The Wedding Planning Process: Tips + Inspiration
Our wedding day was the dreamiest, most fun and relaxing day ever. I didn’t realize till afterwards that I subconsciously expected it to be a little stressful and to not be able to connect with my friends and loved ones the day of the wedding. None of that ended up being true. As Trenton and I drove towards our hotel after our sparkler exit, we kept saying over and over again how much fun the whole day was. I was giddy with excitement and adrenaline, but also so overwhelmed with gratitude at how perfect our wedding day was.
So I wanted to write about our wedding day - the decisions we made, the people that made it possible, how we managed to stay sane despite overwhelming circumstances, and some tips, tricks, and inspiration for all of you recently engaged couples planning your wedding day!
HIRE A WEDDING PLANNER
This is the biggest piece of advice I can give. Hire a wedding planner, or at least a day-of coordinator. You don’t need your mom or someone who should be focused on being present on your day, or worse - someone in your wedding party, calling the shots… because someone has to call the shots. You know, someone to tell people when to walk down the aisle. Someone to make sure everything is going as planned and according to schedule. Someone to make sure there are utensils to cut the cake with, and to make sure you get to eat (trust me - I know people that didn’t get to eat at their wedding), and to make sure your family and wedding party walk down the aisle at the right time, and that the sparklers get passed out and lit in time for your grand exit. It can get messy and incredibly stressful, real fast if you don’t have someone designated to call the shots. I cannot stress this enough. And I’d highly recommend that you pick someone who actually has a lot of experience planning + coordinating weddings. One person (that is not you) that has all of the details, all of the plans, will coordinate with the vendors, and can be the point person for anyone and everyone that needs something.
We hired one of our friends that is a wedding planner here in Nashville. I literally do not know what we would have done without her. Neither one of us knew the first thing about planning a wedding - what we should be done when, what vendors we needed, what we even needed… Cindy helped us on so many fronts. She calmed us down when we got super overwhelmed by all the decisions that had to be made and all the options there were available and how much money everything costs. She gave us really practical steps and even gave us advice on how to stay connected to each other during that season of intense planning, and made sure we sent out thank you notes to people helping us along the way.
Basically, Cindy is a total boss. She walked us through the whole process and made sure we weren’t forgetting anything, and that our day was what WE wanted it to be. She had the plan and knew the big picture, so by our rehearsal dinner, I had passed off everything to her (decorations, plans, guestbook… everything), so I was able to relax and enjoy our families and actually get some sleep the night before. The day of the wedding, I didn’t have to worry about a single thing, because I knew Cindy had everything taken care of, and she would problem solve + fix anything that came up. She had her own team of people working to help decorate and set up, so our wedding party could spend the day with us and our families could just show up and enjoy the day.
Please. For the love. Do you and your fiancé and your families and everyone else involved in your wedding day a favor and hire a wedding coordinator.
I cannot say enough good things about Cindy, and I cannot tell you emphatically enough how important hiring a wedding professional is. I’ve been a part of weddings where there was not a coordinator at all, and you do NOT want that stress on the day that is supposed to be the best day of your life. Things go very badly. People don’t know where to go, you end up having to make decisions the day of instead of being able to defer to someone you trust, things fall through the cracks, you might not get to eat because they run out of food by the time you get back from pictures… the list goes on. Please. For the love. Do you and your fiancé and your families and everyone else involved in your wedding day a favor and hire a wedding coordinator. Better yet, hire Cindy because she’s a total boss.
CHOOSING YOUR WEDDING PARTY
We kept our wedding party very small - I chose three bridesmaids, and Trent picked three groomsmen. We decided pretty early that this was something we felt pretty strongly about, and we didn’t regret it a single step of the way. The events leading up to the wedding, and our wedding day, felt so much more intimate and peaceful with just a few of our closest friends by our sides.
I’ve been in weddings that had 20+ people in their wedding party, and in my experience, things have gotten a little messy. Now, if you are really that close with that many people - by all means, go for it - having a big wedding party can be fun! But asking your fiancé’s sister that you don’t really know that well to be one of your bridesmaids isn’t an awesome idea. You are way less likely to encounter unwanted drama if you limit your wedding party to close friends that you trust and who you know have similar values as you!
On this topic, when picking your maid of honor or best man, I’d HIGHLY recommend asking someone that lives in the same area as you. Asking someone that lives in a different state can get tricky when it comes to planning showers and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Also - keep in mind that these two people will most likely be giving speeches at your reception, so… choose wisely.
