A Working Greenhouse Was Transformed Into an Elegant Dining Room for This Editor's Backyard Wedding in New Jersey
High school sweethearts Gabriella Rello and Sean Duffy bonded over a love of Coldplay and a junior-year English project in 2008, and then dated for more than a decade before Sean proposed. "In true Sean fashion, he spent a long time not being ready to propose, and then decided he wanted to, had the ring custom-made, and proposed within the course of a week," says Gabby. Sean, whose family owns Stone Mill Gardens in Township of Washington, New Jersey—the couple lives on the property, as well—originally planned to pop the question outside in December, surrounded by Christmas trees and lights at the garden center. "In the end," he says, "I felt like it would be more meaningful to do it inside our house while we decorated our tree and had a drink." Sean turned on a Nat King Cole Christmas record, then popped the question just as the couple finished decorating their tree. "We were alone, with our dog, in our house at our most favorite time of the year," says Gabby. "It was perfect."
In February 2019, two months after getting engaged, Gabby and Sean began planning their wedding for September 12, 2020, at Fernbrook Farms in Chesterfield, New Jersey. "Sean and I decided on a long engagement so there'd be no stress in planning—trust me, the irony is not lost on me," says Gabby, the deputy digital editor for MarthaStewart.com. Sean liked the idea of getting married at Stone Mill Gardens from the very beginning—"I wanted to get married here for the same reason I wanted to get engaged here," he says. "It's a meaningful place for us and my family"—but Gabby wasn't entirely on board. "I thought the process of getting married at home would be way too much work for us, and I wanted to celebrate somewhere that didn't require us to do just about everything," she says.
But when large-scale events began being rescheduled in March 2020 due to COVID-19, Gabby sensed the September wedding wouldn't go forward as planned. By May, the couple was seriously considering rescheduling the wedding. "I knew we'd have to decide one way or the other in June, and despite the fact that I had seen the writing on the wall from the beginning, it was a really hard decision to officially make," the bride says.
With a new guest list, which was comprised of just the 26 members of their immediate family (Sean is one of six kids!), the garden center reemerged as the ideal venue. "We love this property. I can't underscore that enough," she says. "Stone Mill Gardens has been such an important part of Sean's life since he was a little boy, and it's been such an important part of my life for the past 12 years. There was something really beautiful about getting married here." In the months before the wedding, Gabby and Sean painted, installed a new walkway, added fresh plantings and new grass, and coordinated the design and décor—without the help of a planner. "Sean, ever the optimist, really put things in perspective for me," says Gabby. "He was so excited about having a wedding here, and once I adopted some of his enthusiasm things really started to fall into place."
The pair kept their original date, but reworked many other elements—from the fashion and food to the color scheme and florals—as they continue to plan for a celebration at their first venue on September 11, 2021, the day before their first anniversary. "I'm already dubbing it," says Gabby, "the most fun anniversary party ever."
To Have and to Hold
With their guest list limited to immediate family only, Gabby and Sean opted not to mail invitations; instead, they collaborated with Jen Simpson Design to personalize a suite of scripted cards printed on handmade paper. "I love paper goods and knew I wanted something really pretty to remember this day by," says Gabby. "We added the evergreen tree—a nod to the garden center—and had it printed to photograph and frame as a keepsake. They're beautiful, on gorgeous handmade paper, and totally different than our original wedding invitations."
Finding "the One" (Twice)
Gabby found her first wedding dress before trying even a single frock: She brought a picture of it to her initial boutique appointment and ordered it almost immediately. "My original wedding dress is one I always knew I'd wear," she says. "When I know, I know." Months later, in the midst of trying to decide whether to postpone or move forward with the plans, she had that same love-at-first-sight feeling again when an image of the Envy Only number from Before Sarah Seven appeared on her Instagram feed.
She messaged the company, and though the tea-length, lace dress had sold out, they were planning to release a limited number of additional dresses later that summer. The bride received it with just days to spare. "It was done totally through Instagram and email," says Gabby. "I tried it on for the first time a week before my wedding! It fit like a dream and was exactly what I wanted." With side cutouts, an open back, and a high slit, she says, "it's way more revealing and sexy than my original wedding dress. I think I shocked everyone by choosing it." But it also helped her envision—and get excited about—the alternate wedding plans. "I think once I saw that dress that I loved, I knew it would be possible to rethink the wedding and still have a really special day, even if it wasn't what we originally thought," she says.
