Wedding

Planning an Intimate Wedding (During Covid)

Now that we’re officially married, I wanted to share some of the details and behind the scenes of the planning. I’m going to try to be succinct (and coherent). I am half in disbelief we pulled it off.

Let me also just say that there’s a difference between planning a small wedding… and planning a small wedding during a pandemic. I have never planned a small wedding outside of a pandemic, so my experience is pretty filtered through the lens of covid. (That is to say, if you’re reading this five years from now we are, hopefully lol 😩, not still in a pandemic.

Soooo…. I truly cannot write this post without acknowledging that I’ve dreaded planning a wedding. I’ve never wanted one and I knew Mike did, so I figured it was inevitable. That said, it turns out I loved planning it!!! I say this because if you’re like me it can seem so, so daunting, but it wasn’t nearly as stressful as I thought it would be (not that there wasn’t stress) and I genuinely enjoyed the process. (AND I had a blast at the wedding.)

The biggest thing that mentally helped me was realizing that you can make your wedding what you and your partner want it to be. It doesn’t have to follow the same ole script that every other wedding seemingly follows or do what your family/friends want you to do. Obviously planning within a pandemic is going to put some bumpers and restrictions up on what you realistically can or can’t do. If you don’t want to walk down the aisle… don’t. If you want pie instead of cake… go for pie. If you want to wear a jumpsuit instead of a gown… by all means. Make it YOU.

Before I get into the actual planning, I have to acknowledge that there’s risk. There is inherent risk in having any kind of event right now. Even going to the grocery store has some degree of risk with covid. Even with our wedding, we tried to be as safe as possible (while still having a wedding– the absolute safest would have been no wedding) and we tried to eliminate as much risk as possible, but still…  Since spread is more likely between people– versus surfaces– our focus for the safety of the wedding was to eliminate as many people as possible. (If you want a lot of people and don’t want to have to roll up your sleeves and do a lot of the work yourself, I would wait until it’s safer!)

OKAY! So how did we go about planning the wedding?

FIGURING OUT WHEN TO DO IT. You may remember that Mike proposed in June. Before COVID we had really talked about a lot of options: something on Nantucket, a destination wedding in Ireland, something fancy in NYC, something bigger but more local in the suburbs. We had an idea for a date in mind and had looked into venues and everything. And then COVID hit. In early May, we sat down and just kind of came to terms with the fact that the pandemic was going to dictate a lot of everyday life for a while, including weddings. I also had no clue when Mike was going to propose, so I put everything out of my head and figured everything would happen when it was supposed to happen.

Once Mike did propose, then we started to have more firm conversations about what our options were. We could potentially (I say potentially because my family lives in Florida so that adds a layer of travel complication) do something soon…. or we could wait until 2021 (which, in my opinion is still not a guarantee)… or we could wait until 2022. Honestly, we didn’t want to wait two years to get married just to have a party. Was this the wedding we each dreamed of? No. But it ended up being so perfect and so special. We had our immediate families there and that’s really what mattered to us. We both really missed our friends, but with a pandemic, everyone was understanding why we couldn’t risk it.

We actually played around with dates and had to change it a few times… August felt too soon. October seemed risky if there was a “second wave.” September was going to be tough too because my dad and grandma both celebrate Jewish holidays and we had teachers/administrators/students who would be at the wedding going back to school after Labor Day. So… basically September 5 was going to have to be the day!

Obviously everyone is at risk for coronavirus, but we also had some higher risk individuals including my grandma who just turned 93 on September 1! We asked everyone to lock down for two weeks, which was a huge ask, especially since New Jersey has opened back up quite a bit by now, but everyone agreed. And my family, including my grandma, rented a massive SUV and drove up to be here.

(Also until my family legitimately arrived, there was always the possibility that we’d have to cancel or postpone. It didn’t feel like it was actually going to happen…. until it was actually happening.)

WHERE TO DO IT. Once Mike and I landed on a date, we started to brainstorm what we wanted the actual day to look like. We looked into a few local places for the ceremony but we really couldn’t think about a better place than our own backyard. I cannot recommend doing this enough. A benefit of doing it in a backyard (either yours or a family members) is that it gives you a lot of flexibility. You’re not competing for dates and you don’t have to put down deposits… and if it rains you could theoretically just go inside, or what an hour for it to stop, or (our backup plan) do it the day before or the day after.

