A Very Durham Wedding

Some people dream of hosting their wedding in their hometowns - services at their family church, reception catered by their favorite restaurant, childhood friends pouring through the doors.

At least, I assume some people have these dreams. I often find myself trying to make the imaginative jump from my mindset to the mindset of a person who grew up in one place. But having lived in four different states and two countries by the time I started college, with family scattered across the country and friends around the world, I literally have no clue what it's like to be that person.

My husband, on the other hand, was born and raised in a small Virginian town, where he happily lived until college. Wait, that's a lie - he was born 12 miles away in a neighboring town. He gets upset when I neglect that fact.

The point is, I can't relate to his hometown, he can't relate to my lack of hometown - and with literally no geographical middle-ground at which to gather our family, when we were deciding where to get married, the most logically illogical thing to do was to create our own hometown. 

Our first big move was from our college town in Fredericksburg, Virginia to Durham, NC. It's where we cosigned our first lease, adopted our first puppy, and started trying to become "real adults." He proposed following an evening at the NC Opera and we celebrated at Rue Cler, where we promptly and coincidentally ran into friends. His law school friends threw us an engagement dinner at Taberna Tapas, my bachelorette party traced a zig-zag through downtown Durham and ended at 21 C Hotel, and our rehearsal dinner was at Mercury Studios. It was, in short, a very Durham wedding that weaved together our family history, personal travels, and aspirations. In honor of our first wedding anniversary, I've decided to share our photos and tips for a very Durham, budget-friendly wedding.

When it came to choosing a location, comfort and accessibility for guests was our first priority. After touring several places, we settled on the place that had initially stolen our hearts - the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. We decided to dedicate a chunk of our modest budget to the not-so-modest deposit, and got creative in saving money in other aspects of the wedding. 

My wedding party got dressed in a nature education classroom, immediately bringing out the 5 year old in all of us.

My wedding party got dressed in a nature education classroom, immediately bringing out the 5 year old in all of us.

As a bride, I didn't have the patience for wedding dress shopping. I bought mine from a great little bridal consignment shop in Denver while visiting family, and made it my own by wearing my great-grandmother's opal earrings and borrowing my mother's Tanzanite ring from Cayman Islands. 

As a bride, I didn't have the patience for wedding dress shopping. I bought mine from a great little bridal consignment shop in Denver while visiting family, and made it my own by wearing my great-grandmother's opal earrings and borrowing my mother's Tanzanite ring from Cayman Islands. 

At a place as gorgeous as the Gardens, we felt silly spending any more money than we had to on flowers. I fell in love with the unique and natural creations of Eco Flower and patiently waited for the Black Friday sale - nine whole months before our wedding. It meant storing a large box of wood flowers in our closet, but it also meant spending less than $200 on flowers for the entire event, and I still get to enjoy my bouquet a year later! 

I have three big brothers. Andrew has two big sisters. It seemed common sense to us to have gender-neutral wedding parties, and while we got some strange looks, I wouldn't have traded it for anything.

With a big, complicated family and very little patience for staged portraits (especially in the hot August sun), we were worried about overbearing or insensitive wedding photographers. Luckily, a friend recommended Allie Mullin, who turned out to be exactly the style of photographer we needed. Our "official" photos were done in 15 minutes, and though we barely noticed her and her assistant discretely moving through the wedding for the rest of the night, we were delighted to see that she captured every sparkling moment of the wedding. 

My husband and I have different religious beliefs, and we initially struggled to find an officiant who would accommodate both our beliefs and our budget without making it a *thing*. Thankfully, we discovered Rev. Barbara Lodge, who matched our laid-back style with an incredible aura of warmth and understanding, delivering the perfect wedding ceremony. 

I designed our programs using Canva and printed them at Kinko's - fancy, right?? Our programs doubled as fans, very important for an outdoor wedding in August!

For ceremony music, we elicited the help of an amazing Duke grad student recommended by a friend. Hannah graciously and comfortable accepted our odd ceremonial music (classic songs for seating, "Goodness Gracious" by the Heligoats for my entry song, and "This Will Be Our Year" by the Zombies for the exit music). We recruited our best man and maid of honor to design a playlist for the reception, and while we made our own requests, we ended up being delightfully surprised by several "Hamilton" songs that they snuck in as well!

Barbara was far better at color-coordinating than I was. For the bridal party, I requested a color range (peachy-coral-ish) and offered a few suggestions ("I can't walk in heels, so I don't expect anyone else to,") and otherwise let the ladies run with it.

Catering was provided by the exquisite Durham Catering Company, which offered a myriad of creative and reasonably-priced options. We were so excited to provide our wedding guests with NC staples like pulled pork, fried chicken, and I'm literally still getting complements on the pimento mac and cheese. 

The cake presented a logistical challenge, as neither my husband nor I could stomach the high prices of the traditional wedding cake. We decided to go laid-back and family style, placing medium strawberry bundt cakes on each guest table to provide both center pieces and dessert. Big Bundts Bakery was the easiest (and tastiest!) bakery in the world to work with, and I couldn't have been happier with our cakes.

The wedding table cake used for the ceremonial cutting.

The wedding table cake used for the ceremonial cutting.

To cater to our sizable pint-sized crowd, I created a "Wedding Survival Kit" consisting of an activity book, crayons, mini Play-Doh tins, and a scavenger hunt with disposable cameras.

To cater to our sizable pint-sized crowd, I created a "Wedding Survival Kit" consisting of an activity book, crayons, mini Play-Doh tins, and a scavenger hunt with disposable cameras.

Most of our decorations were handmade. $1 picture frames from Ikea and maps from an old atlas provided the perfect table numbers; rock candy was the perfect snackable favor. Our escort cards featured mini-Polaroids from our travels (we met while studying abroad in Europe; later, Andrew and I both lived in Switzerland for a summer). Meanwhile, our alcohol was provided by family around the country, giving a nod to our respective hometowns and mixing up the drink selection.

Yes, I messed up the East Coast a bit. The East Coast is tricky, don't judge.

Yes, I messed up the East Coast a bit. The East Coast is tricky, don't judge.

Eventually, the evening dissolved into a melange of music, dancing, singing, and reminiscing. I could rave forever, like any bride could, but I will spare you all. If anyone wants to know more about working with these vendors, I am more than happy to chat - I couldn't recommend them enough! 

Photography by Allie Mullin Photography

Day of Coordination by Jessica King of Happily Ever After, Raleigh

Location: Angle Amphitheater and Doris Duke Center at Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Catering by Durham Catering Company

Cakes by Big Bundts & More Bakery

Ceremony Music by Hannah Josephson

Officiating by Rev. Barbara Lodge

Hair by Thomas Dunn Studios

Make-Up by Caroline Benner

Rentals by American Party Rentals