Rachel and Zach were married at Old Finsbury Town Hall, which has to be one of the most beautiful wedding venues in London. They threw a really relaxed, fun wedding party and organised most of it via the wonders of the internet from their home in New York.
They ditched a lot of the traditional wedding formalities too: they chose not to have a bridal party, wedding cake, expensive dress or favours, and had some brilliant ideas, like using Rachel’s enormous collection of New Yorker magazines as individual place cards for each guest. They also devised a very traditional, but totally egalitarian, Jewish ceremony with tons of personal twists, and an utterly unique ketubah. They also wrote an inspired wedding program. The beautiful bride, Rachel, elaborates below.
Chris Giles, their photographer, does city chic romance effortlessly, and even the way he captures Rachel’s shoes perched on a side table is like something out of a modern fairytale. Enjoy every one of Chris (and his wife, Laura)’s gorgeous images, and whisk yourself away to a warm-hearted wintery December in London.
PLANNING A LONDON WEDDING FROM NEW YORK
Rachel, the Bride: We chose our wedding venue, Old Finsbury Town Hall in Islington, London, by narrowing our search down to a few indoor venues that were large enough for our group of guests (we invited around 130) but that had lots of character. We live in New York so most of our research was online and then Zach and his parents visited venues. Old Finsbury was perfect for us and we loved the sense of history and faded grandeur that permeated the beautiful building.
PRINTED STATIONERY AND A WEDDING WEBSITE
We designed a very simple invitation that we printed through an online printer and used Glosite for our website and RSVPs. This was especially helpful since we had many different events over the course of the weekend and you can choose which guests see which events and allow them to RSVP to everything in one place.
AN ELEGANT DRESS FROM A NOT-FOR-PROFIT BOUTIQUE
My dress was bought at a shop called the Bridal Garden, a not-for-profit boutique in New York which sells donated samples or consigned dresses. I went with my mum to a few different boutiques in New York and found an Anne Barge dress which ticked all my boxes of elegant, comfortable, and I still felt like myself!
LOTS OF LOVELY ACCESSORIES
I borrowed a veil from a friend who had recently gotten married which happily matched my dress perfectly. I wore earrings that my future parents-in-law gave me as a present shortly before the wedding. They also surprised me with a shrug to wear outside since our wedding was in the middle of the winter.
GLAMOROUS YET COMFORTABLE(ISH) WEDDING SHOES!
I bought shoes from Hey Lady (they have samples for a deep discount, just ask!) since I had read that they were incredibly comfortable. They were, although I was definitely ready to take them off by the end of the night!
HAIR + MAKE UP
A friend of a friend, Emma Trachtenberg, who is getting started in commercial hair and make-up did mine. We had a trial a week before and she made me feel totally comfortable about telling her exactly what I wanted and changing things as we went along. One of my co-workers actually found the photo which I used for inspiration for my hair. Having searched fruitlessly online for ages, I was telling my co-worker what I wanted and within minutes she had found it exactly!
A TAILOR MADE SUIT FOR THE GROOM
Zach got a suit made in New York after we spent some time looking in shops and not finding anything that fit the bill. It turned out wonderfully and ended up costing less than most suits we saw in stores!
We worked with my aunt, who is a rabbi and who was our officiant, to make the ceremony reflect our values and aspirations for marriage. We had a private badeken and ketubah signing, with just our immediate families and our two ketubah witnesses. This was incredibly powerful and our parents gave us blessings at this point which were very moving. We then had a very traditional, but totally egalitarian, Jewish ceremony, including the following elements.
- A programme with an explanation of traditional Jewish weddings for our friends and family who were not familiar with them. We interspersed short quotations about marriage and love that felt resonant for us, including an excerpt from the Massachussetts Supreme Court ruling legalising gay marriage. My dad, who is also a rabbi, wrote literal translations of the sheva brachot for the programme.
- My aunt led everyone present in niggunim (wordless melodies) that we had picked while we walked down the aisle and while we circled each other
- Both of us circling each other (three times me circling Zach, three times him circling me, one time us circling each other)
- Both of us giving rings and saying “harei at mekudeshet li…” and “harei atah mekudash li…”
- Family and friends (men and women) reading the sheva brachot in Hebrew and poetic English translations that my aunt had written
- After Zach broke the glass, many of our friends rushed up to surround us, singing and dancing as we made our way to yichud.
