The offbeat bride: Vanessa, artist and teacher

Her offbeat partner: Nick, computer guy

Date and location of wedding: Prairie Production, Chicago, IL — October 23, 2011

What made our wedding offbeat: Nick and I have been together for 13+ years. This wedding was just a formal, public expression of what was already in our hearts. The venue, Prairie Production, is a working photo studio that looks like nothing special from the front but inside is an urban haven. It was a blank, white canvas to work with. I made many of the details myself including the invitations, favors, signage, and photo gallery.


Our menu catered easily to vegans/vegetarians though we did compromise for other guests as well. But, cake, desserts, and snacks were all vegan.


Tell us about the ceremony: The ceremony was Ethical Humanist and very short. We're not religious people yet still wanted some kind of ceremony that seemed official. It was perfect for us.

Amazing Day

We had a close friend of mine read this excerpt from “Gift From the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The first line of the quote is a quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery and was feature in our invitations by coincidence.

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

bubblesFor, in fact man and woman are not only looking outward in the same direction; they are working outward. Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base. Here one makes oneself part of the community of men, of human society. And here the bonds of marriage are formed.

For marriage, which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm. The web is fashioned of love. Yes, many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow—growing devotion and playing these through, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments. It is a web of communication, a common language, and the acceptance of lack of language, too; a knowledge of likes and dislikes, of habits and reactions, both physical and mental. It is a web of instincts and intuitions, and known and unknown exchanges.

The web of marriage is made by propinquity, in the day to day living side by side, looking outward and working outward in the same direction. It is woven in space and in time of the substance of life itself.

This bench is not comfortable

Our biggest challenge: Superficially? My dress. I ended up having to get two of them due to some quality issues with the first one. Luckily, they were both inexpensive. That's the risk of ordering online I suppose. Plus, I had to have some major alterations done.

The most important challenge was making sure the wedding and reception was ours while still remaining mellow and flexible with other people. The constant conversations about details I didn't care about and comments/suggestions that were not asked for or appreciated really burnt me out. I simply stopped talking about the wedding about three months before.

Bouquet flower

In the end, I just went with the flow with things that seemed very important to family but I didn't care much about. I know it's supposed to be our day, but since we've been together so long and emotionally married already, I quickly realized the importance of seeing guests and family comfortable and happy.

First Dance

My favorite moment: The small moments that day with my new husband. The ceremony and how touched everyone was by it, including the groom who was in tears by the time I got up there to meet him (even though we had already seen each other in our outfits the entire morning already). A room filled with so many people who love us from different parts of our lives. My dad telling me he was proud of the wonderful wedding I put together for our family and friends. Our first dance, which was choreographed and super secret to all our guests.

Money Bouquets

Men & Money

My funniest moment: The groom's father dancing on the table was hilarious as was the “money bouquet” toss, especially watching the guys fight over it.

Lollipop Girls

The “girls with lollipops” photo shoot was funny as well.

Sweet & Salty Table

Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? The 50-frame photo gallery was so obviously going to come crashing down to the floor! We weren't allowed to put nails in the walls, but miraculously, it stayed up with some last minute changes. (Plus, check out the aftermath of spray-painting all of those frames.)

6335736374 a4dcb0f91d alternative wedding ideas from Offbeat Wed (formerly Offbeat Bride)

The photobooth was a worry as well. I put in ad on Craigslist for a photographer two weeks before who was willing to set one up for a flat fee. Though the set-up wasn't what I expected, guests enjoyed it, it was pretty much hassle-free, and a great deal.

ReallyMy advice for offbeat brides: Surprise your guests with something. Plus, keeping a secret from everyone with your groom is fun. Accept that weddings make people weird, but it doesn't have to be YOU that gets weird.

Vendors, family, and friends assume you are going to go all banana sandwiches just because you're the bride. You will handle the wedding planning and the day much like you handle anything in your life. Allow people to be a part of this time, even if it's not exactly what you had planned.

Wear comfortable shoes! Listen more, talk less and smile more.

