Rustic Kerala Woodlands Wedding

Gabbie & Ross


My most favorite moment from the wedding… 

There were a couple. Seeing Ross in his lungi! No one knew how to tie it, but luckily one of my mom’s cousins came to the rescue. On the second day, it was raining so our plans to have an outdoor ceremony were foiled. Thanks to our photographer, who suggested to do the ceremony in the lounge area, we had what felt like a living room ceremony with all our friends and family just standing and sitting surrounding us. It was awesome. It felt like a circle of love just engulfed us. The party was also great. I kept looking around and just being stunned by how almost all of our very favorite people were together.

I cried when… 

I was raised in a very close-knit Indian family, but I always assumed the wedding ceremony would be a little impersonal. When I got blessings from my family for the last time as a single woman however, I just could not keep it together. I was really emotional.

My wedding style was… 

Kerala meets Northwood with a bohemian twist.

It was most important to me that… 

Our wedding reflected who we are as a couple.

For our honeymoon we…

I went to Cuba!

My advice for future brides… 

  1. Make a list of three things that are important to you both. When things get overwhelming, revert back to them.
  2. Let go. You can’t do anything.
  3. Details are important but focus on backgrounds. You’ll get better photos.

About The Couple

How we met

Ross and I met in Ghana. I was on a study abroad program and Ross founded a microfinance organization there. While we had met once before, we really only connected less than a week before I left. It was the start of a long, long-distance courtship. Ross and I love to travel, eat, and do outdoor sports. We spent the first several years of our relationship apart and would meet periodically either where we were or for adventures. We are definitely happiest when we are outside surfing, snowboarding or hiking.

How he proposed

According to Keralan culture, the groom is to ask permission to marry from the maternal uncle of the bride. So with this in mind, on a trip to Singapore to see my family, Ross took my uncles, and brother out on a date and received their blessings. A few months later, he insisted I finish my PADI course and planned a weekend in Gili Trawangan for a night dive. I was pretty nervous since I had just completed my certification in the morning and I was going on an advanced dive in the evening. As we reached our safety stop, our guide motioned to complete our ascent, and then she grabbed my belt.

I was really nervous that I had already made a mistake but then in the pitch-black, she pointed her flashlight to Ross who was holding a sign that read, ‘Will you marry me?’ and had little boxes next to ‘yes’ and ‘no’. In the world of diving, thumbs up mean to go up, so I gave him the ‘OK’ sign… I really didn’t know what else to do since I couldn’t speak! It was seriously the longest minute to ascend those last few meters, and once we surfaced we were just bobbing about in the sea, so I couldn’t even kiss him properly. Ross is a terrible planner, so it was definitely his best work yet. I never expected such an elaborate proposal.

The engagement ring

At the time he proposed, he had a dummy ring which he put on me underwater. The ring that Ross gave me, a family heirloom from the 1920s, was waiting on the boat with a bottle of champagne. It was his great grandmother’s wedding ring. I’m a little superstitious and his great grandparents had a very happy marriage, so I feel like we’re blessed by them in a way. I also am really torn about wearing precious stones, so I’m glad that the ring I was presented with was vintage. I also love that it’s in the original setting. I need to thank my best friend for that because Ross consulted about getting the stone re-set and she told him to keep it as it is.

What marriage means to us

Both of us come from families that have experienced divorce. For me, my commitment to him has little to do with marriage and a lot to do with how awesome I think he is, and more importantly how much I respect him. There is a wonderful analogy that Paulo Coehlo made in his book, ‘The Zahir’, about relationships being bound by arbitrary rules, like train tracks and the distance between the train’s wheels. I have always hoped that I find someone with whom I could grow flexibly; so, we are not bound by some particular distance. I think this flexibility to accept who Ross is, and for him to accept where I am, is really what I value most. I feel free to be whomever I want, and want Ross to feel like he has that freedom too.