After the date and the location were secured, then it was basically just like… write down everything we have to do before now and then and execute. This is why I think I enjoyed the process so much. I LIVE FOR LISTS. And apparently wedding planning is just making a giant list and checking things off as you go.

PEOPLE LOGISTICS. My family stayed in our house with us leading up to the wedding so everyone could avoid hotels. It was also really fun to have everyone under the same roof– my dad and grandma hadn’t seen our house yet! It also made the week feel even more special having everyone here. Even though the big planning was all done by the time they came, there was still a bunch of little stuff that crept up on us and it was great having extra sets of hand to help get everything done. My mom and grandma washed and dried so many dishes and glasses.

MY GIANT LIST. I created a Google Sheet so Mike and I could each contribute to it. I also liked that I could access it on my phone as well. For the first week or so, I just dotted things that popped into my head. Then I created separate sheets within the doc: Schedule, Miscellaneous, Food & Drink, Table, Environmental, and Vendor Contacts. I think they’re pretty self-explanatory, but:

For schedule: I made a timeline with 30 minute increments of when everything that would happen the day of.

For miscellaneous: I had a list of everything I’d need to wear, flower girl dresses, honeymoon details, wedding bands, etc. Kind of anything that didn’t fit into other categories.

Food & Drink: Mike took charge of this tab and created grocery lists, timing for cooking, and a list of what champagnes, wines, liquor, and mixers we needed to get for the night.

Table: I actually looked at a lot of pictures of tables at various weddings on Pinterest and just wrote down a list of everything we’d need for the table. From chairs to butter dishes. It helped referencing photos and writing EVERYTHING down. Because we had such a small guest list, I opted to buy everything than rent. (I knew we’ll host more things once we can safely and it’s not the worst thing to have a 16 sets of silverware, wine glasses, champagne flutes, etc on hand!)

Environmental: This was a section dedicated to everything in the backyard. Tackling our backyard in a short timeline was the most challenging part. We needed to do everything from install a fence (!!!) to pressure wash the patio. I kept a list of everything that needed to be done in that department.

Vendors: I did keep a running list of every point of contact I had.

The Google Doc isn’t the cleanest when I look at it now, but it kept us organized and gave us a clear sense of what we needed to finish, what we still needed to do, and what was confirmed and what had arrived. For example, if I had “silverware” on the table sheet, I would leave the space next to it blank until I found a few options. I’d add links as I found them, then delete what we decided against, and bold it once it arrived at the house. I also broke things down into smaller tasks (which is how I handle everything in my life in general). At any given date, I could go in and know what still needed to be done. It really helped me not only stay on top of the long to-do list but also eased a lot of would-be anxiety because I knew I could do everything if I just kept chugging along. It never felt overwhelming or impossible (which surprised me)– I was like a woman on a mission and, armed with my list, I felt totally capable of getting it all done.

Also, it helped having one spot to write everything down because throughout the planning process, we’d think of something and just add it to the list so we didn’t forget and could address it later.

THE VISION: I actually put together a vision board in Photoshop that helped me work through how I wanted it to look… and to explain to others. I think when we kept saying “backyard wedding” it wasn’t fully accurate for what we were going for. That’s the image at the top of the post!

I had two points of “inspiration.” The first was the flowers. I wanted flowers everywhere. Since we were saving money for a thousand reasons (no band, no invitations, no venue, no seated dinner for hundreds of guests, no travel, no hotels necessary, etc.), I went wild with the flowers. It was by far the biggest expenditure but worth every freaking penny. Since we got married at home, I knew having flowers everywhere would “elevate” it into something special. I knew right away that I wanted to work with Kerry Patel and I knew I could whole heartedly trust her. (Frankly I knew she’d do such a great job that I could wear pajamas and it’d still feel like a wedding.) She lives in the same town so she came over and I walked her through what I was thinking and sent her a few inspo pictures… then I let her do her magic.

The second thing that really drove the vision of the wedding was knowing I wanted to use the Vista Alegre Rueben Blue plates. I bought every dinner plate I could find on Replacements.com and eBay and the rest of the wedding was spun around the bow plates. (This sounds insane and maybe it was, but it worked for me!)

