How We: Planned Our Intimate Malibu Wedding Weekend

With only the people we wanted there

Terri & Lily

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: An intimate semi-destination wedding weekend at a Malibu Mansion with only the people we wanted to be there, the best food, twinkling lights, and lots of sparkling wine.

Planned Budget: Our original budget was $15,000. Once we had a clear vision of what we wanted for our wedding and reached the conclusion that not everything should be DIY, we reached our ultimate budget, which was $30,000.

Actual Budget: $30,000

Number of Guests: 52

Where We Allocated The Most Funds

We fell in love with our venue the minute we laid eyes on it—a beautiful Malibu Mansion, high up in the mountains, surrounded by twenty acres of land, a custom rock-face pool with waterfall and slide, and incredible views everywhere you looked. We also loved the idea of extending our wedding to a full weekend of fun and time spent with our favorite people in the world. Our venue cost more than our caterer and rentals combined. It ended up costing $8,000 to rent Friday–Monday but it served as more than just a venue. It also served as accommodations for us and our wedding party for the whole weekend. The mansion was a beautiful venue for our ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception that required little to no decorating. Renting a house for a weekend meant that we had more time to ready the house for the wedding, we weren’t going to be kicked out after the wedding so we could go as late as we wanted to, and we knew where our wedding party was the day of the wedding. If we had any inebriated guests, we had plenty of room to put them up for the night. We were also able to lounge around all day by the pool and hot tub and drink all the leftover alcohol and eat all the leftover food the day after the wedding. We had plenty of time to clean up after the wedding and didn’t have as tight a time constraint for the rental company to pick up the rentals.

Since we rented a house, we had to also rent everything we needed for the wedding. This included tables, chairs, tableware, and lighting, which came out to about $2,300. We were able to find some things online and we repurposed certain items we found in the house, but we had to purchase and rent just about everything we needed for all the wedding events.

We really wanted a seated dinner, and since our caterer was reasonably priced, we opted to also add a cocktail hour, coffee service, and a fruit platter. We wanted to make sure people ate as soon as the ceremony was over and that there was something to munch on throughout the day. We requested some extra meals for unexpected guests and planned leftovers bringing our final total to $4,000.

We decided to purchase our own alcohol, which did save us some money, but we did still spend about $1,300 on alcohol. We were told to purchase the alcohol from Costco so we could return the unused portion, but we decided to purchase alcohol we were willing to keep and drink if it went unused. We went wine tasting at the San Antonio Winery and found wines we really loved and bought several cases of those. We also went to the BevMo Five Cent Wine Sale and bought some wine to try out. We went back the next day to buy cases of our favorites. Terri loves whiskey, so instead of having a full bar, we had a whiskey bar. Any whiskey that went undrunk just added to her personal collection at home.

Where We Allocated The Least Funds

We opted to print our wedding invitations at home. We used a Wilson kit that cost about $30 for twenty-five invitations. We saw no point in hiring a calligrapher or having the invitations printed when we had a perfectly good printer at home. Wilson has some great kits for wedding invitations that just require a little bit of work to put together. In the end, we received a lot of compliments on our invitations.

We used Zazzle for all our custom stamps, save the dates, and programs, and they all turned out wonderful. We used a local chocolatier, Mignon Chocolate, for our wedding favors. They made our favorite passion fruit flavored dome chocolate even though they had just recently discontinued it. The only decorations we purchased were flameless candles and fairy lights, which were purchased from Costco and Instead of a guest book, we found little notecards and envelopes on Etsy that we asked our guests fill out. We were also very lucky to find a Marlene Dietrich style suit for rent at Friar Tux and an Audrey Hepburn style dress at David’s Bridal that combined cost less than $1,000.

What Was Totally Worth It

Our venue was the most extravagant thing about our wedding, but we think that is what made our wedding so special. We were able to spend time with our friends and bond with them in a way we never had before. We were up the mountains several miles and a long winding road away from civilization where there was no cell reception and no other signs of life outside the twenty acres of land we inhabited. We were isolated and felt as though we were on our own little island together. We had no place else we would rather be and no real responsibilities, which allowed us to enjoy one another’s company.

Our caterer was incredible! We chose Louise’s because that was where we went on one of our very first dates, and we have always loved the food. There was no way we could have predicted just how amazing they actually were. Every one of the staff members—the catering manager, the wait staff and the bartender—was kind, supportive, and there to lend a helping hand with anything that was needed. Every one of my guests commented on how much they loved our caterer and how they took care of all our guests’ needs. We were so blessed to have Amy, the catering manager, there to take care of us.

We were so grateful to our wonderful photographer. Evangeline Lane went as far as to climb the roof just to get a good shot. She is exceptionally talented and has a really good eye. She and Evan captured so many extraordinary shots that we will treasure forever. The day we were to board the plane back home from our honeymoon in Kauai—a depressing day, for sure—we were immediately revived by the sneak peak of our wedding photos that Evangeline had uploaded to her blog with the loveliest words to accompany them. We were so touched by her kind words and her kind acts. We don’t know how to thank her and Evan enough for immortalizing our special day with their wonderful photos and for their exceptional kindness.

