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 macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes to actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve interrogated the cool couples whose weddings we would want to steal, right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talk to a hard-core Northern California couple, Heidi Leung and Joellene Buccat. They both work in health care, grew up in the Bay Area, and wanted to get married among their native redwood trees, which is why they set their venue last October at the Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley, where the night ended with boba teas and a cell-phone sparkler display.
Joellene: We basically Googled “redwood weddings in the Bay Area.”
Heidi: And that was how we found a place called the Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley, which only costs $3,200 to rent out — it’s a nonprofit organization founded by women who are big into conservation and art. We ended up with 120 guests, which, for us — we have really big-ass Asian families — was small.
Joellene: I had never really believed in marriage, but then I got sick. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2013. That’s when I knew, okay, Heidi’s the one, she’s who I want to be with. I just started living my life more openly, more colorfully.
Heidi: Joellene proposed first. It was July 2017, and we were on a trip to Iceland, in front of a waterfall. The ring has a tiny design on the cradle, this upside-down W — I was very into Wonder Woman at the time. She called it my Wonder Woman ring [Geoffrey’s Diamonds & Goldsmith].
Joellene: Four months later, Heidi proposed back with a super-shiny round-diamond ring from Just Bands with accent stones down the side. My friend and I were at the Marin Headlands at five in the morning — we went to take nice pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge — and Heidi ended up meeting us there and surprising me. She went down on one knee when the sun was coming up. My friend was in on it. Then we had another friend, a woman named April who is also married to a woman, officiate at the wedding. She led us in a ritual called handfasting, where you tie a ribbon around each of your wrists in such a way that once you let go of the ribbon and release your wrists, it ties a knot.
Heidi: I don’t typically wear a lot of dresses, but I ended up getting a gown called the Cassia from BHLDN [$1,150].
Joellene: Oh my God, she looked stunning, like an angel. I just started crying. Heidi’s dress was actually at the store in San Francisco, Novella Bridal, where I went to pick out my dress too, but I didn’t see it beforehand. I decided on a gown by Essence of Australia [$1,700], which went with the whole rustic feel of the wedding, and our friend and bridesmaid Justine made me close my eyes as she held up Heidi’s dress next to mine to see how they would look together. I was tempted to peek, but it ended up being so worth the wait.
Heidi: My mom walked me down the aisle; my dad passed away eight years ago. Our day-of coordinator [Golden Coast Event Planning] had a framed photo of him that I put where he would have sat, next to my mom in the front row, so at least when I looked out into the crowd, I could see his picture there.
Joellene: For the cocktail hour, we used Smith’s Beverage to provide unlimited wine, Champagne, and beer [$1,500], and we also brought all our own ingredients for signature cocktails — we got big bottles of bourbon and vodka from Costco and made our own mint simple syrup to go in these sparkling cucumber-mint drinks.
Heidi: The mint drink was very Joellene; she’s a little more fancy than I am. My cocktail was a Kentucky mule with Bulleit bourbon. But we’re both huge foodies. We are those people who will wait in line for whatever tastes good. One of our hors d’oeuvres was Korean fried chicken on a mini-waffle with a pipette of maple syrup, We had these little shiitake-mushroom steamed buns that were also really, really good, and fig-and-goat-cheese tartlets.
Joellene: We loved our caterer [All Seasons Catering, $15,000]. Dinner was family-style. We had salmon and grilled steak, cornbread —
Heidi: Hanger steak with chimichurri sauce. There was lemon-ricotta ravioli, there was a salmon option. We couldn’t receive enough compliments on the food all night.
Joellene: My friend Jon Reyes DJ’d during the dinner and reception. And we had a brass band that played hip-hop and pop songs for about an hour [Brass Animals, $3,000].
Heidi: Joellene’s very specific with music. She had a very specific playlist and said, “Do not play entire songs. Here are the songs I want you to play.” People were dancing even during dinner; their heads were bobbing. Our first dance was “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” the cover by Kina Grannis from the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack.
Joellene: After dinner, we served tea from Boba Guys: Hong Kong–style milk tea, jasmine milk tea, and Thai tea. It was such a hit that we ran out.
Heidi: We’re obsessed with boba. Joellene has boba socks and boba pants and stuff.
Joellene: The tea was part of the reason we ended up going over budget by a few thousand dollars. We saved on the venue, but we had to rent the tables and chairs [Big 4 Party Rentals, $600] and the lighting [Marin Event Lighting, $800], and I wanted great photographers, so we splurged on Sebastien Bicard, who cost $4,500. And the tea was $700 — not cheap when you’re paying per person, but it was something that’s important to us.
Heidi: I think we’re just really proud of the little details of the wedding that we were able to accomplish, things that represent who we are. For the table cards, my matron of honor made these little watercolors of our favorite places we’ve traveled to, like Iceland and Zion National Park. Instead of table numbers, people had table locations.
Joellene: We did a double bouquet toss. We just love things that are gay. In this Black Mirror episode called “San Junipero,” there’s the song “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” We had that song playing, and all the women came rushing to the dance floor, this stampede.
Heidi: Joellene and I were standing side by side, then we launched our bouquets at the same time.
Joellene: We would have loved to have sparklers at the end, but given all the fires in Northern California, it wasn’t worth it. Then, while we were dancing, the videographer [Blackhorse White Carriage, $2,600] came up with this idea at the last minute: Everyone gathered around us outside, and we exited to the light of their cell phones.