As those of you who follow me on Instagram might know, I got married in late November 2021. A few days after that, I first heard the term microwedding when our fabulous chef posted a video of the wonderful dinner she prepared for us. I had somehow managed to plan our small ceremony without ever hearing the word. And I am glad of that, because it meant we planned our day just as we wanted it, without reading a bunch of how-tos from commercial wedding sites. If you are planning a small wedding, I encourage you to do the same. But if you want a few ideas (or if you just want to share our joy!) please keep reading.
Nick and I met in fall 2020, and so our entire relationship has been carried out during the pandemic era. When we decided to get married, we didn’t want to wait and spend many months planning some huge party that would likely defy the meaning of day. Our vision, to borrow a much overused term, was something small and focused on us. Since both of us have many dear friends, the only way to keep the numbers down was to limit the guest list to our immediate family, which consists of ten people. So with that idea, and only that idea, we got to work planning in October.
The first thing we did was pick a place. Our criteria was that it be private, beautiful, and not too expensive. Our first idea was a historic house that is now a community center in Arlington, Virginia. So Nick put in several calls to them and we waited for a response that never came. After a couple days, I had the idea of looking on Airbnb. I used the Airbnb search engine for the immediate Washington DC area, and came up with nothing. So then I hit up google and found an article that highlighted the best Airbnbs for weddings in each state. And that is how I discovered Mortgage Hall, a mid-nineteenth century, Federal-style house near Middleburg, Virginia, which is about an hour west from where we live in Northern Virginia. I am an architectural historian in my day job, and getting married on a rural Virginia estate was a perfect fit for not only me, but also us as a couple. Due to the pandemic, many of our dates had involved driving out to the west of the city for hikes and winery visits. It was entirely in keeping with our relationship that we should be married there. The property came with ten bedrooms, multiple living spaces, a formal dining room, a well-equipped kitchen, and gorgeous Virginia countryside views on more than a hundred acres. Miraculously, it was available for multiple dates a few weeks away. Simply put, it was perfect.
Telling our Family and Setting the Date
With the place tentatively selected, we set up a zoom call to tell my family. It was also their first time ‘meeting’ Nick, even virtually, so he was a bit nervous, but it all went well. Well, except for the fact that my family never zooms, so my brother got a bit anxious when he received the meeting request and later gave me stern instructions to next time tell him it’s good news in advance. Fortunately my sister-in-law had calmed him down by the time we got on our call. We told them our plan and discussed everyone’s availability. After Nick called his brother to share the news, we finalized the date and booked Mortgage Hall.
For me, the worst part of the entire planning process was finding the dress. Although I always loved clothes, I kind of left that behind me in March 2020 and haven’t looked back. I work at home now, and frankly it is hard to even reconcile myself to the idea that I once had a Rent the Runway unlimited subscription plus a closet of at least a hundred dresses. Anyway, obviously my work-from-home wardrobe wasn’t going to cut it, but I also knew I would feel ridiculous in a bridal gown. I decided to try to find a cocktail dress. I spent hours looking at dresses online and ordered several things from Saks. They came, and nothing fit. I repeated the process with the same results. Then my friend Amy stepped in and we spent a day shopping. I again found nothing. Finally, one afternoon about three weeks before the wedding Nick and I were eating lunch in Old Town Alexandria and he suggested I see if there was a shop there that would have something. I vaguely recalled that Amy had bought her wedding dress in Old Town, and texted her to ask the name of the store. And that is how I discovered An American in Paris and its owner, Joelle. Nick and I wandered in, and Joelle immediately began showing me dresses. After a couple minutes, Nick suggested he would leave and get coffee, and Joelle enthusiastically agreed that that was a good idea. She firmly closed the door behind him and locked it. She then turned her full attention to me, and began pulling out dresses from her immense collection (I am not sure that I have ever seen so many dresses in that amount of real estate, but she knew where everything was.) I tried on a few things, but nothing was quite right. Then she pulled out a simple white sheath with a metallic thread. I hadn’t wanted white, but I tried it on anyway. I had finally found something that felt like me. It was slightly big, but she had a seamstress who would alter it for me. We added a blue silk sash. Wedding dress was found.
