I had the honor and privilege of being hired to plan the wedding of my dear friends Joel and Mike. Joel also asked me to be in his wedding party, and this double role of planner and groomsman was one of my greatest challenges yet. I first met Joel several years ago when he was cast in the original production of my play The Boys Upstairs. Shortly thereafter I helped him get a job at Soho House as a bartender, but I quickly snatched him to work directly with me on the events that I run. Joel now has an excellent eye for events, so I knew the stakes were high to exceed his and Mike’s expectations. I had a wonderful experience working with both of these boys on creating a custom weekend that brought all of their friends and family together to celebrate.
Joel and Mike live in Brooklyn but had their hearts set on a fall wedding in beautiful upstate New York. After several site visits in the Catskills, they discovered The Inn at West Settlement located in Roxbury, New York. This venue is a picturesque, sprawling property that was ideal for every part of Joel and Mike’s vision. The owners have spent a lot of time and money in recent years making it suitable for wedding weekends, and personally I think they’ve been very smart in what they’ve created. It’s a beautiful 5-bedroom home, which comfortably slept the boys and their immediate family. The front yard of the house overlooks the water and mountains, making it a stunning setting for a ceremony. On the other side of the driveway is an outdoor bar and yard with a fire pit, which was perfect for the cocktail hour and after-party. This area is located next to the barn, the interior of which has been beautifully restored for receptions. There is also a patio off the side of the house, which was perfect for the rehearsal dinner and farewell brunch. It’s literally a one-stop venue for a wedding weekend!
Early on in the planning process, I sat down with Joel and Mike to discuss their vision. After brainstorming, we came up with three words to always come back to when making style decisions: “Fall Festival Chic!” The venue lent itself to this description so naturally I felt most of the heavy lifting was taken care of. They booked Ali Rosa Photography to document their special day. While we looked at different invitation designs, they scheduled an engagement photo shoot for a weekend in the city, which ended up raining non-stop. Mother Nature didn’t stop them, and in fact she helped them get this incredible photo that we decided must be used for their invitation.
The color palette for their wedding was burgundy, navy, and sunflower yellow. Joel and Mike each selected a tweed suit in a different shade of grey from Suit Supply. Mike chose a three-piece suit with a light window-pane pattern that he finished with a long tie, while Joel’s was a two-piece that he completed with suspenders and a tweed bow tie. They hand-selected their wedding party – a mixture of their siblings and closest friends. The girls all wore different dresses in the same shade of burgundy, while we guys each wore a navy suit with a light blue dress shirt. Our wedding party gifts were the socks, bow ties, and fabulous initial, typewriter-key cufflinks they selected for all of us to wear.
As I mentioned earlier, Joel is an actor, who studied theatre in college, and Mike is an attorney. The ceremony they created really captured the two of them, with influences from their careers and families, and also honored the legality of same-sex marriage in New York. Just before sunset, all 134 guests were seated in wooden folding chairs on the front lawn, while guitarist Dylan Charles played some fantastic cover songs to set the mood. When it was time for the processional, he began “La Vie en Rose,” and we orchestrated something very unique with the talented wedding party: The first groomsmaid walked down the aisle and then picked up an accordion to join the guitar; the following groomsmaid then joined in with vocals. It created a tremendous effect with momentum building as Mike’s father escorted Joel and Mike’s dog, Baxter, who served as ring bearer, down the aisle, followed by Mike and his mom, and lastly Joel and his father. Joel’s mom had passed away the year before, so we felt this was the best way to arrange the processional. The ceremony was officiated by Judge Allyne Ross, and it included a reading of an excerpt from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in United States v. Windsor. After many tears and much laughter from their extremely personal vows, they exchanged rings, and everyone walked back down the aisle to the recessional choice of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”
Guests followed the signs pointing to cocktails on the side lawn, where they were greeted with trays of Aperol spritzers and spiked apple cider. Dylan Charles was joined by clarinetist Janelle Reichman to keep the music going while servers passed trays of warm butternut squash soup shots; miniature grilled steaks with caramelized onions and blue cheese; pigs-in-a-blanket made from local sausage; chicken Parmesan bites; miniature grilled ham-and-cheese toasties; and fresh herb-and-cheese stuffed mushrooms. Guests could also visit the photo booth stocked with frames, masks, and mustaches, or play one of the lawn games we set out, such as cornhole, horseshoes, or bocce. At the end of cocktail hour, we called on another talented friend to draw everyone to the stairs of the barn with his accordion playing.
Guests entered the beautifully lit barn and were immediately on the dance floor thanks to the fabulous DJ Steven Paul.
The entire wedding party was introduced, followed by “the now legally married Joel and Mike,” which led into a rousing “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” After breaking a sweat, everyone sat at gorgeous wooden farm tables, complete with mismatched antique dining chairs. Simple sunflower arrangements by the Catskill Flower Shop served as centerpieces, while tons of votive candles in various sized mason jars lined the long tables on which navy and burgundy napkins alternated at each place setting. Sweet Nothings, headed by chef Linda Laestadius, served each guest a salad of baby mixed greens with grilled pears, caramelized walnuts, and goat cheese. Then a family-style main course was brought to each table, consisting of grilled flank steak, grilled herb-marinated chicken, wild mushroom risotto, mashed sweet potatoes with maple liqueur, and haricot verts almondine. There were heartfelt and funny toasts, and then Steven Paul got everyone back on the dance floor with the hits of Katy Perry and Madonna to name just a few. Joel and Mike cut a small cake with a “Mr. and Mr.” topper, and guests snacked on cupcakes from One Girl Cookies and grazed at the “Opposites Attract” candy bar (Joel’s favorite fruity candy and Mike’s favorite chocolate candy). After the last dance, guests were given wrapped candy apples to take home, and if they wanted more, they headed to the fire pit on the side lawn for an after-party consisting of cigars, scotch, and s’mores. It was a chic fall festival! They hired Blake Drummond Films as a videographer; you can watch the fantastic highlight reel here. You can see more of the beautiful photos here. CHALLENGES The next morning Joel and Mike told me the whole weekend was perfect and had exceeded all of their expectations. Hearing that is exactly why I love being a wedding planner. Being able to create a special weekend that a couple will cherish their whole life is a gift to them and me, and it’s even more meaningful when the couple are dear friends. But I also feel it’s important as a planner to share the many challenges I encountered in planning this wedding. While being in such a rural area in nature is incredibly beautiful, there was no cell service anywhere on the grounds at the venue. Simple tasks like googling a local vendor or texting to check on a delivery were not options. One of our biggest headaches was organizing housing for everyone. Roxbury is almost a three-hour drive from Manhattan, so essentially all guests needed to stay nearby. We did this through a combination of rental homes and small motels, but it was very challenging encouraging guests to commit to these arrangements, as most required pairing people in homes that could sleep eight to twelve guests and required deposits. The other noticeable difference working in an area like this was the local vendors. I found great prices and quality, local ingredients, but a different level of service than what I’m used to. I do think The Inn at West Settlement is an ideal venue for this kind of wedding, but if any of you are considering it, be prepared for these challenges. And on a personal level, after doing double duty, I was the most exhausted I have ever been at the end of a wedding. But for these boys and the wedding we got to create, it was totally worth it!