Real Weddings

An Ethereal Garden Soiree in the Hunter Valley

Matt & Emily by Damien Milan.

Inspired by intrepid travels abroad, Emily and Matt were wed in the grounds of a Tuscan-style villa set in the rolling hills of Australia’s Hunter Valley region. Amidst buildings painted in sunset hues and fields of lavender, the couple exchanged vows under a cedar arbor draped in white chiffon.

Channeling the romance of Tuscan estates, the reception was held on a rustic patio. The dusk skies were lit with vintage bulbs and flickering candlelight, the table draped in layered textures of linen and chiffon. In true Italian style, menus were banquet style – served on ceramic plates styled amongst bronze vessels and vintage silverware.

Emily and Matt’s wedding leisurely stretched out over the weekend, with guests spending the night in the property’s sumptuous villa. Think long nights and slow mornings, where the celebrations continue long after the final dance…

Beautifully captured by LANE handpicked photographer, Damien Milan.

Names – Matt and Emily

Wedding Date – November 5, 2016

Guest Numbers – 50

How we Met – We met through mutual friends while at university in 2005.

Our Engagement Story – We were travelling around Europe in late 2015 and were in San Sebastian in Northern Spain, surrounded by amazing food, beautiful, sparkling beaches and charming old buildings. Matt proposed while we walking alone on the beach on our last evening.

Marriage to us Means – An official recognition of our lifetime partnership and ongoing commitment to each other. We appreciate there are many ways to do this, and we chose marriage.

Wedding Location – We wanted to spread our celebration over several days, so were seeking a large house with adjoining property for our families to stay at over a weekend. After a search, both in Australia and overseas, my best friend stumbled upon Redleaf Estate in Wollombi in the Hunter Valley Region of NSW. It was perfect – situated near to the town where we first lived together, beautiful interior décor and surrounding gardens, and plenty of room for all the family. Having the accommodation, ceremony site and reception all on one property was very convenient given we did most of the setup ourselves.

Theme/Style – We didn’t necessarily aim for a particular theme during the planning, but we ended up with something that I’d describe as an elegant, rustic and intimate garden wedding.

Photography – After meeting them face-to-face and having a wonderful chat, we chose Damien and Anastasia from Damien Milan Photography to capture our celebration. We knew we wanted photos that were candid and alternative, but also with a sense of timelessness and elegance. I didn’t want to have any particular “trends” at our wedding, and Damien and Anastasia produced the perfect combination of modern and classic photos that will look as lovely in 20 years as they do today. Damien and Anastasia also have a great sense of adventure, which tied in nicely with our love of travel.

Bride’s Dress – I am not a fan of wedding dresses, and I dislike fussy things! I knew I wanted something simple and timeless, with a touch of old-world romance. I drew inspiration from great historical weddings and classic films, such as the gown worn by Grace Kelly, and the one in the opening wedding scene of The Godfather. After doing a lot of online browsing I took two of my close friends to New Zealand for the weekend to try on some dresses at Juliette Hogan. Her aesthetic is simple and classic, and she chooses beautiful, romantic, draping fabrics such as silk georgette, chiffon and French lace. I chose a long-sleeved, floor-length, white French lace dress with a simple crew neckline. It was the first dress I tried on, and the only boutique we went to. I had a custom nude silk slip made by Helen Constance at Weddings by Master Slave (WBMS) in Sydney. I paired the dress with a single-layer cathedral length veil for a touch of old-school Italian drama, also made by Helen. For the evening, I removed my veil and wore a stole over my shoulders, made of Mongolian goat’s wool.

Bride’s Shoes – I am a big shoe fan, so after an unsuccessful search all over Sydney, I figured online was the only way to go. I bought a pair of dusk-pink velvet Valentino Garavani sandals that featured ballet-style ribbons that tied at the ankle, and a mirror heel. They matched the proteas in my bouquet and were just perfect.

Bridesmaids’ Dresses – I didn’t have bridesmaids per se, but asked my sister-in-law and best friend to walk down the aisle ahead of me to hand out petals for the guests to throw. By total chance they were both wearing pale pink dresses that matched my shoes and flowers, and also picked up on the pink hue of the Tuscan-style buildings. Big fluke.