For shoes, I decided upon these low-heeled pearl sandals. They matched perfectly, were comfortable, and didn’t sink into the grass during the ceremony.
This is where choosing a well-managed Airbnb really helped us out. We knew that we wanted to have a small catered dinner after our wedding, but didn’t know where to start with finding a company that would cater to such a small group. I also wasn’t entirely sure what the kitchen of our venue would be like, so was hesitant to hire someone who had never cooked in it. I wrote Sabrina, the owner of Mortgage Hall, and asked if she had any recommendations. She responded prompted with a list of personal chefs and added that Chef Loly was especially great. I have always been a firm believer in not over-managing things that others know more about than you do. So, instead of researching all the chefs and reading a zillion reviews, I went directly to Sabrina’s recommendation and wrote Chef Loly. As luck would have it, Chef Loly was available. She called me to discuss the menu. Again deciding to not over manage, I asked for her to suggest what she thought would be best, within the parameter that I am a vegetarian and Nick is not. She suggested a charcuterie board to start, followed up by a three-course dinner. (We ordered a cake separately, so didn’t ask her to prepare a dessert course.) She said she would serve plated dinners, bring all the dishes, pour wine of our choosing, and even arrange for a floral centerpiece. A couple days later, she gave us two menu options and Nick and I picked our favorite: short ribs for the meat eaters, and vegetable risotto for the vegetarians.
When the day arrived, she and her crew arrived at around lunchtime to start preparing. And she really delivered with an overflowing charcuterie table with fresh figs and empanadas and cheeses and chocolates and meats; multiple beautiful vases of flowers; delicious soup, salad and entrees; custom cookies personalized with our initials; printed menus with our names on them; and exquisite place settings. I almost cried when I saw how beautiful it was. As I sat at that long table and ate dinner that evening, I truly felt like I was in Downton Abbey.
Spoiler alert: my cake turned out perfectly, but I fumbled a bit in trying to find someone. I knew that I did not want to have to worry about someone picking up the wedding cake, and I thought it would be easy to find a bakery that delivered. In an age where I can have a cheap sandwich delivered to my door in a half hour, surely I could do the same with a wedding cake, even a small one. But, Middleburg is in a much more rural area than where I live in Arlington, and it wasn’t so easy. I called a couple bakeries, and they told me that they would do the cake, but not deliver one of that size. Finally, I discovered Dana’s Cake Shoppe in nearby Leesburg. She said that she would deliver the cake and told me to send her photos of a few ideas. I felt overwhelmed, so asked my mom to find some pictures of a simple white cake. She looked around, and I liked the first picture she sent and forwarded that onto Dana. She gave me a very reasonable price and I ordered a vanilla cake with vanilla filing. When it arrived, it was even prettier than the picture. And it was perhaps the best wedding cake I have ever tasted. In fact, I seriously think I might order another one next year to celebrate our anniversary.
Despite my love of pictures, we almost forwent a photographer. I don’t like being the center of attention, and I have been to far too many weddings where the photographer takes over and therefore takes away the intimacy of the event. But, I wanted to have at least one good photo of us with our family from our wedding, and I knew that the best way to get that was to engage a photographer. For the past eighteen years, a significant part of my professional career has been hiring and working with professional photographers. But I’ve never hired a wedding photographer, and I didn’t have anyone in mind. For this I put google to work and found a ranked list of photographers in Loudoun County. Genevieve Leiper was at the top of that list. I looked at Genevieve’s website and as luck would have it she offered a weekday, small wedding package that was super affordable. I then looked at her social media pages and not only loved her work, I saw that she had previously shot weddings at Mortgage Hall. I called her and she was friendly and personable, and was available on our date. Within the day I had booked her.
