Updated: Sep 7, 2019
Our wedding day was one of the best days of our lives and it absolutely was the best party we’ve ever thrown. I love throwing parties. I especially love themed parties. Any good planner will tell you every GREAT party has a theme. Weddings are no exceptions to this rule. But before you settle on a theme, must must choose a venue. One that is not only beautiful, but that suits your budget and definitely suits your number of guests. Consider where you will take pictures, if you will get married on or off site, and where you will stay after the wedding. Will you have transportation for guests who are staying at nearby hotels? (Yes, you should, its common etiquette!)
While searching for our wedding venue we stumbled across Skyland Manor, in Ringwood NJ. The manor is tucked away in the forest in Ringwood up a windy 2 mile drive at the top of the mountain passed Shephard Lake. It sits on 96 acres of well-groomed botanical gardens. We turned the bend to where the castle is located and the whole scene was something out of a storybook (or one of the romantic-historic films that I force my husband to watch). At the sight of the castle, I asked my husband to pull the car over, hopped out and took 100 pictures of the only castle I know that is nestled right here, in New Jersey amongst 96 acres of flowers, fields and forest.
My husband was equally as enchanted. The castle is also a bed and breakfast and we loved the idea that you could rent out the upstairs 21 rooms for guests to stay over after the wedding. They also served breakfast the next day, so a wedding day, quickly becomes a wedding weekend with an after party, a sleepover and breakfast in the morning! Really, how could we resist?!
We booked our wedding for Sept 7, and the rest is history. We chose a date that had our lucky number 7, and September because it is one of my favorite months! A month that is warm but holds promises of fall weather, a month where the flowers still bloom and the botanical gardens would still be vibrant and lush. We planned our wedding in 7 short months, which is really 6 because, as some of you know, the last month is just finalizing plans! I had to come up with decor ideas quickly!
As mentioned above, EVERY good party has a theme, a vision which evokes a feeling. The first step to planning a party is to think of a theme! This vision includes: colors, decor, flowers, and dress. My husband suggested “enchanted forest” which was perfect for us. The colors we chose were lavender (for my girls to wear) white (for me) and peach for the flowers. Those three colors are a romantic, soft combination. Lavender -a softer color of the royal purple color and peach a daintier softer version of pink. They were gorgeous together! (Better in real life even than in pictures!) Choosing a dress, a tux and bridal party attire is straight forward so I won't go in to much detail here. You find a store and pick what you like! But I WILL go in to detail to show you how to make sure it is all complimentary to your theme.
Mood-boards. They are SO under-rated.
I created a mood board so I could see the whole look of the wedding. I charted the flowers, the dresses, the castle and put ideas together for centerpieces. I brought it to my florist, my baker, the wedding coordinator, my hair-dresser, my make-up lady. Everyone. They were amazed and it made THEIR jobs easier. It was a super FAST way to get them on board and excited! My advice: The best way to make decisions is to create a visual representation of how everything will look together. And truly, this helped me make decisions immediately upon seeing everything together.
Once the big stuff was out of the way, I focused on the tiny details that made everyone exclaim: "WHO was your wedding planner?" Why...It was me!! Just me, in 6 short months! SO, details are what MAKE a party. They are what make anything, beautiful and worth inspecting! We had dozens of tiny details that did not go unnoticed! Starting with my darling stepfather, the night before the wedding, driving up to the castle and tying white balloons at the entrance sign to welcome guests (and show them where to turn off the main road). Thereafter he tied balloons on trees on alternating sides of the road, illuminating the windy 2 mile path which guests were to drive to the party. My husband also made and placed wooden signs strategically around the castle that said cute things.. my favorite was an arrow pointing to the castle that said "Happily Ever After" (this way).
Cocktail hour is held throughout 5 rooms in the downstairs main part of the castle. We had 5 rooms to play with and decorate and make our own. Upon entering the first room of the castle, we set up pictures of our engagement, travels and favorite memories together on the first table. We also scattered more pictures of our favorite memories, adventures and loved ones who have passed on (our grandparents) along the fireplace mantles, in the library, in the parlor and the dining room. This put a personal touch on the occasion, making the castle feel as though she was truly ours. ALWAYS find a way to put a personal touch and something meaningful on your wedding day, entwine it in the decor.
Our welcome table held our guest book and place cards. I ordered antiques (tea-dyed) tags (Etsy) and hand-scripted 180 guest names on the tags with metallic ink. The name tags were then tied to vintage skeleton keys which were a nod to the era of the castle. Our guest book was hand-made by a man in Ireland (God bless Etsy) who created and engraved a wood book that had an image of Skyland castle on the front. It was a breathtaking keepsake for sure and another nod to our old-world wedding style. In each room we had candles lit in the fireplaces, flowers on mantles and tall silver lanterns sprinkled throughout the downstairs adding more glowing light and romance throughout the rooms.
