How We: Pulled Off A Two-Day Wedding

An intimate Friday ceremony followed by a blowout Saturday party. Win-win.

Stephanie, Photographer & Eric, Lawyer

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A two-day wedding weekend in wine country with both an intimate family-only ceremony and dinner reception on Friday and a fun, colorful, deliciously dance-filled fiesta reception on Saturday for our friends and extended family.

Planned Budget: $25,000

Actual Budget: $26,500

Number of Guests: 55 for Friday and 150 for Saturday

Where we allocated the most funds:

For the Friday ceremony and dinner reception, we spent the most on our photographer, with the restaurant/dinner being second. For the Saturday fiesta, it was definitely the food.

Where we allocated the least funds:

Decor. We DIY’d pretty much everything, with the help of a few talented friends. Our family collected glass bottles for us leading up to the wedding, which I spray-painted white and used as centerpieces for both Friday and Saturday. A dear friend of mine gifted us her floral talents, and she put together my bouquet, all the boutonnières and corsages, and the centerpieces with flowers I chose at the San Francisco Flower Mart the day before the wedding. My husband loves making limoncello, so he made a batch using his great-uncle’s old recipe, which we put in cute little bottles from Michael’s and gave as favors to our family on Friday. For the under-twenty-one family members (and the two pregnant ladies!), I made a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and gave them each a few in little take-home gift bags. For the Saturday fiesta, we reused the centerpieces from Friday, along with dozens of large tissue paper flowers and twinkle lights for decorations. The venue was so beautiful already that we didn’t have to do much, just a few small touches to create the fiesta atmosphere.

What was totally worth it:

Food and photography for Friday were definitely the two most important things for us. We wanted an intimate ceremony with just our immediate family, first cousins, aunts, and uncles in attendance, but we also wanted to celebrate with our friends and extended family (my husband comes from a very large Italian-American family, so there are lots of second cousins, great-aunts, and who-knows-how-we’re-related-but-we-are folks). My family lives in Texas and Eric’s family is spread throughout California, so this was probably one of the only times we’d be able to have everyone from both sides all in one place. Our goals for the Friday event were to a) document the day and all of our loved ones in a beautiful and artistic way and b) make sure everyone filled up on delicious food and ended the day with happy hearts and tummies.

For the Saturday party, we wanted a beautiful but laid-back and casual environment to hang out with our friends and extended family without totally breaking our budget, which is no easy task for a wine country event with 150 people. Taking the time to research alternative options for wedding venues in the Sonoma area (besides the obvious and somewhat pricey wineries) was frustrating at first but ended up providing the perfect location for the garden party fiesta we envisioned, while saving immensely on cost. Thank goodness for public parks!

What was totally not worth it:

We went rogue and relied on our friends and family to take photos on Saturday, rather than hiring a pro to be there. I know, I should know better, but I honestly believed I’d be taking a lot of photos, too, considering I’m rarely without my camera. But when it came to the actual event, I just wanted to be with my friends and eat and dance. If I could re-do the weekend, I would’ve found a way to work enough into the budget to hire a professional photographer to capture our Saturday reception, too.

Also, our playlist for the Friday dinner reception was so not worth it. It’s fun to have now, but I spent HOURS creating that playlist, timing the songs to what point in the meal they’d most likely play and listening and re-listening to the “flow” to make sure the songs were all in the right order. When it came to the actual dinner everyone was caught up chatting and visiting so no one paid attention to the music. Plus, our little iPod speaker system wasn’t quite powerful enough for the outdoor space we were in, so you could barely hear it anyway!

A few things that helped us along the way:

Well, as far as the “How do I do this?” help, A Practical Wedding was my top resource. I’ve been a reader (and vendor!) for a long time prior to getting engaged, but I never really explored the site from a “planning mode” perspective. I even ordered Meg’s book the day after we got engaged and kept it on my desk until after the wedding. As far as practical help, we had amazingly kind and generous friends and family who volunteered to help with bits and pieces along the way. We didn’t have an official wedding party, but our loved ones provided their services in whatever way they were comfortable out of the kindness of their hearts. Everything from floral arrangements to day-of coordination to folding and fluffing dozens of tissue paper flower decorations was done with a little help from our friends.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Let others contribute! It took me a while for me to accept all the offers of help because I felt like I should be doing it all on my own, especially since we didn’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen. I didn’t want anyone to feel like they HAD to do things like DIY projects or vendor coordination. But once I understood their offers were sincere expressions of love, I was able to accept the help and let go of a lot of stress. Your loved ones most likely want to be involved in the day because they want to show their support for you in this next phase of life, not because they feel obligated, so accept it and enjoy the party!