What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Guests and family may think they know what they want for a wedding, but really they can be refreshed by new and fun ways of celebrating marriage. Wedding planning is a great and challenging exercise in self-trust and decision making. And finally, more than learning, I really FELT how much people cared about us. The thoughts and efforts of some people were simply overwhelming.

"where is my birthday" Guest Book Calendar

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Comments on Vanessa & Nick’s urban whimsy wedding

  1. This was a really sweet post. Could you explain about the money bouquets and the calendar? Those pictures piqued my curiosity!

    • Hi! The calendar was simply a guest book where people signed on their birth date (for my future reference. especially new family). The “where is my birthday” theme is my own on going art project that is about location, friendship & gift giving. This was just another extension of that.

      The money bouquets: the ‘throw the bouquet/throw the garter’ tradition seems weird to me. plus almost no guests were single! but i still wanted to do something. i folded dollar bill flowers (this video is pretty good Each bouquet had $30 in it, so EVERYONE wanted to catch it, guys & gals.

      • I love, Love, LOVE the calendar as guestbook idea. We really already have our guestbook plan in place, but no rule says the we can’t have two, right?

  2. This story made my day. I’ve been having some frustrations with my ceremony music being planned for me (friends of the family) and yet I understand that the desire to contribute to a wedding is strong among loved ones. Thank you also for the quote from Gift from the Sea. What a strange coincidence; my Mom just gave me that book to read…

    Also: does your banner there say “sweet and Salty” on the dessert table? Love it. Did you have desserts from a caterer or was it all brought in by friends?

    • Hang in there with the planning! Honestly, it got to the point where i just decided & didn’t tell anyone anything or mention it (including ceremony music!).

      who doesn’t like a little salt with their sweet right? the cake, brownies & pumpkin tarts were from one baker (Chicago Diner). the tea cookies were from another baker (Hilary’s Cookies). fruit plates from caterer. lollipops from another place… all the salty snacks i brought in & i made the chocolate covered pretzels the night before! it was pretty intense.

  3. That dress is amazing, but I’m kind of confused– the link says you got it from Plus Size Bridal, but you look quite slim. Are the dresses available in non-plus sizes as well?

    • Yes! Plus Sized Bridal does sell ALL sizes. BUT the cool thing about them is that if you buy a dress that is size 16 or more, you can return if it doesn’t work out it with a small restocking fee!

  4. “I know it’s supposed to be our day, but since we’ve been together so long and emotionally married already, I quickly realized the importance of seeing guests and family comfortable and happy”

    THIS! It’s a very tricky balance, to be sure. But I agree whole-heartedly.

    And your little prairie dogs are priceless!

    • thanks!
      and yes, it’s tricky. letting go of ownership can be difficult, but if it helps smooth over small rough patches, it’s worth it.

  5. Great Wedding!! Love the idea of sweet n salty “bar area” cute and yummy at the same time. I am wondering about that money bouquet too. Love your gown!! Congratulations!!

  6. Loved your wedding (and the Ethical Humanism!). We’re getting married at an indoor farmer’s market for very similar reasons (low rent, blank canvas, like the architecture, etc.). How did you coordinate getting everything “wedding ready” on the day of the reception at a place not used to seeing weddings? Also, what were the logistics of getting married and having the reception at the same space? Thanks sooo much if you can answer :X

    • the space where our wedding was is an event space and is frequently used for weddings so i relied on their expertise for many things.

      as for getting everything ready that day, you NEED a great caterer. they do EVERYTHING. rentals, set up decor (whatever you give them or have them rent), food (the good ones cook onsite in a truck so food is fresh!), bar & take everything down. the caterer is your basic day-of coordinator and your best friend.

      the catering staff should also be able to “turn your room around” after the ceremony during a cocktail and/or picture hour. there was a curtain that was pulled closed & guests were free to go outside or stay in the next room and mingle. it took about 45min-1 for the set up to be complete for dinner.

      hope this helps a little. have fun! it will go great.

  7. It was a super fun wedding to go to! Thanks and congratulations again Vanessa and Nick!

  8. The Couple was enjoying very much and dancing amazing. The spot was so beautiful and enhance the beauty of wedding.

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