DETERMINE YOUR PRIORITIES
This is your day, and you get to decide exactly what it’s going to look like. Your day doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Yes, there are traditions that people follow, and are fun to follow. But you don’t have to keep to every tradition. As much as the wedding industry would like to have you think - there are no rules for what it has to look like. Don’t care enough to deal with an itchy garter and everyone staring at you while your husband digs up your dress to grab it? Don’t do it! I sure didn’t. Decide what’s important to the two of you, and let the rest take a back seat.
For us, providing a sit down meal for our guests was one of the most important things to us. I really wanted to serve it family-style and to all be at one long table in a field outside somewhere. Creating + cultivating community around the table is one of the things I love the most, so I was pretty adamant about this one.
Between the venue we ended up choosing, and not being able to find a catering company that we could afford that would also serve food family-style, we decided that we were willing to compromise and to be content with at least being able to provide a sit down meal for our guests.
The key to wedding planning is to decide what’s truly important to you, but to also be willing to compromise when needed. Our wedding day looked NOTHING like I thought it would. But it ended up being a million times better than anything I could have dreamed or hoped for.
Even though we couldn’t make one long table work, I was able to create a seating chart that made it the most conducive for connection (as possible) for everyone. It took quite a bit of extra effort on my part, but because this was one of the most important things to me, I was willing to do anything I could to make it what I wanted it to be.
CHOOSING YOUR GUEST LIST:
This is a hard one. We went back and forth with this one for a long time. Between my husband and I, our network of family and friends is HUGE. Like… insanely huge. My husband’s family alone (like close family - not distant relatives) consists of 40+ people. My close family is pretty small, but I’ve moved around a ton and been a part of so many different communities over the years that this task seemed impossible. My husband is a pretty intense extrovert and loves to connect with people everywhere all the time. He knows pretty much everyone in Nashville. That’s a bit of an exaggeration… but not by much.
Like I said, one of our biggest priorities was making sure we could provide a sit down dinner for all of our guests. Not just a nacho bar or heavy hors d’oeuvres, but a full meal. So since that was a high priority for us, inviting 300+ people was not an option for us, logistics-wise or budget-wise. So we had to cut our lists WAY down, which was really hard for us at first. We slashed our numbers over and over and over again. But the more we cut it down, we started realizing that one of our other values was having something that was more intimate and relaxed. Sure, we could have gotten WAY more gifts from our registry if we’d decided to do something cheaper for food so we could invite more people, but we knew what our priorities were, which made the other decisions easier. We ended up having a relatively intimate wedding, by our standards. We invited about 150 people, and I think we had 110 RSVP. It was the perfect compromise based on the things we valued most.
Figuring out your priorities and what you value most as a couple will be the driving and determining factor on everything else. The faster you do that, the less stress you’ll have.
Another thing that you have to decide when choosing your guest list is whether or not you’re going to allow people to bring their children. Depending on where you are in your stage of life and on your community, children could take up a large portion of your guest list if you decide to include them. This was another hard decision (because our friends have really cute kids), but because of our priorities and venue capacity, we decided to only allow kids within our family to come.
CHOOSING YOUR VENUE
This started out as one of the most stressful parts of wedding planning for us. Nashville is a wedding destination city, so the amount of venue options are overwhelming, and the costs extreme. We had no idea where to start, so we just started researching places. We visited a lot of places that seemed amazing online or on paper, but were less than desirable when we got there.
Turns out, trying to cut costs and have your wedding outdoors in a field somewhere can be at least as expensive as booking something with all the amenities that you need.
Things like generators, lights, sound systems, portable bathrooms, somewhere acceptable for food and drink prep, etc. etc. can add up REAL fast. I found places a little out of town that were at least half the cost of some other venues in town, but that was the base price before you added all the things necessary to actually make an event with 100+ people happen.
