Today’s couple knew from the moment they first saw the Panoramic Hills home, that it would be the perfect place to hold their Berkeley wedding. With family and friends traveling across the world, Shirmila and Tommy planned a colorful and happy celebration, treating their guests to the West Coast lifestyle. It doesn’t get much better than being welcomed with a breathtaking view of the San Francisco skyline to kick off an amazing day!
Photography by Vivian Chen.
Did you include any other traditions in your wedding? We didn’t really follow any traditions because there weren’t really any to follow. This wedding was the first American wedding for both of our families. It was challenging to navigate between our own vision for the wedding and our parent’s expectations for the wedding, but we think we succeeded. For example, we had a strong preference for a secular, outdoor wedding but on Friday we were also married in the Catholic church in a family-only ceremony.
What was the best advice you received as a bride? Take the posed pictures before the ceremony so that we could enjoy the cocktail hour. We snuck away for about 15 minutes for sunset pictures but were otherwise able to spend the rest of the time with our guests. Additionally, we took ten minutes with each other away from everyone, including the photographer, right after the ceremony. It was incredible to have a few minutes to just hold each other and soak it all in. Luckily, the room we snuck away to overlooked the ceremony and cocktail hour spaces, so we got to spy a little on our guests. Also, this is silly but a family friend told us that she regretted not having better posture in her wedding pictures so we were both mindful of standing up straight and tall during the ceremony.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? Make sure part of the preparation for the wedding includes activities to build on your intimacy. We begrudgingly attended an engaged couples retreat which turned out to be enjoyable and an important opportunity to be reminded about what the wedding was really about. We could feel the intimacy we built during that retreat blossom during the wedding. The officiant matters. Make sure that person doing the ceremony is on the same wavelength about your values and the feeling you want to create. Don’t feel beholden to traditions that don’t jive with the theme/feeling of the ceremony. We added parts that we liked (a ring warming ceremony) and took out others we didn’t to create the “right-fit”
Put a lot of thought into what kind of theme or feeling you want to create with your wedding and always refer to this feeling when making the big decisions for the florist, caterer, etc. Listen to your gut when interviewing vendors. The venue had many logistical challenges—no parking or industrial kitchen being two major ones. We were lucky to have an incredible team of vendors who worked beautifully to make the day a success. My boss Emily and her friend Stephanie volunteered to be our day of coordinators and did an incredible job making the day run smoothly.
The final advice we have is believe you can do it. Our wedding had incredible logistical challenges but we were committed to our vision and the venue. A DIY wedding with no wedding planner while both of us were in work and school was a huge project, so take it on as a team. And while it isn’t easy, putting on the wedding of your dreams is worth every second of planning that goes into it. After this, you’ll believe you can do anything together!
Do you have any budget tips for other brides? If you live near a university or college take advantage of the students! We used students from the art department for some of our calligraphy and hired a trio through the music department. Students are so talented and always eager to make some extra cash at prices way lower than traditional vendors. Also, hire locally. It was important to try to source most of our vendors from the East Bay to support our local community and to cut down on transportation expenses. Lastly, I wanted to dedicate the majority of our budget to the guest experience. My dress was my last priority and I actually bought it from a bridal consignment store! It was a former sample dress but in was in perfect condition and a fraction of the designer’s original price.
“When Tommy was deciding which law school to attend, we attended Berkeley Law’s Admitted Student Weekend. Part of the programming was a scenic hike in the close-by Berkeley Hills. During that hike, we passed an amazing and unique private home with a breathtaking view. I told Tommy that the house would make a dream wedding venue. We ended up moving to Berkeley that summer. That fall, right before we were engaged, a friend who was also on that hike texted me to say that she saw a wedding taking place at the house. Apparently the owner of the house lived in a near-by guest house on the property and had just begun renting out the house for weddings. It was, of course, our first venue visit after we became engaged. When we saw the view, which included the downtown San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, U.C. Berkeley’s campus, and even the apartment we lived in, we both knew that house would be the venue—our guests would be treated to a breathtaking view that included all the aspects of our West Coast life.”