Hard-to-find Prada slingback heels blooming with pretty pink roses charmed Gabby when she was sourcing accessories for her original wedding in March, but didn't complement her longer gown. After choosing her tea-length ensemble for the micro wedding, she called in style reinforcements: "My sister hunted them down for me—she's a great shopper!" says Gabby. "They were a must-have for a garden center wedding."
Timeless pearl accessories—including a Lelet NY hairpiece and the earrings Sean gave her for their first anniversary—complemented the intricate lace on Gabby's dress, while a cheery bouquet of bright yellow, understated tan, and fresh white blooms from Twisted Willow Flowers added a sunny accent. "Our florist used the prettiest mix of flowers, and even added some garden roses from her very own cutting garden that she knew I also grew," says Gabby, "which was just the kindest, most thoughtful gesture."
Gabby asker her sister, her sister-in-law, and Sean's three sisters to comprise her bridal party—no matching gowns required. "I told them to wear anything they wanted, and everyone showed up in floral or floral-inspired color palettes," she says. "They looked great!"
Before the ceremony, Gabby and Sean—and their families—met for portraits. "I felt really calm before," she says. "I was excited to see Sean—we've lived together for years and with the pandemic, we really haven't spent all that much time apart in the last eight months, so it was pretty strange not spending the night together and not seeing each other all morning. And I was really excited for him to see my dress." Sean, who wore a navy suit from the The Black Tux, along with a red tie, had his nerves under control, too: "I wasn't that nervous, to be honest," he says. "I just wanted Gab to be happy despite everything that happened this year. I was really excited to see her and the dress she picked. I was so happy to be by her side after not seeing her since the night before."
In the Garden
Gabby and Sean held their ceremony on the patio next to the garden center, where long wooden benches and a flower-decorated archway highlighted the verdant surroundings. "We wanted to embrace the setting," says Gabby. "We definitely wanted to celebrate the fact that we were getting married at the garden center, so florals were important, and making sure that the space still looked like the garden center was key."
Though the couple never formally chose a color palette for their micro wedding, shades of yellow, white, and gray abounded. "I asked our florist to go heavy on the yellow and more saturated hues for this wedding since yellow is my favorite color and it was going to be used only sparingly in our original wedding design," says Gabby. "I figured this was my chance to really have fun with it."
Down the Aisle
In a nod to one of their first shared interests, Gabby chose to surprise Sean by walking down the aisle—escorted by her dad—to Chris Martin's cover of "Shelter from the Storm." "We are huge Coldplay fans, and I heard this really sweet rendition—the one and only time it was performed—at the height of the pandemic," she says.
With This Ring
The couple exchanged traditional vows in a ceremony officiated by Rachel Addonizio of Love and Light Wedding Officiants. "We chose not to personalize this ceremony or write our own vows, just because we wanted something special for next year," says Gabby. "Our officiant ended up surprising us by working in things we had said during our very first phone call with her, which made it more about us. It was really sweet—she went above and beyond to make sure this day was special for us." At the end of the ceremony, when the recessional music—Van Morrison's "Glad Tidings"—cut out unexpectedly, Addonizio offered a quick save: "Our officiant was great and said, 'Just kiss again, we'll start over!'" says Gabby.
Gabby, who describes herself as "very anti-rice-at-weddings," stocked the ceremony with dried flowered petals—but the mother of the groom had other plans. "Sean's mom famously threw rice at the end of the ceremony because she did it for her oldest son's wedding and wanted to recreate that moment," she says. "So, naturally, we have photos of Sean getting smacked in the face with a handful of rice and none of the flower petals in the air. You win some, you lose some!"
To the Happy Couple
The newlyweds led guests directly to the cocktail area, where pre-mixed margaritas and vodka lemonades were safely arranged in individual Mason jars. The newlyweds were also ready to pour a Champagne tower—one of the bride's big-day highlights. "It was such a fun, celebratory moment," says Gabby. "After months of stress and days of really hard work getting ready for the wedding, toasting with our families was just the best."
From Workplace to Wedding
A custom sign from Paper Case Studio welcomed guests to the long greenhouse where Gabby and Sean held their reception. "Everyone kept telling us to rent a tent instead of using the greenhouse, but I loved that we celebrated inside a space that's here forever," says Gabby. Her effort paid off: "Where we got married is usually a work area for me, so I didn't really imagine how pretty Gab was going to make it," says Sean. "When I saw everything set up on the day of the wedding, I thought it looked awesome."
