Photography by Christine Lim.
You are going to melt over this darling couple, I guarantee it! Isabel & Laurence are laughing in just about every picture, and every single one of them together makes me smile! Their springtime garden wedding in Canada has the same happy feel, with soft, pretty florals, fresh blue and white reception decor and a private residence they could treat as their own backyard – if your backyard could comfortably fit all 130 guests! Bride Isabel tells us a little more about why including all of these guests was so important: “Laurence and I met studying abroad, and after graduation we both returned to our respective countries – him to the US, and me to Canada. We did long-distance for about five years before our wedding, and won’t actually live together till a year after we’re married, given our college commitments in Toronto and Virginia. Our wedding offered a really rare opportunity to bring together our families and friends from across Canada and the US, as well as university friends from England where we met, and family from Australia, where my mum is from. As a result, our wedding was a pretty international affair, and we wanted to ensure our guests felt welcomed and at home. It meant so much to us to have so many special people together in one place!” Also, be sure not to miss Isabel’s great advice for those planning their own wedding – I happened to follow the same ‘rules’ and can definitely agree they work!
Isabel tells us that when it came to budgeting for their wedding, “everyone always says to pick one or two things to splurge on, and be more economical about the rest, but we found this strategy difficult – planning a wedding with a sit-down dinner for 130 in a major city is always going to command a fair amount of expense, no matter where you try to save. In the end, I think the place we saved the most was on our own clothing! I didn’t buy a wedding dress, instead I found a beautiful white dress online and ordered it without trying it on! Laurence would have loved to get a custom suit made for our wedding, but he got a ready-made one tailored instead.”
Did you include any traditions in your wedding? Yes! I did the something old, something new etc, but it wasn’t until a day before the wedding that I found my something borrowed. One of my aunts knew I was missing something borrowed, so she offered to loan me a gold bracelet that had belonged to my grandmother – it was a perfect and touching addition to my outfit, and helped me feel connected to my grandmother who had passed away a few years before. It is a tradition in Laurence’s family that his mother writes a poem to mark important occasions, and she shared a lovely poem she’d composed for us during her speech at dinner. Finally, Laurence’s family also has a tradition to honour his late father by wearing gold heart-shaped pins he designed for his family before he passed away. I was incredibly touched when my soon-to-be mother-in-law presented me with my own gold heart pin before the ceremony, and I pinned it to the ribbon on my bouquet.
If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would do differently? I would try not too get so stressed in the weeks before the wedding! All that DIYing came at a bit of an emotional cost, though I do think it was worth it in the end. Also, on the morning of the wedding, I decided to change my hairstyle from the trendy crown-braid I’d trialled to a more classic and romantic up-do. Sometimes I wish I’d gone with a more modern style, but I do think my wedding look will stand the test of time!
Isabel and Laurence both included people who were important to them in their bridal party, regardless of gender. We are all for approaching it this way – and don’t they all look fabulous?
Why did you choose this location for your ceremony? Our ceremony was held in the garden of a private house. The house is situated at the edge of a ravine, so we knew we’d have a beautiful, leafy green backdrop with the city skyline in the distance. As a bonus, the house very rarely hosts weddings, and we liked the idea that our wedding would take place at a unique venue, rather than one which hosts hundreds of weddings a year!
Your ceremony in three words. Secular, heart-felt, warm (both literally and figuratively – it was unseasonably hot that day!)
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? I was escorted down the aisle by my dad; we debated whether or not we wanted to include this tradition, given that we are both feminists, and don’t love the connotation of ‘giving away’ the bride. However, after giving it some thought, I decided that it would be a nice moment to share with my dad, and we went ahead with that tradition. To keeps things somewhat balanced, both our mothers were escorted down the aisle by our younger brothers. We also had several close family members give readings, including one that holds special significance for Laurence’s family.
What was your ceremony music? One of our friends kindly offered to play the piano at our ceremony, and we were only too happy to take him up on it. The bride’s processional was Gymnopedie #1 by Eric Satie; it’s a lovely piece of music that I’ve always found really calming, and I knew it would put me in just the right frame of mind for the ceremony. While we signed the wedding registry he played Beyond the Sea and for our recessional he played Queen’s You’re My Best Friend.
Who officiated your ceremony? How did you choose him/her? Our wedding was officiated by Ontario Superior Court Justice Kenneth Hood. Ken is a family friend I’ve known my whole life – he was college roommates with my dad! In Ontario, you can’t get a lay person ordained to perform weddings; civil ceremonies must be performed by a judge, a justice of the peace, or a municipal clerk, so we loved having that personal connection to our officiant.
How did you go about planning your ceremony? We looked at templates online, and our officiant provided us with a few different scripts. We used these resources to build a ceremony that felt true to us, and that covered the topics that we considered important; among these was language that described us as building a life-long partnership of equals.
What were your ceremony readings? My cousin read Goethe’s Near the Beloved – a poem that spoke to us as meaningful and appropriate, especially for a couple who’d spent fives years in a long-distance relationship! One of Laurence’s brothers read from the Greek myth of Baucis and Philomen. We also asked our officiant to paraphrase from Robert Fulghum’s Union.
What were your vows like? We wrote our own vows. I made several attempts to write my vows in the month or two before the wedding, but in the end, I didn’t write the final version till the night before the wedding! But Laurence takes the cake – he wrote his the morning-of!
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? It felt very true to us. As non-religious people, we worried that our ceremony wouldn’t feel like it had the same ‘weight” that is built-in to a religious ceremony. However, by talking with our officiant, and carefully considering our language, vows, and readings, we came up with a ceremony that was just as momentous and ‘weighty’ as we were hoping for, while remaining personal and true to ourselves.