Your ceremony in three words. Intimate, elegant, fun
How did you go about planning your ceremony? We were very intentional about putting together a ceremony that was meaningful and spent a lot of time pulling elements that we loved from other ceremonies and sharing them with our officiant. She then crafted an absolutely beautiful ceremony, parts of which were surprises to us.
Who officiated your ceremony? How did you choose him/her? We wanted our officiant to be someone who had been a mentor to us and was thus someone we revered, had a very high emotional intelligence in order to connect with both of us during our preparations and with our guests during the ceremony, and was very comfortable with public speaking. Julia, a family friend of mine, whom we both met with while we lived in DC, was the first person we thought of and we were so lucky to have her sign up for such a responsibility.
What were your ceremony readings? We had two readings: an excerpt from the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (“Love is a temporary madness…”) and “Love”, a poem by Roy Croft. These were read by two members of the wedding party.
What were your vows like? Our officiant scripted our vows based on in-depth conversations she had with each of us. She did an amazing job capturing our values and intentions. We include our vows below.
“I Shirmila, do solemnly make these promises to you, Tommy: I will communicate with you, intentionally, honestly, and well. I will trust you, and will share my history, values, and feelings with you. I will think the best of you, and will always give you the benefit of the doubt. I will always respect you, especially in disagreement. I will lean on your shoulder and rely on your strength, as you have been strong for others. I will support you as a partner and a friend, and will know that we can’t get absolutely everything from each other, sharing the value of separate pursuits. I will have a family with you, share the adventures of parenting, and build a community together. I will grow with you in love, respect, communication, and I will take risks with you. I will love you and be your wife forever: I feel honored by your love and trust.”
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? We put together a secular ceremony with included a few traditions we felt were true to us and helped build a sense of community. When I made it to the end of the aisle after the procession, we switched sides so that we were facing our respective groomsmen/bridal party and parents. We wanted to ensure that our closest friends and family could see our faces during the ceremony. Also, we had a ring warming ceremony where the rings were passed among all the guests during the ceremony before the ring exchange. We wanted to include our guests by having them bless the rings with warm thoughts, intentions, and prayers.
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? We loved the gravity and beautiful flow of our ceremony, thanks to our officiant. We were both totally centered and focused on each other. We don’t remember where any of our guests were sitting!
What was your ceremony music? We hired an absolutely wonderful string trio of local Berkeley students.
Seating of the Mothers: “Ave Maria” (my mom’s favorite song)
Bridal Party Entrance: “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”
Bridal Entrance: “Canon in D”
Recessional: “All You Need is Love”
Ceremony music by Elden String Quartet.
Is there anything else that helps tell the story of your wedding? Since we had just moved to the Bay area, the majority of our guests came from out of town. We were incredibly lucky to have family and friends travel from Sri Lanka, Denmark, India, Australia, England, France, and all over the United States, including Hawaii. To make the most of our time with our guests, we had a full wedding weekend of events, starting with welcome drinks at our favorite bar in Berkeley on Friday night, and a farewell bagel brunch on the law school campus on Sunday. Because our guests also got to know each other well at these events, it was great to see what an intimate group they had become by Sunday and we hope the friendships and connections that were made that weekend will continue long into the future.
“We focused on creating a warm, intimate environment for our guests. The inspiration for this was the Danish concept of “hyggeligt” which roughly means a cozy, homey, delightfully intimate, genial moment, like when you are cuddled up on the couch at home with candle lights and warm blankets. We tried to create this feeling with market lights, rustic chic decorations, neutral linens, candles, inlaid wood utensils, and lush arrangements of peonies, dahlias, tea roses, and succulents. Another huge inspiration came from wedding blogs. I have been a Snippet and Ink reader for many years and continue to read it daily even after the wedding! I focused on pulling a few key blog ideas together by relying on the DIY talents of my friends.”
