The curious exterior of the Great Friends Meeting House is a daily sight for most Newporters, but to truly take in the city’s oldest surviving house of worship, you have to walk through its doors. The first time I photographed its interiors, I really thought either my camera or I might die from excitement – the details that I wanted to capture were beyond number. So when Maya and Jeremy approached me about photographing their wedding there, I jumped at the chance.
The day was inspiring not only because it brought new life and purpose into the beloved building – a large Quaker meeting house built in 1699 – but also because the couple stayed laser-focused on the most important parts of a wedding day: family, friends, great food, and, of course, each other. Event planner (and Meeting House Community Garden groundbreaker) Nikki Vazquez of Events on Land and Sea was truly tuned in to the unique nature of the space, allowing its character to guide decisions. “Each time I visited with my story board I always found myself tweaking something as I discovered new intricacies of the building,” says Nikki. “I mean, how cool is it that the walls can be lifted to create such a wonderful flow?” she adds, noting the flexible nature of the building’s interior, which can be divided into three spaces.
For the ceremony, guests sat on risers and long wooden benches, just as the Quakers would have three centuries ago. Afterwards, everyone moved outside and into the adjoining lawn for cocktails and dinner, while a friend of the couple acted as DJ, transforming the ceremony area into a dance floor. Keeping the ceremony brief and holding the reception in the same location meant that Maya and Jeremy could spend the maximum amount of time with their guests – and that I could fly around capturing it all (like a kid in a candy store).
If I had to sum this wedding up in a word, it would be “simple.” It certainly seems like a fitting mindset for a wedding in a Quaker space. By keeping decor, activities, and overall expectations uncomplicated, Maya and Jeremy, who currently live in Brooklyn, stayed true to the inherent minimalism of the Meeting House, kept to their budget, and most significantly, spent a beautiful afternoon celebrating with the most important people in their lives.
To get the inside take on how this day came together, I asked Maya a few questions about planning her big day.
First things first, where did you get your beautiful dress?
I wore a Tadashi Shoji dress from BHLDN, and my friend Laren LeBlanc altered it for me as a wedding present, which made it fit perfectly and feel really special.
Can you tell me a little bit about the spot you chose for your wedding day and why you picked it?
Jeremy and I knew from the start that we didn’t want to have complicated decorations (for budget and taste reasons). Our first idea was to get married in a family backyard. When we realized that wasn’t going to be practical, I wanted to find a place that was beautiful on its own without too much dressing up, but also not too formal or fussy. I had visited the Great Friends Meeting House many times growing up [in Rhode Island] and always loved the light and the colors in the space. The building also has an incredible history, of course. It immediately seemed like the right place for us when we first walked through together.
What were the most important things to you and Jeremy for your wedding day? How did you focus in on those?
It was important to us to have as much time as possible to talk (and dance) with our friends and family, so we kept the ceremony short and sweet and decided not to have a plated dinner. For me, I kept coming back to the idea of a backyard barbecue with family and bringing that vibe to the wedding as much as possible.
It was also important to us that we loved the food we were serving, but I was getting really overwhelmed trying to find a caterer in our budget. The first time we ate at Mission we both loved the food and we looked at each other and joked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just have Mission burgers at the wedding?” As it turned out, we could! So we were super excited to work with them.
Your wedding day was moving, friend- and family-centered, fun, and absolutely gorgeous. How did you pull off such a visually wonderful day while staying focused on your guests, each other, and having a really good time?
A lot of the decorating choices were connected to family, which helped with that! Jeremy’s grandparents had a dairy a farm, and his mom brought us milk jugs and canning jars to put flowers in. We even ended up using some wooden crates from their barn. My dad also collects antique glass bottles and we used those on some of the tables.
The most important advice I got from friends who had already been married was that I could be as controlling as I wanted leading up to the wedding day, but on that morning I had to be ready to surrender and let go of the details no matter what went “wrong.” So Jeremy and I were both setting things up and decorating and planning right up to the night before the wedding, but I think we both tried not to have really specific expectations about that day, and just focused on being present and spending time with each other and family. There were definitely decorating ideas and favors that ended up getting abandoned last minute, but once the wedding started it was wonderful and I didn’t care.
The second most important piece of advice I got was to work with a planner even though we were doing a lot of DIY stuff. It was so incredibly helpful that we had Nikki there to help keep everything moving and coordinate with the vendors so we didn’t have to worry about that during the wedding.
Was there anything in particular that you two knew you didn’t want, and how did you go about making sure your wedding didn’t get encumbered by those things?
It’s almost impossible not to get caught up from time to time in the “rules” for planning a wedding and to start second guessing everything, but we just kept telling ourselves, “Our guests are our close friends and family; they just want to celebrate with us,” and that was always reassuring.
Any advice or insight on sticking to a budget in an expensive wedding town?
I think the key for us was to use vendors that aren’t wedding-specific as much as possible! Like, instead of using a catering company, call your favorite restaurant. We also got lucky because a lot of our friends are talented people who gifted us their time. So our DJ, clothing alterations, and invitation design and printing were all gifts from friends. Also important was remembering that you don’t “have” to do or buy anything just because it’s traditional. We had a limited budget and we only wanted to spend it on things we really cared about, like food.
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Photography: Caroline Goddard | Venue: Great Friends Meeting House, Newport, RI | Event Planning, Table Arrangements + Cake: Nikki Vazquez of Events on Land and Sea | Drinks + Dinner: Mission | Raw Bar: Open Oyster | Rentals: Rentals Unlimited | Bride’s Bouquet + Boutonières: Sayles Livingston Flowers | Bridesmaids’ Bouquets: made by the bride | Wholesale Flowers: fiftyflowers.com | Music + Officiant: friends of the bride and groom | Invitation Design: Emily Friend Roberts Invitation Printing: Will Brady