The way we ended up picking our venue was incredibly unconventional. Our wedding planner goes to the same church as we do, and one day after listening to our frustrations and freak out moments, suggested that we ask God for a dream of where we should get married. Obviously there was nothing to lose by asking, so before going to bed, we asked for a dream about our wedding venue. The next morning I woke up bummed, because I’d only had stressful work-related dreams. When I saw Trenton the next day, he was giddy with excitement. He said he’d had a dream about an old mansion called Riverwood Mansion. He’d woken up around 4am and googled it, and it was a real wedding venue in East Nashville! The photos on the website looked like my Pinterest board that I’d created to find inspiration for our wedding! He’d never heard of it before. I’d actually already heard about it, but I just assumed it would be way too expensive for us because I thought they only did all-inclusive packages. I was wrong. They didn’t have our original date available, but to make a very long story short, we ended up choosing Riverwood Mansion as our venue! It was the dreamiest venue ever! Again, it was nothing like what I would have picked or expected or dreamed of, but it was so much more beautiful and perfect and extravagant than I could have imagined.
CHOOSING A PHOTOGRAPHER
I was just really getting into photography during the time we were engaged. Trenton, my husband, has been a studio + portrait photographer for years. I knew he would have way stronger feelings on picking a wedding photographer than I would, so I told him that he could pick. We ended up spending WAY more than I ever expected to on photography, but it was absolutely 100% worth it. Trenton had been following Nicola Harger for a long time, and as soon as I brought it up he immediately said - her, we have to hire her. I am obsessed with Nicola’s style - the way she is able to capture emotion and moments is insane, and she was so easy to work with. She shoots more documentary-style than from a shot list, which freed us up to just enjoy our day while she moved around, hardly noticed, to capture all the tiny moments that you would expect to get lost in all the hustle and bustle.
I am so glad we decided to place a high value on our wedding photos. It can be really tempting to ask a friend who owns a camera to shoot your wedding to keep costs low, but 10, 20, 50 years from now, you’ll be happy you chose to hire a professional to capture this once in a lifetime event. These are photos that will be passed down to your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. These are photos that are meant to last - make it count!
If you’re in the market for a wedding photographer, do yourself a favor and check out Nicola’s work!
She’s based in Nashville, but is a destination photographer! Her work is seriously breathtaking and I cannot recommend her enough. Trenton and I worked with Nicola earlier in 2017 to create a video capturing her vision and approach to wedding photography which you can view here.
We decided not to hire a videographer for our wedding. It wasn’t a high value for either of us, even though Trenton used to shoot video for weddings. We decided that having high quality photos was way more important to us. We didn’t want to spend the money on it, and we also didn’t want our photographer to have to shoot around video guys. I know that having video is super important to others, which I love - I know some really incredible wedding videographers! It just wasn't important to us, so we opted out of that one.
I would definitely recommend inviting your fiancé into the planning process. I think there’s probably a lot of expectations that the guy won’t care or be interested in wedding planning, but I just don’t think that’s true of all guys. It certainly wasn’t true for me.
Can I just take a minute to brag on my husband? He was AMAZING during the whole process of planning our wedding. We made nearly every decision together, figuring things out as we went, working through the hard stuff as a team.
In a lot of ways, I think the wedding planning process set us up to succeed in marriage. Wedding planning can get really stressful, but working together makes it so much easier to navigate it when you both are committed to finding creative solutions to the things that inevitably come up.
Like everything else when it comes to weddings, your rehearsal dinner can look like whatever you want it to look like. A lot of venues let you rehearse in the space the night before, but ours didn’t. Our wedding was on a Sunday, and they had a wedding there the night before which meant we had to come up with a creative solution for our rehearsal dinner. Now, while our wedding party was really small, our combined families were not. My family lives here in TN, but Trenton is from Phoenix, and his whole (very large) family planned to either fly or road trip to Nashville that week. Because we wouldn’t get to spend much time with his side of the family, we wanted to make sure we could invite all of them to the rehearsal dinner. Which made things a little tricky with 50+ people and 8 children when everything was said and done.
We were trying to think of creative solutions, and the only thing that seemed to make sense for a group that large was a backyard barbecue. That would allow the kids to play outside and we’d have plenty of room to spread out and time to mingle. Now, our wedding was the first weekend in June, which meant that it would most likely be very hot. But this seemed like our best option given our priority for connection and good quality time with our families.
After asking around, a couple from our church, Fred + Ginny, so kindly offered to host our rehearsal dinner in their backyard out in Leiper’s Fork, TN. Their home is out in the country so there was plenty of space, and plenty of green for our Phoenix family that is used to dry, brown landscapes to experience. Fred even bought an epic, industrial-sized grill to be able to grill enough meat for everyone. It was absolutely perfect… except for the heat and intense humidity and bugs. But as it got dark, the fireflies came out and began to light up the sky. The kids had never seen them before, so they were all out chasing and catching these little fireflies. It was such a fun + sweet time to get to spend time with everyone before the wedding.
