A Professional Photographer's Laid-Back California Wedding

Jen Kay's and Zack Swartz's friends had been meaning to set them up, but the couple actually beat them to the punch. Both based in San Fransisco, the pair initially locked eyes at a Washed Out concert in 2012, which prompted Zack to go over and say hello. "He always says that night was the luckiest night of his life," says Jen of her future groom. "We hit it off pretty immediately and danced together all night. As they say, the rest is history!" Four years later, Zack popped the question while taking a walk to their "secret spot"— a nearby park with an unbeatable view overlooking the city. "It was quiet, beautiful, not a big to-do, a perfect surprise, and very 'us,' " the bride summarizes the exchange.

Logistical issues prevented the couple from tying the knot in Mexico, but a private residence in Montecito, California, proved to be the perfect spot for their May 12, 2018, nuptials. In fact, Jen pinpoints finding the location, with its olive trees and lavender fields, as the easiest planning component. The hardest piece, on the other hand, was picking someone to capture the big day from behind the lens, given the bride's professional photographer profession. Their final vendor choice rose to the challenge, though, catching the couple in their most natural moments, as well as their stunningly simple wedding. "I don’t love a lot of bells and whistles and I wanted the day to be about me and Zack, our vows, and our loved ones," explains the bride regarding the overall vision. "I wanted it to feel like an elegant party more than a typical wedding."

Keep reading to see how Jen's wish fully came to life, thanks to the planning talents of Ashley Smith Events and photography by Leo Patrone.

Jen's bridal look was light on accessories but heavy on sentiment. She carried a small branch—which her father took from a tree near her childhood abode in Connecticut—within her bouquet to have a "piece of home." She even drew inspiration from a line drawing her late grandfather made from a stem of Queen Anne's lace, which made their way into her flowers as well. Finally, her mother also crafted a heartfelt "something blue," a hand-sewn handkerchief with Jen's initials for wiping away any tears.

While Jen only wanted her brother (aka "Man of Honor") to stand beside her at the ceremony, she did have an unofficial bridal party of sorts. But matching bridesmaid dresses didn't even cross her radar for a second. "What I love most about my friends is how incredibly unique they all are, and I really love their own individual personal styles," she says of their attire.

As for her own fashion, Jen found the One in a long sleeve, V-neck gown by Dan Jones via LOHO Bride (a boho bridal boutique in the Bay Area). The bride had actually developed a professional relationship with the salon's owner, Christy Baird, after doing some of their graphic work, and she had the perfect gown in mind. Per Christy's guidance, Jen tried on Dan Jones's Stevie gown during a trunk show. "It was the first dress I tried on—it felt easy and elegant and moved in a way that felt so fun and uncomplicated," Jen recalls. She also had a bit of fun in the footwear department, pairing the ethereal number with a pair of modern Neous shoes.

On par with his bride's nonfussy style, Zack chose a navy suit after deeming black too formal for the occasion. As a last minute addition, he added a boutonniere of dried flowers to his lapel once he discovered how "cool" their florists' designs looked.

The couple's nearest and dearest had a little fun while they snuck off for their first look photos...

...which in turn resulted in Zack's favorite moment of the wedding: "When I first saw Jen in her dress coming down the hill."

Given the couple's passion for music (the groom also plays the guitar), two of their close friends performed at the ceremony, which included a live version of “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin during Jen's processional.

Woven baskets and wooden ceremony seating contributed to the celebration's neutral, natural color palette.

The notion of turning the corner with all eyes fixed on her admittedly scared the bride, but her walk down the aisle with her father became one of her favorite memories. "The amount of love you see on your friends and family’s faces— it’s really the most special moment," Jen says.

As for the chuppah decorations, the couple's florist used olive branches to pay homage to the groom's good-natured character. "I’ve always joked that Zack’s personality is like an olive branch," Jen explains. "He is so kind and warm to everyone he meets."

Mirroring Jen, Zack also requested that only his brother stand beside him while his cousin married them.

The bride and groom wrote their own vows—but Jen reworked hers entirely the night before the wedding! After not feeling satisfied with her original writing, a light bulb went off just in time, and she quickly revised the vows. "I was really happy with the final words," she says. "I can’t quite describe how much Zack’s words meant to me on our wedding day."

Fast forward to cocktail hour, when the newlyweds strove for a light, refreshing drink menu. Jen and Zack served two signature beverages—a cucumber mint gimlet and a paloma—as well as lavender-infused lemonade.

Naturally, the bride couldn't resist shooting her own wedding snippets—the photographer handed the couple cameras so they could take their own pictures.

The wedding's 120 guests dined alfresco at one of three family-style tables. Black seating lent a cool contrast against the white linens, while pops of peach were on display in the place settings and floral arrangements.

A local pitmaster brought a full-sized smoker and prepared a farm-to-table meal that wonderfully encapsulated the wedding's laid-back yet completely tasteful allure.

The bride traded her wedding gown for a more dance floor–friendly ensemble: a sequined jumpsuit and white high-tops. The music-enthusiasts also sprung for a DJ, carefully curating the best party playlist (although the rogue picks still went over wonderfully).

Looking back on the big day, Jen reflects on the importance of keeping things in perspective. "Take a deep breath and stay focused because it’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking that you need X, Y, and Z for your day to feel special," she says. "At the end of the day a wedding is really just about the couple and the family and friends that surround you."

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