By Rachel Harrison
Planning WWW readers Steph and Tony’s lovely wedding was a real labour of love as it took place at Steph’s mum’s partner’s farm. I always think that wedding planning and the lead up to the wedding can be as exciting as the day itself and I love that they spent weekends in the months before their wedding on the 11th August 2018, getting the cowshed ready for the celebrations.
The venue really informed the style of their big day, as well as nods to their favourite films and TV programmes with just a touch of celestial décor, as they are real fans of the night sky.
Their chosen photographer was Tora Baker Photography, whom Steph went to school with. I think you’ll agree that she’s captured the joy and special sentimental moments just wonderfully.
There are plenty of beautiful handmade details to take in, with my favourite being the gold cows that held guests’ place cards. So stylish and such a lovely nod to the cowshed setting. Enjoy!
Tony knew to keep the proposal as a moment just for us both, knowing I’d not love the attention of a public place. He proposed on New Year’s Eve 2016 at home after a Chinese takeaway with just the two of us. He couldn’t wait until midnight – I think it was about 9 o’clock. It almost didn’t happen at that time though – Tony was waiting on the ring to be delivered from the jewellery designer he’d found in Los Angeles and it was held at a Parcelforce depot in Coventry waiting for some customs charges to be paid. Over Christmas, things had been so busy he didn’t know if it would arrive, luckily the ring, a beautiful pear-shaped moonstone, was delivered on the day he proposed.
Two key events happened in 2016 that helped give us some key ideas for our wedding. One was that our close friends were married at a Scout camp in Lancashire. They had a gorgeous, heartfelt Humanist ceremony outside and had plenty of space for people to camp for the weekend. They also had lots of freedom to create a wedding that was a real expression of themselves and their love. We wanted to do the same. The other event was Steph’s mum’s 50th birthday celebration. She, her partner and their friends put on a spectacular festival style party at her partner’s family farm. The cowshed was transformed from a functional, agricultural space to one filled with people having a fantastic time and, again, had space for guests to camp. It planted a seed in our minds for how we could create our own backdrop for our wedding set in a beautiful, natural landscape. We knew that we wanted the wedding to feel very personal and unique to our own tastes and interests – to make reference to Tony’s film and tv interests, both of our literary minds, Steph’s love of folk music, our awe at the night sky and to celebrate all the people that have helped us on our journey to being husband and wife.
‘Pinterest’ and ‘Rock N Roll Bride’ was helpful at the beginning until our own vision of the details of the day formed more clearly. From there, we wanted to avoid our wedding looking like too many others. It was important for us to feel it was a part of ourselves as a couple. We went to a great wedding fair local to us in Birmingham – All About Ewe – which was an ‘alternative wedding fair’ and gave us more confidence to do what we wanted a little more. At times, ‘the list’ felt like it was ever-growing so we ended up with an enormous mind-map that Steph drew on our fridge door. Other lists followed, but it really helped us to see all the different aspects of the wedding in one place.
In all honesty, we didn’t have a clear budget for the wedding. We saved from the time we got engaged and kept it up until the wedding was over. We knew we didn’t want to spend a vast amount of money. Every time we had to spend money or book another part of the wedding, we asked ourselves were we happy to spend that amount of money on that particular thing. Some things we spent much more money on if it was important to us, but if we didn’t want to spend as much, we tried to find a cheaper alternative.
Steph made all the decorations for the cowshed (with a little help at times from friends) and we pulled in lots of favours from talented friends and family members. One thing we did spend a little more money on was the food. It was important to us that we fed our guests well and as we so often enjoy social occasions centred around food, why wouldn’t we choose something incredible for our wedding to share with everyone? We found a company called ‘Northern Fields’ who, essentially, provided us with restaurant quality food wherever we wanted! They really delivered too, a menu which was shaped around our preferences and a company that we had absolute faith in!
Though we didn’t have a ‘venue cost’, we did have to consider some ‘site costs’ that came nearer the time. We also kept asking ourselves ‘Do we really want to do this part?’. As a result, we made sure we only included the things we wanted to rather than what we felt we should do.
Once we were engaged, we knew we wanted to get married in Wiltshire, where Steph grew up and lots of her family still live and where we would love to live in a couple of years. The farm that had been transformed for 50th birthday celebrations in 2016 and belonged to Steph’s mum’s partner, Neil, became the place that we kept returning to in our minds. It would give us the freedom to create a unique wedding day and we loved the idea that we would spend lots of time in the future at the place where we got married. An amazing thing to show our children one day!
