Sara Got Married! A DIY Wedding In The Desert That Was Filled With Nothing But Love
Today I’m here with a post of a very personal nature. I’m not really one to share a lot about my personal life. Sure, I’ll give you the intimate details on my cabinets or type for hours about every agonizing design decision I’ve ever made. But sharing details about the parts of my life that are non-design related? Harder (for me). And yet, so many wonderful people worked so hard to make this one beautiful day a reality. So, here it is. A blog post about my wedding.
Macauley and I met in 2008, as freshmen at Otis College of Art & Design, within two days of starting school. Second semester we ended up in the same elective class. Fast forward nine years, two cats, one chargrilled apartment, and a house renovation later, and we were on a road trip up the Oregon coast. It was August 2020, and we were looking for a safe way to do something after quarantining the past few months. We figured a road trip and some camping sounded safe enough. And after driving 14 hours the day before, and a sunset hike up a mountain, at the top of Cape Perpetua, Macauley proposed.
It was private and wonderful, and only made better by the fact that we spent so much time at the top of the look out (the only place with service) calling our friends and family, that we both killed our phone batteries and had to walk back down the service road in absolute forest darkness.
Planning a wedding at the best of times sounds stressful. But planning a wedding during a pandemic was exhausting. And what no one tells you is that after the excitement of getting engaged, planning a wedding is homework. Very expensive homework. And as we assessed costs and safety issues, it began to feel overwhelming and near impossible. And then Macauley’s mom, who lives out in Yucca Valley (a little town right next to Joshua Tree National Park), offered her backyard as a venue. It would need some landscaping, and we’d have to bring everything in ourselves, but it was beautiful, and it was free.
So began the planning in earnest of our backyard wedding, which would take place Saturday, October 2nd, 2021.
For our invitations we turned to our good friend Brooke Granowski, who owns and runs her own printing and book binding studio in Los Angeles called Sorella Studios. We went with gold foil letterpress on a terracotta paper, to really set the desert tone for our wedding. She even designed us our own wedding logo, which we used everywhere.
Insert here exactly what you’d imagine a year of planning a largely DIY backyard wedding during a pandemic would look like, and you’ve probably got a pretty accurate idea. So, instead let’s jump to…
The day before our wedding some family and very, very good friends (including our entire wedding party) drove out to the desert and spent the whole day setting up all the decor in the backyard. We strung up hundreds of string lights (battery-powered, solar-powered, and plugin – most of which my mom had bought on sale the weekend after Christmas from Target and Home Depot), framed photos, filled lumenarias, and set up furniture. It was a long day, but our family and friends were amazing and their energy never dipped.
The vibe was immaculate all day.
Because our dance floor and all our rental furniture were delivered the day before, we had decided to just have our rehearsal dinner there in the backyard. So after some very laidback walk-thrus, we ordered pizza from a local place, invited anyone who had gotten into town early to come hang out, and started testing out the dance floor. It was one of the most fun parts of the whole weekend, and EHD alumn Veronica was there to capture it.
Did we then go back to our Airbnb at a reasonable hour, and get a full night of sleep before the big day? No. Instead we did what any reasonable wedding party would do and went to Sonic’s for shakes, then stayed up until 1am.
We rented an Airbnb out in Flamingo Heights for us and some of our friends to stay at through the weekend. It was a large spread-out compound, with a main house where Macauley and I stayed, two airstream trailers, and a yurt (fully insulated with power!) for our guests. Waking up on my wedding day to a beautiful, brisk desert morning was sensational. I got up early and sat outside to write my vows, with 360 views of the desert landscape around me. It was a much-needed moment of calm before a very loud, crazy, and fun storm.
We invited everyone in the wedding party to come get ready together at the compound, and once the crew arrived it was non-stop from then on.
Getting ready with Macauley, all of our friends, was one of the best parts of the day. It was just filled with so much joy and chaos – people shouting, laughing, passing around a bottle of Remy 1738, singing… It’s rare to have so many of your favorite people all in one place together, all there to support you. I was hit with a constantly overwhelming feeling of gratitude and love all morning.
Toward the end of the morning my mom came to help me get ready, and that was such a special time. I was so appreciative of every moment with her.
Right before our “first look” I got nervous. Everything was suddenly becoming very real, and it hit me that almost 10 years together, and a year and half of planning and work, were about to culminate in an event that would (hopefully) only happen once in our lives. And it was going to be over in a matter of hours. I suddenly felt like every moment was slipping by too quickly, and some anxiety started to creep in.
All of that changed the minute Macauley stood in front of me and we both opened our eyes. Literally every anxiety that had been racing through my head melted away, and I was immediately back in the moment. We had sent everyone except the photographer and my mom ahead of us to the wedding site, and having this quiet time to take photos alone together was the grounding moment I needed. Instead of feeling nervous or awkward I felt beautiful and had so much fun.
