When it came to our marriage, we took an approach which I thought was quite quirky, but am finding is actually very common among couples from different countries. We decided to have two weddings. Our first was a family only wedding in London on August 23, 2016. It was our proper, legal wedding, and the date we refer to as our anniversary. The second will take place in July 2017, also in the UK, and is more of a celebration. While a religious blessing will be involved, this wedding is more of a party and an excuse for me to wear a (real) wedding dress!
We are just over a month away from the big wedding and I have so much planning to finish up, but I can’t help but spend time thinking back to the ease and simplicity of our first wedding. We were nervous and jittery and a bit all over the place (it was our wedding day after all!), but we had so much fun and really enjoyed the day because there was essentially no effort involved prior to or on the big day. I want to share our approach to a family only wedding in case there is someone in a similar situation, or someone who just doesn’t want the fuss of a big white wedding.
Our Family Only Wedding
It wasn’t until we had a family only wedding that I realized what a great idea it was. A family only wedding allows you to truly enjoy your big day, and worry about the stress that comes along with planning a big wedding and entertaining others later. Of course, it’s not practical for everyone to host two weddings, and there are a few extra costs involved; however, for those who are dealing with fiancee visas or on a short time frame for another reason, it’s the perfect way to avoid cramming your wedding planning into a few short months.
There is not much planning involved in a small, registry office wedding. The hardest thing was finding a date, and that’s because it 100% relied on registry office availability. In the UK, it’s required that you give notice of your impending marriage at least 28 days prior to the marriage. We called to book right after I got my fiancee visa. They got us in as soon as they could, which ended up being in July! We were thankfully able to book our wedding at the same time we booked the notice appointment, but even then they didn’t have availability for the room we wanted until October. We opted for the bigger room, which also cost more, because it was available in August.
Other than the who ordeal with the registry office, all other planning just involved getting family the correct information and making reservations for hair and dinner. It was a surprisingly effortless process – I didn’t have even a single stress blemish on the big day!
Our ceremony took place at Lambeth Town Hall (or at least their temporary space at the time). We live in Lambeth and, at the time of booking, I didn’t even know you could book registry office weddings in other boroughs. It ended up working out perfectly, though. We were surprised by how nice they made the room that the ceremony was in look, and how little we noticed it when we were up at the front with sweaty palms.
Because UK and US ceremonies are so different, I knew nothing about what to expect going into it. The ceremony ended up being quite short, and the registrar did everything to make us feel at ease. We only had a few blips when repeating lines and both of us managed to put each other’s rings on the correct finger, so it was a pretty successful ceremony in my opinion! But it was August in London, so we were beyond happy when we could finally run out the doors into the fresh air, as husband and wife of course!
There were definitely some cheesy aspects to the registry office wedding, such as the opportunity to take a photo with a photo of the queen, but we had fun with it and made the most of the setup they offered us.
Since this was a family only wedding, we chose a reception where we could do what our families do best – eat and drink! We booked a private room at Hutong at the Shard, one of mine and Sean’s favorite restaurants. Our ceremony started at 3pm and we thought it would last longer, so we booked dinner from 6-9pm. However, we were done at about 4, so had two hours to kill. Naturally, we went to the pub! Because Hutong is at The Shard, we made our way to London Bridge and found a pub nearby. We settled on Bunch of Grapes, a nice casual pub where we could relax and let the fact that we were married soak in.
Once it was time for dinner, we headed over to The Shard and into our private room. Hutong private dining is absolutely remarkable – our wine glasses were topped up before we even realized they were nearing empty, the food was delectable, and the ambiance is perfect. Not to mention the stunning views over London. Because the sun sets so late in summer, we arrived at Hutong in full sunlight and stayed through the sunset, which allowed us to admire London in all shades. We ended the night back at Bunch of Grapes (I told you our families like drinking!) before heading home and passing out in bed.
No matter how big or small your wedding, it’s the details that really stand out in your memories. The most important thing in many brides’ eyes is the photographer and the beautiful photo album that comes with them. Since we knew we were having a big wedding, we decided against a photographer. Instead, Sean’s sister and my sister-in-law snapped away, and we couldn’t be happier with how they turned out! Ironically, we actually did our engagement shoot with our wedding photographer the weekend after our family only wedding. You can check out some of the photos in this post.
Our family only wedding consisted of, well, family only. My parents both flew over from the U.S., and my brother and his wife came from Germany. Sean’s parents live in London, so it was easy for them to join in; his brother came down from up North, as did his sister and her boyfriend. There were 11 of us in total, which was the perfect amount to feel that there was an audience without it being too overwhelming.
I didn’t think much about the look for this wedding until the month of. I knew I’d wear a short, white dress, but not the exact one. After browsing the Internet for awhile, I ended up finding a white, summery Madewell dress in my closet. I bought it after we got engaged when I was in ‘all things white’ mode, but had not worn it yet. It was PERFECT and even matched the romantic look I was going for. I had my hair done at Love Hair Brixton, just a short walk from my house, and did my own makeup with my everyday look, plus a pink lip and a bit of shimmer.
Flowers & Accessories
I kept my accessories very simple, and followed the typical wedding traditions. My something borrowed came from my sister-in-law – the little flower earrings. For something old (and also something blue), I wore a sapphire ring my mom purchased when I was born and passed down to me. The something new was my brand new pair of blush L.K. Bennett pumps, which I purchased after convincing myself I’d wear them to the big wedding, too. Other than that, I carried and wore items that I had around the house – the little dainty bracelet Sean gave me for Christmas one year that is always on my wrist, and a clutch bag. We both went with simple wedding bands from Beaverbrooks Jewellers.
We had a florist near us, Birksen (Clapham Old Town), do the flowers and they did a lovely job producing a simple and romantic bouquet & matching boutonniere to go along with our them for the day.
Uber is to thank for both 1) almost making us late for our wedding, and 2) getting us everywhere we needed to be on our big day. Our families piled into Uber after Uber to get to the ceremony, get to dinner, and then get home that night. So thanks Uber!
The Day After
Sean and I had plans to spend a weekend in Bratislava at the beginning of September, so we did not plan any sort of ‘honeymoon’ after our family only wedding. Instead, we took the following day off work and just enjoyed life! Sean played golf with my brother (which is essentially a honeymoon in a way!). I, on the other hand, had my first day of wedding dress shopping for the big wedding, followed by afternoon tea with my mom and some of the girls.
We had so much fun at our ‘real’ wedding with only our immediate family there. However, we are also so looking forward to celebrating with friends and family at our big wedding in July!