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Eric and I decided to walk down the aisle together, so we arrived at the church before our guests and hung out in the Bridal Room off to the side of the church entryway. The two of us spent the time hanging out, taking selfies, and watching through the stained glass window as our families arrived for the ceremony. It was the most peaceful and relaxing part of the entire day, and it was just for us.

Other Notes:

Tradition just for the sake of tradition doesn’t really feel authentic to me, but traditions that hold meaning for us or our families were definitely worth honoring and upholding. Even though our wedding day had a lot of very traditional elements to it, we were committed to personalizing the day as much as we could. We had a Catholic ceremony with full Mass included, but personalized it as much as we could with readings by each of our parents and by choosing our own music for the processional and recessional (“Sea of Love” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” respectively), which my talented sister-in-law and her boyfriend graciously sang for us. I ended up choosing a more traditional dress than I originally imagined, but instead of a veil, I wore a vintage necklace that belonged to my great-grandmother as a hairpiece by having my hairdresser pin and tuck the ends into side braids.

Even our flowers had a personal touch: I surprised Eric by incorporating yellow roses into my bouquet and his and his father’s boutonnières because the yellow rose was his late grandmother’s favorite flower. There’s a sense of peace and connectedness that comes with knowing that you are doing the same thing that your grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on and so on have done in the past, but being able to customize that experience in a personal way made it all the more meaningful and significant to us.


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  • Sarah E

    I love the necklace in your hair! I noticed it immediately in the picture of your going down the stairs. It is stunning in that placement, and the family history is so special!

    My grandma gave me a necklace of hers and mentioned I might wear it on my wedding day. . .well, my dress has a high neckline with sparkles already, so I was planning on just doubling it around my wrist instead. The hair idea is such a good one, too!

    • Stephanie

      Thank you. :) I was originally planning on wearing it as a necklace until I ended up choosing a dress with a high neckline. I’m not big on bracelets so the hairpiece was the only other thing I could think of!

  • Lena and Aggy

    I just smiled really big because my guy wants a very fun, casual laid back Maine boat-race style wedding and I want a dance party. And we both want small, but we also have very wonderful and loving friends we want to invite. This is like an awesome (and affordable) hybrid and just makes me so, so, so happy.

  • Rachelle

    We’re dress twins! It looks absolutely amazing on you and I LOVE the necklace as hairpiece. Genius!
    I have my post all typed up and ready to send as soon as I choose pictures, but now I’m wondering if APW would run two how we did its with the same dress on both brides and both in Northern California. Editors, still worth sending in?

    • Hannah B

      I’m not an editor but really your wedding was your wedding and likely very different…could be a cute side by side! Same dress, two brides, show off your different style! Or whatever. Orrrr they could always wait a year to run it and no one will recall it’s the same dress at all! :-) I’d submit it and let the editors sort it out.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Thank you for including your church information.

    I think your Saturday venue is a great example of how hard it can be to find good venues. I poked around the website for a few minutes and found no information about reserving the spaces for special events.

    • Stephanie

      I know – the website is terrible! We found it just by driving around Sonoma and looking at park spaces. I just happened to run into a ranger, who gave us the email address of the events coordinator. It almost felt like pure luck that we found it.

  • ErinRose

    Your wedding looks beautiful and memorable.

    My partner and I are also planning a wedding with a small (50-60 people) ceremony/dinner and a large (150-170 people) party, and for many of the same reasons: large family, intimacy of the ceremony, throw-down booze-fest.

    My concern is for the people who are only coming to the party, but who might not be interested in getting down on the dance floor (I’m picturing my coworkers here) – what will they DO? There won’t be dinner as a central event (just drinks and desserts), and they won’t get to watch a vow-sayin’, ring-exchangin’ ceremony either. So they’ll come, they’ll mingle (?), and then… they’ll leave?

    Did you feel the need to ‘program’ the reception? Did you feel like guests were lost without a structured, central event?

    • Stephanie

      Hi ErinRose! We didn’t really feel the need to ‘program’ the reception. We made it clear from the get-go that it was more of a party than a traditional wedding reception, so our guests knew there wouldn’t be all the typical wedding reception events. We set up lawn games in one area (bocce and horse shoes) and had some board games set up with rented patio furniture but that’s about it. Of the 150+ guests, I’d say maybe only 25 to 30 were actually out on the dance floor at any given time but between the lawn games, the open bar, and the big guest list, most people kept themselves entertained just chatting, mingling, and drinking!

  • Hope

    I really love your dress.

  • beautiful wedding arrangements. happy to see this type of wedding. thank you for sharing the beautiful memories with us.

  • Colleen

    That DRESS! Can anyone tell me the designer? It’s beautiful.

    • Rachelle

      Pronovias Brisa :)