Our photographer, Anais Possami, was incredible. I had been worried about finding a photographer that would fit with us, but from the second she showed up – quietly getting started without much direction – I felt completely at ease around her. She was relaxed, and most of the time we didn’t even notice where she was. But she captured each and every moment perfectly. We also had an awesome videographer, Robert Schultze, who captured every minute of our days, and edited together a 20 minute documentary of our wedding.
Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to try on wedding dresses in-store. So I ordered a bunch and tried them on in my parent’s living room. And trying on dresses that are too long, too wrinkled, and too heavy, in a living room doesn’t really give you the environment conducive to “envisioning” yourself on your wedding day.
But, I fell in love with my dress the instant I put it on. It fit perfectly, and it truly felt like a cliche “aha” moment. The best part? It was the most affordable dress I ordered, coming in at only $150 from Lulus.com.
I wanted to go for a 70s look, somewhere between bohemian and Vegas. And the bell sleeves of the dress mixed with the high leg slit checked both boxes. I had the dress tailored a bit because I’m very short, but also had the seamstress add a bustle and satin buttons down the entire back. My grandma always said she imagined me wearing a dress with buttons down the back, because she thought it was the most elegant a dress could get. My shoes were “new with tags” Loeffler Randall from Poshmark, and my veil was $20 on Amazon.
My hair and make-up was done by Colette Becar from Emily Lynn & Co – and she was a magician. To say I was terrified of getting my hair and makeup done would be an understatement. To me, foundation feels heavy, lipstick always seems to make my whole mouth area look wrong, and eyeshadow makes my eyes small. But I trusted Colette, and I’ve never felt as beautiful as I did on that day. I told her natural, but better, and she delivered. And I had my beautiful lashes done by Tiina Troberg of Lash Bar By Dermacilia. I can’t recommend either of these ladies enough.
Where I saved on my wedding dress, Macauley splurged on his suit, opting for a custom velvet suit jacket and cropped slacks made by Chookhare & Sons. Which made sense, because he’s already worn his suit to another wedding, whereas I can’t really wear my wedding dress to…someone else’s wedding. And instead of wearing a traditional pressed shirt, Macauley and all of his groomsmen wore patterned silk shirts for a more casual and personal look.
After the “first look” we headed to the venue (Macauley’s mom’s house)…
The day before we had lined the pathway into the backyard from the street with lumenarias (brown paper bags filled with sand holding a candle – we opted for battery-operated tea lights), so guests would be able to see the path once it got dark. And at the entrance, we set up a table with childhood photos of both Macauley and I, as well as photos of loved ones who were no longer with us.
We had really wanted our wedding to feel warm and inviting, and avoid anything that could make it feel like it was happening at a hotel or resort. So we rented vintage furniture from Found Rentals. The final outcome was exactly what we wanted, and every piece of furniture added a little bit of soul.
We lined the aisle on the way up to the alter with vintage rugs we brought from home. And at the end stood a gold archway I bought used from a friend of a friend, who had used it for their wedding. But what really made this whole area special were the flowers, which were a wedding gift from Emily Henderson herself – someone who truly understands the power of good floral.
Not only were the flowers a gift, but all of the early morning flower market shopping, hauling out to the desert, and arranging of them were also done by some incredible EHD alumns – Emily Bowser, Erik Staalberg, and Velinda Hellen. So you could say my wedding florals were an EHD collaboration. Hot Tip: Make friends with stylists and then have them do your wedding flowers because they will look heartbreakingly beautiful. I handed over full trust to Bowser (and her team – of my very good friends, haha), and it was a huge relief to know that no matter what happened come wedding day, the flowers at least would be beautiful.
My mom made me and my dad have our own first look, which felt hilarious, but I’m so happy she did because the photos from it are some of my favorite from the day. We were pretty casual about people seeing us before the ceremony, and really just enjoyed the little bit of time we had before walking down the aisle. We had week of coordination by Jenny, from Orange Blossom Special Events, and both she and her assistant were so lovely and helped the day run very smoothly.
We were played down the aisle by cellist Hitoshi Suzuki. Hiring him was one of the best decisions we made for that day. Not only did he already have a beautiful selection of both classical and contemporary songs to choose from, but we had two specific songs we really wanted to have played while we walked down the aisle – AND HE LEARNED THEM.
He played a selection of music during the pre-ceremony for our guests and played our procession in and out of the ceremony. The song we walked into was called Casadha an tSugain. He also learned “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens. 12 out of 10, would hire again.
Instead of creating, printing, and handing out wedding programs, we just updated our wedding website to include a digital version of our wedding program. It also included a seating chart, a menu, and a link to view the live stream of our wedding. There were so many people we weren’t able to invite due to the safety concerns, as well as the size of the venue. But live-streaming the wedding at least allowed more people to be with us on our day.
