An international love story that started years ago and culminated at Wotton House in Surrey, England.
Aged nine and 10, Bella and Hugo became pens pals through their schools. Bella grew up in California and Hugo, a little village on the outskirts of London, England.
At age 15, they met in person on a high school exchange trip, and their relationship blossomed. They lost contact for a few years after that, until Hugo, now age 27, hunted Bella down. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her and the bond they had developed during that time together.
When they finally meet again, even after all those years, the love had not gone away and they knew they could never leave each other again. Bella made the leap and moved to England to be with Hugo and Hugo proposed with his Grandmother’s ring soon after. Their wedding was an intimate destination affair with just their nearest and dearest from both sides of the Atlantic in the English countryside.
Every detail of this wedding was chosen to represent a lovely blend of English romanticism and elegance with American modernism and colour. Seasonality and sustainability were also a hugely important part of the design process. With this wedding taking place in early Winter, we wanted a colour palette and florals that represented that fact.
Wotton House is located in the middle of the Surrey Hills; an area of outstanding natural beauty and only a stone’s throw from London. A Grade 1 listed building, Wotton House is steeped in English history with both grand European spaces perfect for the ceremony and reception and hidden historic corners that provide the perfect backdrop for a quintessentially English photo shoot. It is only 45-minutes by train from London making it a convenient location for guests traveling near and far.
Our floral design was the absolute crux of our inspiration. With so many weddings and styled shoots focusing on neutrals and pinks, we wanted to create something bolder and more intense that would pop against the neutral backdrop. It was also important to incorporate a floral design which represented the carefree side of our thoroughly modern Californian bride Bella. Our florist sourced 100% English flowers in a variety of bold Winter varieties and colours such as canary yellow, mustard, rust, pinks and teals. These colours were also chosen for their “California Sun” vibe. She then created the arrangements using non-traditional floristry methods. The end result was a suite of dazzling and modern floral arrangements that added vibrancy and “Wow” to our shoot. The loose and almost wild nature of the florals adds that care-free Californian detail we so desperately sought. The table-pieces both contrasted and complimented the traditional English countryside backdrop while providing that all-important pop of bold American colour.
Leading on from the florals, our table scape was kept deliberately neutral and simple to balance the scene with the more elaborate floral arrangements. We opted for simple tableware with modern shapes and gold detail to, again, update that classic English feel.
Our cake was designed by a celebrated London cake-maker (who has also baked a cake for the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton). Working closely with the florist, the two vendors designed a cake which truly represented the season. With tumbling flowers in rich pinks, yellows and reds and loads of fresh Autumnal fruit, we loved how this cake brilliantly depicts a warm Winter feel.
For the Bride, we chose two dresses by renowned wedding dress designer Jesus Peiro that we felt represented Bella’s American roots. We loved the timeless shapes of each dress but instantly fell in love with the clean lines and minimal details that instantly brought the dresses into the 21st century. To once again add a pop of colour to the scene, we sourced a pair of bright teal heels. This also served as our something blue; always a nice and understated detail on a wedding day. Once combined with the florals and accessories, our Bride was the picture of timeless elegance with a modern and carefree twist.
Hair, make-up and accessories were all chosen for their natural and non-fussy appearance, but make no mistake, everything was very deliberately done. We wanted our bride to look fresh and youthful without being overly made-up. We opted to use more accessories such as hairpieces and earrings as opposed to a traditional veil.
Our inspiration for the Groom was the quintessential English man. We sourced a traditional British tweed suit made from 100% British wool in a classic grey. Choosing a mustard tie was a deliberate nod to the Bride’s American heritage and worked really well when paired with the grey suit and vibrant florals. It was also absolutely perfect for the season.
Being A Pen Pal Love Story, it seemed only fitting that our entire styled shoot be tied together by the invitation suite. Using traditional calligraphy, we created a suite of paper goods meant to represent the hand-written love letters sent by the couple. We even re-created the love letters to use as a detail throughout the wedding day.
In the end, we felt we really achieved our goal of blending English traditionalism with American modernism and we hope we can inspire other couples – from anywhere in the world – that they can draw on their heritage to create the perfect intimate destination wedding.
Photographer Eleanor Stenner is a native Brit, living in America. Co-Planner Cassandra Jo-Baker is a native New Yorker, living in England. Blending their wedding industry experiences in both countries was the vision for this inspiration shoot.