There are many reasons this gorgeous Sausalito affair happens to be my new favorite wedding, but standing high atop the list? Just how crazy crafty these two beautiful brides happen to be. Think DIYing every.single.detail you are about to lay your eyes upon, with the help of awesome friends + family. That’s what I call one seriously amazing wedding and you can see it all captured by Kien Lam right here.
From the Bride… Jen and I (Rachel) met in 2009 in San Francisco at a wine bar called Terroir and had French food from the Chez Gregory food truck across the street. Our love grew stronger in our one-year long distance relationship. And in July, 2012, on the night of my best friend’s wedding, we got engaged on a whim. I asked Jen to marry me at the after party after the wedding without a ring, and Jen responded, “sounds good,” and we were promptly “engaged.”
From that point forward, everything was uncertain. All we knew was that we were in love and wanted to commit to one another in front of our family and friends. We didn’t know if we would be able to get married in our home state, due to the pending Supreme Court cases. We didn’t know which of our family members would be able make it to our celebration. We didn’t know how to blend traditions (I’m Jewish, Jen’s family is Mormon and Guamanian). And yet somehow, magically, everything fell into place on our special day.
Marin Headlands Center for the Arts was the first and only venue we looked at. We walked into the venue and knew immediately that Headlands embodied the sense of place we were looking for. We envisioned our family’s meeting for the first time and melding in this special place. All four of our grandfathers and Jen’s grandmothers had served in the U.S. armed forces, and we thought that our remaining grandparents would enjoy Headlands history and latrine.
We divided duties, and managed the process in an orderly fashion for the first eleven months. Jen was the Art Director. Rachel was the Product Manager. We were fortunate to secure the amazing help of Rebecca from Be Hitched, as our wedding coordinator. One of the challenges in planning our wedding was that I was living in San Francisco and Jen was living in Los Angeles finishing up graduate school at UCLA.
Our vision was to follow the SloLoMo (Slow-Local-Movement) principles and incorporate the best that Marin and the Bay Area had to offer. Achieving this vision was no small feat, and we didn’t want to cut corners. We wanted to establish the tone for our wedding from our Save-The-Date and wedding website. We drew inspiration from Michael Schwab, a local Marin artist, down to the typography and color palette. I have a design and development background, and I designed our Save-The-Dates and built our wedding website from scratch. We wanted our guests to feel very welcome at our wedding from the very start.
We prioritized food and photography. We had heard about the magic that Katie Powers had in the kitchen, but were absolutely floored on the day-of.
We made all of the major decisions for our wedding the summer before, knowing Jen would be returning to L.A. for her second year of graduate school. Once Jen moved back to San Francisco two months prior to the wedding, we flipped the switch into DIY mode. We made an ambitious, prioritized list of projects for the wedding, knowing some might not happen.
The biggest project included building our own chuppah. Jen is very handy and an excellent seamstress, but this was her first woodworking project ever. We decided to use reclaimed wood that we found at a local lumber yard. That decision meant that poor Jen had to rebuild the reinforcing structures three times. After the second attempt, I suggested that we ask the florist to step in, but Jen said that the chuppah was a representation of our marriage and she would not give up. I am glad she did not because the chuppah was the gorgeous focal point of our ceremony.
Every single decoration (besides our centerpiece flowers) was made by hand, either by one of us, a family member, a wedding party member, and in some cases friends who were not attending the wedding. Crafting took over lives for a brief period of time! The highlight for me was getting my father and brother to make bunting banners. Besides my father, my bridesmaid Mandy, my mother, and a few others helped to make the banners.
To help guest find the venue, we displayed standing chalkboards from Ikea; we used stencils from Flax (an awesome San Francisco art store) to paint “Wedding” in large letters.
In the entry way of Headlands, we draped a large bunting banner reading, “Rach & Jen.” We strung up a smaller banner with “Photobook” over an aged window frame we picked up at a local reclaimed building materials yard. We gathered photos from 3 generations of each of our families and hung them on picture wire crisscrossed across the empty window frame. We used a vintage suitcase, cleaned and re-lined, and festooned it with a small bunting banner reading “Cards” for day-of gifts or well-wishes. We also displayed a book of childhood photos of Jen & I, arranged by age and displayed side-by-side. It seems like Jen was always taller than me! We printed the photobook using MixBook and now keep it in our living room.