Our ceremony was my absolute favorite part of the whole day.
We asked our good friend, Tones, to officiate, and he was amazing. He really blew everyone away with his thoughtful words. Our ceremony was short, personal, and beautiful.
I went first with our vows because I didn’t think I’d be able to get through them if I went second. I think in total our ceremony lasted about 15 minutes, and they were the best 15 minutes of my life.
Right after the ceremony, our photographer snuck us away for a few minutes alone and a few more photos.
Next, we grabbed our wedding party for a few quick photos, while our guests headed to enjoy a cocktail hour.
The bar was open, there were quesadillas, albondigas, and taquitos being passed around, and our photo booth was ready for use.
It was finally time for the party to start.
The reception was set up to happen just to the left of the ceremony site. We circled the tables around the dance floor, and relocated the same chairs that everyone had sat in for the ceremony (with the help of a few friends and family).
Each table was decorated with a gauze runner in a cream or rust tone, votive candles that my mom had been collecting all year, a framed QR code which guests could use to access the wedding program and dinner menu, handwritten name cards, and flowers.
6 months before the wedding I got the crazy idea in my head that I wanted vintage glassware. But it was turning out to be pretty expensive to rent. So, I decided to just…collect it myself. I scoured Etsy, thrift stores, the Rose Bowl flea, I even shipped some back from an antique store in New Orleans (where I had my bachelorette party). I ended up collecting some 180 coupes and water glasses in a rainbow of colors and styles, which we also used at my bridal shower!
My dad kicked the reception off with a speech that blew everyone (including me, his own daughter who has known him my entire life) away with his thoughtful, kind, and endearingly-awkward-in-a-classic-way-that-only-a-dad-can-be words.
Dinner was up next, and we had decided to serve our one of favorites – tacos. Both having grown up in Southern California, the taco stand or truck is a mainstay of life here. Quick lunch on the way out? Tacos. Coming home from a party or bar at 2 am? Tacos. Hungover the next morning? More tacos. No one makes tacos like Los Angeles.
Taqueria Vista Hermosa has been owned and operated by Raul in Los Angeles for years, and his family has been making al pastor for generations. You can taste that history in every bit of his food. Also, Raul is the best. We went for a tasting at his stall in Mercado La Paloma over by USC (which you can visit too!), and he personally came out to greet us, go over our vision, and customize a menu of tray-passed appetizers, tacos, drinks, and desserts.
All the tortillas were made fresh on site, all the guacamoles and salsa were house-made, and his team brought house-made mixes for specialty margaritas (like tamarind). He also provided freshly made horchata and jamaica. His staff was wonderful, the food was delicious, and the setup was beautiful.
We let the guests go through the taco line table by table, and got to spend some time saying hello to everyone. And then, while everyone finished eating, our friends Nafeesa, Nicole, and Pablo dragged all of our dirty laundry out in front of our guests with their speeches.
My brother Shade, and his two best friends (who have become our two good friends), did a live set of songs they had picked and made everyone cry.
Which was followed by a surprise duet of “I Follow You Into The Dark” by Shade and his girlfriend Natalie, which really sent us over the edge.
And then Macauley and I had our first dance to “Kissing You” from Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”. I thought it was going to be super awkward dancing alone in front of a crowd of people, but as soon as the song started playing it was truly like we were the only people there. ROMANCE.
I had a dance with my dad, Macauley had a dance with his mom…
And then the dance floor officially opened for everyone (but mostly for Erik).
Hilariously, Erik is now a kind of legend to my entire family in Guatemala, because he danced so much with my great aunt who was visiting. She calls him “the beautiful man in blue”.
DJ Chuck Supreme, a local of Pasadena, kept the dance floor full all night and played something for everyone.
My favorite part of the reception was the vintage, black and white, real film strip photo booth, which we rented from Photomatica. We got so many good photos of our guests from it, and it made for fun party favors for the guests. The booth attendants were phenomenal, and the photo strips were unlimited.
We ended the night with a cake cutting of a cake that almost didn’t make it to the wedding.
Why? Because we all forgot to pick it up. About 20 minutes before the ceremony started someone was like “…where’s the cake?” It was 2:55, the bakery closed at 3. But between a phone call to the bakery and a hero guest who ran off to pick it up, we still had a cake for cutting.
By midnight it was time to wind things down. At the venue at least. Most of our friends headed back to our airbnb to keep the partying going. I promptly fell asleep on the sunporch couch.
Was I exhausted by the end of this night? Yes. But also overflowing with joy, gratitude, and SO MUCH FREAKING LOVE. Somehow, amidst a pandemic, our friends, family, and some amazing vendors came together to give us a wedding that was totally US. And now, almost 8 months into being married, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently.