Our $25K Fusion Wedding Felt Like a Fancy Dinner Party for 95 Guests

Plus killer mehndi and two dresses

shawna & luke 

SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE: A well-heeled summer evening with our closest family and friends.

LOCATION: San Rafael, California

Where we allocated the most funds:

Food, Drink, Photography, and Venues. We chose a photographer soon after we found our wedding venue, and making those two big choices right away helped us stay true to our vision. We knew we wanted someone we could be completely comfortable with and who was focused on capturing the day as it was, versus trying to make us look like a magazine spread. Turns out Emily is a new friend whom we would have happily invited as a guest, and her photographs are EVERYTHING!

We had three days’ worth of events, so having Shawna’s parents chip in to plan those helped tremendously. They planned and paid for the food for the Mehndi/Henna Party and The Night Before. We VASTLY over ordered beverages for the weekend. Better than the alternative, but we returned what we could to BevMo (contrary to what we’d heard, they wouldn’t take the wine back). We are still drinking wedding wine a year later, which is kind of fun.

If there’s one thing we’ve heard non-stop after the wedding it’s that everyone loved the food. We are so glad the idea of having a cocktail style reception with dinner-weight food worked for everyone. We worked closely with a friend of ours who owns an amazing vegetarian Indian restaurant on a menu that was flavorful without being too spicy for the few we weren’t sure would be open to new things. Everything had to be easy to hold and eat, so he got inventive with form factors. Luckily most of our friends and family are foodies, and the dosa station was a huge hit! We supplemented the veg food with a few meat kebabs, and they blended nicely into the menu. Also, wedding pie FTW. Getting pies locally that were baked the day before was the best decision ever. Our one nod to dietary restrictions was that they made one gluten-free pie, and our friends were so happy. Everything else was luckily easy.

We were lucky to get our wedding and reception venue as an affordable package (it would already have been affordable, but they also mixed up our reservation for Sunday, so we got Saturday at the Sunday rate!) and Shawna’s parents hosted the Mehndi at their house. However, we still had to rent a spot for the Guys’ Night Out/“Man”di (Luke was so proud of that pun we kept it!) and The Night Before. Individually these were all good deals, but adding them together, locations were a big expense.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Decor, Stationery, Flowers, and Location. We intentionally chose a beautiful venue for our wedding, and it didn’t need much decorating, so we kept our touches meaningful and small. We made copies of family photos and bought cheap but nice frames so we could make the house feel like our home for a night. Shawna painted wooden letters and jewel-tone cardstock with gold to provide some tie-in with our loose color scheme. We lucked into the venue deciding to invest in bistro lights, which we had originally planned to rent. Otherwise, we let the home and gardens speak for themselves.

We were going to skip flowers altogether, but at the last minute Shawna’s mom decided she really wanted Shawna to have a bouquet and for the guys in her family to have boutonnières. Shawna described something simple made up of her favorite flowers, and in the end it was a beautiful bouquet. We still took first look and bridal party photos with fans, and the bridesmaids were happy to have fans for the heat of the ceremony! We didn’t use any other decorative flowers (e.g. table centerpieces, aisle decor).

We sent digital save the dates and make a kickass website (Shawna may not have sunk too much time in DIY but spent DAYS on the website and was damn proud of it). Since we had a cocktail-style reception we didn’t need a seating chart or menu, and we skipped programs since we knew the ceremony was going to be short and simple. Shawna stressed on those decisions for a bit, but it’s amazing what chalkboards (for basic directional signage) and little paper flags (for food) can do. The only paper stationery we did use were the invitations themselves, and we kept those simple: a flat invitation, a card describing the times, dates, and purposes of the wedding weekend events, and an RSVP postcard we custom designed to allow people to RSVP for each event. We got the invites from MagnetStreet, since they have coupons and deals all the time and offered three free samples so we could try out colors, styles, and fonts.

What was totally worth it:

GoPro videos of the toasts. This was a gift from a friend. We watch those videos all the time, and they always make me smile (or cry happy tears, let’s be real).

Taking the time to come up with our vision and discuss it. Being ruthless about what was worth spending time and money on and what we didn’t need. Nearly everyone we worked with was a small business or they were on their own so we felt like we had a community of people around us. Working with people we got to know and like meant a lot and wasn’t something we anticipated about the process.

Finding Falkirk was perfection. Friends had been to a wedding there and suggested it. It was the first venue we visited, and I was ready to sign on the spot. Luke made us visit another just to compare, but after that, we couldn’t put our hearts into more of a search. When they mistakenly gave away our Sunday date, we got the Saturday at the Sunday price, which turned out perfectly in the end. Again, the people were so nice and helpful throughout the year plus of planning!