What was the best advice you received as a bride? There were two key pieces of advice which we are glad we followed: First, to hold hands for at least the first hour after the ceremony, so that we didn’t get pulled in two different directions and never see each other. We were so good at this one, that we managed to stay side by side almost the whole night! The second piece of advice was particularly useful to us, since so many elements of the wedding were DIY’d; one friend suggested that 24 hours before the ceremony, we should do our best to switch off from ‘planning mode’ and switch on to ‘party mode’. It was a little more easily said than done, but I’m so glad that we made a point of mentally shifting gears – it definitely helped me to feel more relaxed at the rehearsal dinner, and upon waking on the wedding day itself.
How would you describe your reception? Fun! The cocktail hour and dinner were held in the same garden as the ceremony, and we really channeled that garden-party vibe. I think that because the wedding was held at a house (and all the events took place in the same venue), our guests felt very relaxed and at-ease; many of them told us afterwards that they’d really enjoyed the warm, welcoming atmosphere.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? We met while studying for Masters degrees in England, so we thought it would be fun to channel an English garden party vibe. Several blogs, including Snippet & Ink, were also inspirations! Laurence and I are both designers (he is an architect and I am studying goldsmithing), so we wanted to bring our design sensibilities into play as well. For us that meant a cool and mostly neutral colour palette with accents of pattern and warm tones, and a balance of clean modern lines and romantic elements.
Are there any DIY details you’d like to tell us about? We took on a lot of DIY components, since we wanted to make good use of our own skills, and save costs where possible! My brother is an architect and artist, and we asked him to design a piece of art for our wedding invitation. We designed and made all the signage for the wedding, including menus, table numbers, ceremony programs, the seating chart, and other signs. We created a lantern ‘installation’ over the dance floor. We made our own jam to give away as wedding favors (the flavors were strawberry vanilla rose, and blueberry mojito). Finally, as a goldsmith in training, it was important to me to make my own bridesmaid gifts, and – even more importantly – our wedding bands!
What was your wedding menu? The food was definitely a highlight! Our caterers were The Food Dudes, and they did a great job. We chose them in part because we had eaten at their Toronto restaurant, Rasa, and had loved the meal. (We even ensured that the chopped salad we’d had at the restaurant made it on to our wedding menu!)
Passed Appetizers: Vietnamese spring rolls (asian marinated vegetables with cilantro, mint and avocado purée, crispy vermicelli, ginger soy glaze) / Risotto cake, vibrant red beet, herb goat cheese mousse, julienned pickled radish, rosemary balsamic glaz / Grilled pizza dough, spicy tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, goat ricotta, basil purée / Lemon dressed arugula, grana padano, pickled chilies, balsamic glaze / Chili glazed shrimp, garlic, ginger, chili honey, guacamole, mango apple salsa / Citrus dill smoked salmon, everything bagel, cream cheese, nori chip, pickled beet slaw, mustard glaze, fennel fronds
First Course: Chopped salad (kale, cabbage, quinoa, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, grapes, mint, parsley, red wine vinaigrette, jalapeño Macedonian feta spread, crumbled feta, sumac, harissa spiked crispy chick peas) // Main Course: Chicken supreme marinated in harissa, warm lentil salad in reduced chicken broth, carrot ginger purée, charred broccoli, mint yogurt, herb salad, crispy lentils / Vegetarian Option: Risotto, mushroom, rich mushroom stock, grilled baby veg, truffle oil, grana padano, parsley purée, lemon dressed kale // Dessert Table // Late Night Snack: Grilled cheese with soft brie, cheddar, brioche, compound butter, FD ketchup, garnished with grana padano snow
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. We liked the idea of a photobooth, but couldn’t make it fit in our budget. So instead we got an instant film camera, and asked guests to snap a photo, and paste it into our guestbook with a message. This resulted in some amazing and hilarious photos and comments, which were a lot of fun to read through the next day.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? It’s really easy to get carried away when planning a wedding! There’s almost too much inspiration online, and it’s easy to feel like you must have X, Y and Z at your wedding, when really, it’s best just to pick a couple fun things, because the rest won’t be missed! For example, I got randomly caught-up thinking that we just had to have personalized cocktail napkins, stripy paper straws, and a photo booth at our wedding, since it seemed like all the cool weddings I saw online had these things. In the end, we didn’t do the napkins or the straws, and we did a DIY photo booth, and I don’t think a single guest minded that they were drinking from a regular old straw and taking their own silly selfies! So I guess my advice is, don’t feel like your wedding has to showcase every fun wedding trend – it’s not realistic, and you’ll be the only one who notices what’s “missing”!
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We opted to do our own dessert table, with a fun mix of desserts from around Toronto. We offered Korean walnut cakes, Portuguese custard tarts, gourmet doughnuts from Glory Hole Doughnuts, and homemade butter tarts (a Canadian classic that we knew would be new to our American and international guests.) I also collaborated on a cake with one of my bridesmaids! I baked and froze the cake a day or two before the wedding, then she iced and decorated it on the wedding day – it was a lemon cake with raspberry jam and lime curd filling, and it was so delicious that it disappeared almost instantly!
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? I loved those moments when I stepped back from the tent, either on my own or hand in hand with Laurence, and saw all the people that we love most, together in one place, dressed to the nines and having a great time; the love and happiness in the air was palpable! We also had a great dance party inside the house after dinner, and since Laurence is a great dancer, I was really happy that we got to spend so much time on the dance floor!