By this point, I had handed everything off to Cindy, our wedding planner, so my only job was to have fun and relax from then on.
I am a cake snob, because my mom is a cake professional. I’ve been eating her cakes my whole life, and any time I eat someone else’s cakes I’m disappointed. I don’t have many tips about this topic, because I didn’t go around town tasting different cakes, because I already knew whose was the best. So my only tip would be this: hire my mom. She is the best. Her cakes are the perfect combination of delicious flavor and breathtaking design. She even does fake cakes that can be paired with her sheet cakes if you want an epic wedding cake on a budget.
I had my mom make our wedding cake, because of the aforementioned reasons. HOWEVER - I do not recommend doing this, and I probably wouldn’t make that decision again if I could go back and change it. It ended up being more stressful for her than it was worth, and it took time away from her being with me, which makes me sad. BUT - people were raving about our wedding cake for weeks, so...
I love old books - I love the way they look, the way they smell, and the way they feel in my hands when I hold them. I also love handwritten letters. My friend Abigail, who started Ink + Honey, makes gorgeous custom journals using old books, and she offered to create our wedding guestbook for us as our wedding gift! I was so incredibly excited - I own around 8-9 of her journals because they are so beautiful. The result was perfect and matched our subtle decor and the extravagant venue perfectly.
When my wedding planner asked me where I wanted to get ready before the wedding, I realized that I’d never even thought about that. We couldn’t get into our venue until 2, so I’d have to decide on somewhere else. When I was a bridesmaid a couple of years ago in my friends’ wedding, we got ready in a friend’s salon that we booked out. That worked really well then, but I wanted something a little more low key. I called Alaina, one of my lady friends who is an amazing writer and incredible hostess. She and her husband live right around the corner from Riverwood Mansion, so I thought it could be perfect! I asked if she would be willing to let me and my bridesmaids get ready in their home, and she so graciously said yes!
I have such a high value for hosting well, that getting ready in such an intimate and beautiful setting was literally a dream. Alaina hosted us so well - she made blueberry scones from scratch and had fresh fruit and mimosas waiting for us when we arrived. Her husband (our DJ) created an amazing Getting Ready playlist to get the vibes going right away.
Getting to relax and hang out with some of my favorite and closest lady friends was the perfect way to start my wedding day and set the tone for the rest of the day!
One of my other favorite lady friends, Morgan Jae, did my hair + makeup for the day. She is a professional makeup artist in town and is so incredibly talented! We get to work together from time to time on photoshoots which is super fun! We had a couple of makeup and hair trials the months leading up to the wedding to get my look just right!
FIRST LOOK: Yes or No?
People get incredibly passionate about this one. There’s nothing quite like seeing the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time as she walks down the aisle. It’s priceless.
This was a hard decision for me. I wanted to see that look on Trent’s face when I walked down the aisle. As a professional photographer with a high value on our wedding photos, Trenton wanted to do a first look to ensure we got enough time with our photographer to get some stunning images, and not take a ton of time away from our guests. Trying to get quality photos of the two of you, on top of family photos, can get very time-consuming if you try to knock it all out between the ceremony and the reception.
We went back and forth on this one for a while, but I ended up agreeing to do a first look with him before the ceremony, and looking back, I’m so glad that we did. Without a first look, we wouldn’t have had a moment alone, just the two of us, until later that night when we were in our car driving away. It was yet another moment we got to just relax and breathe it all in.
It was such a sweet moment that we were able to spend alone before everything started.
We’d planned to have our ceremony outside in the garden at Riverwood Mansion, but between the intense humidity and heat of June and all of the rain showers that morning, we decided to have the ceremony inside. I was more than happy to make the change - the inside of the mansion is even more beautiful than the outside! The decor reminds me of places I’ve been in Europe, which was an added bonus. And being inside gave a much more intimate feel, which I loved.
There were some extra hurdles we had to jump with the change of plans, but our wedding planner and the staff at Riverwood were amazing and took care of everything!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed a theme, but being flexible is incredibly important when it comes to planning your wedding! Again, take the time to figure out what’s truly important to you, and commit to being flexible from the very beginning. It will save you a ton of frustration! That doesn’t mean that every single detail can’t be absolutely, 100% intentional.
When you’ve already decided what is and what isn’t as important to you, it frees you up and enables you to make really intentional decisions every step of the way.
