In world where magazines, websites and wedding blogs (us included!) inadvertently make a couple feel like their wedding isn't perfect unless the sun is shining, their clothes cost more than their cars and their day goes off without a hitch – today's wedding is refreshingly different.
Daniela and René married with DIY destination wedding in Belgium. Spending a week in a chateau with their friends and family from all over the world, they picked their own flowers, baked their own cakes, and decorated their venue beautifully.
All sounds pretty dreamy right?
But what I love most about this wedding, along with the gorgeous pictures by Anouschka Rokebrand Photography, (and Daniela's fab Anna Campbell wedding dress), is Daniela & Rene's real talk description of how it all came together…
Weddings are awesome, fun, and joyous affairs, but they can also be stressful, expensive, and throw up roadblocks you'd never even expected.
But despite all of this, Daniela and René (from Australia and The Netherlands respectively), along with their family and friends, created a celebration that paid homage to the backdrop (local wildflowers and Belgian beer bottles) as well as the talents of all those who participated in making it all happen.
And they came out of it the other side, with the kind of glowing feeling you only get after investing time in creating something really special, with your very favourite people by your side.
If you've every wondered what planning a DIY wedding really involves, (or if you just want some gorgeous inspiration) scroll down to read all about Daniela and René's long-distance love story, and their wonderful international wedding…
Wedding Day Snapshot
Our Love Story
Rene and I met in 2005 in Los Angeles. I, Daniela, the bride, had a stop-over on my way to Manaus, Brazil for Christmas to visit some friends, and Rene was travelling after finishing a tour of US companies as part of his undergraduate studies.
We clicked immediately and talked for hours. Well, the 10 I had until I had to get back to my connecting flight anyway.
I left for Brazil and we stayed in touch via phone and MSN messenger, which still existed back then, for the next seven months until I could visit Rene in Europe during my university holidays.
For the next three years we had a long distance relationship visiting each other as often as possible. We then moved to Geneva, Switzerland for work for three years and then relocated to the Netherlands to be closer to Rene’s family, where we’ve been for the past four years.
There wasn’t a theme, unless keeping it simple and relaxed is a theme in and of itself.
Most of it was done by me and a group of very loving, and patient friends and family. Our colour palette was nude and blush pink, I guess.
Advice for Other Couples
Don’t skimp on your photographer!
We didn’t and are so thrilled with the images Anouschka and Ray captured on the day. The day will fly past so quickly and after a while you’ll have trouble remembering what happened and with whom you actually spoke.
Your photos will form the basis of your memories in years so come and you want to have a warm and happy feeling looking at them. Also, the amount you’re going to end up spending will mean you want everything to look beautiful when captured.
I have one final tip…write down your thank you speech if you’re planning on making one. I completely forgot to thank some of the most important people in my life for the incredibly important role they played in the wedding and my life more generally.
I know, I know. How can this happen you ask.
Well, the reality is that you have a million things running through your head, and as much as you’d like the relaxed feeling to extend to your speeches, it shouldn’t. You should plan them ahead of time, arrange for who else wants to make speeches and write your own down. Please, write yours down. It is still one of my biggest regrets of the day.
People will go above and beyond for you because you are as special to them as they are to you and forgetting to thank them will likely haunt you, or perhaps that’s just me.
It’s just nice to be able to know you’ve thanked everyone you wanted to and told them what they mean to you.
We chose our photographer as we had seen her work when she photographed a friend’s wedding the year before.
We felt that Anouschka and Ray were able to capture the emotion and feeling of the day as well as simply the images that will later form or at least trigger your memories of the day.
We had lots of fun working with them and we managed to capture outdoor photos in spite of the torrential rain and wild winds.
One of my favourite photos is one Ray snapped of Rene whilst he was busy dancing and keeping himself warm as I did my bride only shoot. It captures Rene’s personality and humour perfectly.
Makes me laugh and smile all at once and those things, the things you miss as you’re busy doing other things on the day, are what make the best memories. That and the beautiful family portrait they took of us and our son.
I wanted my mother, aunt and grandmother to be a part of choosing my dress and as I live in the Netherlands and they are in Australia, this limited our options in terms of shopping around and taking our time.
Whilst researching what type of gowns I thought I liked, I happened across an Australian designer who has her studio around the corner from my parents’ house in Melbourne and fell in love with her designs.
When we visited for Christmas in 2014 I was able to take these three very special women to lunch and dress shopping, finding a stunning Anna Campbell dress that fit like a glove.
In the end it wasn’t so much the dress as the experience of being able to do it with people who are so special to me that made buying a wedding dress a special event.
Having said that, the dress is stunning and I felt a million dollars in it on the day. My 92 year-old grandmother still tells me with a huge smile that my dress resembles the one she wore when she married my grandfather many, many years ago. It made the dress all the most special.