We wanted to use a huge, old vintage picture frame, but were put off by the exorbitant cost. Instead, Jen came up with the ingenious idea to order crown-molding online made of polyurethane foam. For a fraction of the price, we made a giant picture frame for old maps with map pins for guests to pin where they came from.
In the stairway, we decorated a vintage table with a box from a champagne that we will drink on our anniversary. We decorated the box with some of the 200+ feathers that my mother hand-dipped in silver paint and glitter. Alongside the boxes, we provided cards for guests to write their well-wishes and advice. These cards are our informal “Guestbook”!
During the ceremony, we provided programs that I designed and printed with Moo. My mother made ribbon wands for guests to wave after the ceremony. Jen crocheted mini flowers for the flower girl baskets and stitched bows for their dresses with pipe cleaners in the seams so that they could be shaped. As a side note, I had no idea that Jen could crochet before we started crafting for the wedding!
The aforementioned chuppah took center stage. Our florist, Svenja Brotz, did an amazing job decorating the chuppah and the tables. She stepped up at the very last minute and agreed to decorate our chuppah when we realized that we were not going to be able to finish the decoration. She was amazing!
For the dining room, I designed the menus based on Katie Powers’ selection of courses and sent them to a local San Francisco printer, which did an amazing job printing the menus in a short period of time. I ordered a set of Michael Schwab’s National Parks postcards for the table assignments. We also chose a Michael Schwab print as a gift to my parents for their help with the wedding. Jen and I went to Michael’s studio San Anselmo studio to pick it up in person, where we got to meet the artist and talk to him about his typeface (Jen is a typeface nerd) and see some of his work in progress. Each table was named after a site in Golden Gate National Park. My father gamely helped to pin all of the guest table assignments to one of the large picture frames.
For the cocktail area, we used a large piece of matting for a picture frame that was serendipitously cut to the size of a Polaroid. My mother and father created props for the photo booth. We supplied a Polaroid camera for guests to use throughout the evening as a photobooth. Now we keep all of the photos in our hallway at home to remind ourselves of our wonderful friends and family.
Jen’s sister Caroline made the wedding favors by hand. She used local clay and California Golden Poppy seeds (California Golden Poppies are native to the Bay Area) to make seed bombs. Jen’s sister and mother created a three step process for the wedding favor bags. They utilized all available hands in Jen’s extended family to draw and stencil the bags for the favors. They turned out to be beautiful and quite a popular item. I have no doubt that Northern California will be a little more orange this spring than usual.
The Day Of the Wedding
Every step of the way we hit road blocks and managed to find our way around them. The first, of course, was the well-timed Supreme Court ruling which made it possible for us to officially tie the knot.
On the day of, we found out that the only road to Headlands was due to a race happening at Headlands that morning. I was concerned that our vendors would not be able to find their way in, but they managed to sweet talk their way past the police to take care of our hair, makeup, and photography needs.
Jen and I did not seen each other’s dresses and hair/makeup until the day of the wedding. My bridesmaid Mandy was the only person who saw both of our dresses prior to the big day. She was our wardrobe consultant and did a fantastic job of coordinating.
We rented out the on site Marin Headlands Annex House for our entire wedding party to stay at. On the day of the wedding, we said goodbye and recused ourselves to separate bedrooms. Our wonderful makeup artist, Sarah from SF Bridal Makeup, and hair stylist, Traci, set up two stations, and we managed to avoid seeing each other until the big reveal.
Jen and I headed over to the main Headlands building separately with our wedding parties in tow. We dressed separately, and met in the “mess hall” for our first look. I had never seen anyone as beautiful as my wife at that moment. Our fabulous photographer Kien set up the whole shot.
