When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is: “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaroon towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.

Here, we talked to elementary-school teacher Megan Holland and tattoo artist Sergio Luis Mesa, who met when she came into his Park Slope parlor to get inked. They married on February 18, 2017, in a ceremony performed by two friends, followed by a pizza party.

Sergio: I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of places in Brooklyn that are just like, wedding spots, right? They’re really expensive. We got married at the ShapeShifter Lab in Gowanus [$2,500 for six hours, $300 for each additional hour], which is a music venue first and foremost. The whole wedding was held there. It felt more like you were going to a show.

Megan: Budget was important. We paid for the majority of the wedding ourselves. We had a number in mind: At first, we thought $20,000, but that ended up not being reasonable. I have a very, very large family, so we were either going to have a tiny, intimate gathering and not invite a lot of people, or invite everyone. It felt important that we include people. So in order to include as many people as possible, we had to keep our budget really low on food and alcohol and on the venue. That was another selling point for ShapeShifter, that it doesn’t market itself as a wedding venue, so it kept our costs down.

Sergio: Our friends got married there about a year before, so we ripped them off. We jumped on it. Megan got ready at an Airbnb nearby, and I got ready in Fort Greene at our apartment with our dog, a German shepherd named Katsume. My friends brought me up to the Airbnb and I was so nervous. Megan was waiting for me — the room was dimly lit on a bright day — and as I walked in she turned around, I cried, of course. She looked so beautiful.

Megan: He looked cuuuuute. [Laughs.] I wanted to wear red. My best friend, who was also my maid of honor, is a stylist and she and I took a walk through Soho one day and went into Alice and Olivia. I tried on my dress [$1,200] and just knew. I loved the way it felt. It moved very beautifully, I could dance in it. It’s a white background with floral embroidery on it, so it felt fancy and elegant and wedding-y without feeling like I was conforming to a traditional notion of what I was supposed to wear. I asked my bridesmaids to wear white — it was a playful way to turn an iconic aspect of traditional weddings on its head while still operating within a wedding framework and having that “wedding feeling.” Also it was funny that I was not wearing a wedding dress but some of my bridesmaids actually were. And my tattoos — that was actually how I met Sergio. I went in to his tattoo parlor in October 2014, and was flirting with him the whole time.

Sergio: I wouldn’t normally break my professional boundaries but she invited me to!

Megan: He had to tell me to stop talking a few times because he was in the middle of doing some straight lines. The tattoo itself is a print from Albrecht Dürer, the Renaissance artist. It’s from a scene called “The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine.” It’s the sun exploding; it represents God’s rage. I left him a little note before I left the shop saying my tattoo was beautiful and I thought he was, too. So smooth, right?

Sergio: She’s a 5th-grade teacher and that really attracted me — something about her being an educator, doing a job that she loves.

Megan: Our good friends were the wedding officiants, so we had a lot of evenings drinking whiskey with them and talking about history and philosophy leading up to the ceremony. What are our reflections on divorce? Do we want to wear rings? Is monogamy something we need and value, or is this something we are open to evaluating and reevaluating in the future? It was important that all these aspects of who we are and what we believe in made their way into the ritual — we both are children of divorce, we both have very progressive values; I’m also a queer woman. We started with a statement on the institution of marriage, and the way it has served to include or exclude groups of people through history.

Sergio: We said that it was up to interpretation, and things can be different from social norms; we can have the power to walk away from each other if need be, if that’s what’s best for each other. In addition to our friends co-officiating, my uncle translated a poem from Kahlil Gibran in Spanish, and our friend said it in English, for both our families. I’m Cuban, first-generation American.

Megan: I do not think our families were terribly surprised by some of the progressive elements. We are both passionate people and we both also have a history of having fun with “the rules.” I’ve also had some friends say that our ceremony has informed the way that they have framed their own conversations about marriage — to ask a little more “why do I want to do this?” I think our generation is thinking hard about what marriage might mean for them now and what it could mean in the future. After the ceremony, Serg and I disappeared for a little while into the back office with our officiants and our witnesses and signed the marriage contract, and had some Champagne while our guests had cocktails. We went with a pizza truck, to keep costs down and to keep it feeling like a fun party. When we came back out, they were just passing pizza around [Eddie’s Pizza, $2,825 for pizza, meatballs, bruschetta].

Sergio: Our food was very minimal. No sit-down dinner; too fancy! It was more about dancing — that was probably the most important part. We paid more for the live music than anything else. The Band Method [$4,550] played Os Mutantes for us, for our first dance, and sang in Portuguese. They learned it for the occasion.

Megan: We didn’t have to bring in much by way of furniture rental, just long tables for dessert setup and for the pizza truck people to use in their little mini staging area. And tablecloths. [AZ Party Rentals, $500 total] Flowers were the main focal point; we didn’t have much other decoration besides electric candles.

Sergio: The flowers are from Saffron [$1,175], a beautiful Japanese flower store. We live right down the street.

Megan: I looked through their Instagram and loved what I saw. It was a winter wedding, so I liked the idea of mixing dried flowers and fresh flowers. So we popped in, talked to them, and they designed for us based on images of my dress, colors that I love. We’ve actually developed a very nice relationship with them. Our dog loves them. Every time we walk the dog, we say hi to Kana.

Sergio: The party went on for like three hours — then we paid for an extra hour because we were having so much fun.

Megan: The venue let us know in advance that we had a certain amount of hours included at a fixed price for the alcohol, just beer and wine [Alcohol through ShapeShifter was $25–$35 per person for beer and wine open bar for three hours, $4,000]. After that, if we wanted to do another hour, they would do a quick mini headcount to see how many guests were there, and adjust for another open bar hour for that number of guests. Our day-of coordinator [via The Unruffled Bride, $1,350] managed that for us; she came over to us at 11 o’clock or whatever time and said, “Do you guys want to do another hour of drinks” We said yes, please! [Additional hour’s worth of beer and wine, $500]

Sergio: The band was cool with it, so we just kept on dancing.

Megan: We got our doughnuts from Doughnut Plant [$1.75 each, totaling about $800]. Super easy: I picked them up on the way to the wedding. We ordered a cupcake tier thing, and I assigned a friend to just arrange the donuts in a pleasing way. We ordered a little cake topper and some safari figurines from Amazon, and we spray painted them gold. It was really the only thing we DIYed. By the end of the night, they became toys for the kids at the wedding. We only invited a few young children, but they were gobbling pizza and tearing up the dance floor just like everybody else. And then Sergio and I headed back to the Wythe Hotel, fully exhausted.

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