We had plans to visit a number of wedding venues to check we were doing the right thing but the motivation didn’t come to make it happen – we decided the farm was the right place. It involved a lot of work – we spent every weekend in Wiltshire for about three months transforming the cowshed and the grounds. We would travel down on a Friday night after work and come back on Sunday evening. We started with shovelling the remnants of the cows’ winter internment out, lots of pressure washing and sweeping, spray painting the walls and the roof, clearing out old farm buildings to make a space for the caterers to work in, gardening, mowing and strimming the grass. Looking back, we loved spending so much time working on the farm with Steph’s mum, Tina, Neil, their good friend Chris, Steph’s brothers and various other family members and friends. It was such a special and unforgettable time. We were so lucky to have so many people who wanted to help us.
Steph: I found my dress without expecting to in my hometown, Devizes at a gorgeous shop called Hen House Brides. My mum had booked an appointment for me and I thought I’d go and just try on a whole range of dresses to work out what I did and didn’t like. It turned out I only had to go to the one shop! I knew I wanted a dress that was vintage-inspired. I ended up going for a tea-length LouLou Bridal dress, which was customised by the fantastically talented Ceri Brookes, who owns Hen House Brides. More than anything else, I loved how my dress made me feel. I could move (and dance!) in it. It felt soft, natural and had a real timeless class to it. I just felt amazing when I had it on!
Tony: Befitting the general style of the wedding and how we wanted to buck convention in places, I decided I didn’t want to go down the tailored suit, identikit route, for myself or my groomsmen. I’ve seen that done brilliantly at other weddings but for our bespoke rural atmosphere, it just didn’t feel right. I went for an open necked white shirt (with Starfleet cufflinks as a wink to the final frontier…), no tie, air force blue chinos topped off with a greenery buttonhole which set off the relaxed mixture of wedding smart and relaxed country life.
Steph: I was lucky enough to have a talented family member to help me out with my hair. My cousin, Charlotte, is a hair dresser and offered to do my hair as part of my wedding gift. We went for some vintage inspired victory rolls and curls. I loved what Charlotte did and how it fit with the dress beautifully. I bought an amazing, gold star-scattered hair clip from Crown and Glory to hold one roll in place. My make-up was done by the brilliant Kamila Roberts. We had a trial beforehand which helped me to clarify how I wanted to feel and look on the day – I’d definitely recommend spending that time to think about it.
Tony: I’m not really one for significant personal grooming and on my wedding day I didn’t want to suddenly appear to Steph as someone completely different! But a nice trimmed beard with hair lightly styled with clay was enough for me and I think it went down well!
As lovers of literature and film/TV, it came to us that our readings could be themed as such. We each chose one as a message to the other. We kept them secret and each asked a person close to us to read it in the ceremony. Steph chose a reading from ‘The Amber Spyglass’ by Philip Pullman which was read by her friend and bridesmaid, Becky. Tony’s choice was from ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ (or Mandarin, as performed by Tony’s good friend, Lou, on the day!). A third reading, a poem called ‘May Our Friendship Last Forever’, was read by us both later on in the ceremony. We made the decision to walk down the aisle together. We felt that we should enter our marriage in partnership, as equals, as we would continue afterwards as husband and wife. As we walked in and greeted everyone, ‘You and Me’ by Penny and the Quarters played – a song which nailed our sentiments at the time. We wrote our own vows, agreeing on a specific number of promises to one another which were another lovely secret revealed on the day.
The vast majority of the decorations were made by Steph (and one or two friends from time-to-time). As we were in a cowshed, Steph loved the idea of using little toy cows with tiny name labels as place settings. There began a huge job of buying enough cows (a variety of new purchases online & some vintage Ebay finds), spraying them all gold, handwriting the name labels and tying them all on with thread. Steph also made all of the star garlands (a mixture of gold glitter stars and some made from second-hand books) and other ‘bunting’-type decorations by using shaped hole-punches, some strong glue and brown string. We knew we wanted a starlit sky effect inside the cowshed (hence all the star-themed decorations) and so layers of lighting were an important part of that. We used festoon lights, fairy lights and many candles in second-hand or charity shop candlesticks or tealight holders around the room. Another aspect of the décor was the table runners – Steph made them from brown paper and hand-wrote a lyric from an Anais Mitchell song on each side – a sentimental touch which wouldn’t have meant much to others, but was such a meaningful thing for Steph to say to Tony. Finally, we made the decision to have a ‘bring your own booze’ wedding. We supplied after ceremony drinks, wine on tables and prosecco for speeches but otherwise, people brought their own. We managed to manoeuvre a very old workbench from the farm in to be the bar for everyone to store their drinks in and bought and borrowed various fridge-freezers to keep things cool. It was absolutely the right decision for us!
We went for a faraway, luxury escape in Thailand, staying for 10 nights at Sala Phuket Resort & Spa, where we treated ourselves to an incredible private villa which had our own pool. Knowing how much physical effort getting the wedding together would take us, we decided relaxation was a key thing for our honeymoon. We were unapologetically lazy – barely leaving the resort and making the most of the incredible food menu! The weather was predictably tropical as we went in monsoon season so we spent many of our days watching the storms roll in from the ocean, taking cover and reading/sipping cocktails while the rain passed. As it was so different from the climate at home, it added to the dreamlike escapism and by the end, we felt a real pull to come home and make a proper start on married life.