THE DETAILS. This is where I had the most fun!! I knew I had all the big stuff taken care of and just started to dream up little details. I spent hours searching for great flower girl dresses. I looked up every rental company that delivered to our town until I found the perfect tables and chairs. I hand-embroidered hankies for all the women. I embroidered our monogram on the dinner napkins. I whipped up and printed little “programs” on scalloped invitations I found at Staples. This is where I’m my mother’s daughter for sure– she taught me from an early age the fun of the details!

While the flowers set the scene, the details are what tied everything together.

WHAT I FREAKED OUT ABOUT. Besides just having general anxiety around the pandemic, I do have to admit that I turned into a slight bridezilla around two items: the flower girl dresses and the fence. As I mentioned on Sunday, I left no stone unturned when it came to the flower girl dresses and I was PUMPED to get them in…. but there was a four week shipping period and they were shipping from Spain. There are, understandably, many shipping delays right now so I was hoping for the best. We were on a tight timeline and they ultimately arrived with plenty of time, but I started to panic that they wouldn’t fit and I’d have to go back to square one or something. I did send a few follow up messages to make sure they’d show up and they did and they fit and they were beautiful.

The fence…. was a whole ordeal. We’ve been trying to get our fence put in since May. The guy ghosted us, then we got back in touch with the company but had to restart the process. Then the permit for the city was denied. Then we tweaked the fence and the permit was resubmitted and approved. But then we needed the survey people to come out to restake the property but they were hard to pin down. I finally left a voicemail begging them to call me back. We had the survey people come the nine days before the wedding and the fence was installed the following day. When all was said and done, we got the fence in and it looked great, but it was a longggg process. (The best part of the fence is that we needed one anyway– the wedding really put a fire under our butts to just get it done!)

WILL WE DO A PARTY LATER? Almost certainly, yes. The plan is to do some kind of anniversary party down the road (when life allows) so we can celebrate with all of our friends. We have an idea for what we want to do but it will probably be at least two years down the road. It’s hard to think out that far, but that’s the plan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

59 Comments

Charlotte

LOVE! I also got married on 9/5/2020, and I love how simple, classic, and intimate your wedding was! We ended up using a lot of the decor around our home, which was the best investment we could have made. SO smart!

Reply
Katie

This post exudes excitement! You just feel how happy you are. I am getting married next May (engaged in February, pre COVID) and let’s just say planning has been, well, insane. Cheers to you and Mike!

Reply
Marti

Congratulations!
You mentioned you had flowers everywhere…the Little Library too I hope. If so, picture please.
Also, the look in Mike’s eyes…oh my goodness. You are one lucky woman!

Reply
Anne

Congrats, Carly & Mike! What a beautiful wedding. Know it may not have been the wedding you originally hoped for, but it sounds like it was perfect!

Reply
Anne

Me too! I’m likely to do my own makeup for our backyard wedding. Would love any tips you might have!

Reply
Janna Kraus

I don’t know why, but somehow these labels? cards? made me teary, they make it so real! This is really lovely and helpful and you look so, so happy together.

Reply
M STAUFFER

This is AMAZING!! I was so excited to read that the wedding “happened”. The details that matter the most is your happiness and honoring your families. Each day is a gift. Thinking of the memories gives me all the feels. No regrets and you are MARRIED!! Congratulations and continue to enjoy the honeymoon.

Reply
Lisa

Your wedding was beautiful! In my opinion the amount of money people spend on weddings is crazy! It’s nice to see that someone can do something different that is still gorgeous and #goals.

Thank you for being one of the only influencers I’ve seen actually taking the coronavirus seriously too and for including those logistics.

Reply
Kayla

Such a gorgeous wedding – congrats!
One question – how did you family quarantine if they were in your house? My parents live in NJ and I haven’t been able to see them because there’s a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon entering NJ from any of the hotspot states (so quarantining before leaving the state you’re in doesn’t matter – NJ seems to want the quarantine after traveling) . So would love to know how you all managed that – I’d love to be able to see my family!

Reply
carly

Yea to be super honest, they didn’t do the two week quarantine here and did a the two weeks in Florida. Because my grandma is 93, it was easier for her to do it in her own house versus spend two weeks climbing our stairs!