Our ceremony was absolutely beautiful. We asked a couple who we greatly admire + respect, Alyn and AJ, to officiate our wedding. They are pastors at the church we are a part of. We asked them because they’ve both been key to so much of the healing and growth in mine and Trenton’s lives over the years. We were so happy that they agreed!
We had one of our friends, Jessie Early, perform a couple of worship songs during the ceremony. One of them was a song that she and Trenton had written together years before that we happen to run across! If you’ve never heard of Jessie - check out her recent EP! Ya’ll - it’s so. good. She has the voice of an angel - the Nashville Scene named her best local pop artist of 2017!
While I’m on the subject of people I love… you guys. If you haven’t already picked up on it, literally every single vendor we used, outside of the venue and catering, were friends of ours. Every. single. one. I am so thankful to live in a town and be in a community filled with such creative and talented people!
Inviting our community into our wedding process was so much fun, and made the day so special.
Our reception was seriously so much fun. Even today, 8 months later, I’m still in awe and amazed at how much fun we had at our wedding. Our biggest goal was to throw one heck of a party for our friends and family, and it was a success on all fronts.
Because we’d already taken most of our photos together, and family photos didn’t take long, we were able to just relax and be present with our friends and family.
We were able to provide a sit down dinner for all of our guests, and I had everyone seated with people I knew they would click with and be able to enjoy conversation with. The food was definitely a star - CJ’s did an amazing job with the catering!
After our first dances were out of the way, and we’d eaten, we were able to walk around and visit with our guests before the speeches and cake cutting. Nicola stole us away briefly to take a few more photos at twilight, but the rest of the time, I barely saw her because she was moving around documenting everything so effortlessly, without us having to stop and pose for everything.
The real MVP of the reception, though, was our DJ.
Live bands can be so much fun, but they require way more equipment and time to set up than hiring a DJ. Hiring a DJ made the most sense to me, because they are able emcee the whole reception, and, in my opinion, there’s way less room for error. I was at a wedding with a live band a couple of years ago, and an amp or fuse or something blew maybe 10 minutes into them playing! Everything came to a screeching halt, and the couple ended up leaving way earlier than scheduled. I’ve also been to weddings with live bands that have been a blast! Just make sure you have someone designated to emcee the evening!
Our DJ, who happens to be married to Alaina (the friend whose home we got ready in), was AMAZING. Not all DJs are created equal, so do your research! Our friend Blake doesn’t DJ much anymore, but he graciously agreed to come out of DJ retirement for our wedding (thanks, Blake!). We picked the songs for the ceremony and our first dances, but we entrusted the rest of the night to him. We so trusted his taste in music that we didn’t pick a single song. And it was the best wedding playlist I’ve ever heard. There was not a single cliche’ wedding song in the whole set and it made me so. very. happy.
Because of popular demand, Blake created a Spotify playlist with all of the music from our reception for everyone to enjoy and share. With his permission, I am super excited to share our Reception playlist with you, as well as our Getting Ready playlist that he created just for us!
The reception was held in a built-in tent behind the mansion, with only fans to keep us cool in the midsummer humidity and heat. And yet, everyone danced. The whole time. We were all sweating like crazy, but nothing could keep use from grooving the night away thanks to Blake’s killer DJ skills. Ya’ll - our reception was bangin’. Even some of my Baptist family members were out on the dance floor grooving. I get giddy just thinking about how much fun that night was.
As we drove away after our sparkler exit, we sat there in awe of how perfect the whole day was. We kept saying over and over, “That was so much fun!”.
Our wedding looked nothing like I thought it would - it was a hundred times better than I could have ever dreamed. Every single detail was so authentically us, and we had so much fun. By determining our priorities early on, we were able to make really intentional decisions that resulted in the most delightful, relaxing, enjoyable day ever.
Vendors and other Helpful Links:
Wedding Dress: Posh Bridal Couture Nashville
Makeup/Hair: Morgan Jae
Nails, brows, etc.: Poppy + Monroe
Hair cut + color: Sierra Wilson
Photographer: Nicola Harger
Wedding Planner: Cynthia Diane Events
Guestbook: Ink + Honey
Venue: Riverwood Mansion
Cake: Cakes of Nashville
Bridesmaids Dresses: David’s Bridal
Groom’s + Groomsmen’s Suits: H&M
Wedding Bands: Consider the Wldflwrs