The Details

Wedding Planning

We had already made a decision about the wedding location almost before we got engaged. Ross and I knew that we wanted the wedding to take place at Ross’ parent’s lake house in the woodlands of Wisconsin. However the real planning only started much later – about six months before our date.

My grandmother consulted an astrologer to help us find an auspicious date, which landed on June 12 and 13, 2015. A very good friend advised us to have three things that were really important to us and when things got a little crazy to come back to them. It was great advice. We are also quite lucky to have pretty hands-off families who allowed us to plan a weekend that reflected who we are as a couple.

Wedding Events

Our wedding had six events that were spread across three days, each of which were held at Ross’ family lake house in Polk County, Wisconsin.

  1. Welcome Barbeque – Thursday PM, 40 guests.
  2. Kerala Wedding Ceremony – Friday PM, 70 guests.
  3. Kerala Wedding Reception – Friday PM, 70 guests. We held the after party at a bar on the same lake.
  4. Civil Ceremony– Saturday PM, 80 guests.
  5. Reception – Saturday PM, 80 guests.

Key Professionals

We chose our wedding professionals based on their body of work, strengths and our trust in them and let them do their thing.

PHOTOGRAPHY: I’m a photographer myself so I have pretty high standards when it comes to the art. To me, a photographer’s voice is so important. I also wanted someone I trusted. I truly believe in hiring professionals based on their talent, which is why we chose Madeline Druce Photography. I tried to articulate who we are as a couple, and then allow their talents to shine. Madeline was amazing. We are in love with our wedding photos, and she was also so helpful. When it started raining on the second day of our ceremony, it was by Madeline’s recommendation that we had the ceremony in the lounge area. It made everything feel so personal!

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Although he is a professional cinematographer and producer, Stan Okumura was also a guest at our wedding. He recorded the ceremonies and speeches as we just wanted to remember those parts. It was great.

THE DIY ELEMENT: Almost all of our wedding professionals, sans the catering and tent and chair rental, were done by our family friends. While Ross made the mandap for our Kerala Ceremony himself and I made our garlands and flower bouquets, my hair and make-up was done by a close friend who I also have worked with on shoots. The dress for my Civil Ceremony was designed by a super talented friend of mine who currently owns an indie brand. It didn’t end there!

Our stationery was designed by a friend, my best friend and her family made our Reception cake and desserts for the evening and my aunts made the welcome snacks for the Kerala Wedding. Our friends and family helped set up for the wedding, which made our wedding feel like a community event. We are very lucky to have a group of amazingly talented friends and family.

Welcome Barbeque

This was a really casual event. It was more so an opportunity for our family and friends who had flown into town to meet one another, as some people were meeting for the first time. Everybody brought something to grill and we all cooked together and got to know one another. My mum made her famous ribs.

The women also had some henna applied to their hands. We couldn’t find any local henna artists out in Northen Wisconsin so a talented friend of mine did mine and some of the guests. We wanted to have a rehearsal for the next day’s event, but it was raining so we just walked through the ceremonies twice.

GABBIE’S OUTFIT: I wore a Free People peasant dress, tights and boots. It was so cold and raining. I ruined my pedicure because I was so cold that I needed some shoes.

Kerala Ceremony Overview & Decor

We had a simple ceremony, followed by a picnic-style Reception. Guests had homemade lemonade and iced tea as welcome drinks and my aunts also made some homemade snacks for when guests arrived. My late grandfather used to be very adamant that Kerala Hindu weddings were traditionally performed without a priest so my grandmother just guided us through the ceremony. For the picnic-style Reception, we wanted to have an Indian inspired ‘farm-to-table’ food truck by Underground Catering Co., but their food truck broke down earlier that week. Instead, we had a farmer’s market-style setup. Towards the end of the evening, we shuttled across the lake to Besse’s on Clear Lake for drinks and late-night snacks.

