A Vintage DIY Rustic Wedding on a Ranch in California
Hillary and Aaron
When Hillary Amborn walked into a friend’s Christmas party in 2006, Aaron Bergantz was the first person she saw. It was love at first sight and they hit it off. Five years later, she said yes to a lifetime together, and on August 18, 2012, they got hitched. Hillary, a freelance creative director and artist, and Aaron, a general contractor, put their skills to work on the ultimate collaboration -- she would design and craft and he would build. The setting for their nuptials? The couple's ranch in San Luis Obispo, which they purchased less than a year before their wedding. The 1920s farmhouse was the perfect venue to show off their California country style.
Hillary designed the invitations as a mini magazine, filling each with a few special photos, beloved quotes from Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, artwork, and a short interview in which both the bride and groom answered the questions "I am," "you are," and "we are." "Love your love" was used thematically throughout the wedding -- a phrase Aaron spoke one day and it stuck ever since. The cover read "Love your love, forever forth" with the a large "love" printed on cardstock and the words that follow hand-stamped onto a vellum overlay. Hillary's stitched each book on her sewing machine with rose gold thread.
Also included in the stationery suite were the particulars: the location, where to stay, what to do, and the various festivities taking place over the weekend. The first page of each booklet was sprinkled with gold glitter, and everything was bundled with thin rose gold rope. RSVP cards printed on kraft paper were clipped inside, and prompted guests to share a favorite recipe or a "recipe for success" along with their response.
Hillary's dad addressed each envelope in cursive, and they were mailed with a collection of old postage featuring ships. They were sent from a post office that allowed Hillary to hand postmark the envelopes.
After trying on new dresses at a few places in Los Angeles, Hillary found a 1940s ball gown from Trini's Treasures at the Rosebowl Flea Market. "I saw something sparkling in a corner booth," Hillary said. "It was the perfect dress, and I thought, ‘If this fits, it is meant to be.'" The gown zipped right up just as the sun came out, making it quite a moment to remember. Costing only $250 it was a steal -- Hillary only needed minor adjustments before the big day with help from her seamstress.
Aaron wore a chambray suit by Billy Reid for J.Crew, a white J.Crew shirt, Chippewa boots, an H&M bowtie, and vintage suspenders from Stag Vintage Goods. A tiny piece of tulle and a rose comprised his boutonniere as the perfect accompaniment to the bride’s bouquet and dress.
Vintage beading took centerstage on the bodice of the bride’s gown. She added a fuller skirt made of tulle (bought at Michael Levine) for the ceremony plus a veil that was stained peach to match.
Hillary borrowed some of her grandmothers' jewelry from her mother to wear at the wedding. For the ceremony she wore a pair of pearl earrings and a tiny initial bracelet from Gorjana & Griffin that was a gift from a friend. A friend's Sabika Jewelry crystal necklace and vintage locket changed her look for the reception.
Simple bouquets and arrangements matched the country surroundings. The bride carried a clutch of garden roses, spray roses, lisianthus, ranunculus, Veronica, mint, sage, lavender, Queen Anne's lace, stalk, dusty miller, gray brunia, indigo, and thistle with vintage lace and French cord wrapped around the stems.
Hillary's attendants wore a mix of vintage and new dresses in shades of white, ivory, nude, and blush. Later in the evening, they added Levi's jean jackets to keep warm.
The girls sported also boots, just like the bride, who rocked a pair of lace-up Fryes.
A Familiar Face
Bridesmaid Leanne's wedding was featured in Martha Stewart Weddings and was full of DIY details executed with help of talented friends and family, just like Hillary's big day.
A Gift for the Guys
Aaron gave his groomsmen customized axes with their initials carved in the handles.
A Local Touch
Lavender from a friend's property (where the couple keeps some of their beehives) was set out in small muslin sachets for guests to toss after the ceremony. Hillary stained the bags with tea and rubber stamped them with the couple's monogram.
Their Beloved Pup
The couple's dog Foxie walked down the aisle and watched the entire ceremony. "She got treats from 175 people that day," Hillary said.
The Bride's Entrance
Hillary's father Howard escorted her down the aisle to the clearing in the backwoods of the couple's property. Two friends played original songs they had written for the bridal party’s entrance. "They were beautiful Celtic songs that flowed through the trees and the air," Hillary says.
