A Backyard Wedding in New York with a 1920s-Meets-Secret-Garden Theme
As a freshmen in August of 2006, Joanna attended an Oberlin College alumni legacy luncheon during orientation weekend—both of her parents are alumni. Alex, also entering his first year, was there because his father is, too. "Upon seeing Joanna, my mom gave me a nudge," Alex remembers. "When Joanna and I got to talking, oddly enough, it turned out we grew up 10 minutes apart, but had never met before." The two became fast friends, and turned their friendship romantic their senior year.
Nearly 12 years after they met, Alex brought Joanna to the historic childhood home of Theodore Roosevelt and they found a walking path they had never seen on previous trips. The trail led the couple along the harbor, and Alex decided spontaneously to pop the question. Even though the couple had been together nearly nine years—and Alex had asked Joanna's parents for permission to propose almost a year earlier—the proposal came as a complete surprise to Joanna.
The duo immediately knew they wanted an outdoor garden wedding, and after touring a few venues, they realized that the perfect location was right in front of them: They decided to invite 150 guests to Joanna's parents home in Old Westbury, New York, an estate that dates back to 1905. "It has a lot of unusual features that really make the property special, like the old stables and greenhouses," Joanna says. "The landscaping still has plantings that have been here for more than a hundred years." The entire wedding took place outdoors—and, luckily, missed Hurricane Dorian by a single day. They took on the majority of the planning themselves, with Joanna focusing on the design details and Alex taking charge of the hospitality elements; Aab Creates helped them execute the details on the day of, while Hohm Collective directed the design.
The invitation suite, created by Ettie Kim, was printed on off-white handmade paper with foil-press black matte lettering. The neutral envelopes were calligraphed; the reply slips were black with gold lettering. "We wanted our invitations to be representative of our overall vision for our event—refined, with a simple elegance and a naturalist feel," Joanna explains. The suite was wrapped in twine, finished with vintage postage, and sealed with a floral wax stamp. All postage held significant meaning to the couple—an Ohio stamp nodded to where the couple met and others depicted their passions and hobbies.
Joanna found the wedding-dress shopping experience challenging, as she was on the hunt for an option that would fit the outdoor setting. At an appointment at Saks, she tried on a sleeveless Naeem Khan gown with a V-neckline, cowl back, and tons of beading. As she tried on others, she realized that this was the gown to beat. Once she found her Chloe crushed velvet platforms, the vision for her big-day look came together. "There were a few times that I thought maybe I found the dress because it was the best I had seen so far, but nothing made me feel special until I finally found the one," Joanna says. "I am happy I kept looking! Just like with your husband, don't settle!"
Since she was going for a 1920s-inspired look, Joanna spent some time researching bridal styles from that time period, which informed her headpiece: She donned a ballet-length circle veil with a Jennifer Behr floral crown on top. As for jewelry? She borrowed vintage pearl drop earrings from her mother and wore her grandmother's engagement ring, along with a vintage ring from Alex.
Alex wore a bespoke two-button navy blue suit paired with a custom white collared shirt by Martin Greenfield Clothiers and a medieval floral-print silk tie by Brioni. He also wore Ferragamo shoes and a Brunello Cucinelli linen pocket square. For the finishing touch, Alex wore his father's suspenders. "For me, it was meaningful to wear something from my family," he says.
Joanna asked her bridesmaids to simply wear a dress that fit within their color palette, which consisted of natural white, cream, pale green, and dusty pink. "I wanted to give them the freedom to pick something they loved and would hopefully wear again—or maybe even something they already had in their closet," Joanna says.
The bride held a natural bouquet, created by Bourgeon, of seasonal greens, lisianthus, dahlias, sweet pea, eucalyptus, heirloom garden roses, daucus dara, and pincushion flowers, which was wrapped with a plant-dyed silk ribbon; bridesmaids held petite versions of her own.