Choosing Tora Baker as our photographer was a no-brainer for us. Steph actually went to school with Tora and had watched her photography career build from afar. Once we were engaged, Steph showed Tony and we both agreed whole-heartedly her photography captures love beautifully. We travelled down to Brighton for an engagement shoot on a snowy day in March to feel what it was like to be photographed together. Those pictures were a hint at what Tora achieved on the day. Guests were blown away by how intuitive Tora was on the day, she was barely noticed capturing so many amazing moments; she seemed like another guest. We couldn’t be happier with what she has shared with us since – the emotion of the day comes flooding back when we look at them. Friends and family who have seen them have commented they’ve never seen such beautiful pictures.
Our flowers were beautiful jewel-toned roses and dahlias mixed with plenty of greenery. Our florist, Emma’s work speaks for itself – the flowers were just beautiful!
Emma also made some greenery garlands which were wound around the metal posts in the cowshed as well as arranging random collections of flowers in recycled baked bean tins on our tables and in our hay-bale ‘altar’ for the ceremony. Afterwards, we re-used these flowers to make some little bunches for some friends and family members so they wouldn’t go to waste.
The cake was initially a tough thing to plan, both Steph and her mum, Tina, have a bit of a cake reputation and many guests had assumed one or the other would make the cake. Knowing that we wanted a near-naked sponge cake though, there just wouldn’t be time beforehand so when Steph and Tina came across Louise Duke (The Duke of Cakes) at a wedding fayre in Devizes, everything fell into place. Louise’s cake was brilliant!
Tony soon agreed when we went for cake tasting, making the decision to have the largest layer of the cake as chocolate and Oreo buttercream. The middle tier was toffee and apple while the top cake was lemon-flavoured. We stuck with a semi-naked cake with clusters of fresh flowers added on the day. We chose a cake topper that could be used time and time again in the future – a wooden ‘Yay!’ that we ordered from Etsy. The cake stand was a late creation – an old milk churn was found in one of the old farm sheds and was cleaned up and converted for us to use – one of a kind!
Steph thought about the people she absolutely would want as her ‘team’ on the day and who she couldn’t imagine not having by her side. Three of her closest friends, Becky, Emma and Janet made a fantastic trio! Choosing a dress for your friends was an odd concept to Steph, so after much consultation, she settled on a navy blue taffeta and a style of dress from Honeypie Boutique which offered customisation options. The bridesmaids then chose a neckline they wanted and the dresses were made bespoke to their measurements.
Tony chose to have a few of his closest friends as his groomsmen. His closest friend, Mat, was his best man. As an only child, Tony considers Mat like the brother he never had. Tony wasn’t fussed about having everyone in matching suits so the only direction he gave was a white shirt and navy-ish trousers/suit if they fancied it. They had greenery buttonholes from our florist, Emma, so that unified them a little more.
A stand-out moment of the whole day was our ceremony. We had a Humanist ceremony (having done the legal bit a couple of days before) and asked our dear friend, Bill, to lead it. His wedding was a huge inspiration to us when planning ours and we knew he would just ‘get it’. Bill is a man who loves love. He spent so much time preparing and reflecting on the words he would say and he totally nailed it. Many of our guests were so overwhelmed with emotion, largely brought on by the poignancy of Bill’s words. He has since trained as an official Humanist Celebrant & is now taking bookings of his own. Nobody could have done it better!
During the ceremony, a Royal Mail van came trundling down the farm track to deliver the post. No doubt, the postman was mortified, quickly left his parcel and left. Ever ready with a witty comment, Tony quickly quipped: “Oooh look, it’s the divorce papers!”.
We decided to do a ‘first look’; to have a moment just the two of us before we walked down the aisle. It was so special – it was just for us (and Tora grabbing a couple of pictures!).
The confetti throw was pretty epic. Tora recommended us getting really big confetti to stand out in photographs so we ordered inch-diameter discs which were dished out from an old farm bucket salvaged in one of the sheds.
The ceilidh launched the evening perfectly. It threw everyone together and resulted in so much joy! It helped to get everyone moving after having food.
Finally, surprise fireworks. Steph’s mum and her friends had organised some surprise fireworks. Thankfully the weather held and brought everyone together again later on in the evening. Tora even managed to get a firework picture (apparently, they never work!).
Don’t feel pressure to include aspects of ‘traditional weddings’ if it’s not important to both of you.
Feel brave enough to stick to your vision.
What happens on the day will happen – it’s not worth worrying over!
Tora Baker Photography
Lou Lou Bridal from Hen House Brides
Charlotte’s Freelance Hair
Crown & Glory
Kamila Roberts Make Up
What a special and personal day you organised. Thank you so much Steph and Tony for sharing the cowshed magic with us! Rachel x
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