Nestled inside the walls of an ancient Tuscan villa, family and friends drawn from all corners of the globe gathered for this intimate, yet spectacular celebration spilling with nostalgia and rustic styling, told in breathtaking surrounds.
Moving throughout different spaces, from starlit courtyards of family style dining, to an exchange of vows in an ancient garden, this story unfolds, amidst cascading candles and reception revelry down a magnificently long table, tucked between olive trees and a fairy lit marquee. An effortless blend of rustic Tuscan touches and lavish, on-the-day details, it strikes a beautiful blend of mixed aesthetics and formality, a unique and elegant celebration.
HOW WE MET: We attended the London School of Economics and were initially introduced through a school society. One of our society friends invited each of us to his wedding in Rome. We were both flying solo and found ourselves trying to spend time together during the pre-wedding events and during the wedding itself. The week after the wedding, we kept making excuses to see each other again in London, and have been together ever since: through my move back to the States and finally back to London post-wedding.
OUR ENGAGEMENT STORY: We had been talking about getting married from really early on – it really felt inevitable. Patrick asked my father for my hand on a visit to my family in Hawaii about 6 months before he proposed. In early September, after a big project finished at work, he made surprise plans to fly over to New York and whisk me away for the weekend. He nearly succeeded in surprising me, but was foiled by a thunderstorm that landed him prematurely in Boston. Me being me with a lifetime of womanly intuition (and three years with this guy), I got my hair cut and a manicure while he was in the air. He proposed during a walk of the grounds at Blue Hill restaurant just north of NYC.
MARRIAGE TO US MEANS: Since we spent nearly the entirety of our courtship apart, marriage means being together, always. Marriage is togetherness – mind, body and spirit.
WEDDING LOCATION: Patrick’s family is in Western Canada and mine in Hawaii and when we were engaged he was living in London and I in New York City. No matter where we held it the wedding would be a destination, so we focused on finding a place where we could host a group of family and friends to have a multi-day party. An intimate villa-style wedding really appealed and we looked all over France and Italy before we found the right spot: Villa Catureglio, near Borgo a Mozzano, in Tuscany, Italy. The setting – a large fifteenth century villa on expansive grounds up in the hills – was perfection. It also gave us a great jumping off point to explore local vineyards and the beautiful local towns.
The villa itself is a rather blank canvas, offering up the opportunity to transform it according to desires of the couple. We saw this possibility when we happened upon the incredible work of Matthew Moore Photography and a wedding they had captured at the villa a few years prior. Because of Matt and Katie, we actually booked Villa Catureglio sight unseen.
THEME/STYLE: With our Tuscan location set, we wanted to embrace the rustic feel of the surroundings, and add a vintage feel with modern elegance. We had the amazing insights of Elyse Shumsky and Katie Moore (also of Matthew Moore Photography) at Bellwether Design who took our scattershot ideas and developed a cohesive style and vision for the wedding.
We couldn’t be happier with the work they did – the results were simply stunning and they were a blast to scheme with.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Choosing Matt and Katie of Matthew Moore Photography to shoot our wedding was easy after looking through their portfolio and speaking with them. From our first discussions, to traveling to Austin, Texas for our engagement shoot, all the way through the wedding, we had a massive couple-crush on them. They are professional but fun, tremendously creative and were a dream to work with and have as a part of our celebration.
Matt and Katie have a candid, relaxed, and unobtrusive way of shooting, combined with an editorial feel that makes everyone and everything look fabulous. They go with what feels right and natural and worked with us to figure out what we wanted.
They photographed the whole wedding weekend, including the vineyard tour, mushroom hunt, rehearsal dinner, and the brunch the day after the wedding. For bridal portraits, they found this ethereal lake surrounding a deserted medieval village called Isola Santa for a dream sequence walking through the woods and me floating in the lake (the one big exception to our posed shot vendetta).
The results and experience we had were spectacular! There are many photos that we don’t recall them being around for, but they clearly got!
BRIDE’S DRESS: I wore the “Valentina” dress from Monique Lhuillier, which I found at Mark Ingraham in NYC. The dress had a fitted bodice covered in lace with an illusion neckline. The skirt was five layers and included grey and cream chiffon, lace applique and a hand-beaded overlay, which extended onto the bodice and neckline. The beading was a trellis design giving the dress a vintage, but modern feel. It was stunning, comfortable and effortless.
WEDDING RINGS: We both wear slim platinum wedding bands. My engagement ring is from Fred Leighton, an estate jeweller in New York City. The centre stone is a vintage old mine cut with a vintage cluster halo. The ring was based on an Art Deco piece that they had in their collection.
JEWELLERY/ACCESSORIES: I was looking for a headpiece in lieu of a veil and found Gillian Million, who makes modern and feminine pieces. When I visited Gillian’s shop in London, she looked at pictures of my dress and designed a custom piece for me, which comprised a pearl cluster on a headband with two sets of ivy tendrils and tiny pearl clumps on pins for my chignon. Patrick then surprised me with a matching custom bracelet (after coordinating with Gillian) for my gift.
