Over 100 Guests Camped Out for This Couple's Wedding Weekend in California
Zai Divecha and Phil Reyneri were in the same group of friends in San Francisco but weren't close. For a long time it didn't occur to Zai to get to know him better because they were just so different. "I don't think either of us—or any of our friends—expected us to be a good match," she explains. But one day, a switch flipped. They both recall having a feeling that it was the right relationship for the long run.
After two-plus years together, they went on a road trip to rural Oregon in the middle of winter. The ground was covered with snow, there was no Wi-Fi or cell reception at the cabin they were staying at, and the couple had put on their pajamas, made some tea, and cozied up on the couch. Phil suggested they take turns answering the "36 Questions that Lead to Love" from The New York Times. Question 11 was "take four minutes to tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible." They both summarized their lives up until present day. Then Phil pulled out the ring and asked if Zai would marry him. She burst into tears and they laugh-cried together for a while. Suffice to say, their lives changed at that moment.
Three summers later, over the last weekend in May of 2018, they journeyed an hour down the coast to Red Gate Ranch in San Gregorio, California, to get married. Both artists—she makes installations out of pleated paper, and he's a creative director at an augmented reality startup—used their creativity to dream up a wedding weekend unlike any other. On the big day, 181 guests joined them in celebration, and most camped out in a city of luxury tents set up by Shelter Co., who also planned the weekend. The multi-day celebration was tinged with elements of a music festival, hippie culture, traditional Indian and Hindu motifs and references, a relaxing retreat, and sweeping views of nature. After a welcome dinner, the wedding day began with coffee, brunch, and a dance lesson that resulted in an energetic Bollywood-style dance during the reception—at which many guests had fun until the sun came up.
Seventy-one sleeping tents were set up by Shelter Co. to house 136 guests on the property for the weekend. Guests started to arrive on Friday afternoon and were greeted by the bride and groom. "My face hurt from smiling so much," Zai says. "Within the first 20 minutes I was already having the best time ever."
Since guests were staying in the great outdoors for the weekend, showers and bathrooms were brought in from Oasis Express. Their sauna was also a major highlight that gave guests a fun break from the main activities. "You never knew who you'd meet in there at various hours of the day or night," Phil says. "I tried to go at least once a day, and it often gave me the opportunity to have longer conversations with our guests."
The Happy Couple
Zai was going to wear a white button-down tucked into high-waisted jeans but went for something a bit more femme and fancy at the last minute. She ended up in a black velvet gown and a glam jacket to keep warm as it was a chilly night. Phil wore a black jacket over a patterned button-down shirt and black pants.
The Welcome Dinner
The night before the wedding, guests gathered in the reception tent for a seated dinner catered by Fogcutter. Patterned napkins added a fun touch to the décor.
Add Some Toppings
Gourmet toppings were set at each table for guests to customize their chili dinners.
Brown Paper Design decorated tables with small, but colorful, clusters of flowers in teal vases.
Have a Seat
Lounge areas allowed the conversation to flow. After the couple welcomed everyone, their parents spoke briefly and explained how excited they were to have everyone camping with them. A handful of mehendi artists did henna for any guest who wanted it, and everyone stayed late to chat and hang out. Some people gathered around the firepits and some explored the property during the low-key gathering.
"Doing a multi-night event made the schedule more flexible for guests and allowed us to actually see everyone," Phil says of kicking things off with the casual event.
The Morning Of
Saturday morning was misty and chilly, so before breakfast opened, the early risers bundled up and gathered around the espresso bar for cappuccinos and fresh fruit from Frog Hollow Farm. Some warmed up in the sauna, others hiked around the property, and then before brunch, Zai's favorite yoga instructor taught a class.
Their Festive Attire
On the wedding day, Zai wore a sari by Sabayaschi that she found in Mumbai. It was the second outfit she tried on and it was everything she wanted: elegant, understated in color (at least by traditional Indian standards), narrow in profile, and finished with beautiful detailing. "I'm half Indian and half white, and I went to many Indian weddings growing up," she explains. "I've always known I wanted to wear Indian clothes for my wedding." And while most Indian brides wear red lehengas, Zai chose an off-white sari—even though she often wears black clothing and accessories. She incorporated a few darker details with an eggplant-colored manicure, dark berry lip, and a few deep green accents on her sari.
Phil's jackets, pants, and Nehru-collar shirt were all from Advani London—a company that makes Western-style menswear with subtle Indian details. He rounded out his ensemble with black velvet penny loafers by Magnanni for Neiman Marcus, which matched his jacket.
Zai's mom and sister helped her tie her sari on—a complicated process involving lots of pleats and tucks and pins. The bride's closest friends were also on hand, playing guitar and singing some of her simple songs. Right before the ceremony they serenaded her with a surprise, three-part harmony rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young—which had her in tears.
A bindi and rhinestones were placed on Zai's forehead for the occasion.
The Bridal Bouquet
Brown Paper Design used a mix of white flowers and greenery, with a few pink blooms here and there.
Alapi Bhatt of Henna Creation applied intricate designs to Zai's hands and arms. Zai's sari (and the natural setting) anchored the color palette and the style of the wedding—"outdoorsy nature festival with a little Indian glam thrown in."
Quality Time Together
"We took a weekend trip about a month before the wedding in order to write our vows," Zai says. "We holed up in a cabin in the Redwoods just outside of Guerneville, California, with our dog, and no other agenda other than to spend quality time together and write a first draft of our vows to one another." The couple did reflection exercises to get started—setting a time for four minutes and answering prompts like "three things I respect about you" and "three things I need your help with." After writing quietly on their own they would share. "We had some lovely conversations," Zai says.
The next morning, based on some of the themes that emerged the night before, they penned a set of vows. "That trip allowed us to really enjoy each other, take a break from the wedding logistics, and just reflect deeply on the next chapter of our partnership. I highly recommend carving out some time with your partner a few weeks before the wedding," notes the bride.
Here Comes the Groom
Phil, the couple's dog, Simi, and Phil's mother walked down the aisle to "Don't Let Me Down" by the Beatles. Phil has had Simi longer than he's known Zai, so it was fitting that they entered the ceremony together.
When it was time for Zai to make her debut, she entered solo to the sounds of an acoustic guitarist playing "Latch" by Disclosure featuring Sam Smith. "My most memorable image from the weekend by far was Zai's face as she walked towards me," says Phil. "Her tears of joy interspersed with laughter was such a distinct mixture of emotions. It's seriously going to be etched into my memory forever."
Zai remembers the moment just as vividly. "Seeing our whole community gathered in one place, it was so much more emotional than I even expected," she says. "I burst into tears as soon as I got close enough to see each person's face. It was beautiful." Something that made it that much more special was that Zai had emailed guests and asked that they not take any photos or videos during the ceremony. She told them that she didn't want everyone to be looking at her through the screen of their devices and that she wanted eye contact. For her, the result was powerful.
The Customized Ceremony
The couple wrote most of the ceremony themselves—not just their vows. They decided to forego a traditional Hindu ceremony in favor of having a close friend marry them. They did incorporate motifs from Hindu weddings that felt significant and modified them to be more appropriate. The service took place on a hill with a drop behind it. Décor was kept simple to showcase the natural landscape.
One Hindu ritual they tweaked was the ceremonial fire. Instead, they had an oil lamp with one candle. For the seven steps around the fire that each symbolize a blessing, they opted to share seven core values they would commit to upholding in their partnership.
In addition to exchanging wedding rings, Phil also placed a mangalsutra (a traditional necklace) on Zai.
Fun with Friends
The couple skipped having official bridesmaids and groomsmen and instead encouraged their friends to wear whatever made them feel fabulous and festive. Many ended up borrowing Indian outfits from Zai, her sister, and Phil.
The Reception Tent
After cocktail hour on the lawn, everyone journeyed down the hill to the main event in a sailcloth tent. Long wooden tables were set with white linen runners, black Heath Ceramics plates, rose gold flatware, and simple floral arrangements of grasses, white anemones, and greenery.
On the Menu
Zargosy designed all of the stationery for the big day, including these menus, which took the couple's minimalist, modern aesthetic and seamlessly incorporated traditional Indian batik print patterns. Table numbers were printed on the patterned side while the meal was outlined on the other side. Componere Fine Catering prepared a fresh take on Indian flavors with plenty of vegan and gluten-free dishes in the mix.
Later on, instead of cake, a masala chai and assorted desserts were served. And since most folks were camping out, it was fitting that there were s'mores to be made at the fire pits.
Comfy and Cool
Graphic, upholstered furniture was set atop rugs to make cozy lounge areas. Potted plants surrounded the poles of the tent to warm up the space even more.
It Takes a Village
"It really was like planning our own mini outdoor music festival," says Phil. "The Shelter Co. crew had everything figured out down to the last detail," Phil says. "All the infrastructure from the kitchen to restrooms to power had to be brought in and laid out. They drew from countless years of experience with this kind of event."
The First Dance
"Turn Me On" by Norah Jones played as the couple enjoyed their first dance. "It conveys a sweetness and longing that resonated with me and Phil," Zai says.
A Choreographed Routine
Guests performed a Bollywood dance routine for the newlyweds, who thought only a handful of people would participate. "We were shocked to see that over half of them got up to perform," Zai says.
Zai's sister had led an instructional dance rehearsal earlier in the day—after posting a series of videos on the couple's wedding website to help everyone learn the basic routine. "I excused myself so that the actual choreography would be a surprise," Zai says. "But I was told that she was a hilarious and charming instructor and that she whipped them into shape. Many said the rehearsal was their favorite part of the whole weekend!"
Photography, Kindred Wedding Storytellers
Location, Redgate Ranch
Event planning and sleeping tents, Shelter Co.
Flowers, Brown Paper Design
Videography, Shark Pig
Bride's sari, Sabayaschi
Wedding bands, Emi Grannis
Hair and Makeup, Kelly Jo Makeup and Hair
Henna artist, Henna Creation
Groom's attire, Advani London
Groom's shoes, Magnanni for Neiman Marcus
Lighting, The Lux Productions
Sauna & Outdoor Showers, The Oasis Express
Yoga, Neil Wadhawan
Espresso Bar, Goodhart Coffee
Styling, Bridelan India