How would you describe your reception? The reception was a wonderful dinner followed by a wild dance party finished off with late night pulled pork sliders and veggie burritos.
Are there any DIY details you’d like to tell us about? The wedding took on way more many DIY elements than I had originally anticipated. Luckily, I was able to rely on my incredibly talented friends and family to help me. My aunt handmade and wrapped Sri Lankan wedding cake, a tradition in our culture, and brought them with her all the way from Australia to give out as favors. My bridesmaids handwrote and painted all the table numbers, bar menu, escort card table, and all the signage, and put together the polaroid photo booth. My brother’s girlfriend designed and hand printed the welcome bags and Tommy’s groomsman and his wife assembled them. My friend Suz took our engagement pictures and pictures at the brunch we hosted on Sunday after the wedding. My friend Jamila is a talented jewelry maker and made gorgeous bracelets for me to give to my bridesmaids as gifts. My brother organized an awesome wine box in lieu of a traditional guest book. Our guests were asked to write notes to us and were placed in a box with a bottle of the red wine we served at the wedding. On our ten-year anniversary we are supposed to drink the wine and read the notes! When I looked around the wedding, I was overwhelmed by the incredibly amount of love and support from our community to pull this event together.
Did you have a signature cocktail? We had two signature cocktails, Moscow Mules (we called them “Warsaw Mules” since Tommy is Polish) and Mojitos as well as local wines and beer.
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. We made the decision to have a social-media free wedding early on. We were so happy we did because it really allowed guests to be fully present during our ceremony and made for much better pictures too!
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We had a beautiful three-tier cake with simple buttercream frosting and a sugar peony. There were three flavors: chocolate salted caramel, berries and cream, and carrot cake.
Cake by Cakes Made by ME.
Menu: Passed Appetizers: Baked Double Cream Brie with Fuji Apple Chutney / Pesto Sausage & Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms / Swedish Meatballs in Dijon Sauce / Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta // Salad: Spring Greens with Candied Pecans, Dried Cranberries & Gorgonzola // Entrees: Pepper Crusted Filet Mignon with Zinfandel Reduction / Stuffed Chicken Breast with Spinach, Sundried Tomatoes, Parmesan & Risotto / Portobello Mushroom Napoleon layered with Spinach, Squash & Caramelized Onion. All served with Roasted Seasonal Vegetables & Potatoes Gratin with Aged Cheddar.
The food was absolutely delicious. Our guests were raving about it after the wedding.
What was your first dance song? Father/daughter or mother/son dance?
First dance: “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson
Father/daughter: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kawakawiwo’ole
Mother/son: “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
Reception music provided by Love in the Mix.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? My Danish roommate from my study abroad semester came all the way from Copenhagen with her family. Her son Elliot was our ring bearer and absolutely dominated the dance floor even though he was the only kid at the wedding! It turns out he had been watching and practicing moves from Michael Jackson music videos and decided to bust them all out at the wedding to the delight of all of our guests. It was amazing. Another favorite moment was my dad’s speech. He is a very confident public speaker so I teared up when I saw he had carefully typed up his speech and printed it. He was obviously feeling nervous and wanted to do a good job. He gave an incredibly moving toast that left many of our guests in tears. My final moment was on the dance floor. One of my bridesmaids flew all the way from New Delhi, India, to be part of the wedding. Our other two roommates and I used to dance around the Bollywood song, “Desi Girl” our senior year of college. All three of them were bridesmaids and I planned to surprise them with “Desi Girl” during the reception. When the song came on during the reception we all went nuts!
If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would do differently? If I were to do it again, I think I would have had a shorter engagement period. At first I was grateful to have a full 18 months to plan the wedding, but it was almost too much time to obsess over it. But as for the day itself? I wouldn’t change a thing!
Be sure to check out their wedding film from Lucas Guilkey below.