When you think of weddings in Los Angeles, you are most likely picturing a huge blow-out party in a ballroom dressed to the nines! But let me tell you, there’s another side to weddings here in Southern California. So many of my clients are choosing to forego this big hoopla and throw out the traditions for something a bit more romantic and a smidge more intimate.
Let me point out I’m also not talking about “budget” weddings, where a couple decides to do things for as little money as possible. I get that this is sometimes a necessity for many couples just out of college or trying to support their budding dreams, but I’m writing about the weddings where everything feels closer, parsed down, familiar.
Intimate is defined as “closely acquainted; familiar, close” or “private and personal.” These weddings are off the beaten path, secluded, and emphasize connection over consumption. And they make this planner’s heart oh so happy. Not that big weddings cannot connect a bride and groom with their guests, it just gets exceedingly harder the bigger your guest list is, the louder the music is, and the later the evening is. The things that make an intimate wedding more of what they should be is less of the other stuff.
1. Less People – the easiest way to create an atmosphere where you (as the bride and groom) feel connected to your guests is to limit the number of people you want to celebrate with. I tend to see at weddings of over 100 people that guests look secluded at the furthest tables away, older folks leave so the youngins can party, and old friends feel lost in a sea of unknown faces. When you make your initial guest list create 3 tiers. Tier 1 is full of your immediate family (mom, dad, siblings), Tier 2 is for extended family & close friends (aunts, uncles, grandparents, best friends), and Tier 3 is for acquaintances (family friends, co-workers). Take the time to dive into those relationships in Tiers 2 /3 and answer these questions: How monumental were they in developing you into the person you have become? Have they helped you to soar to new heights or do they only drag you down? Have they met your fiancé, and do they know and support your relationship? You can also go the route of not inviting any children under the age of 12, and only inviting significant others you know or are in a long term committed relationship.
Practical application: Sometimes you just need to save the most intimate pieces for those who are going to uphold you through each step of this journey. It’s almost like an elopement, but I have a bride & groom who will be celebrating their marriage ceremony with 10 family members in a sweet backyard ceremony. What a cherished moment between two families coming together as one. The following day friends and more family will join them for an alfresco style reception in the same location, creating a weekend affair out of the blessed matrimony.
2. Less Sitting – sitting through a ceremony, sitting through dinner, sitting through toasts – weddings come with a lot of static energy! Change things up a little bit when it comes to wedding traditions – have your guests stand during your ceremony (as long as it’s a short but meaningful affair), get them involved from the get-go and they will feel closer to you emotionally and spiritually by being closer to you physically.
Practical application: There are so many interesting ways to incorporate your guests into your event and keep them connected to the joy. For our wedding, we decided we didn’t want to have a sit-down dinner. Instead, we planned an extended cocktail hour full of heavy and hearty hors d’hoeurvres, a “photo booth” that could travel around the room with our guests, and an early ending time so guests could still hang out and enjoy the downtown area for the evening.
3. Less Space – if you really want that intimate feel, be prepared to get close and comfy! A smaller venue will not only help you limit your guest list (*hint hint*) but it will also help the space feel more full. Start to think outside of the box when it comes to venues – art museums, rustic barns, restaurants, a boat, a mountaintop, warehouses, libraries. A space that can host both your ceremony and your reception makes for no time lost when shared with loved ones. If you are ready to jump outside of your comfort zone, think about a destination wedding. It’s a new place to make new memories, and you can host a fun trip for the family to remember forever.
Practical application: Michael and Siena chose to have their intimate wedding the week leading up to Christmas. The stunning Culver Hotel was their venue of choice, and with amazing holiday decor, it really set the scene! Siena recalls, “We knew we wanted to get married at the historic Culver Hotel, which has a limit of 60 guests. This also gave us a good excuse as to why we had to keep the guest count low.”
Their wedding ceremony took place in the cozy lobby and main dining area, where various chaise lounges, armchairs, and benches marked the guest’s vantage point looking up to the beautiful Christmas tree the two married under. For dinner, the Culver has a gorgeous dining hall for intimate private events, and the guests shared much love and laughter seated at the long dining table together.
4. Less Formalities: time to change up the traditional wedding day a little bit. Find ways to get your guests involved, showing them how important their guidance and support has been for your relationship. They are in fact the people that helped guide you to who you are today, making for the best version of yourself, the one who is not bonded mind, body, and soul to another. For a seating chart, use pictures of exciting adventures you went on with each individual guest and revel in the memories together. Invite your friends and family to participate in a ring warming during the ceremony. Dine al fresco with everyone at long wooden tables under the stars, passing and sharing food.
Practical application: A friend told me about an intimate wedding she attended a few years ago, where the guest count was under 50 people. It took place on a secluded beach where the bride & groom said their vows against the background of the waves. Dinner was a backyard BBQ that concluded with everyone around the fire pit taking turns toasting the happy couple with sweet memories of their first meeting, advice, and encouragement for the marriage journey ahead, and reminders of the adventures that had led them to this glorious place in their lives.
5. Less Noise: this doesn’t have to mean “no music”, it just means fewer distractions. With a guest list of under 100, you will inevitably want to spend more time with your loved ones because these are going to be your people! Get rid of the distractions like going table to table, the bouquet and garter toss, traditional speeches. A raucous band or DJ can pull focus and turn the evening into a rave, and gaudy decorations may outshine the diamond in the rough that is your venue. Instead, do activities with your friends and family that include them in your special occasion. Host a cocktail hour with a mixologist that teaches you and your guests all about the drinks or learn line dancing from a talented bridesmaid. Getting rid of the big fluffy things leaves extra room in your budget and in your timeline for what really matters most – the people!
Practical application: We opted not to get a DJ for our wedding since the hubby and most of our guests wouldn’t be “on the dance floor” kinda folks, so the best part for me was getting to plan out the background music for the evening. I knew exactly what songs were going to play and when; and I got to have some fun with it. For our pre-ceremony soundtrack, we made a playlist of all our favorite love songs from Broadway shows – a nod to our deep love of the theatre and storytelling. Of course, we had to add SOMETHING Disney into the mix, so while guests were enjoying mingling and fun activities during cocktail hour, we had the Disneyland soundtrack playing. What better way to make our friends and family feel like they were at the Happiest Wedding on Earth!
6. Less Waste: when you start focusing on creating a foundation for your marriage that will last a lifetime instead of a one-day circus, you start to realize you don’t need everything. Planning a smaller, more intimate wedding allows you to say no to the excess. Less paper waste from wedding invites and save-the-dates. Less food waste from a large buffet where everyone piles their plates high, afraid there won’t be seconds. Less unnecessary trinkets since the folks around you will feel the joy of being so intimately involved there is no need for things to take home.
Practical application: Eco-friendly weddings are a great reminder to take care of the space, home, and life we have in front of us before it is gone. Instead of a traditional registry, ask your honored guests for donations to a charity that is near and dear to your hearts – and tell them WHY! Get married in a national park or other historical landmarks, giving back to the community around you. Use biodegradable materials, like wood utensils, or reusable materials, like linen napkins.
A small, intimate wedding can still be filled to the brim with joy thanks to less fluff, less fuss. Don’t forget about all of the relationships present on your big day. Those who have encouraged and supported you along the way, making you into the person you are today. Celebrating those relationships is just as important as the budding new family you are forming on your wedding day.
Now let’s go craft your love-fueled, intimate celebration together!