After deciding to tie the knot in the tiny Northern Michigan town where they fell in love, this darling duo let nothing stop them from having the “I Do’s” of their dreams — from having La Tavola linens flown out from CA, to buying the silverware and decor they couldn’t rent, to DIYing ceremony signs from old barn doors! Tec Petaja captured it all to perfection, and you won’t be able to get enough in the gallery here!
From the beautiful Bride… Jonathan and I were living in NYC when we met through mutual friends at a Christmas party. He grew up in Manhattan and went to school in Philadelphia, I grew up in Michigan and went to school in Arizona, so when we got engaged the biggest decision was…where? We had a specific vision for what our wedding would be and our number one priority was choosing a meaningful location. I grew up spending summers in northern Michigan and took Jonathan there to meet my family shortly after we started dating. That weekend was the first time he told me he loved me, and in the 6+ years we’ve been together it has been a place of nothing but happy memories. It became even more sentimental after my father passed away in 2012, because it was one of his favorite places to be. Getting there is not easy and the reaction of most of our friends was … “You’re making me fly to Michigan?” But we knew once they were there it would be worth it.
This is dedicated to all of the Brides out there who want to throw a stylish, personal and unique wedding on a budget in a small town. I live in New York City where you can rent or buy pretty much anything you want at any time. When we started our research every venue and rental company we found in Michigan felt generic, cheesy or expected. Even at the risk of giving my mom a nervous breakdown, we had our hearts set on having everything outdoors. We were close to accepting that we might not be able to do what we want “up north” when we came across photos of an outdoor wedding at a home in Boyne Falls, just minutes down the road from my family’s cottage growing up. The perk of a small town is that everybody knows everybody, and that photographer was nice enough to connect us with the owner of the private property. As soon as we saw it in person we knew nothing else would compare.
Being a Graphic Designer and Art Director, I’m a bit of an aesthetic control freak. The first decision I made was our photographer, Tec Petaja. He shoots film, has an amazing eye and when you look at weddings he has photographed you feel like you were there. I wanted someone who would capture the authentic moments of our day, and he did not disappoint! As a bonus, he lives in Nashville but is from the area and appreciates it as much as we do.
Having an outdoor wedding on private property means you bring everything in, and when we started calling rental companies I felt discouraged. We wanted our decor to feel inspired by the venue: natural, rustic and the perfect balance of casual and elegant. Every company seemed to have the same options and nothing felt unique. So what we couldn’t find, we bought (silverware, napkins, runners, miscellaneous decor) or had made (the ceremony arbor), which is not as extravagant as it sounds when you get resourceful and creative.
We found wood from old barns that had been knocked down and made all of our signage, and bought chalkboards with coupons from Hobby Lobby for menus. My mom and aunt sourced vintage mismatched silverware and coordinated each and every place setting to be the perfect mix of patterns. We searched all of Michigan for farm tables before connecting with Ben at Fancy Fray who had just started building 20 of them. We called every rental company in Michigan to find chairs that looked rustic. (“Those old ones you have in the garage that you don’t even advertise? Yes, that’s exactly what we’re looking for.)” Linens for our serving and cocktail tables came from La Tavola in California, which we assumed would be over budget but was comparable to some of the options we found locally. My advice to Brides is to make as many phones calls and do as much research as you can, because these days there are no limits to your options. We also had a number of rental companies interested in expanding their assortment because we insisted that updated options would be worth the investment. I was able to sell most of what I purchased to our vendors. You never know until you ask!
Jen Haf at Bloom Floral Design was our florist and so much more. We immediately connected and she really made sure she understood our style and vision. She was reassuring about the ability to pull it all off in an unconventional venue and went above and beyond to partner with us on decor choices and coordination with other vendors. We went with a neutral palette that beautifully complemented the venue; lots of greens and textures arranged organically. We mixed wooden boxes with interesting small vases in different materials, and did tons of simple votives for candlelight. Jen also worked with the caterer to decorate the food display with mixed vases of leftover flowers from our welcome party on Friday night. If you find a vendor that you really connect with don’t be afraid to ask them if they can help you in other aspects beyond what they do. These people have worked on hundreds of events, seen it all and therefore are your best resource.
We talked to a number of caterers who warned us about the complexities and costs of serving food at an outdoor location, and at one point considered pulling the plug because it seemed like too much. Dan Kelly on the other hand told us we could drop him in the middle of a corn field and he’d be able to feed 500 people. He helped us build a unique and non-traditional menu for the cocktail hour and dinner buffet that included things like grilled cheese bites with tomato soup, mini BLT’s, local whitefish, a baked potato bar and fresh veggies. The food display was important to me and Dan was incredibly accommodating, allowing us to provide dishes and serving pieces of our own even though they all weren’t the most functional. Boyne County Provisions helped us complement the vibe with a mix of wine, liquor and craft Michigan beers. We weren’t interested in the traditional things like bouquet toss or wedding cake, and instead opted for individual key lime pies for dessert from our favorite local cafe.
We exchanged hand-written vows under a custom made arbor and were married by a dear family friend, which made our ceremony special and personal. Our music was simple and beautiful, played by a Spanish Guitarist, and two of my cousins sang a song together. One of my favorite parts of the day was hearing speeches from my Mom, MOH and our best man. Later in the night our caterer served grilled pizzas and guests warmed up by the bonfire with s’mores and sparklers after the sun went down. Our band played mostly Motown and we danced until 1am.
All Brides know that planning a wedding can be like a full time job, and with a different budget I might have opted to pay to have a lot of it done for me. But as we looked around us that day it felt that much more special knowing all of the love that went into making it happen. It was a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. While planning I looked at blogs and couldn’t get over how idyllic so many of them look in photos. You don’t see pictures of the bathroom trailer that had to be parked behind the tent, or the tire tracks that one of your vendors carelessly left in the mud. It’s important to realize that there are things you won’t be able to control, and letting go of some of those will allow you to enjoy your day.
As perfect as ours was for us, a lot did go wrong. We lucked out with the weather but it was questionable in the days leading up as an electrical storm blew through Wednesday and Thursday. The ground was very wet, but as some friends put it, that only added to the fun because people had to go barefoot. (Those are the kinds of guests you want at your wedding!) Because of the rain we had to swap our layout and a bunch of family ended up at the wrong tables. We lost power in the tent for about ten minutes before dinner was served. But those aren’t the things that people remember, so don’t sweat the small stuff. The imperfections are sometimes the best part. Prepare as best you can, make it personal and let go of the rest on your wedding day, because you only get one shot and it is over before you know it.
Photography: Tec Petaja | Videography: This Is Practical | Floral Design: Jen Haf of Bloom Floral Design | Wedding Dress: Monique Lhuillier | Catering: Catering By Kelly's | Makeup Artist: Mari At Talulu | Band: Soul Xpress | Ceremony Music: Music By Gael | Transportation: By The Bay | Bartending & Spirits: Boyne County Provisions | Ceremony Chairs: GJ's Traverse City | Day-of Coordination: A Moment In Time | Farm Tables: Fancy Fray | Invitations, Hand Lettering And Signage: Ashley Meyers Design | Linens: La Tavola | Maid Of Honor's Dress: Joanna August | Private Property: Double K Estate | Reception Chairs: RentalEx | Silverware, Napkins And Runners: Ashley Meyers Design | Tent And Dishes: Rental Express