THEME & DECOR: The overall theme for the day was ‘Bohemian meets Northwoods’. We kept the decor and styling fairly simple and let the landscape speak for itself. Ross created the mandap himself with some help from my brother. He cut down some old trees and my aunts added some light florals and strings of marigold. For our boho picnic-style Reception, I handmade some Indian quilts and cushions.

Kerala Ceremony Look

GABBIE’S OUTFIT: I went for a Kerala bride look with a traditional off-white and gold Kerala saree that I draped myself. My grandmother and her sisters bought the wedding saree. I was supposed to wear the traditional Kerala ‘Mundu Neeratha’ but at the last moment, we couldn’t find one.

JEWELLERY & ACCESSORIES: I wore costume jewellery from Lucky Brand, which included layered necklaces, earrings, maang tikka, and nose rings. I made my own anklets.

SHOES: Gold sandals by Stitchwallah.

HAIR & MAKEUP: Nicole George did a fabulous job with my hair and makeup. I had a simple plait in my hair and went for a traditional look with dark eyes and a red lip.

ROSS’ OUTFIT: Tailored silk off-white kurta and lungi.

ROSS’ SHOES: Brown leather ASOS sandals.

BRIDESMAIDS: I coordinated sarees in neutral colors for the girls. My mother, cousin, and aunt bought all the sarees for the bridesmaids and family members from Singapore. I put together a Pinterest board, and we were Whatsapp-ing for hours.

Civil Ceremony Overview & Decor

We held a simple Western-style civil ceremony which was officiated by my uncle with a few readings from some of our friends. The ceremony was followed by our Reception where we had a few speeches, dinner, dancing, drinks and cake cutting. Food was catered by Underground Catering Co. with a family-style meal inspired by summer barbeques. Our first dance was to ‘Fade into You’ by Nashwi. My aunt’s husband is a DJ (known as DJ Philip Perez) who took over the dance floor at the end of the evening and did an amazing job!

THEME & DECOR: The rustic boho theme continued for our Civil Ceremony. Ross and I hired tents, chairs, and tables from AC & Sons Party Tent Rentals and I set up the decor for the Reception ourselves. 

I had our napkins tailored with Indonesian ikat fabric since we lived in Indonesia and wanted to make sure it was referenced as part of our wedding story. Ross made all the signboards with the help of some of our friends. We had a game set up for table seating, where each table was a country we had visited or lived in together, and on the back of the name cards were slightly intimate clues that at least a couple people knew about us and that place.

We also had a couple of Fujifilm Instax mini’s floating around the reception to reflect our mutual love of photography. This also made for an amazing way to relive the wedding when we woke up the next day.

Civil Ceremony & Reception Look

GABBIE’S OUTFIT: I went for a Bohemian Glam look wtih a white gown designed by Becky Carter of Fawn and Cub. I had decided years ago that I wanted a friend of mine to design my dress for my Civil Ceremony if she were to agree. Luckily enough, she did. I shared some designs with her on Pinterest, and a long email about who I am, what I like, and a few things I was hoping for. I saw the dress two weeks before the wedding for the first time, and I could not be happier. She’s amazing.

JEWELLERY & ACCESSORIES: Anthropologie earrings, Nasty Gal body chain, handmade turquoise ring by Miss Leah Dee Jewelry, bangles from TJ Maxx. 

SHOES: Metallic silver ASOS heels.

HAIR & MAKEUP: Nicole George also did my hair and my makeup for this event. I went with a minimalist look donning a side braid and a natural makeup look.

ROSS’ OUTFIT:  Bespoke white linen suit by Laxmi Tailors paired with a shirt from the Banana Republic.

ROSS’ SHOES: Brown leather, derby style shoes.

BRIDESMAIDS: My bridesmaids wore their own neutral-colored dresses and jewelry. They did their own hair and makeup.

GROOMSMEN: The groomsmen wore mismatched pants, shirts, and ties in neutral colors.

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