We wanted a simple tallit as the chuppah and used Zach’s father’s tallit. My brother and three of our close friends held the four poles.
MUSIC FOR THE CEREMONY
As mentioned earlier, we asked everyone to join in singing a melody. It’s used for and associated with a song that describes angels gathering on four sides and we liked the evocation of being surrounded as we walked down and felt the love of our community holding us.
Flowers get so expensive, so quickly, and we liked that Old Finsbury Town Hall didn’t require a lot of decor to look beautiful. However, we did want centrepieces for the tables and I wanted a small bouquet. We used Oya from N15 Flowers for ours.
OUR TALENTED + CHARMING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Chris Giles and his lovely wife (then fiancee) Laura were our photographers. We actually found them when we were looking at venues online and I noticed that the pictures of one wedding at a venue we considered were just stunning in their beauty and warmth and sense of humor. We contacted him and hired him right away! They were so laid back and charming for the whole day – we were so thrilled to have them with us. I can’t recommend them highly enough!
NEW YORKER MAGAZINE PLACE CARDS
We had two years’ worth of old New Yorker magazines in our apartment which I couldn’t bear to throw out but we repurposed them for our decor. We cut out all the cartoons and used them as place cards, choosing one for each guest. It was such a fun project to pick the right cartoon for each person in our lives and they were a great conversation starter at each table. We were really happy that we took the time to do that, even though it was a little overwhelming with 130 guests! We also used the covers to decorate the loos since they were a little boring and had less character than the rest of the venue. My mother’s best friend spent the morning pinning the magazine covers and some other funny vintage cartoons all over the loo walls and apparently some guests didn’t realise that they were just there for our wedding, not part of the venue decor!
A VERY PERSONAL KETUBAH
Our ketubah was very important to us. We asked my mother’s sister, who actually made my parents’ ketubah many years ago, if she would be willing to make ours. We worked with her on the design, which had a border composed of little scenes of places that were significant in our lives, including different places in the UK, the States, and Israel. It turned out absolutely beautifully and we still can’t believe how stunning it is as it hangs in our living room.
OUR WONDERFUL EVENT PLANNER
Marie-Laure from Easy Gourmet was our overall event planner and did all the food which was delicious and perfect for us. She was extraordinarily organised and professional and helped us figure out what we wanted to prioritise. We would vouch for her and her team 100%! We also had Rabbi Chaim Wiener from the Masorti Bet Din supervise the catering. It was important to us to have kosher catering but we wanted to support the more progressive Masorti Bet Din.
DESSERT NOT CAKE!
We didn’t have a wedding cake! Zach doesn’t like sweet things and I don’t love cake so it didn’t make sense. We had sticky toffee pudding (my absolute favourite dessert that I can’t get in the States!) and a cheese platter for dessert.
We had two family friends, Rebecca and Katya Herman, who are a professional harpist and cellist, play immediately before the ceremony and during the hors d’oeuvres hour after the ceremony. They were so lovely and we were really happy to support artists who are starting their career. We also hired a band to perform at the reception and who played both Jewish simcha music and pop and classic rock.
ADVICE TO OTHER BRIDES
Just to remember that lots of “essentials” are not, in fact, essential (for us, we skipped the bridal party, cake, and favours, three things which many people would tell you are absolutely necessary). Because so many of our guests came from out of town, we hosted meals over Shabbat for many of them and had a pub quiz on Saturday night for all of our family and friends as well as a brunch the next morning for out of town guests. It was so wonderful to be able to spend that time with everyone and put less pressure on the wedding itself, allowing us to simply enjoy ourselves!
RACHEL + ZACH’S LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Photography — Chris Giles Photography
Venue — Old Finsbury Town Hall
Event Planning + Catering — Marie-Laure from Easy Gourmet
Bride’s Dress — Anne Barge from the Bridal Garden
Bride’s Shoes — Hey Lady
Hair + Make up — Emma Trachtenberg
Flowers — Oya from N15 Flowers
Music — Rebecca Herman + Katya Herman
Wedding website + RSVPs — Glosite