After our first round of photos, we spent time waiting with our wedding party in the Officer’s Lounge as our guests arrived. When the clock struck 3:30 pm, we began our procession. Jen’s sister Amy filled the room with piano renditions of songs Jen and I had chosen. We picked Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile for our wedding party to walk down the aisle to because we are both big This American Life dorks and TAL uses that song regularly. Jen walked down the aisle with both of her parents to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. I walked down the aisle with both of my parents to The Beatles In My Life.
We met at the chuppah and joined hands. My Uncle Steven was our officiant. Steven spent months crafting our touching and funny ceremony. He gave a “big shout out” to Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, Scalia, and Roberts who voted to strike down Prop 8, which caused our friends and family to cheer and clap. We wrote our own vows and managed our way through them without tearing up too much. We included several Jewish elements in our ceremony including having our grandparents read The Seven Blessings, sharing the kiddush cup of wine, and breaking the glass. We put a lot of thought into our ceremony and will remember that experience forever.
After the ceremony we secluded ourselves for a fifteen minute yichud, and caught our breath. We had specialty cocktails dreamed up by Katie Powers and crew. We chose Basil Watermelon with Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Pink Ladies Apple Cider with Bulleit Bourbon. We also asked Katie to make a special dish of thick bacon on skewers, which her team execute masterfully.
The Mess Hall was host to our dinner, complete with a local menu of fare. Katie’s team served our guests family style, and it created a very warm atmosphere for people to relax and get to know one another. My father and brother each gave toasts. Jen’s father and grandmother also gave amazing speeches. But, Jen’s brother Spencer really brought down the house with laughter.
After dinner, we decided to forgo the traditional wedding cake and serve up delicious pie made from Mission Pie, a San Francisco bakery located, of course, in the Mission. We served Walnut (Mission Pie serves this pie, made from California walnuts, year-round), banana crème, apple, and pear. I made tiny bunting banners for the pies too.
And that is the moment that the power went out. I was mid-bite and the lights flickered, and then sputtered. Katie’s crew and Rebecca’s team did not miss a beat. Within minutes, there were five people bringing out votives to place around the venue. They were so smooth that many of our guests thought it was planned.
We had hired DJ Dave Tutton, which of course required power. Thinking on his feet, Dave dashed down to his car and got a portable boom box so that we could do our first dance.
We had been practicing our first dance for weeks with Emily at our neighborhood dance studio, Vima’s. She choreographed a dance routine especially for our 4 left feet to The Temptations’ classic, “My Girl.” We were both nervous about performing our first choreographed dance. We were both disappointed and happy that no one got to see it. At the first chorus, our friends’ and families’ voices amplified and serenaded us with the song, and created an incredible memory as we flowed through our moves in the dark.
After another half hour passed by without the lights, my friend Dave got on the piano and played Dave Brubek in round (the only song he had on his phone) for close to a half hour. My uncle Steven rounded up my cousin Aaron, my friend Alex, and my other cousin David to play an acoustic Hava Nagila. We were hoisted up in folding chairs by our friends and family, as everyone circled around us in rhythm on the dance floor. It was both magical and frightening, but truly an amazing memory.
Finally, at literally the eleventh hour, Rebecca managed to secure a backup generator. DJ Dave fired up “Gonna Be Starting Something” by Michael Jackson, and a raging dance party ensued. Headlands graciously let us extend our party, and we ended the evening on a high note.
Thoughts & Advice
Expect to have a few wrenches thrown in and roll with it. We never could have predicted the Supreme Court ruling or the two hour power outage. The quirks and imperfections of our wedding day made it unforgettable.
Trust your gut as you select your vendors. Make sure you get a fair price, but more importantly, pick people because you want to work with them for the duration of your wedding. Embrace every minute of your special day because it goes by unbelievably quickly. And, on the day of, trust your vendors. If you hire great people, they will make sure your day is special and that you get to enjoy every moment.
Photography: Kien Lam Photography | Floral Design: Chestnut & Vine Floral Design | Wedding Dress: Teri Jon | Wedding Dress: Nicole Miller | Stationery: Moo | Catering: Katie Powers Catering | DJ: Dave Tutton | Wedding Venue: Headlands Center for the Arts | Dessert: Mission Pie | Hair/Makeup: SF Bridal Makeup | Planning: Be Hitched | Table Assignments: Michael Schwab