The bridesmaids all chose their own dresses as I wanted them to feel comfortable and have a dress they’d wear again. They all made beautiful choices, with dresses that complimented each other perfectly.
Rene is 2 metres 5, or 6 foot 8 inches, so finding a suit that fit his tall yet svelte build was no easy feat. After much searching he settled on having one tailor made as it was the only way to find one that fit his frame properly.
He chose it with friends and it was perfect. It was a beautiful dark blue woollen suit with black suspenders and thin tie to finish it off. It was very stylish yet informal and fitted the relaxed wedding atmosphere we were trying to create perfectly.
When I entered the chapel two of my close friends sung Ave Maria as my processional. It was simply magical.
The chapel is on the grounds of the chateau and was built for one of the founding fathers of Belgium so is filled with history, and must, but mainly history.
It was a beautiful personal touch and I am honoured that they were willing to sing for us on the day.
A dear friend of ours Peer Jochems officiated the ceremony. We wanted the wedding day to be special and personal so we asked Peer to work with us on creating a ceremony that would capture us and the feeling of the day. He did a wonderful job.
René and I both feel that Peer was able to bring humour to the ceremony, which is a huge part of who we are, as well as ensure it felt special and serious in a way. It was no easy feat but it worked perfectly on the day.
René and I had written our own vows which was a nice way of being able to tell our family and friends what we felt about each other, as well as sharing those things that make the other special to you.
We have been together going on ten years so we have said it all to each other a thousand times but it is nice to share it in front of those you love most.
My husband (still getting used to calling Rene that) is not what you’d call a ‘traditional’ romantic shall we say. He is a rather practical man who shows his love in other more everyday ways.
However, to his credit, Rene’s proposal was in fact very romantic…almost fairy-tale.
Having been together for almost nine years and having a son together, we knew that marriage was one day on the cards but Rene had announced himself as ‘ traditional’ and wanted to ask me rather than me asking him – which was the point I was reaching after nine years and a son together!
One weekend we were on holiday in the Dutch countryside and returning from a rare opportunity for dinner out together as my father was visiting from Australia and babysitting our son.
On the way back, on a pitch black, country road in the middle of nowhere, between a tractor and a field full of what I can only imagine were cows as it was too dark to see, Rene stopped me and walked in front of me.
He said the sweetest things, and got down on one knee and asked me if I would spend the rest of my life with him. I of course cried, I am a crier, and said yes immediately.
Then, as if he had planned it, the skies opened and we were caught in the middle of an electrical storm.
The rain came down in buckets and we were drenched to the bone but stood watching the lightening for what seemed like an eon. It was probably more likely to have been about five minutes because it was rather chilly that night, but I’ll just continue to think it was much longer as it makes the moment last longer.
We then began to walk, then run as the rain got heavier and heavier, back to our accommodation. Drenched and laughing, it was probably one of the most fun nights we had had in years.
We had wild flowers and peonies in all floral elements of the wedding.
I had my heart set on peonies as they’re one of my favourite flowers and where we live in the Netherlands they are available in abundance. Would you believe it, the season fished the week before the wedding.
Luckily for me, a little further south in Maastricht, which was only a 45 minute drive from the venue in Belgium, we found the last three bunches of peonies for the season.
After that the rest of the flowers just seemed to seamlessly fall into place. I had also wanted a wild posy and so when the day before the wedding the bridesmaids and I went wild flower picking and scouted all the most vivid colours of wild flowers, it was surreal.
It’s probably one of my strongest memories of the wedding.
Driving 100 metres and four women jumping out of the car to cut flowers then walking further up the road and climbing up embankments to get just ‘the right’ blue bells.
We had a blast and joked around, escaping the chaos of the inevitable elements that come up as part of a DIY wedding!
As a side note, don’t underestimate the last minute DIY chaos moments. As organised as you think you are, they are abounds.
There are too many special moments to pick my favourite.
However, one memory that still stands out is at one point during the day when I looked around and saw (almost) all the people that are most important to me and Rene in the world sitting down together, having a drink, eating amazing local cheeses and meats and getting to know each other, I realised what an incredible event this was.
The wedding was so much more than Rene and I celebrating our love for each other. It was us bringing our worlds together and forever entwining them. I know that sounds so incredibly corny.
When I reread it, it’s worse each time, but it’s true.
I love that our worlds can collide and come out the better for it.
We had a self-serve BBQ with accompanying salad table. It was actually great because although people did need to wait for food they were able to chat with others in line and meet new people. It wasn’t too long a wait in any case.
The wedding cake was a delicious recipe that my mother and I had come up with when and we had originally planned to make it together as we both love to bake. In the end, due to time pressures, mum ended up making it for us.
It was a delicious three teared lemon and lavender cake. Holly Marder of Avenue Lifestyle then styled the cake to add the finishing touch.
The wedding dessert table was made up of amazing treats that had been cooked and baked by a few incredible friends, my mum and me.
