Charlotte Balbier

pompoms & pineapples. la sposa for a festival themed wedding at natural retreats – michelle & james

June 12th, 2017 | Laura McDonagh

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (33)

Regular readers of the blog will know that Brides Up North fully endorse festival weddings, so much so that we now dedicate several of our wedding fairs to this style of celebration with our epic WEDFEST tour that travelled the north of the country in May.

Fresh on the other side of those uber cool events, we were thrilled to receive the wonderful big day of Michelle and James who demonstrate how it’s done with their fun and fabulous big day in the Yorkshire Dales.

To achieve the colourful and carefree vibe for their festival style wedding, Michelle, James and an army of friends and family descended on their chosen venue with streamers, pompoms and plant chandeliers, transforming its blank canvas into something pretty awesome!

Cue a big, brave, DIY-flavour wedding with bold flamingo and pineapple motifs, tattoos and glitter, a gin bar and mezze-style food.

All of this styled out against the rolling hills of the Dales, plus a timeless La Sposa dress. We spoil you, we really do…

With images by Masha Unwerth

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (21)

michelle says: We got engaged at home 20th April 2016. James bought a huge bunch of tulips, my favourite flower, and left a trail of petals through the house leading to more tulips spread around the living room. I found him down on one knee with a lovely sapphire engagement ring.

We had two weddings (I know, greedy) – the first was a legal ceremony on the 20th of April, exactly one year to the day we got engaged. This was a smaller affair with a registrar and just our immediate family.

Our second wedding on the 22nd of April with 120 of our nearest and dearest friends and family. It was conducted by two of our closest friends, who wrote the ceremony without our assistance, so there were a couple of surprises!

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (38)

We got hitched at Natural Retreats in the Yorkshire Dales, and had both our ceremony and reception there. It’s a beautiful site with accommodation for nearly 100 guests. We were able to have a whole weekend of parties and got to spend quality time with everyone instead of feeling rushed. The venue was a blank canvas which we transformed with a small army of volunteers who hung, draped and stuck – they basically built an amazing wedding for us!

We chose a few very loose themes: gin, pineapples and flamingos. We also chose to create three rooms, each with a distinct ‘feel’.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (45)

The main ceremony/dance space and bar were as colourful and fun as we could make them with a bit of a festival vibe. We added a photo booth, a glitter and tattoo station and built our own bars from pallets which looked fantastic. James’ friend Pencil Girl created our wedding stationery and we had the design printed into temporary tattoos.

In the dining room we wanted a very clean and classy look with lots of plants instead of flowers. We created our own hanging foliage ‘chandeliers’, built and planted the table centrepieces ourselves and each table was assigned a gin bottle instead of table numbers.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (26)

I chose a La Sposa wedding dress from a boutique in Manchester. I decided it was the one for me because of the beautiful detail in the bodice and the plain but flowing skirt and train. The A-line cut suited my shape and I loved wearing it all day!

James did a lot of research into what he wanted to wear and chose to have a suit made by Beggars Run in East London, which he absolutely loved. He accessorised with Ted Baker shoes and socks, a vintage pocket watch (a gift from me) and Tatty Devine cufflinks.

The chief bridesmaid, my best friend Laura, chose a dress from Coast. It had a navy blue top with a turquoise skirt and floral detailing. The dress wasn’t a traditional bridesmaid’s dress but it went perfectly with the relaxed feel of the day. We also had two flower girls who both wore ivory dresses with a navy waist band from Etsy.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (17)

Masha Unwerth was our photographer. She’s relatively new to the wedding industry but she was brilliant to work with. We were after some beautiful photos of our perfect day and her style fitted so well with what we wanted. She absolutely smashed it and we would definitely recommend her.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (12)

Instead of a traditional bouquet, I supplemented my herb bouquet from the Eden Project in Devon with some silk flowers. It was just gorgeous.   I also made the buttonholes worn by the wedding party with some silk flowers and feathers.

James’ grandmother Rosemary created four wonderful flower arrangements as a wedding gift to us. She’s been arranging flowers for more than 50 years at the local church and produced four very classy additions to the wedding décor. We’re so grateful for her help.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (23)

We had a couple of favours for guests which our family helped us to create. Firstly, James’ mum, Sarah, baked pineapple-shaped biscuits that we used instead of place cards on the tables. She also helped us to bottle small flavoured vodkas and gins to help get the party started!

Neither of us were bothered about a big fancy wedding cake so we went for good old Marks & Spencer. We also had a five tier ‘cheese cake’ and a three-tier giant pork pie cake for the evening food. Both went down a treat – there was nothing left apart from a small bit of pastry and some crackers!

My dad made a trip over to Calais ahead of the wedding to get a huge amount of beer and wine so that our guests could enjoy a relaxing drink. Our food was provided by James Brown Catering. He was able to provide exactly what we wanted with excellent canapés, a mezze sharing main course of slow roasted lamb with salads and a top notch lemon tart. Delicious.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (30)

In the evening, we had a ten-piece brass band called Twisted Tubes as entertainment. They were amazing and had everyone up and dancing as soon as they started playing. In between their sets we had some friends DJing.

We had a separate gin bar for a few hours in the evening, built and staffed by James’ family with five different gins with their own botanicals.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (34)

After our wedding, we would absolutely recommend our venue to other couples – they were amazing and couldn’t do enough for us. We wanted to make the wedding our own and they completely respected that. They didn’t try to push their own suppliers and the two on-site staff were always there to help out and make the weekend as stress-free as possible.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (42)

James tells me that his favourite memory from the day was seeing me walk down the aisle. All that hard work paid off in a second when he saw me looking so beautiful and happy, he says!

For me, the whole second ceremony was more than I ever expected. It was fantastic and just perfect that some of our closest friends made it so personal for us.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (44)

For our honeymoon we went on a trip to South East Asia: a week in Vietnam on a boat in Ha Long Bay and in Hoi An; a week in Laos in Luang Prabang with an elephant trek and lots of swimming in waterfalls; and finally a week in Cambodia seeing Ankor Wat and relaxing on a paradise island.

A Festival Wedding at Natural Retreats (c) Masha Unworth (48)

My top tip to other Brides Up North would be to figure out what’s truly important to you and don’t move from that goal. Plan as far in advance as possible and get some talented friends to help you out. People really like to be involved and giving them something of their own to be proud of is a great way for them to feel that.

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about the author

Laura McDonagh
Laura is a true Northophile: she married Adam in Durham in 2011 accompanied by 200 Northumbrian lamb shanks and a Mackem 1950s tribute band who did a rockabilly cover version of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. They honeymooned in Northumberland in a 1972 MG convertible, went surfing in Alnmouth and made it to the Edinburgh Fringe (let's ignore the fact that it rained all week). Her big mantra is 'no regrets'...but if she could travel back in time and wear a wedding dress with a Peter Pan collar and pockets, she'd pretty much die happy.

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