Cultural Weddings/Real Weddings

A Lavish Intimate Wedding At Jane Austen’s Family Manor House

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How’s this for a Covid wedding pivot? Barred from planning a wedding in the South of France due to lockdown, UK couple Samantha and James arrange an intimate, private weekend with their closest family and friends at Jane Austen’s favorite Goodnestone Park.

It’s clear these two have a knack for planning extravagant events. From their epic Moroccan hot air balloon proposal to their willingness to think outside the box to plan a just-as-fabulous lockdown-friendly wedding, one would believe they will make lemonade out of the sourest of lemons.

And, it’s not just the storied Kent wedding venue that makes this intimate wedding weekend so fabulous. Filling the weekend with personal details to spoil their guests, plenty of fashionable costume changes and odes to Samantha’s Filipino heritage, the couple spared no detail to make this ‘Plan B’ wedding celebration a dream wedding for anyone.

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The Proposal

James proposed on a hot air balloon in Morocco on the morning of my 30th birthday, three years after we met. We had a lot to celebrate with our families as we turned 30, my gorgeous mom saw a milestone decade, and James’ dad was also seeing a birthday. So, together we planned to take them all to Morocco with us to share bucket list moments together – like glamping in the Moroccan desert, sunset camel rides and quad biking through Game of Thrones-like terrain in the mountains. Little did I know, we would all be sharing a bucket list moment together when James woke me up at 5am for my first birthday surprise: A hot air balloon ride to catch the sunrise.

Catching the sunrise and sunset is my, and has since been our, favourite thing to do when travelling. The night before, my sisters already planned a birthday outfit for breakfast, who were under strict instructions from James to make me feel amazing, so there was never a ‘OMG, what should I wear?!’ moment – just excitement. I felt like I had been selected to go on a Bachelor date as we were picked up, driven along the sleeping Moroccan towns and finally arrived in the hot air balloon camp. We were served blankets and mint tea in a Berber tent after checking in.

 

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Taking it all in, I saw a loud group in the corner and told James quietly that I wish we didn’t have to share our balloon with those guys! Whilst he agreed at the time that it would be awful luck, we then walked out into the vast field where we noticed two extra balloons. I did the math and secretly thought our odds just got better! He then tells me that my second surprise…is our very own private balloon. At that point, I wanted to cry, but the excitement took over me.

We watched our balloon rise from the ground, climbed up and grinned and cuddled through the morning chill. Our pilot told us that the sun was about to rise. So James (pretended) to pick up the GoPro as the sun rose behind us above the Atlas Mountains and asked me the question I’ve been only dreaming to hear, in a setting I couldn’t even beat in my own daydreams. I said “YES”, of course, without question or doubt, and chugged a champagne bottle between us for the rest of the flight. I ogled my ring on the way home, ran back to our families to celebrate our engagement… and my 30th birthday for the rest of the day, which I already forgot about!

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The Venue & Theme

We originally had a wedding weekend planned in the South of France, but six weeks before the big day, we found ourselves locked down at home and out of France. We originally postponed it and then realised that all we really wanted to do was be married to each other. So, we decided to start planning a lockdown-friendly ceremony in the UK, with a party to follow in France as soon as we could.

First, the idea was just the two of us and our immediate family at City Hall, but then no restaurants would allow us to celebrate a meal after. Then, we explored the idea of getting married in the garden at home, but private functions were also not allowed at home. So, we decided to just go for it and hire a permitted wedding venue for a few days and use it as a breakaway with the family. I already fell in love with this historic Jane Austen family Manor House at Goodnestone Park before James even proposed. And if we ever decided to get married in the UK, that would have been the venue of our dreams. Naturally, it was the right choice for an intimate gathering where all 30 guests were able to stay in the main house or within the estate.

We wanted to embrace the beauty and elegance of the English countryside given the history of the venue. The underlying theme for the day was the classic English Rose: a traditional and conservative wedding dress, a church blessing, pale pink roses, velvet rose dining chairs for a modern twist, a cellist and pianist playing Bridgerton-like instrumental favourites before dinner, a seven-course dining experience and a classic afternoon tea for the morning after.

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The Stationery

The invitation sets were works of art. The stamps were all handmade and included: 1) our symbol SJ (a variation of the musical note designed by James’ mum as we fell in love with each other through music); 2) The Sound of Music cover because it was a musical family affair – and a family favourite; 3) a watercolour of the wedding venue; 4) the piano music sheet to Ludovico Einaudi’s Experience (the song that played during his concert where James first realised he loved me); and 4) Jane Austen as an ode to the family history of Goodnestone!