We feel honoured that there were so many people who were prepared to give so much of themselves to make our day so special.
The DIY Decor & Details
The venue was almost entirely DIY. The tables and relaxed atmosphere was the extent of the decorations apart from café lights and linen bunting made by a close friend who is a beautiful seamstress.
We had styled tables which were relatively simple. Down the centre of each long table we had brown beer bottles with the labels removed. There were sporadic wild flowers placed in these bottles to carry the floral theme through.
I had chosen to hand sew the runners and napkins which were also part of the table décor. I had sourced palm leaf plates from a supplier in the Netherlands and we’d topped it off by splurging on a final detail of bone and silver cutlery from a vendor in the UK. The tables looked sublime.
The wedding favours were small jars of homemade jams and preserves made by my mum, me and a very dear friend Kristina who had come all the way from Australia to share our special week with us. We had a lot of fun making them and choosing the fabric to adorn their lids.
I realised when walking through the fifth market to find ‘just the right fabric’ that DIY can very easily become an obsession.
When we first started looking for a venue I was originally after a run-down old farm in the UK. We even took a lovely family holiday to Suffolk and Norfolk to scout possible venues.
We had limited choice as I had my heart set on a venue that could sleep up to 50 people because family and friends were planning on attending from Australia and Canada and I wanted them to be able to stay with us so we could make the most of our time together.
Ideally we wanted a venue for a week to really make the wedding an event to remember.
In the end Rene convinced me that closer to home was more practical, and I have to admit that he was right. With a toddler it wasn’t as easy as a weekend to arrange local vendors or visit the venue one more time.
Rene was the one who actually found and fell in love with our actual wedding venue. I took a little convincing as it certainly wasn’t the run-down old farmhouse I’d had in mind, but rather an old Belgian chateau.
However, it is a stunning venue and on the day was exactly what we’d hoped for.
The Budget (And Realities of DIY Wedding Planning!)
Our budget became a lot higher than first expected but there are two reasons for that:
1. We hired our venue for a full week as we had family and friends coming from Australia and Canada. This was a very large portion of our budget, certainly more than half.
I won’t say that I wouldn’t do it again, but I probably wouldn’t do it again. Rather than being the relaxed build up and time with loved ones I had hoped it would be it was instead more of a drawn-out few days of preparatory stress.
Having said that, we had a week full of delicious meals together as a group and people from all the different stages and parts of my life got the chance to get to know each other. So perhaps I would hire the venue again, I’d just try to be more organised…which would never happen, but at least I know what stress to expect now!
It didn’t help that both René and I caught stomach flu from our three year old son at the beginning of the week and were in bed until the Wednesday before our Saturday wedding. It’s almost comical looking back at it…almost…give it a few more years and it probably will be.
The final touch on the crazy bride-to-be cake was that I was unknowingly (and only around a month) pregnant, and therefore an emotional wreck. Decision making when pregnant and hormonal is not the best idea.
We are very happy to be welcoming our new member of the family early next year but if I had to do it again I would probably not try to make too many life changing decisions all at once!
2. We decided towards the end to simply accept that it was going to cost what we consider to be a fortune and enjoy it.
We both bought expensive shoes to top off our outfits for the day which cost half as much as the outfits themselves but we both felt a million dollars on the day so it was worth it.
As Rene and I have spent so many years saying goodbye and being apart for elongated periods of time, we thought it only fitting to have a first dance song that really embodies who we are and what our relationship has been.
Over the years Rene has sent me songs to listen to, it’s actually how I started leaning Dutch all those years ago, and the song we chose is one he sent to me during the first years we were together, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane' as sung by Chantal Kreviazuk.
Friends & Family
The day itself was made possible by a group of wonderful and very forgiving family and friends!
People worked tirelessly in the week leading up to as well as on the day of the wedding to help put together our magical day.
Bad weather and my incapability of accepting the wedding was going to have to be inside meant a lot of last minute changes to the layout. Without this amazing group of family and friends we couldn’t have had the wedding we did.
It looked amazing, just as I’d imagined while spending all those nights trawling Pinterest and designing the table layouts with Holly.
My family and friends spent hours ripping, ironing and folding linen napkins and table runners, cooking jam, hanging and then rehanging lights, laying a dance floor, moving furniture and setting the stunning tables.
It is something we will forever be grateful for as without them we couldn’t have done it. It’s as simple as that.
I still feel terrible that they came to celebrate a week of wedding fun and ended up working their arses off and I hope that they know the next time they need some muscle or help they just have to ask us as we will be there in a heartbeat.
I just love hearing about everything that was involved in creating such a personal wedding – what awesome friends and family? It's so great how every little detail becomes a wonderful story when you're creating a DIY wedding.
And what a special couple – that proposal story is just the sweetest!
Thanks so much to the super talented Anouschka Rokebrand Photography, and of course, Daniela and René for sharing their wedding with us.