The groom and his friends handcrafted the wood benches guests sat on and a stage for the couple to stand on during the mid-afternoon service. Hillary and Aaron wrote their own vows, each adding a special touch: His rhymed while hers featured " Carry Your Heart" by e.e. cummings. There was a handfasting ritual that mimicked old European ceremonies and celebrated love and nature during which they held hands and used old lace Hillary had held on to from her grandmothers to bind themselves together -- a practice that long ago birthed the expression of "tying the knot."
A Symbolic Service
The couple planted a tree together to show their love of nature and for their new home together that's nestled in the canyon of an oak forest. They watered the sapling during a special portion of the ceremony while the officiant read: "May your relationship and your love for each other be like this oak you have planted. May it grow tall and strong. May it stand tall during whatever storms may enter your life, and may it come through unscathed. Like the oak, your marriage must be resilient. It must weather the challenges of life and the passage of time. And you must nurture one another as you will nurture this tree. A little nourishment is needed every day so you can each grown and reach your fullest potential -- just like this tree."
The Wedding Portraits
Post-ceremony, the couple had their portraits taken by Alexandra Creswell for Cameron Ingalls on their property and down the road at the apple orchards.
To keep things as environmentally friendly as possible, the couple used vintage Mason jars as drinking glasses. A station was set up so guests could label their glasses for the celebration. The appetizer plates and forks were also compostable, and additional items used at the bar, during dinner, and throughout the day were also recycled.
Aaron and his brother Kyle enjoy making beer, so Kyle made all of the brew for the big day. Each of the seven varieties had their own label, designed by the bride, including one sporting the happy couple’s canine companion.
Carved with Love
Friends of the happy couple loved their custom monogram so much they carved it into a tree near the bar.
The Escort Cards
Escort cards were typed by Hillary and were personalized to each guest. Names were followed by "You are" and a personal statement about the guests. Examples included "You are the kindest, nicest, beach bums," "You are all adventure travelers of the world,” and “You are the decanter to my wine and life."
The Grand Entrance
The bridal party lined up at the entrance to the reception area, and doled out high-fives as the couple passed. Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros' "Home" played and everyone was all smiles.
The Guest Book Station
A custom guestbook made from her paternal grandfather’s old highway patrol binder sat on a table the bride has owned since she was 18. A stack of vintage suitcases belonging to her grandparents was set nearby to incorporate the couple’s love of travel and represent the adventures their marriage would bring. Also on hand was a typewriter for guests to type their well wishes. "I remember my grandmother typing on hers all the time when I was young," Hillary recalled. "It's a fond memory I have, so I typed many of the wedding details." The finishing touch was a hand-painted sign made by the maid of honor.
A mix of dinner plate dahlias, wax flower, stalk, gray brunia, Queen Anne’s lace, Veronica, lisianthus, French lavender, indigo berries, thistle, scabiosa pods, dusty miller, mint, baby’s breath, and sage filled glass jars and vessels collected by the bride. The long tables were covered with linens and napkins tied with twine and a sprig of lavender or thistle which were also gathered by Hillary.
The All-American barbecue feast used lots of California produce: chicken marinated with fresh lime and lemon juice, roasted garlic, olive oil, and fresh basil; whole seasoned Santa Maria-style tri-tips with salsa fresca; spicy heirloom pinquito beans; roasted red, purple, and white rose potatoes with fresh herbs; grilled seasonal harvest vegetables; farmers’ market green salad with basil balsamic vinaigrette; and grilled Italian bread.
The First Dance
The newlyweds hit the dance floor to "Rose of My Heart" by Johnny Cash.
A Hot Hangout
The father-of-the-bride’s old tent that traces back to WWI was the focal point of an alternative lounge area. Just outside was a s'mores station, tree stumps and old army cots for sitting, wool blankets to keep cozy, and a Polaroid station.
A three-tiered cake boasted a trio of flavors: vanilla cake with orange zest for Hillary, red velvet for Aaron, and a top layer of carrot cake. Vanilla cream cheese frosting enrobed the confection that was topped off with a few fresh flowers. Matching cupcakes were also served.