Bridesmaids’ Shoes – Another fluke – both wore nude heels to match their dresses.

Wedding Rings – My engagement ring is very special as it was my mother-in-law’s engagement ring. It also survived two weeks travelling around Europe in a pair of my husband’s socks! It features an Australian sapphire in a raised basket setting, surrounded by a halo of diamonds. For wedding bands, we chose simple styles in white gold from Hardy Brothers. By another chance, the number of diamonds in my wedding band is the same as my engagement ring, so that felt just right.


Headpieces & Veils

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Jewelry/Accessories – Aside from simple diamond studs, I wore my paternal great-great-grandmother’s gold and diamond brooch on my bouquet, which has been worn by all females on my father’s side on their wedding days.

Groom’s Attire – Matt’s navy suit was custom-made during a trip to Hong Kong, and he wore shoes by Allan Edmonds. He wore his grandfather’s monogrammed kerchief as a pocket square.

Hair – My hair is long, curly and unruly. It doesn’t like being tamed and there is no point trying. I rolled with this, and wore my hair half-up, half-down with side-swept part. It felt comfortable and reflected me – fly-aways and all.

Makeup – I opted for very natural makeup to suit my coloring and what I wear day-to-day. The only additional extras were some partial false lashes and a touch of color on my lips.

Stationery/Invitations – We made all our invites by hand. To match the theme of our engagement, I purchased a selection of vintage postcards from San Sebastian on eBay, to which Matt added the details of the wedding via Photoshop. I handwrote each invite on the reverse. We also included a separate sheet detailing the location, accommodation options, dress code, shuttle bus, etc. We made our own menu cards on Vistaprint, inspired by some of our favorite restaurants.

Favors – Each guest’s place card doubled as their favor – my mum prepared 50 individual succulents in small pots from her garden, to which I added small labels with each guest’s name, with the help of Matt, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend! This very simple gesture incorporated our families, was something that can last and be enjoyed, and was in line with our goal of using existing items rather than purchasing something disposable with less meaning. They also looked cute on the tables!

Flowers & Bouquets – I am very lucky in that my mum is a florist and she prepared all the flowers on-site. We purchased everything from the Sydney Flower Market two days prior. Aside from ensuring the arrangements included my two favorite flowers – peonies and hydrangeas – I didn’t have any particular theme, apart from keeping the colors to a neutral white/green palette. The brief I gave my mum was “messy looking flowers that look like they’ve just been picked from a French garden”. She delivered just that. My bouquet also featured two large pink proteas to tie in with the color of my shoes and the house, and set it apart from the other arrangements. Matt wore a simple boutonnière on his lapel. The table arrangements were placed in ceramic urns along the table (purchased from Koch & Co), and any leftover flowers were placed in pots we found at Redleaf, and on the cake!

Preparation – We started the wedding day the way we hope to start each day of the rest of our lives – together, and surrounded by family. There were still lots of little bits and pieces to finalize, so the whole family got involved. It wasn’t until around 3pm that Matt and I went to different parts of the house to get dressed for the ceremony.

Ceremony Décor/Reception Décor – Redleaf is a stunning Tuscan-inspired estate, so the minimal décor we used was designed to complement this style. For the ceremony, we were married under an existing wooden archway at the end of a natural aisle of cedar and lavender, on which we draped a length of cream chiffon to make it a bit special. For the reception, I drew inspiration from Tuscan and provincial French outdoor dining areas including white tablecloths, Bentwood chairs and wonky, rustic candlesticks. To add interest on the tables, I added the same cream chiffon we draped over the archway as a table runner, and scattered a collection of bronze vintage candlesticks I gathered from Etsy. For the canapes, we placed bar tables dressed with white tablecloths, and wine barrels throughout the garden. For dinner, guests were seated at two long tables in an indoor/outdoor dining area, lit from above with festoon lighting. Because the meals were served banquet-style along the center of the tables, the table décor was kept to a minimum, and five flower arrangements in ceramic urns were placed along the tables. Each table setting was completed with a menu and grey linen napkin.

