How-To & Diy

Why We Chose to Have a Backyard Wedding

My husband Alex and I knew we wanted to get married in New York as soon as we got engaged—all our memories together were wrapped up in its neighborhoods, restaurants, streets, watering holes, laughing, dancing, with friends, and every other little thing. We thought: This is the place that so expertly expresses us as one.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

(Something to consider: When we got properly engaged, we had already been half-engaged. We picked out my ring together, 3 months before, so even without planning it we both had time to consider this choice. Plus, I don't wear much jewelry and I'm picky, so getting in on the decision was cool.)

And we knew what kind of wedding we wanted: Under 100 people, food-focused, homey, intimate. We wanted there to be great live music and games for the in-between moments. We wanted really good wine and not a full bar. It was kind of uncanny how easily we could define the form that this celebration should take so quickly.

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As we soon learned, it was laughable trying to sleuth out a semi-affordable wedding venue in New York City. (But I'm sure you could have told us that, right? So many stories start out like this.) We wanted to believe! Alex and I slogged to open houses, sent what seemed like thousands of emails, constantly reviewed websites and brochures. Everything was beautiful, sparkling, and basking in the perfect light of a glossy sheen of dollars. Already married friends graciously sent us their budgets and while we politely nodded and reviewed, we knew we were playing out of our league.

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“I'm so happy that we are reminded of our wedding day every time that we visit my mother's home. This alone is why everyone should have a backyard wedding.”
— Alex W.

At one point or another, probably a little unconsciously, we decided it wasn't going to happen—we just didn't have the budget, nor wanted to bleed ourselves dry trying to throw the wedding in our heads in the city. So we started looking north, toward the Hudson Valley, where Alex's mom, Jo, lives.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

Her home is a cozy little thing nestled right on the Hudson River outside of Germantown—dubbed Spoon Cottage because former owners found antique spoons in the walls as they renovated. We'd spent countless weekends there as Alex and I had dated, with mugs of coffee and card games in the winter and all the windows thrown open and grilling in the summer. Whether it was an unsuccessful site visit or just a passing thought, jokes started flying around about how it would be so much easier and affordable to just have the wedding at Jo's house. And so, that was that: We were having a backyard wedding.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

I can see your wheels turning and thinking: The house must be huge, the yard massive, rolling grassy lawns and hardly a soul around. In fact, her house and yard are quite small, wild shapes all arranged next to one another, and between the house and the river are tracks where Amtrak trains run once an hour. But there are interesting nooks and crannies, and an itsy public park jutting out into the river just across the tracks—perfect for a little ceremony (and for kayakers to gather around in the back and watch). So we had to get creative and use different areas around the house for different parts of the night: A neighboring park for the ceremony, backyard and deck for cocktail hour, and a tent in the front for dinner.

With our decision to do this, it meant we had to do a lot more logistical work that a venue or coordinator would have taken care of. We had to order tents and rentals, think about seating arrangements, figure out the food service flow, all in a weird and new space.

Thankfully we had an amazing caterer (more on that later) who helped remember what we had forgotten—who knew there were five different types of trashcans and they each have a purpose! This left less time for us to fuss over decorations and as a result, we didn't want to. So we let the natural beauty of the area take the lead.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

There are things you feel you must care about or do when you are planning a wedding, and I think it's important to remember YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO ANY OF IT if you don't want to. If you do, lovely.

We didn't really care about invitations, so we sent an email instead. We wanted to design our programs, so we did. Our music was untraditional, but our ceremony was structured. I wore white, but nobody had matching suits or dresses. We rented blue tablecloths and used vintage white lace curtains to decorate them. We didn't want a big brick of a guestbook, so we slipped vintage postcards onto every seat for people to leave us notes. Flowers weren't an afterthought, but their vessels were, like those black buckets you see in front of our chuppah. (But if I wouldn't have told you that, would you have even noticed?) It was eclectic and reflected us, not the wedding industry.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

Food was one of the most important things to us; it's where we spent most of our small-ish (for New York) budget. And the caterer we went with—Fresh Company out of Garrison, New York—had as much of an open mind and look toward fresh ingredients as we did. We got married in October, so we wanted something warming and cozy for dinner. Our red wine was from the Loire Vally (we only served Prosecco, a cider whiskey cocktail, a selection of Cicsco Brewers beer, and Saumur-Champigny) so we decided on a simple French-inspired, family-style menu of boeuf bourguignon, ratatouille, new potatoes, and fresh greens with a mustard vinaigrette.

It felt all the more homey because friends lent us all their dutch ovens to serve the beef in, and many of the wild platters and serving bowls were made by Jo's partner Lee.

And I want to implore you to do this with abandon: Call in all your favors. (Am I supposed to say this? SAYING IT.) Our friends played music and sang at our ceremony, turned records, held our chuppah high, arranged flowers, did hair and makeup, made cocktails, made cakes, designed favors, illustrated us, and made the night go the smoothest and most smashing it could.

These are the parts of the night we remember least—and I mean that in a good way—because they were handled and let us revel in what became our fondest memories.

Photo by Zach Hetrick

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Alex W. June 22, 2016
I'm so happy that we are reminded of our wedding day every time that we visit my mother's home. This alone is why everyone should have a backyard wedding.
JAH June 20, 2016
It was a beautiful wedding and a thrill and honor to have it at the house. And what a surprise to read about it here!
Olivia B. June 19, 2016
Ohhh, I adore that everyone lent you their dutch ovens.
Hannah W. June 17, 2016
So beautiful! Thank you for sharing the advice and stunning photos, Sam! I love the tip about getting good wine above everything else :)