STATIONERY/INVITATIONS: Our save the dates were classic and simple with a letterpress border and a scan of my writing. Many guests thought I had written each one.
The invitations were a group effort with Bellwether Design advising on the design elements and calligraphy provided by Heather Colley at Perch Paper Company. All stationary was letterpressed and printed by Publicide in NYC.
Heather Colley of Perch Paper Company, who was pregnant with her third child at the time, delivered an incredible array of calligraphy across our invitations, envelopes, menu, two metre tall seating chart and leather place cards. She met our tight deadlines with elegant, modern designs that helped tie everything together.
FLOWERS & BOUQUETS: We wanted natural-looking arrangements, as if you walked through a meadow and picked stems as you went. Our caterer introduced us to Floralia and they immediately understood what we were looking for. Simona and Marcello worked closely with Bellwether on designing multiple pieces, from a gorgeous off-centre garland altarpiece, to the 18 metre table setting and accents positioned all over the property.
Elyse and Katie also came up with the idea of having flower crowns dotting the reception area that guests could pick up and wear. They were such a hit that people kept wearing them the next day at brunch!
PREPARATION: We wanted an intimate wedding, so we chose to not have any attendants. I got ready with my mom and a few girlfriends in my room. It was so much fun and stress free to have my girls around to toast with prosecco and dance around the room to girl anthems while I had my hair and makeup done.
WEDDING PLANNER / STYLIST: When we first started out, Patrick and I planned on doing everything ourselves. But then Katie introduced us to her partner Elyse, and as Bellwether Design they came in and raised the level of every detail to Pinterest-level perfection. They developed a vision for the wedding, refining our design ideas, working with the other suppliers to ensure a cohesive look and made sure all of the little details were covered perfectly. They were involved in every decision, and their experience and insight gleaned from countless high-end weddings was invaluable in executing the stunning but easy-going wedding we wanted.
On the day of the wedding, Elyse effortlessly handled the coordination of the vendors, kept us on track and took care of the little things that popped up.
CEREMONY DÉCOR/ RECEPTION DÉCOR: The villa offered a lovely canvas for Bellwether to stage the ceremony and reception. The front lawn was transformed into the ceremony and aperitivo venue, with a small grotto serving as the altar. A large off-centre garland topped the trellis while seven metres of blue-striped fabric served as the backdrop.
Bellwether commissioned a painting by Austin-based artist Barbie Anderson, which provided the colour scheme used throughout. The colours ranged from soft pinks and mauves through to dark navy and grey. This painting became the reception table runner and digital cuts were used as the backs of the invitation suite.
On the reception table, the organic, deconstructed flower arrangements contrasted in colour with the runner. Thin navy candles in an assortment of candlestick holders and votive candles dotted the table. For place cards, in a nod to Tuscan leather, Bellwether wrapped the cutlery with leather tags written by Heather Colley of Perch Paper Company.
The use of candles extended to hundreds more along the walkways and throughout the villa grounds. Candles also framed the seating chart and the cake tables – oh the cake tables! They were a show-stopping arrangement of four tables of varying heights draped in silk and surrounded by dozens and dozens of candles.
For post-dinner, Bellwether created seating area vignettes with antique couches, chairs, rugs and tables sourced by Floralia, our florists. This turned the tinaio, an open air covered patio, into a speakeasy lounge complete with sweet things, cigars and flower crowns for our guests to stumble on. The painting was used again, this time printed on pillowcases, which my girlfriends and I sewed.
CAKE: My father made us a delicious spice cake with mascarpone icing – my favourite birthdays cake growing up. The cakes (and other deserts) were presented on four tables of differing heights and surrounded by dozens and dozens of candles for the cake cutting. The cake plate was decorated with olive branches from the groves surrounding the villa.
FOOD & BEVERAGES: Galateo prepared a fantastic spread. They served prosecco and cocktails with small bites for the aperitivo immediately following the ceremony. For dinner, Galateo prepared seasonal, regional fare starting with taleggio risotto with zucchini flowers and asparagus, a wild boar ragu and finally filet of veal with truffled sweet potatoes – each paired with wine.
Cocktails were served after dinner and cake. Close to midnight we brought out local meats, cheeses and bread from Andrea Bertucci of Vecchio Mulino, a slow food restaurant further up the valley in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.
Processional: Better Together, Jack Johnson
Recessional: Only Love, Ben Howard – this recommendation came from The Lane!
First Dance :Love is a Verb, John Mayer
Father-Daughter Dance: Over the Rainbow, Israel Kamakawiwa’ole
ENTERTAINMENT: We created our own playlists for the aperitivo, dinner and reception, DJ’ing the party from an iPad. For the aperitivo, we selected popular jazz and big band standards, and then moved into 1920’s classics for dinner. The reception was music to get down to.
