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.
During the planning of their wedding over this past Memorial Day weekend, Sophia Richards and Stefan Pedatella learned that the average New York City wedding costs $77,000. The two academics aimed to spend less than a third of that, and — after DIY-ing the music, florals, and Aperol Spritzes — they succeeded.
Sophia: If you’re going to try to have the wedding that you want and also do it cheaply, it takes energy; you have to do a lot of research. Stefan’s sister got married a year and a half earlier, and we were like, I don’t want to spend that much money.
Stefan: We wanted it to be more casual.
Sophia: We prioritized having good food and good drinks, because we’re Italian and that’s what makes a good party, at least for us. You can do other things and skimp on them and not have the event feel cheap, but if you serve people cheap alcohol, they’re going to remember that.
Stefan: Sophia and I met in Morningside Heights — I’m a professor of the humanities at Manhattan School of Music, and Sophia’s about to get her Ph.D. in English literature at Columbia. But I’ve lived in Williamsburg for the past ten years, and there’s a restaurant called Patrizia’s that I’ve been going to ever since I moved here. I don’t know, maybe it’s an Italian thing, but they’ve always been really, really friendly to me. It’s a special place. We decided to have the reception there, for a cost of $60 per person for our 100 guests.
Sophia: They wouldn’t rent to us on a Friday or Saturday, because they make too much money then. So we thought, okay, what if we do the Sunday of a holiday weekend (Memorial Day)? My family is from San Diego, so that would make it easier for them to come for a Sunday wedding.
Stefan: We had our first look on the Williamsburg Bridge. They told me to get there ten minutes early and set up, so that we could have photos of me seeing her in her dress for the first time — and she was breathtaking. She looked like a Hollywood diva from the ’30s, or something.
Sophia: Like most other things about this wedding, I spent so much time trying to find the dress. I’m a big Etsy fan and a fan of vintage and/or used stuff, but the problem is a lot of Etsy stores don’t have good return policies, and I wasn’t about to spend $600 or $800 on something I wouldn’t be able to return. I was obsessed with Delphine Manivet dresses, and I found their Anatole dress on some British wedding consignment website for $500. I was like the third or fourth person to have worn it, so I could afford it. The person who altered it, Diana Deane, put a hook and eye in the back, in the tie, which I was grateful for. I don’t know how people had worn it before me without that, because I would have been freaked out the entire time about the dress coming untied. It’s silk! It’s slippy! For my hair, I wanted to do finger waves and tried it one day by myself and I was like, Fuck this. I found this girl, Destinee Cushing, a swing dancer who does vintage-y hair. She was amazing and charged $190. And I did my own makeup.
Stefan: We had the ceremony at Industria in Williamsburg on Grand Street [$1,700]. My sister officiated, so she became an internet reverend — the same thing I did to officiate her wedding. We walked down the aisle to “Walk on the Wild Side,” by Lou Reed, then our first kiss to “Loving Cup” by the Rolling Stones.
Sophia: The space is so great at Industria, with a ton of exposed brick, really high ceilings, big windows, and a little courtyard in the back, which we couldn’t use because it was raining. A shame. I did the flowers myself, mostly in yellows, from Blooms by the Box [$300]. Then I blew up these crystal-clear balloons and we arranged them by the altar. I don’t know, I thought they were really cute.
Stefan: We also did the cocktail hour there.
Sophia: If you’re going to talk about difficulties with renting blank spaces — Industria’s a photo studio, basically, so they don’t have a liquor license. So I had to get our own liquor license, which is fine, but we were going to have one for hard alcohol, and basically you cannot have a permit to serve hard alcohol unless you are a catering company or you hire a catering company, which we weren’t going to do for two hours. So I went with a beer, wine, and cider permit instead. I was like, how do I make this fancy? We ended up serving wine cocktails, like Aperol Spritzes, which worked out great!
Stefan: From there, we walked along the waterfront to the restaurant, and that was gorgeous.
Sophia: It rained during the entire ceremony and cocktail hour, and literally minutes before we had to leave, it cleared up and was beautiful. As we left, we did a receiving line with flower petals, which was my mom’s idea and ended up being extremely cute.
Stefan: One of the nice things about having the reception at Patrizia’s is they brought out the works for us. It was a family-style format, a huge variety.
Sophia: We had burrata, eggplant, and tomatoes; we had pizza, we had a salad. We had clams, octopus, calamari, mushrooms. Two pastas, two meats, just a ton of bread, eggplant parmesan.
Stefan: They set the tables up in such a way that there was a really nice dance area toward the front. I was the DJ. I was a professional DJ for a while, and I had a ’60s party for a number of years down on the Lower East Side.
Sophia: He put together different playlists, one for the ceremony, one for eating during the reception, one for dancing at the reception. We just played those. DJing is an art, but if you’re trying to cut costs or whatever, you can do it yourself. Obviously, if you’re going to be sitting there the whole time worrying about, then it’s not worth it.
Stefan: The music was the biggest way in which I personalized it. That was really big for me. Our first dance was to “Here She Comes” by the Velvet Underground.
Sophia: Then there was dancing, and it was fun, especially because there were kids there. One kid told me, “I’m going to break-dance.” I was like, okay, sure. But we get to the reception and he’s the first one on the dance floor, and then he was an amazing break-dancer. Apparently he took a bunch of lessons!
Stefan: We didn’t have a cake. But Patrizia’s served a whole variety of desserts — I know the tiramisu was really good.
Sophia: They already provided dessert, so we weren’t going to provide dessert on top of that. But it was my grandfather’s birthday on our wedding, so I ordered this special cake his mom used to make [Ladybird]. I stored it in the fridge, then brought it out and made a toast and they cut it for him. I don’t know, that’s a better cake-cutting for me.
Stefan: We were thinking about an after-party, but I’m telling you, people were just comatose after Patrizia’s. We called it a night about midnight.
Sophia: I’m super-happy with the money we spent: We did it for around $20,000. There’s not a single dollar that we regret.