Stunning Ombré Floral Arrangements Set the Tone at This Alice in Wonderland-Inspired Picnic Wedding
When Jason Bell planned his proposal to Katie Schellenberg in December of 2019, he didn't want to make it too easy. "Jason hid the ring in a Tiffany box under a piece of coal, which he used to trick Katie not once but twice," says the couple. "When he finally revealed the ring hidden under the coal after all the gifts had been opened on Christmas morning, Katie responded, 'You are a monster, and that's why I'll marry you.'"
The couple immediately set a wedding date of July 25, 2020, in Santa Ynez, California, prioritizing their plans to accommodate Katie's father, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer in September of 2019. But as local governments began to implement COVID-19 restrictions, Katie and Jason opted for a smaller at-home wedding, instead. "We got married in Katie's parents' backyard," says the couple. "Given COVID restrictions and Katie's dad's illness, we wanted something easy and accessible for our limited guest list but also could be transformed to something wonderful and whimsical." With a bridal party that also included Katie's grandmother as matron of honor and Katie's close friend, a cancer survivor, as the maid of honor, the couple focused on keeping the event intimate. "We knew that no matter what we did, health and safety would be at the forefront, so we would have to think creatively on how to continue safely," they say.
They settled on a guest list of 15 people and a theme inspired by classic literature, incorporating the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland and the English gardens of the works of Jane Austen. In lieu of a seated meal, guests remained distanced during a picnic-style luncheon, while more than 70 other family members and friends watched the wedding via Zoom. And though the planning presented some challenges—cutting the guest list, reworking vendor contracts, optimizing safety procedures—the couple persisted. "The easiest decision I have ever made and will ever make is saying yes on December 25, 2019 and yes again on July 25, 2020," says Katie. "All the planning and changes were ultimately worth it."
Welcome to Wonderland
Shhh My Darling created a paper suite with an Alice in Wonderland theme, including singing roses and a white rabbit on the invitation, and sketches of Katie and Jason as the King and Queen of Hearts. Other custom details in the intricate artwork included portraits of the couple's two dogs and garlands of shells and bells (a nod to the pair's last names, and a recurring theme throughout the décor).
Outside Katie's parents' home, Lily Roden Floral Studio adorned the mailbox with growing floral arrangements that ran along the sidewalk, then wrapped around the post, previewing the English garden theme in the backyard.
Love at First Sight
For Katie, wedding-dress shopping was a one-and-done affair: She spotted Monique Lhuillier's "Clementine" gown in the window of the flagship store and was so sure it was the one, she says, that "this was the only dress I tried on." She customized it with additional appliqués—and a made-to-match mask in the same fabric. "Getting the dress tailored during COVID was definitely not the stuff of movies," says Katie. "We were allowed only one guest, alternating between the maid and matron of honor." She chose an embellished belt and veil from the same designer to complete her look.
Pretty in Pink
She requested a large, full bouquet; the resulting bunch was a collection of striking blooms—including garden roses, peonies, and dahlias, without greenery—arranged in an ombré layout from ivory to pink.
Shades of Gray
In the backyard, a square chuppah anchored the ceremony space. An ombré floral design allowed for white blooms across the top, deepening to a rich pink at the base.
Opposite the chuppah, two large floral installations flanked the doorway to Katie's parents' home, framing the bride and bridal party as they exited the space to walk down the aisle. A display of bells—each tagged with a guest's name—was positioned to the far left of the doorway, and served as post-ceremony picnic seating assignments and "a way to safely ring in the new Schell 'n Bells,'" says the couple.
Small and Special
Guests sat in small groups on wooden benches in the backyard, where Katie's father escorted her down the aisle for the ceremony. "For us, health and safety were our number one concern, so making sure the event was up to the strictest guidelines was important," says the couple.
In Loving Memory
Sadly, Katie's father, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019, passed away a few months after her and Jason's nuptials, but he was able to be with them on this important day. "All comments since his passing have been that his goal was to walk me down the aisle and see me get married to Jason—who he really loved and respected," says the bride.
The couple's initials were emblazoned into the pale wooden benches set up for the service.
Saying "I Do"
Rabbi Janice Mehring officiated the couple's ceremony, which included several Jewish traditions alongside custom vows. "Jason talked about our shared love of exercise and outdoors sports and I referenced his love of hot dogs; he shared my favorite quotes from Wuthering Heights, Persuasion, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones," says the bride. "He was nervous about breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony. He was given advice to find a divet and use that for leverage. He was so intent on breaking the glass that he used all his might and even broke the bag."
A Magic Moment
The newlyweds chose the main theme from the Harry Potter films for their recessional because, they say, "Jason is the Ron to Katie's Hermione. We even have the matching wands!"
A Virtual Celebration
A busy Zoom room allowed the couple to celebrate with their extended families—including Katie's 45 first cousins—who live all over the world. "The hardest thing about the planning process was the uncertain climate and changing regulations," says the couple. "It was also hard to reduce our guest list so dramatically."
Katie and Jason's two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dude and Dolly Parton, joined the couple and their family for the backyard nuptials as "flower dogs."
A Pretty Picnic
Instead of a seated meal, the couple served picnic baskets from Jennie Cook's to each couple or group. "Our baskets included elevated versions of all the picnic food: sandwiches, sides and fruit in mason jars. The emphasis was on safety and individual packaging," says the couple. They offered a vegan cheese plate, sandwiches, and whoopie pies to accommodate Katie's dietary restrictions, and served cocktails in mason jars, as well.
Guests spread out on picnic blankets under umbrellas on the lawn. "Instead of centerpieces, each picnic basket included a large hand wrapped bouquet for each guest to take home," says the couple. "Guests were also encouraged to take home their basket and monogrammed napkins."
Their First Dance
Guitarist Tony Ybarra performed the couple's go-to show tunes and movie themes, including their first (and only) dance as husband and wife. "We chose 'A Whole New World,' which we often used with made-up lyrics to terribly serenade each other," says the couple.
A three-tier Funfetti cake from vegan bakery Cup My Cakez called back to the Alice in Wonderland theme with butterflies, flowers, shells, and bells. Custom cupcakes with Dude and Dolly Parton on them and a surprise groom's cake that honored Jason's interest in scuba diving and airplanes were playful additions to the dessert table.
Small, but Beautiful
Reflecting back on their big day, Katie's mind inevitably wanders to her late father. "He always said that he couldn't believe we pulled it off—and that it was one of the most beautiful weddings he had ever seen even, though it was so small," she says.
Photography, Laura Gordon
Catering, Jennie Cook's
Flowers, Lily Roden Florals
Videography, Story of Eve
Officiant, Rabbi Janice Mehring
Stationery, Shhh My Darling
Cake, Cup My Cakez
Music, Tony Ybarra
Bride's Gown, Monique Lhuillier
Bride's Accessories, Monique Lhuillier veil; Dolce and Gabbana shoes
Hair, Lindsey Smith
Makeup, Judith Koppelmann
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Amsale, Self-Portrait
Groom's Suit, Sy Devore
Engagement Ring, Keith Saxe
Ketubah, Alyssa Judlo
Kiddush Cup, Cristofle
Signage, Love This Way
Wedding Rings, Cartier