Reply
Emily

Your wedding was beautiful – I think a small, well executed event is the way to go – you can have all the extra special details you want whilst saving a tonne of money too! I’m from the UK so maybe it’s different in America, but can you legally wed in the garden or will you have to do an extra legal ceremony later? In the UK, as far as I understand it, only certain venues are licensed to legally marry people & some friends who married in her parents garden during covid will have to marry legally later

Reply
Melissa

My wedding reception was in my parents’ backyard. It was lovely and I actually spent time with my guests since it was a very casual buffet of finger foods & desserts. I walked around barefoot and had the best time. I got misty when I sold their house 2 years ago because of the memories Congratulations-your wedding looked beautiful

Reply
Lauren

LOVE all the details, Carly! So special 🙂

I saw you posted a personalized cake server/knife set on FB – would you mind sharing where that is from?

Reply
Mackenzie

Love the details! I would L O V E to see a crafting series where you break down how you executed your invites, embroidery, needlepoint canvas, etc. I think it would be great tips for hosting and the upcoming holidays! Plus, I’m contemplating getting a Cricut and would love to see it in action :o) Congrats again on your marriage!

Reply
Christina

Carly! Congratulations, I am truly so happy for you and Mike and love everything about your wedding – it is so encouraging! I am curious – if you had not been able to track down the Karlie dress, what would have been your alternative?

Reply
carly

I had found a designer gown that I was going to have rush ordered. It’s actually why I had the Karlie overnighted… I wanted to make sure it would work!

Reply
Julianne

I love your idea of an anniversary party down the line! Now I’m totally dreaming of how I want to do that. This all is utterly gorgeous; I love how you styled it.

Reply
Lauren S

It still makes me so happy that I introduced you to the Vista Alegre Ruban Blue. As a long time reader of your blog it feels like I finally got to give back to you in some small way, congrats again!

Reply
Brittany H

I ADORE this and am sooo jealous you still have your grandma! Everything about your special day seemed so pretty and perfect. Many, many mazels 🙂

Reply
Kendra

Did Mike’s dad have to apply to be allowed to perform a wedding in New Jersey? Is he clergy? Or how did he become a marriage commissioner? When did you decide he would perform the wedding?

Reply
carly

He had done other weddings for other people so I believe he was already ordained (I think that’s the word). We knew pretty early on! Mike and I both knew he’d be the man for the job!

Reply
Chrissy

I would love to see a post exclusively about your paper and linen products!! I’m so impressed you did the programs yourself. They look so professional and gorgeous!

Reply
carly

Would you believe I found these scalloped invites at Staples? They’re so nice!!! And the quote I got for someone else to print them was INSANITY. I was like, um I can do this with my home printer ha

Reply
Meg Hackney

Congratulations!! From a fellow COVID bride, I love hearing all about the process! Our wedding was supposed to be on 9/5/2020. With COVID we ended up eloping, in July, at the Cliff House in Maine (just the two of us – to limit exposure). It wasn’t what we originally planned, but we didn’t want to wait. Plus, there was something so special about sharing the moment with just each other. Unfortunately, we had already put down deposits for our original venue/vendors, so we are also planning to use that to have an anniversary party *hopefully* in 2021. Looking forward to hearing more about your anniversary party when the day comes!

Reply
Amanda

Congratulations! Your wedding was absolutely stunning and seems like a very special day for your families. Thank you for sharing all of your planning details – as a bride engaged in 2019 with an original date in May 2021, I have a Plan B backyard wedding idea so seeing yours come together so wonderfully is great inspiration!

Reply
Hillary

Congratulations! Your wedding was gorgeous and you look so happy! Would you consider sharing your wedding makeup? I did my own wedding makeup (pre-COVID) and it was so helpful to hear what friends had used. I’m guessing many brides will be doing their own makeup for small ceremonies in the near future.

Reply
carly

Yes! It was actually just my regular routine with eyeshadow and false lashes. I didn’t want to go crazy!!

Reply
Danielle B

Hi Carly! I am so blown away by how amazing your day looked. I am planning my wedding for next year and my vision is definitely a combination of this with Krista Robertson’s! I am so grateful you guys are willing to share these bits of your life on the internet to help others make their vision come to life. We are doing a small backyard ceremony with a very limited number of people and right now the plan is for a larger reception party two days later. This way if we’re still living in COVID times we can still go through with our ceremony (hopefully) and delay the party. Anyway, I was hoping I could pick your brain on a few items on how your day flowed! I can email you if that would be easier, but here are the questions I’d love to know more about! Also, if you don’t want to share these intimate details I understand!