While we chose the most expensive flower, the orchid, as our wedding flower, we went with small arrangements for our bridesmaids, and understated arrangements for the tables. We visited a few florists, but we made an instant connection with Rickie at Mulberry Row who worked within our budget and helped us achieve the look we wanted for our wedding and found us ways to save some money including buying some of the supplies from the flower mart.

Our cake cost about $800 for sixty people. We found cakes that cost less but none were as unique and delicious as the cakes we found at The Butter End Cakery. Kimberly is a brilliant artist who hand-painted black orchids on the white rolled chocolate that covered the cake. The cake was so perfect and beautiful that it was mistaken for a present.

We put a lot of work and hours spent on Spotify choosing some good music and giving DJ Cave a good idea of exactly what we wanted. He did a very good job filling in the blanks and making sure the music flowed smoothly. One of the things we wanted for our wedding was a full dance floor, and it was full until the very end of the night.

What Was Totally Not Worth It

We hired a day-of coordinator who showed up late wearing casual clothing to a formal wedding, did nothing more than stand in the way, stare at her phone, and randomly pop up to ask inane questions that could have easily been answered by the binder that was left for her that had every wedding detail outlined. Our friends and our caterer picked up the slack and they are the only reason our wedding went by as flawlessly as it did. When they realized what a dolt our coordinator was, they immediately plucked the binder from her hands and went to work on the set up and coordination for the wedding.

For our rehearsal dinner, we rented a hummer limo to drive us down the long and winding mountain road to Buca Di Beppo, which was about eleven miles away from the house. We had considered hiring a cook or a caterer but didn’t want to dirty the kitchen the night before the wedding day. The drive down wasn’t the worst, but we all became very ill on the drive back up the mountain especially after consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Even though one of us puked, it was a wonderful bonding experience that, nonetheless, we will never do again.

A Few Things That Helped Us Along The Way

Dropbox and OneNote were the two most useful tools in our arsenal because they gave us access to all the information for our wedding no matter where we were. We used Microsoft OneNote to help create a digital notebook for our wedding. It helped keep us organized, and held all the inspiration we found for our wedding, all our ideas and research, and notes from our meetings with our vendors. We used Dropbox to store all our contracts, receipts, and anything we couldn’t attach to the OneNote notebook. We also used Dropbox to create separate folders that we shared with each of our vendors. This allowed us to share files with them and provide them with all the information they needed. They were all very grateful for the ease in accessing the information they requested.

Our wedding would not have gone as smoothly if it weren’t for our friends. They helped clean up the property and get in shape for the wedding, took over as our day-of coordinators, cooked for us when we were too stressed to even think of eating, and fixed problems before we even knew we had them. We are forever grateful for them and grateful we chose such an unbelievably wonderful group of people to stand by our side on one of the most important day of our lives.

We both have very little family left in our lives but the family we have created around us make us feel truly blessed. One of our “family members” lent us a German bridal cup that was a part of their family’s tradition to use in our wedding. It added a very beautiful personal touch to our otherwise short and simple ceremony.

My Best Practical Advice To My Planning Self

We planned every detail of our wedding and had a contingency plan for just about everything and anything that we thought could go wrong. Our friend dubbed the theme of our wedding contingency-chic. We rarely asked for help planning or preparing for the wedding. The day before our wedding, when we were to take possession of the rental property, we were told that the property had been sold. We were assured that the property was still ours for the weekend, but the new owners had not prepared the property for our arrival. My entire wedding party helped us get the house ready for our wedding.

What we realized was that there is no way to plan for every wedding disaster. We made the best of a bad situation and it brought us so much closer to our friends and bonded us all for life. We also realized that the people you choose to stand by your side are there for more than just decoration. They are there for you not just for the one day but for the rest of your lives.

With all the obstacles that were thrown at us on our wedding weekend, we will always see it as the perfect weekend, and we would not have had it any other way.

Favorite Thing About The Wedding

Our favorite thing about the wedding was the ambience during the reception created by the globe lights overhead and the classic floating candle arrangements, which cast a warm romantic glow. Lily especially loved surprising the guests with her costume change and belly dancing. Our favorite thing after the wedding was singing to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” with our wedding party, getting rick-rolled by our DJ at the end of the night, taking a group shot with everyone including the catering staff and DJ, and finally piling into the four person hot tub with our entire wedding party (what Sunny, our bridesmaid, referred to as “human soup”).

Other Notes

We considered DIY-ing several aspects of our wedding including going to the flower mart early in the morning and doing our own flowers, but I’m grateful we opted to hire professionals. We hired some amazing vendors that really took the pressure off of us during the wedding day and were just an incredible group of people that we would love to be friends with. There are so many things that can go wrong when planning a wedding; it is reassuring to know that people who do this more often than you are at the helm to steer the ship back on course.


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