I woke up on the morning before the wedding and started packing my car. In the midst of that, Nick wrote me a text asking what color tie he was supposed to wear. (I had told him weeks earlier to buy a silvery gray tie, and then I had forgotten to confirm he had, in fact, done so.) He sent me a photo of the ties he owns. None were suitable. I started to panic and he said he would take care of it and go buy a new tie. No worries, he said. Not mollified or convinced, I called my best friend from high school, Beth, who had volunteered to make my bouquet. She answered while out buying flowers. I told her the predicament, and she said she would add a tie to her shopping list. She headed over to the mall and found a tie, and bought socks for good measure. Nick did manage to find a gorgeous silk tie, but I felt better knowing we had a backup.
Around noon, Nick and his brother arrived at my house, and we caravanned out to Middleburg. Self check in at Mortgage Hall was easy and house was more beautiful than we had even expected. Nick and I walked around the grounds and decided to get married in back of the house, facing the beautiful Virginia countryside. A few minutes later Beth arrived to drop off my bouquet (and the tie and socks). The minimalist white rose bouquet was beautiful. Can you believe it was the first she ever made?
My parents and sister’s family arrived that afternoon as well, and we all went to dinner at a local restaurant in Middleburg that evening. My mother brought my grandmother’s diamond band that I now use as an engagement ring, and I wore it that evening. My brother and sister-in-law, who came the farthest, arrived after dinner.
On the morning of the wedding, Nick and my dad drove into town and picked up breakfast sandwiches and pastries from the Upper Crust, a bakery I try to visit every time I visit Middleburg. We all ate a leisurely breakfast and then went for a walk around the grounds.
About an hour and a half before the wedding, it occurred to me that I should start getting ready and I went upstairs. My sister got my new BaBylissPro curling iron from my closet and practiced using it on my niece’s hair while I showered. She then curled my hair for me. My youngest niece was in and out of the room while I was getting ready, and happily ran errands for us, such as retrieving my bouquet from the dining room. After my hair was done, I did my own makeup and got dressed. In addition to my new dress and shoes and Granny’s ring, I borrowed my dear sister-in-law’s diamond and pearl drop earrings.
Just as I was finished getting ready, our wedding photographer arrived and took a quick photo of me in the room (we had decided in advance to steer clear of staging maudlin ‘getting ready’ and ‘first look’ photos.) Our officiant, Donna, also paid me a visit and went over how everything would transpire. Sabrina of Mortgage Hall had recommended Donna, and she impeccably honored our request for a simple, elegant ceremony.
At 3:00, I was ready and went downstairs. My father met in the hall, and we walked outside and down the steps together. I honestly can barely remember the vows, but before I knew it we were married and Nick kissed me. A little too much, which left lipstick all over his face that had to be cleaned before we took photos.
After outdoor photos, which were a bit chilly in the seasonal Thanksgiving week weather (thankfully my nephew carried my coat and put it over my shoulders between shots) we went inside for toasts. We had bought some very nice champagne, and sparkling juice for the kids. Everyone said the sweetest things, and even my nieces gave toasts.
We enjoyed Chef Loly’s delightful charcuterie, and then sat down for dinner. I already described it above, but I will add here that it was the best meal I have eaten at any wedding, ever. This is where we truly benefited from having a small wedding, as quantity does not beget quality when it comes to food.
After dinner, we cut the cake using my neighbor friend’s sterling silver knife that she had received for her own wedding in the 1960s. The cake, too, was delicious.
That evening, I played Unexpected Song on the grand piano in the living room. With the help of my piano teacher, I had crash learned it in several weeks.
The rest of the evening flew by, and our family left the next day. Nick and I were not quite ready to go home, so we checked into a bed and breakfast in Middleburg to have one last day to ourselves. It was a perfect wedding and I will always be grateful to everyone, especially my family and husband, who made it happen.
Photos, except as noted: Genevieve Leiper