1. Did you seat everyone for the ceremony / did you “walk down the aisle”?
2. How did you transition at the closure of the ceremony? (e.g. did you and Mike “walk down the aisle” and exit?)
3. Did you do a first dance? speeches?
4. While dinner was being prepared did everyone just kind of mingle and help with preparation?

Reply
carly

1. Everyone stood (except we brought a chair for my grandma!)
2. We just had everyone come up and hug! No official exit!
3. Yes to first dance, I danced with my dad and mike danced with his mom. And all the usual speeches + extra toasts!
4. Everything was pretty much done (we specifically chose food that could be prepared ahead of time. My mom just pulled the Mac and cheese out of the oven and mike pulled the meat off the smoker!)

Reply
Tara

I love reading posts like this! I was the same way as a bride — super detail oriented and obsessed with my Google spreadsheets. I remember I had a tab with all of the tasks that needed doing, organized by major (dress, venue), less major (flowers, cake), and minor (gifts, decor). I even color-coded all my tasks for “to do,” “in progress,” and “completed” — one of my favorite things was getting to update the colors as we made progress on everything!

I’d love if you went through and did a full breakdown of the day with photos, from getting ready to ceremony through to reception and ending.

Reply
Becky

Carly, thanks for sharing! Your wedding details are so lovely and your dress is simple yet exquisite. You looked beautiful! Two other details just jumped out as I was looking at your photos, hope you don’t mind me sharing: your sisters dress is stunning and Mike’s hair is enviable!!

Reply
Lauren

Wow! It’s amazing how many little logistical considerations go into planning a COVID-friendly wedding. It turned out absolutely beautiful, and props to you guys for doing everything possible to ensure the safety of your guests.

Reply
Christine S.

Thank you so much for sharing, Carly! It’s amazing how quickly you put together such a beautiful wedding, and during a pandemic too. Just curious, are you thinking of a vow renewal for your party in 2022-ish (something with a ceremony) or just the reception? My fiance and I are doing a “second” ceremony for our big celebration next August (legal marriage is this Saturday!) but if we have to bump that yet again thanks to COVID, at some point I feel like we’d be more inclined to do reception-only…

Reply
Kelly Golightly

This is so beautiful and lovely! We also did a small wedding (about 20 people), though in non-Covid times, in 2006.

Now I am obsessed with those bow plates and am trying to refrain from buying some. Haha.

Congratulations to you both xo!

Reply
Libby

All I have to say is that I definitely burst into happy tears when I saw your first wedding post on IG 🙂 WHAT A HAPPY DAY!! So, please keep this beautiful wedding content coming, ahah! I am so happy for the two of you! Congrats and best wishes Carly and Mike!

Reply
Ro // A Cup of Kims

I loved this post and your wedding posts! The napkins are so cute and I like that there were some personal touches that you made yourself. And the invitations with the ribbon? So cute!! Thank you for sharing!

Reply
A Girl, A Style

Carly, this was such a joy to read! Like you, I *live* for the details, so the bow plates and those hand-embroidered handkerchiefs and napkins are just PERFECT!

Briony xx

Reply
Rachel

Regarding the fence situation – contractors/landscapers/etc in NJ are SO SHADY! I’ve yet to find a good one because they are all so flaky. Sorry, had to get that off my chest! ha

These details are very pretty – of course I love the blue/white.

Reply
Laura

Gorgeous! Keep the posts and pictures coming!
While I love love love all the details, I personally am obsessed with the hankies you did! Everytime you post about they stop me in my tracks 🙂! Such an heirloom! So thoughtful!

Reply
Liz

Are you going to do another post on the ceremony itself? Would love to hear how you chose Mike’s dad, was he already licensed, how did you plan the content for the ceremony?!

Reply
Sophia

We also got married in my (parents’) backyard (one year ago this weekend) and I will forever remember the week leading up to it with all the family prep and projects in the house! My grandma baking our cake, my sister handwriting place cards, etc. So special and so happy for you!!

Reply
Megan S

Your wedding looked beautiful!! I’m curious what you did for music for dancing? Thanks!

Reply