Wedding Planner/Wedding Stylist – Matt and I managed all the planning and styling. I tried not to be tied down to “wedding” themes, so I drew inspiration from our favorite restaurants (such as Bistro Molines, Onde, and Buon Ricordo), overseas travel, films, paintings, books and estate houses in France, Spain and Italy.

Cake – We chose a simple two-tiered Belgian dark chocolate cake, finished with a rustic white icing prepared by Newcastle baker, Hello Naomi. Mum decorated it with leftover flowers, and my mother-in-law provided lovely vintage silverware from home.

Wedding Songs – We are both big music-lovers, so getting the music right was critical! I walked down the aisle to “Strangers” by the Kinks. We played “The Way I Feel Inside” by the Zombies during the signing, and “Queen Bitch” by David Bowie at the close of the ceremony. Our first dance was not planned at all, so we played the first song that came to my head after calls to dance by the guests – “Can’t Nobody Love You”, also by the Zombies.

Entertainment – Matt has an encyclopedic knowledge of, and immense appreciation for a range of music genres, so he was master DJ for the entire wedding.

Food & Beverages – All guests were served champagne at the end of the ceremony, and proceeded to the reception where we served two of our favorite cocktails to pair with the canapes – Aperol spritzes and gin and tonics. Being a small wedding, we were able to serve a variety of different sparkling wines and spirits, plus a range of beers, so people just drank whatever they liked! One thing that was important to us was to provide wine from the local region (Hunter Valley) – particularly Krinklewood, one of our favorite vineyards. The food was definitely up there amongst the most important details, so we hired Lucy Novak from The Wild Rabbit to cater the event. Guests were served roving cocktails in the garden straight after the ceremony, before sitting down to a banquet-style dinner, where large share plates were placed along the center of the long tables. We wanted food that was very high quality, freshly prepared, locally sourced and healthy. Lucy delivered this perfectly and the menu included grilled king prawns, slow-roasted lamb, Moroccan-style chicken, duck fat potatoes and a range of salads and sides including lentils, grilled haloumi and green beans.

Honeymoon – We spent two and a half weeks in Spain and Portugal just after the wedding, partially for a work conference! I highly recommend exploring the winding stone streets and hand-painted tile facades of Lisbon, and bar-hopping in Seville.

Gift Registry – In lieu of gifts, guests were encouraged to donate to a cause that was important to them.

Celebrant – Lucy Suze Taylor officiated our ceremony and was just fantastic. Lucy struck the perfect balance between being refreshingly modern and considerate of our backgrounds and “traditions”. The service was very intimate, and very “us”.

Readings – Together we wrote very simple, matching, short vows.

Sources of Inspiration – Eschewing traditional wedding magazines, I looked to classic films, paintings, our favorite restaurants, memorable travel moments, books and lifestyle magazines…even Christmas dinners! Think of a place and time where you felt inspired, happy and loved and you can do no wrong.

A Memorable Moment – Given the wedding was small, we had time to chat to all our guests, and each moment with them was special. Sitting down to dinner next to Matt and smiling at each other because we were enjoying ourselves so much and just basking in the moment was also a pretty memorable highlight.

One Thing I Wish I Knew Before I Started my Wedding Plans – So long as you share the day with your partner, your families and closest friends, it will be wonderful no matter what happens.

If I could give other Brides To Be one Piece of Advice – Do what reflects you – avoid the pitfall of “have-to’s”. Reflect on memorable events or parties (outside of weddings) that you enjoyed to guide what sort of elements you would like to incorporate. Don’t feel you have to do something just because others did! There is no script for a perfect wedding, so pave your own way.


PHOTOGRAPHY: Damien Milan Photography

BRIDE’S DRESS: Custom Juliette Hogan

BRIDE’S SHOES: Valentino

GROOM’S FORMAL WEAR: Bespoke Gordon Yao and Allan Edmonds

WEDDING RINGS: Hardy Brothers

HAIR: Liv Lundelius

MAKEUP: Liv Lundelius


CAKE: Hello Naomi

CATERING: The Wild RabbitKrinklewood

CELEBRANT: Lucy Suze Taylor

WEDDING VENUE: Redleaf, Wollombi


TRANSPORT: Coach and Country Tours

OTHER: The Party Hire CoThe Wedding DesignerAshdown and BeeKoch & Co