The ballroom was my favorite part. Upon entering the ballroom, we wanted guests to feel like they were in an enchanted forest. We decided on tree branch centerpieces adorned with hanging twinkling, lit candles. Encircled at the base of the trees were a lush mix of flowers: hydrangeas, roses, wild flowers, and greenery. The centerpieces were extravagant, they were different and they were romantic. They twinkled upon entering the ballroom and left a feeling of magic and romance glittering around us for the entire night that took everyone’s breath away. They were NOT cheap and to cut some of the cost I had tall bushels (my florist called them afros) of baby’s breath sitting on tall thing vases. White poufs of flowers that stood looking like ethereal clouds amongst the forest, lights and flowers. They were BEYOND reasonable and I recommend them to everyone who is looking to cut cost somewhere and likes an ethereal look.
(The same base of our tree centerpieces were used in bouquets on fireplaces.)
Each table seating had a welcome menu that my husband printed up of the courses and a sprig of lavender was carefully tied to each menu. People love SEEING a menu. They want to read ingredients and have time to decide on what they want to eat! It adds to the excitement of, well EATING! We also got to write a little thank you for celebrating with us on the bottom of each menu, which is always a nice way to greet your guests.
The best parties have good alcohol, great food and superb music. Our cocktail hour had a ridiculous amount of food from tables piled to the ceiling with cheeses and fresh fruits and jams, to lamp chops, lobster balls, sliders, tuna cones, shrimp skewers and tables of buffet style hot and cold hors d’oeurves and more! We also had a whole room dedicated to fish called the "fish room" which served raw oysters, King crab legs, shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and lobster. The amount of food was beyond what we imaged and it was indeed a feast! Most gracious of all was the staffs surprise in bringing ONE of everything upstairs to our bridal suite. When we went upstairs we were shocked and excited to find the sitting room of the suite filled with foods and decadent desserts.
The dinner itself was as great as the cocktail hour. We served an option of a steak filet, fish and chicken dish and pasta for the children. Our Maitred' followed me around, never letting me out of her sight. When at last she did, I realized it was when I sat down and had taken my first bite of food (which was amazing). She nodded to herself, to confirm a job well-done, and went on to manage the rest of the affairs. What service to make sure the bride eats and enjoys herself!
As mentioned, the next things that make a wedding are alcohol and great music. We did not skimp on either! Beyond our bride and groom signature cocktail (another personal touch) was a bar in the ballroom with top shelf liquors and great beers. The band we found was beyond anything we have heard, to-date! Bands can scare people and leave them with a bad impression of poorly played music. First, thankfully we live right outside of New York City, and as such, we have access to some of the very best bands. Upon interviewing our band, one of my questions was can you play "Stairway to Heaven" - not exactly a song we would be playing but nonetheless a DIFFICULT song to play. If your band can cover this well, you're basically in great hands! For anyone interested our band can be found at: https://www.agreatband.com. I could not recommend them highly enough! Also, go hear them live. You will know if they are good! Finally, the song directly after the first dance is the song that will bring EVERYONE to the dance floor. Our choice and our band did not FAIL! We chose "Faithfully" by Journey, an oldie but goodie. I wanted all of the couples to come out right after our dance and they sure did! (Thereafter it eased in to dance music both current and classics.) Our dance floor was packed with guests for the remainder of the night.
Let's chat about something a non-detailed planner misses. The outside hosting area. The back door of the ballroom opened to a HUGE outdoor patio with wrought iron bistro tables. An elegant space for guests looking to get fresh air and sit outside for a cocktail. The whole patio overlooks an outdoor fountain and beyond that acres of rolling fields and trees. To add a personal touch to this space we wrapped vines with twinkling lights to the railing out to the patio. Once outside, we hung dozens and dozens of floating lanterns in the trees above the patio and placed votives on the stone wall that surrounded the patio, and on every bistro table. The outside twinkled in soft, peaceful candlelight and was equally as breathtaking as the inside. Our wedding ended at 11pm and because we had rented the entire castle out, we had access to the outside for the remainder of the evening. We held our after party outside amongst these sparkling lights and danced and laughed early in to the morning!
So now you know how to plan a wedding in 7 short months. Visit venues, decide on a theme, (colors, centerpieces, overall vibe), create a mood-board on a poster board, where you can VISUALIZE everything together. (You can put it right up on the wall like detectives do when solving a crime. Print the pictures in color. Seeing the dresses, the venue, the flowers, the colors and details all together in one spot will help you make decisions faster!) Add personal and custom details, signs, pictures, a menu, a custom cocktail and a hashtag, don't skimp on alcohol or music if you can help it..and finally, if your photographer tells you to wade knee deep in to a field, DO IT, your pictures will be amazing (see below). Last but not least, if nothing else add twinkling lights, everywhere!
Photos by the One And Only: Thomas @ Jersey Wedding Photographer. He is amazing and has a great eye and trust him when he tells you to do ANYTHING, he is a genius! https://www.jerseyweddingphotography.com