer called everyone outside to play with some sparklers. Walking through the sparkler tunnel was so much fun, and the resulting pictures are amazing.
Food, Drink & Treats!
Guests had two rounds of canapés – nibbles on the bus and then more substantial bites once they arrived at the pub. Since it was February, we served mulled wine and spiced cider, which went down well.
For dinner it was important to us to have food that people could share. We love to cook and we wanted it to feel like one ginormous dinner party. For starters we had platters of pressed duck terrine and warm beetroot salad. Then for the main course we had big pies – Jerusalem artichoke & stilton, chicken & leek, steak & ale – served with winter greens, mash and gravy. It was all so delicious.
After the band’s first set we came back upstairs and opened up the dessert table. We had a stack of cheeses as our main “cake”, organised by the pub and decorated with a personalised topper I found on Etsy. Alongside, my Aunty Fiona made us a whole range of beautifully-decorated cakes, big and small. There were little fruitcakes in teacups, and lemon cakes and chocolate brownies, all completely delicious. Lastly we had a few jars of our favourite old fashioned sweets. It all went down really well and kept everyone fuelled up for dancing through the evening.
Paper Goods & DIY
We made our own invitations, using digital artwork we bought on Etsy and various free fonts found online. Along with the invitation we made cards with information about practicalities, gifts and how to RSVP, and put them all into pocketfold envelopes. Printing, splicing and assembling the invitations took a long time, but we were very proud of them once done.
We also made the ceremony programmes, with information about the wedding party, translations of the readings for the Italian guests, a tribute to Granny who made the wedding dress, and a few puzzles for anyone who got bored!
The seating plan was a simple but satisfying DIY. I found a beaten up old frame in the street (score!), which we repaired and painted gold. Then I stapled some tweed to the back of it and strung some string across, so that cards for each table could be pegged on.
I think one of my favourite moments was arriving at the top of the aisle and seeing the ceremony space for the first time. It looked amazing – the flowers and twinkly candles in the fireplace made it feel completely magical. But more than that (the bit you don’t really imagine when you’re planning all the decorations), it was full of all these faces that I love so much, turned round and beaming at me, and there at the other end was my Mauri, also beaming. It was such a special moment.
Mauri The Groom: I think my favourite thing would be seeing that everybody was having a nice relaxed day, and that people didn’t feel like they were spectators of our day but a part of it.
Tarah Coonan was one of our very first wedding bookings. One of the bridesmaids had worked with her before and suggested I check out her website. We immediately knew she’d be a good match for us, her relaxed-yet-gorgeous reportage style was exactly what we were looking for. And, as a bonus, she’s absolutely lovely too. Neither Mauri nor I are very good at having our photo taken, but Tarah was great at putting us at ease. We had a really fun day meeting up for our engagement shoot at Hampstead Hill Gardens. Tarah suggested the location and it was perfect – quiet, secluded and beautiful. It was a chilly autumn day but I don’t think we stopped grinning/laughing the entire time.
On the day itself Tarah was also a really calming presence and invaluable source of wedding expertise. She was also brilliantly authoritative when it came to gathering the rowdy families for a couple of group shots. After the ceremony, all the guests piled into the Routemaster for their London tour while we popped off with Tarah for portraits. It was lovely to have some quiet time after the ceremony to just focus on each other, and the portraits from this part of the day are gorgeous.
It was our experience that crafting a handmade wedding takes a lot more time, patience and energy than you ever imagine. We also learned that DIY doesn’t necessarily mean cheap (crafting materials can be pricey!) so it’s important to pick and choose your projects.
Those small caveats aside, going handmade was a lot of fun. I have such happy memories of all the evenings and weekends Mauri and I spent together, crafting and designing things, carefully working out the wording we wanted in the ceremony programmes etc.
I also learned to accept that it’s ok to be getting married!! When we set the date and got seriously into planning, I was anxious not to become that person who bores everyone by talking about nothing but the wedding. I didn’t mention it at work until quite close to the day, and then only to my closest friend-colleagues. And I made sure (I think!) to limit the wedding chat when we were out with friends too. I felt awkward about asking for help, worrying about burdening people with our wedding nonsense. But what quickly became apparent was that I had completely underestimated how loving and excited everyone would be for us. Everyone wanted to come, everyone wanted to help, and everyone we asked to do something said yes! without hesitation. On the day, looking around at what everyone had made, organised and contributed was overwhelming – it was all so beautiful, and so personal and we felt so loved.