CELEBRANT: A great friend of ours, Sophie Epstein, performed the ceremony. Before the wedding she sent a long questionnaire asking us about our relationship and each other, and she peppered the ceremony with our responses.
READINGS: We wrote our own vows but had Sophie lead us through traditional vows as well.
TRANSPORT: We self drove and rented a beautiful red 1960 Alfa Romeo Osso di Seppia for our time in the area from Sprintage Classic Car Touring. For the vineyard tour, we arranged a luxury bus with Tuscan Drivers. Tuscan Drivers also provided transportation for the guests not staying at the villa on the night of the wedding.
FAVORS/BONBONNIERE: Chestnuts are abundant in the area around the villa, and chestnut flour is a specialty of the Garfagnana Valley. We placed local chestnut flour in muslin bags tied with tags I handwrote, alternating English and Italian, “Chestnut Flour” or “Farina di Neccio”.
We also prepared welcome boxes for the guests staying at the villa filled with The White Company and other toiletries, along with tasty local biscotti from Lucca. The boxes were tied with twine and sealed with our initials in silver wax and decorated with olive tree branches.
HONEYMOON: We only had time for a mini-moon, but had a few key requirements for the destination: it had to be a country neither of us had ever been to, within two hours’ flight of Italy and warm. We landed on Greece and had a day in Athens exploring the ancient ruins, staying at the King George Hotel. Then we flew to Santorini and spent a few nights in Oia at the fabulous IKIES Traditional Houses. Beautiful sunsets, perfect weather and completely relaxing.
ANY OTHER SPECIAL DETAILS:Because of the remote location of the villa in northern Tuscany and how far most of our guests would be travelling, we organised several events so that they had something to do and a chance to get to know each other. We arranged a vineyard tour, starting with a tour and lunch at Fattoria Cercatoia Alta provided by Angelo and Sao Fornaciari. The tour continued at Fattoria di Fubbiano and Fattoria Maionchi Tofori. Each vineyard had a special character and offered a different taste of the region.
The following day we went on a mushroom hunt high up in the valley with the help of Heather Jarman at Sapori e Saperi. She planned a hike through the woods and village of Trassilico led by David Saisi, the mayor of neighbouring Gallicano, followed by lunch prepared by the town’s producers in the local theatre. Mushrooms were elusive, but we found loads of chestnuts and got a taste of a rural Italian village.
At the villa, we held a welcome dinner with pizzas baked in the forno on site with help from the villa staff, as well as a brunch the day after the wedding.
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION: I scoured the blogs, particularly The Lane, for weddings I liked, which is how I found most of our vendors. Surprisingly, I did not go crazy on Pinterest, but would have bursts of inspiration from there and Instagram (Sunday Suppers was a particular favourite).
A MEMORABLE MOMENT: After a week of great weather, the heavens opened up at the end of dinner, cutting power on site for a few minutes. The whole villa was plunged into darkness, but the table stayed lit with the countless candles, making for a gorgeous scene. Everyone had a great time, thanks to the marquee that was the best expense of the wedding!
ONE THING I WISH I KNEW BEFORE I STARTED MY WEDDING PLANS…Italy is 20 years behind the US/Australia in terms of aesthetic and availability. If you want Miami Vice or Ibiza Euro-party, there is an endless list of vendors to choose from. On the other hand, if you are trying to create a contemporary styled wedding, there are only a few who understand that direction. All the best people seem to know each other and will provide great recommendations.
IF I COULD GIVE OTHER BRIDES TO BE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE…Do the planning with your partner – it’s better together. Second thing (cheating, I know): Ikea is internationally consistent.
SARA & PATRICK'S CONTACTS:
BRIDE'S DRESS: Monique Lhuillier / Mark Ingraham
BRIDE’S SHOES: Ferragamo
GROOMS FORMAL WEAR: Lanvin / Hackett
WEDDING RINGS: Fred Leighton in NYC
JEWELLERY / ACCESSORIES: Gillian Million
HAIR: Katie Moore
MAKEUP: Katie Moore
STATIONERY: Designed by Bellwether and printed at Publicide in NYC / Calligraphy: Perch Paper Company,
CAKE: Brides Father
WEDDING VENUE: Villa Catureglio Tuscany, Italy
CATERING: Galateo Ricevimenti in Florence, Italy with late-night snacks provided by Andrea Bertucci of Vecchio Mulino
WEDDING STYLIST / PLANNER: Katie Moore and Elyse Shumsky of Bellwether Design
CELEBRANT: Our friend, Sophie Epstein
HONEYMOON DESTINATION: Athens and Santorini, Greece
TRANSPORT: Sprintage Classic Car Touring and Andrea at Tuscan Drivers
GIFT REGISTRY: Williams Sonoma, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Honeyfund
OTHER: Help with local activities from Heather Jarman at Sapori e Saperi. On our vineyard tour we visited Fattoria Cercatoia Alta, Fattoria di Fubbiano, and Fattoria Maionchi Tofori. Additional help from Gastone di Domenico at Tenuta San Pietro.