The First Look
The couple shared a first look in a wooded field on the estate's grounds, surrounded by mature trees and raspberry bushes. With so many vendors setting up and getting ready, the couple was grateful to have a moment alone, away from the noise. "Right around the time of the first look I started to feel the nerves kick in," Joanna says. "I actually caught a glimpse of Alex pulling up in the car from upstairs. After he was whisked away, I was told it was time. This is when it really started to feel real."
We Are Family
Following their big-day reveal, the couple posed for a few portraits with their family and wedding party.
Signing the Ketubah
Ahead of the ceremony, Joanna, Alex, and their families stepped into the library to sign the ketubah.
The Ceremony Setup
The couple's nuptials took place outside on the lawn, where wooden chairs were set up facing the altar; age-old trees created an Old-World garden vibe. Large textural flower arrangements were placed in tall white urns on either side of the aisle entrance.
Joanna and Alex love tackling hands-on projects together, so they decided to build their own chuppah. They gathered branches from the woods, drew up a design, and put their power tools to work. "We were so proud of our work and the ceremony felt that much more special," Joanna says. "It really felt very symbolic of the life we were about to embark on together."
A vintage cart offered yarmulkes for male guests and dried petals for a post-ceremony celebratory toss.
The Ceremony Music
Joanna and Alex worked closely with their band to plan the music for the day; they were excited to have a mandolin player present. Alex made his way down the aisle with his parents to "The Man in Me" by Bob Dylan, while Joanna walked down the aisle with her parents to "Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
Catch Me If You Can
Alex and Joanna were thrilled to include their nieces and nephews in the ceremony. "We explained to them how important their roles were and they took their jobs very seriously," Joanna says. The two babies were carried down the aisle by their parents, but the couple's five-year-old nephew served as their ring bearer. "He kept looking side to side as he walked down the aisle, taking it all in," Alex shares.
The couple's four-year-old niece served as their flower girl. "She made sure to place flower petals on just about every inch of that aisle," Joanna says. "It took her a bit of time to get through the whole thing, but it was so charming—everyone couldn't help but smile."
Joanna began her walk out of her parents' home to meet Alex at the altar.
Both Joanna's mother and father escorted her down the aisle.
Under the Tallit
The couple exchanged personalized vows that incorporated inside jokes, special quotes, and sentimental promises. They included several Jewish traditions; Joanna circled Alex seven times and then the couple was wrapped together in the bride's great-grandfather's tallit for a blessing. "It was a moment that I will cherish forever, standing there with Alex, covered in this garment that has covered men in my life that are no longer with us," Joanna says. "It felt like in that moment it was us against the world, protected by this special aura."
As Joanna and Alex made their way back down the aisle as husband and wife, their guests showered them with petals. The duo wanted to plan an eco-friendly event, so they chose to use compostable bags (with a custom compostable sticker they designed!) and fill them with dried florals. "It took quite a while to make over 150 of these, but they smelled so good!" the bride says.
Raising the Bar
Alex has worked in hospitality, so it was important to him to take charge of curating the menu and beverage selection. He made sure to cull a ton of options so that guests could order what they wanted—and made sure to enjoy the leftover bottles later. "We wanted to feature some local distilleries, breweries, and wineries, so we made a point to include Sag Harbor Rum, Oyster Bay Brewery, Coney Island Brewery, and Wölffer Estates," he says. "We even included some black cherry and cream sodas at the request of some of our younger cousins."
The black wooden cocktail bars had copper tops, and were decorated with large floral arrangements including tangled branches and greenery placed in black metal urns.
As the band played instrumental Brazilian jazz, guests snacked on passed hors d'oeuvres including red snapper tacos, Long Island duck with candied pepitas, summer squash and leek tarts, and masala spiced chicken papadum. The couple also had a grill station that incorporated dishes from Alex's Middle Eastern and Mediterranean heritage, including dips, flatbreads, and salads.
Under the Stars
Joanna and Alex stepped away from their cocktail hour to take some photos around the estate, including on driveway, where star lanterns were hung using small LED battery-operated lights that could be controlled with a remote.
Joanna was excited to have the opportunity to create an event space from scratch. They went with a clear top gable tent that was seamlessly connected with the back patio, creating a greenhouse vibe and chose an oak-colored hardwood floor below. "Having the wood floors throughout removed any designation of a dance floor, so we had guests essentially dancing all over, in front of the band, and between tables," Joanna says. They added iron chandeliers, bistro lights, and tons of textured greenery and florals to mimic the surrounding landscape.
On the Tables
The long farmhouse tables were kept bare to keep the décor at the forefront. Flower arrangements in low bowls, bud vases, seasonal fruit, hand-dipped taper candles in glass hurricanes, and decorative votives were arranged down the center of each station. At the back of the tent, the couple arranged vintage furniture rented from Patina, as well as pieces from Hohm Collective.
A large paper moon from Paper Moon Shoppe served as a makeshift photo booth and prop— guests could sit on it!
The First Dance
Joanna and Alex shared their first song to "Baby" by Donnie and Joe Emerson. "This song has held a pretty deep meaning for us throughout the past 10 years," Joanna says. "It's just one of those songs that feels like home. When you hear it, you immediately think of the other person."
The duo hired Neuman's Kitchen to cater the wedding—they knew the team could pull together a backyard wedding, where everything needed to be brought in. They worked closely with the catering squad to curate a three-course menu, along with late-night after-party snacks.
For dinner, guests enjoyed French bread with varied gourmet butters and a sugar snap pea and strawberry salad to start. For the main course, they chose between a pan seared filet of black sea bass, French cut chicken breast, or a vegetarian heirloom cauliflower with carrot tahini. For dessert, the couple offered blueberry and citrus cheesecake, dark chocolate and peanut butter snobinette, blood orange and five spice bonbons, and mini strawberry shortcake bites.
As everyone was enjoying the meal, Joanna surprised guests (and the groom!) with a performance of Adele's version of The Cure's "Love Song." "She blew us all away. She executed and sang the song graciously and beautifully," Alex says. "It was a great song selection and it caught a lot of people off guard, including myself."
The Wedding Cake
The couple's five-tier wedding confection from Nine Cakes featured vanilla cake, raspberry buttercream, and fresh raspberries. The design included textured accents made of buttercream as well as sugar flowers that incorporated the color palette.
The Send Off
Although many guests stuck around for an after-party by the pool, the couple had a formal exit at the end of the evening. Guests held sparklers and made an aisle for the newlyweds to walk through.
Later, the duo and their loved ones gathered around a fire, where they enjoyed snacks including truffle fries, beef sliders, and tomato toasties with muenster cheese and fig jam on sourdough. And since the pandemic has put their official honeymoon plans on hold, Joanna and Alex are glad they opted for a minimoon in New York's Hudson Valley. To couples currently planning their big day, Joanna says, "Try not to get so wrapped up in the planning that you miss out on the incredibly special time that is being engaged. And as cliché as it may sound, try to be present on the day!" Alex agrees, adding, "It goes by quickly, so try to enjoy it as much as possible."
Photography, Kristen Marie Parker
Videography, Echoes & Wildhearts; The Wedding Artists Co.
Event Coordination, Aab Creates
Event Design, Hohm Collective
Invitations and Paper Products, Ettie Kim
Bride's Gown, Naeem Khan
Bride's Veil, Veiled Beauty; Jennifer Behr
Bride's Shoes, Chloe
Bride's Hair, Jo Irving of Lovehair Co
Bride's Makeup, Deborah Altizio
Groom's Attire, Martin Greenfield Clothiers; Brioni; Ferragamo; Brunello Cucinelli
Music, Marianne Bennett Orchestra of Element Music
Catering, Neuman's Kitchen
Cake, Nine Cakes
Rentals, Patina; Broadway Party Rentals; Hohm Collective
Lighting, Luminous Designs
Tent, New York Tent
Photo Booth, Paper Moon Shoppe Co
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