We were engaged for a year and a half, which both gave us time to book things and to relax for a few months before feeling like we had to plan. The timing ended up working out perfectly. I finished grad school, studied for my licensing exam, and waited for the results almost up until the moment of the wedding.

Having a second dress and shoes! I bought an affordable back-up dress ($40 on sale!) and flat shoes I knew I’d wear again just in case.

What was totally not worth it:

Bartender at the wedding. The photo booth (DIY set-up borrowed from a friend). It was fun, but many did not use it, and it would have been one less thing to think about. The biggest disappointment was the hours I spent on the playlist for the DJ who ended up playing mostly his own stuff, though he did pepper in some of our songs (time is healing that disappointment).

A few things that helped us along the way:

Remembering to have a life outside of planning. Yes, most of our evenings were taken up by wedding to-do lists, but we still went out for dinner, went to comedy shows and karaoke nights, watched TV shows, and were ourselves. We had a stressful year with him changing jobs and me wrapping up school so it was key to remember the rest of our lives.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Shawna: Ask lots of questions! You’ve hired experts so use them. I’m so glad we had people to bounce ideas off of and ask for advice. Make a decision and then DO NOT REVISIT IT. Cross it off the list and celebrate. Maybe write something next to it that reminds you why it was the best choice (why it fulfills your vision or was practical) to calm the doubts. I kept a private Pinterest board of concrete decisions made (dress pictures, venue, photographer, etc.) so I had a visual reminder of how much progress we’d made and how our event was shaping up versus the stuff we were being fed that we should like.

Luke: If you have a vision, go for it. BUT, realize that your family has a vision too. Let them be involved early and often to support your vision somehow. Offload events they can own and let them craft it. Be okay that it might be different than you may have created. The calm that involvement will bring far exceeds a few minor differences. Drink calculators are dubious. Simplify drink offerings. Include lots of water for a summer event. If you want photo albums, create an account on Shutterfly. Consider buying something. Once you’re in the system, you’ll start getting great 40 to 50 percent off coupons, especially around the holidays. Great savings! Something will go wrong. Let the planner deal with it. Take solace in the fact that no one but you will know what did not go to plan. Everyone will have fun anyway.

Favorite things about the wedding:

Laughing with my mom, sister, and best friends while getting ready in the morning. My mom’s little *NSYNC song and dance to keep me from crying right before the ceremony. My grandmother tearing up as she gave me my loha. Calling Luke “husband” for the first time right after the ceremony while hiding in a little garden from guests exiting the wedding lawn. That everyone glommed onto the strangest parts of our vows (cucumbers and mushrooms). But actually the days leading up to the wedding were my favorite. Getting to see everyone and seeing my friends and family get to know each other. Hearing someone say, “Oh that’s so [that person],” about someone they’d just met two days earlier. Seeing my parents so relaxed and happy. The biggest delight was how heartfelt, funny, and surprisingly moving the toasts were—the element of the wedding we had no control over. That’s when I was most relaxed and myself.

Other things we’d like to share:

We are so glad we succeeded in creating a wedding weekend that allowed our geographically separated friends and families to really get to know each other. Luke and I met at a monthly live band Beatles karaoke event in San Francisco. We have since continued to go back every month, and he has been adopted into the band as my sister and I had been before we met (she and I are known for our harmonies; now all three of us go up to close the night by singing the last song/medley).

The Beatles’ music is not just extremely meaningful to us, but also to our families, and who doesn’t love a good Beatles song? So we knew we wanted to include that aspect of our relationship in our wedding. Very early on we had the idea of making a private Beatles karaoke night into our “The Night Before,” as neither of us felt the need for a formal rehearsal dinner. That way, we could invite our wider community too and celebrate our marriage with one big shabang (sidenote: I drank SO much tea with lemon the morning we got married). I would not trade that night for the world. My sister put together an amazing slideshow of photos from both of our childhoods and tried to make sure there were photos of everyone present with one or both of us included in the slideshow. So even the people who weren’t that into our karaoke efforts were amused by the old photos or waiting for themselves to appear.

We also carefully included traditions (seven steps, mehndi). I had pictured how I wanted that aspect to be for so long that it was incredibly gratifying to work on the specifics together (so it represented both of us) and then to see it all become real. Nothing was off the shelf about this—we created it together. And I really hope that having these photos and stories available on a site like APW as an example helps a future bride who can see herself represented because there were almost no examples of fusion weddings that felt like what we wanted.

Insisting on doing it together. I am terrible at delegating. So we mostly didn’t give tasks to others, but we did do almost everything together—the two of us. So when people said the wedding was so personal, so much a reflection of us, it was a real vindication of the struggle to keep it close and craft something that was meaningful for both of us.


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