This intimate Milwaukee wedding featured two very special guests: the bride and groom’s dear pups! From the invitations, to the ceremony readings, Lily “The Pill” and Max played a central role in Samantha and Jason’s celebration. Other aspects of the wedding were inspired by the Wisconsin location (local cheese and beer) and by the couple’s love of Sea Island, Georgia. Everything came together for a beautiful day at Villa Terrace!
“Our favorite thing about the wedding ceremony was definitely the inclusion of our dogs Lily ‘The Pill’ and Max as our very non-traditional wedding party. Their presence and love were with us through multiple years of a long distance relationship and this most amazing moment of our lives wouldn’t have been anywhere near complete without them. Plus, they’re totally gorgeous and were very well-behaved!”
Your ceremony in three words. Personal, Playful, Heartfelt.
Why did you choose this location for your ceremony? It reminded us of one of our favorite (and most romantic!) places to vacation: Sea Island Resort in Georgia. It has wonderful mediterranean inspired architecture with stone work and a tile roof. It also has immaculate gardens and is on the ocean so the outdoor experience is as incredible as the inside. From the moment we saw photos of Villa Terrace we knew it had the same feel and features – just with Lake Michigan instead of the Atlantic and a lot closer to home.
How did you go about planning your wedding ceremony? We had help from both our wedding coordinator and our officiant. We followed a relatively traditional but non-religious template, and went outside the playbook a lot when it felt right. Every step of the way we chose elements that would be meaningful to us and make us happy, regardless of how they fit into convention.
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? We made a lot of new ones!
What was your ceremony music? We had an amazing acoustic guitarist who fit the feel of the wedding perfectly. He sang and played wonderfully, setting the perfect relaxed and inviting tone to the day. The processional was made up of only two songs: one for when our families and then “wedding party” (our two dogs!) entered and another for when Samantha came down the aisle. The first was James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (perfect for the dogs) and the second was “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, with only the guitar. The recessional was a favorite song of the couple, “When We’re Together” by Joshua Radin. The lyrics of the chorus fit the moment incredibly. “…I’m with you forever, cause we’re the best when we’re together. I’m with you forever, you are the only one and we’ve just begun…”
What were your ceremony readings? We had two readings. The first was a poem by Taylor Mali entitled “How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” and the second was called “Love if Friendship Caught Fire” by Laura Hendricks. (See Samantha and Jason’s readings right here.)
What were your vows like? They were a traditional format but not traditional verbiage. We especially liked how the last line ended: “until the end of our forever.” That seems tangible and real, but still so full of love. (Read Samantha and Jason’s complete vows right here.)
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your wedding ceremony? As the start time of the ceremony approached, a really thick fog rolled in off the lake – so thick it seemed like we were up in the clouds. At first we were a little disappointed to not have the amazing views of Lake Michigan during the ceremony, but exactly at the moment he was pronouncing us husband and wife, the fog cleared and a brilliant blue sky and sun came out. It was pretty incredible and although we had a non-religious ceremony seemed pretty divine. So many guests commented on how magical that moment was. (I’ll admit here that I (Samantha) only partially noticed it happening because I was so in love with my new husband at that moment… I probably would have missed a marching band, fireworks and a laser light show had they all been going on…)
Are there any special details you’d like to tell us about? In our welcome bags at the hotels, we used all things from Wisconsin: Sprecher root beer, Gardetto’s, Wisconsin shaped cheese. And the best thing of all were caramels that Samantha and her Mom made together. // We had a welcome BBQ at my parents home the day before the wedding. My mom and I made cupcakes with hickory nut frosting – the special part is that the hickory nuts were from trees at my parents’ home. My mom and dad picked the fallen hickory nuts, opened and dried them and then shelled them. If you’ve never seen a hickory nut, they’re small – really small – so shelling them is no small feat!
“Our reception was relaxed, inviting and fun. We tried to mix Wisconsin inspired ideas (had many guests from out of town) with the elegance of a Southern estate. We wanted everyone to feel like we were all celebrating together. To us that meant trying to make it feel the same as if we were throwing a party in the backyard… if our backyard was on a Southern plantation overlooking Lake Michigan.”