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The Night Before

One of my favourite personal memories was the night before the wedding. I never had a proper bachelorette with my sisters, so we also scheduled some time out on the first day as everyone settled in to pop some bubbles and memorialise our last night as three unmarried sisters by virtue of a mini 13-going-on-30 slumber party, decked in Nadine Merabi PJs and Gigi & Olive accessories, which our photographer captured beautifully!

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The Photography

We chose Katrina because we loved her elegant, effortless yet candid fine art images. Having had the pleasure of working with her, she has my husband (who didn’t like the idea of a photoshoot to begin with!) a fan – rooting for how easy she has made it for us to be in front of the camera. Even our family members said the same. She was part of the family by the time she left us on the third day!

We haven’t stopped looking at the photos since. The only downside is not knowing which ones deserved a frame more, as they were all worthy. She has since helped us with our albums, too. We couldn’t have been luckier to have had her as our wedding photographer, and now family photographer for life.

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Favorite Moments

Our favourite moment as a couple would have to be the time we took after the church ceremony and before meeting our guests. James’ dad so kindly lent us his DB6, and surprised us with a ‘Just Married’ sign and tin cans hanging off the boot to match William & Kate’s wedding car. We sat in the car, held hands, stared at each other and soaked it all in.

Our favourite moment for our guests was seeing them open and read the personal love letters we wrote for each of them inside the place card envelopes. We wanted to tell every person how much we loved them and how much they meant to us individually and as a couple. We felt it was the perfect opportunity to share our love for them, rather than try to get their attention and express it in a less coherent way that day! We also wrote each other love letters, of course, and we’ve since treasured those first letters to each other as husband and wife.

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The Videography

We stumbled upon the Walton brothers (our videographers) after sending another videographer a series of wedding film samples. They immediately told us that ‘Ben Walton is your guy!’… and it made sense after seeing his beautiful wedding film portfolio. He captures the emotion of the day so well that we find ourselves transported to other couples’ wedding days as we watched their videos. They were also very easy and discreet to work with. You barely notice they are there, and then they deliver the movie of your dreams!

We also didn’t realise that Katrina and Ben had already worked together before. The way they communicated and captured everything with ease also really worked to our advantage. Based on that added bonus, we would highly recommend finding a photo and video team who have worked well together in the past.

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Odes to Cultural Heritage

On the final night, the day after the wedding, we hosted a ‘Spanish’ night for our guests to honour my half Filipino heritage. The Philippines was colonised by Spain for over 300 years, hence why we share very similar cultures, food, Catholic traditions, languages and design.

We wanted our guests to taste a little bit of how we would have thrown a Filipino fiesta back home. We lined up our favourite Filipino dishes, made some of our childhood treats, drank Sam Miguel beer (yes – made in the Philippines), decorated the hall with textures and colours of the Philippines and the speakers were beating latin music all night. It’s almost as if we were HOME, even just for a few hours. It represented my childhood, my roots, my memories and it paid homage to my family in the Philippines who would have thrown us the biggest FIESTA we could have ever dreamed of if they could have made it.

I paid tribute to my heritage, too, by wearing a Camilla Gabrielli heel – comfiest stilletoes ever, choosing the Sofia pumps especially given the Pearl (an ode to my mother me homeland – The Philippines, Pearl of the Orient) on the heel.

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Advice to Other Couples

  1. Make sure you schedule some time – just you two – after the ceremony, and before joining your guests. We have a tendency to immediately want to make sure everyone is having a good time and to say hi to all guests, but it’s so important to focus on what the day is really about – and that is you two as a union. Some benefits of having a smaller celebration with 30 guests meant that we were able to just relax, enjoy the whole day in real-time, be present for everything and be there for each other.
  2. Hire a videographer! I can’t stop watching our videos and have gone back to listen to my husband’s speech a few times since the wedding. As much as you are present on the day, there is something about an immortalised montage of smiles and words that are captured in a way that transports you back to the happiest day of your lives!
  3. If you are the sentimental kind: designate someone to save all the special items from the day – like the order of service, menus, letters, flowers, etc. As much as we had every intention of doing so, it was the last thing we remembered on the day. Luckily our family was equally as sentimental and saved all of those little details for us.
  4. Having had the benefit of celebrating a more intimate wedding day than we initially planned, we would certainly advise other couples to think more about quality over quantity in numbers. Of course, we so wanted more of our nearest and dearest to be there, and sadly that will always be the only thing sad about the day, but when we finally get around to our wedding party, we will surround ourselves with people who leave a mark in our lives and hearts. Don’t feel obliged to invite someone just because it is less hassle not to deal with it, or because it makes other people happy. This is your day – you only have it once (unless you’re a Covid bride!). You want to be surrounded by those who love you, are rooting for you, and who will be in your lives for years to come.
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