At a single table in the greenhouse, potted ivy sourced from the garden center complemented the low floral centerpieces, while hanging greenery and string lights overhead—as well as plenty of taper and tea light candles—added a romantic glow. "Since I knew we wouldn't have any dancing because of COVID, I really wanted everything to feel like a beautiful, romantic dinner party," says Gabby. "I knew I wanted one long table, lots of golden light, and plenty of flowers, but I let everything evolve from there."
After initially considering—and deciding against—using terra-cotta pots for the centerpieces at her larger wedding, Gabby incorporated them into her design for the micro event, where they held roses, dahlias, ranunculus, chamomile, and hypericum berries. "It all just evolved naturally," she continues. "I liked the way the terra-cotta and yellow tones popped against the gray-blue tablecloths." Understated place settings showed off custom linen napkins, and the bride's collection of vintage flower frogs secured place cards calligraphed by Mary Fama on handmade, hand-torn paper. "I wanted to always look back on the photos and know that they looked like the garden center," says Gabby. "And I think the garden touches, like the terra-cotta pots, the greenhouse, the flower frogs, and having greenery hanging above us, helped to drive that all home."
Sign of the Times
Despite cutting the guest list and limiting the number of vendors on site, Gabby and Sean still worried about COVID-19. "I am not exaggerating when I say that the thought of people getting sick at our wedding kept me up at night," she says. "We were gathering a group of the people we love most in the world, and there was no way I'd have ever forgiven myself if anyone became ill as a result of our wedding. I'm happy to say everyone was entirely fine, but I was constantly thinking of new ways to make the day safer." Framed signs at the reception reminded guests to wear masks around shared food and use hand sanitizer before using serving utensils.
An antique clawfoot bathtub, positioned inside the greenhouse, served up the evening's libations.
All in the Family
Gabby and Sean curated a menu of their favorite Italian dishes from Caffe Anello, served after funny—and touching—speeches from Gabby's father and sister and Sean's brothers. "It was the one moment of the day where I had wished we had our videographer come for this wedding, but in a lot of ways it's special that just the group that was there got to hear them," says Gabby.
Father Knows Best
When Gabby's dad asked the couple to "stand up and hold each other" in the middle of his speech, the bride and groom (and their guests) weren't sure what to expect. "It was actually an important lesson—everything is a lot easier with someone by your side for support—and made for beautiful photos," says Gabby, "but a head scratcher for a moment."
A Little Cake provided the couple with two single-tier cakes—one Funfetti and one carrot—with semi-naked frosting. "A fun fact: Our cake cutter snapped in half when we cut into the cake!" says Gabby. "Luckily, we had a cake server there, too, but if that wasn't a very 2020 moment, I don't know what is."
Although postponing their original plans wasn't an easy choice, Gabby and Sean know that the time they got to spend with their immediate families on their wedding day was one of the silver linings to be found in 2020. "I don't think either of us could have imagined having a wedding without them," says Gabby. "One of our nephews and two of our nieces served as our ring bearer and flower girls, and they got to run around the property all night. It was just nice being surrounded by everyone we love."
Another benefit to planning a micro wedding? The time the couple got to spend with their vendors. "I can't emphasize enough how special our vendors made us feel, and how amazing every single person we worked with was," the bride explains. "Hire people you really like to be around. They will make or break your day, and we got so lucky that Abby and Lisa, our photographers, Michelle and Gina, our hair and makeup artists, and Amanda, our florist, are not only incredible at their jobs, but also just great people."
Sean also remembers one of his favorite parts as "just being with our families," he says, "which is pretty much all we could do, but also all we ever really do. It was meaningful to be with all of them on our wedding day."
Photography, Abby Jiu and Lisa Ziesing, Abby Jiu Photography
Venue, Stone Mill Gardens
Catering, Caffe Anello
Flowers, Twisted Willow Flowers
Officiant, Rachel Addonizio of Love and Light Wedding Officiants
Stationery, Jen Simpson Design
Calligraphy, Mary Fama
Cake, A Little Cake
Rentals, Party Rental LTD
Bride's gown, Before by Sarah Seven
Bride's accessories, Lelet NY hairpiece; Prada shoes
Hair, Gina Ribando, In Full Detail Hair
Makeup, Michelle Schultz, Willow House Beauty
Groom's Suit, The Black Tux
Rings, Ilies Eternally Flawless
Reception sign, Paper Case Studio
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