Menu: appetizers: sharp cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup shooters / brie puffs with apricot and blackberry / bacon wrapped dates stuffed with Boursin / cheese plate with all Wisconsin cheeses (complete with Wisconsin shaped chalkboard menu) / caprese skewers // starters: caesar salad / lobster stew (made from a recipe from a little crab shack in Maine that we try to visit every year) // main course: beef tenderloin with green beans and rosemary red potatoes / chicken marsala over polenta
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We had a dessert station with ginger peach cobbler, schaum torte with berries, and tiramisu. Our cake was a white cake layered with with almond cream and Door County cherry preserves. Heaven.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? There are two… After everyone moved from the courtyard to the terrace for dinner, Jason and I were still in the courtyard with the guitarist. Believe it or not, Jason and I had never danced together! So the guitarist played one more song, just for us, and we had a “practice dance” together. It was really wonderful – private and perfectly special. And then the official first dance! We had dancing out on the terrace, in the same space the ceremony and dinner were held. Once the sun started to set during dinner, Edison lights strung over the terrace were lit, and one of my closest friends played the guitar and sang the first dance song (The Shape of Us, by Ian Britt) with the help of another friend. It was perfect – real, romantic, and only ours.
FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER:
Sam & J’s wedding lives in my memory the way a good meal in a perfect setting with the right people stays on the mental palette for years to come. It was intimate, romantic, playful, delicious – the kind of day that never feels hurried; the kind of day that slowly simmers every experience to perfection. These days Sam & J live and work together in Virginia where he’s from but they decided to marry back in her home state at the incomparable Villa Terrace, a little garden oasis in Milwaukee that reminded them rather a lot of a beloved travel destination of theirs – Sea Island, Georgia. Travel is something they’ve done quite a bit and in talking to them one gets little hints of lovely trips and awesome adventures in their past: the engagement ring was found in a little shop near Italy’s Lago Como and she had just returned from a Tanzanian safari when we did their engagement session earlier this year. And really, seen through their eyes, Wisconsin even becomes a bit of a destination, one who’s traditions and local fare they mixed with southern-inspired charm to create a simply gorgeous day. I adored the woven grass fans and moss covered gates paired with New Glarus beer (only available in Wisconsin!) and assorted Wisco artisan cheeses and playful bites like mini-grilled cheese & tomato shooters.
Off and on the sun shone brightly, a perfect match for the gardenia in Sam’s hair and J’s summer suit, all of which combined with gorgeous lake views to trick the senses – maybe we are staring out at the Georgia coast after all …but then the mist rolled in and the edison lights overhead began to glow and it all felt very lakeside, very cozy, very Wisconsin again. My favorite part of the day was just after cocktail hour and before dinner when all the guests were seated and ogling the now sunny lake view, but Sam & J were missing. I spied them through the villa doors back in the courtyard dancing alone to one last song by the guitarist. I snuck upstairs and spied on them, capturing a perfectly serene, incredibly romantic moment between them; It was, like Sam & J, unplanned and spontaneous, sweet and real.
And I have to say a little something about the most adorable and well-behaved bridal party a photographer could ask for. Fur siblings Lily “The Pill” and Max walked down the aisle and practically posed for pics all day, two constant companions for both Sam & J. I loved how they helped Sam & J feel truly at home on their wedding day, and how they made the Villa their own. They had both told me that it was inconceivable to them to get married without the dogs present and celebrated along with them. Thus the invites with the dogs silhouettes and instead of flowers on the aisle, little glassine bags with dog bones (as in “bridal party will beg for treats.) The bigger dog Max is J’s buddy so J wore a tie to match Max’s collar and Sam’s girl Lily got a little sparkle and flower treatment with a floral collar that any dog would be lucky to sport. And during their ceremony a dear friend read the most surprisingly perfect poem by Taylor Mali – titled How Falling in Love is like Owning a Dog, the reading was the ultimate ceremony customization Sam & J could have planned.