“Big love” was the theme of Lauren Chooljian and Matt Baer’s nuptials. The inclusion of family, friends, and tradition began with the proposal, a surprise boat ride at Chooljian’s grandparents’ cabin on Great East Lake, on the Maine–New Hampshire border, in August 2016. Baer arranged for both families — 10 humans and one dog — to meet for the first time and greet the newly engaged couple on the shore.
“It wasn’t just a decision between the two of us, it was the joining of two families,” says Chooljian, who got emotional even before returning to dry land, where a traditional New England feast of lobster awaited. “We realized early on that this was much bigger than us. And it made me cry even harder that he had gone through the lengths to get everyone involved.”
In planning their September 2, 2017, wedding, the couple relied on advice from family and friends. The venue was The Rocks, a 1,400-acre estate and Christmas tree farm in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, not far from Chooljian’s father’s childhood home. (“Make guests drive up 93,” he said. “If they’re coming all the way to New Hampshire, they have to see the White Mountains.”) Friends recommended Boston photo studio Henry + Mac and Littleton, New Hampshire, florist Emily Herzig.
In the run-up to the wedding, the couple relocated from Chicago (where they met in August 2013) to New Hampshire, where Baer would begin studying for his MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business the Monday after the big day. Anticipating a period of out-of-state coordination, they hired wedding planner Kate Dawson of Massachusetts-based Kate Dawson Events to bridge the gap.
“I didn’t want someone who would plan it all themselves. She was a partner with me,” says Chooljian. “She knew where to pick up in places I didn’t understand.”
The rehearsal dinner — wood-fire baked pizza from Farm to Fire of Monroe, New Hampshire — took place in the 1,200-square-foot barn, which then became prep space for the wedding caterer, B&W Catering of Chester, Vermont. Lakes Region Tent & Event popped up a sailcloth tent and laid down a dance floor to accommodate the couple’s 140 guests.
Rather than a strict color scheme, Chooljian focused on organic hues, textures, and shapes — golden yellows, blush pinks, winding ivy, ethereal oversized blooms. Her five bridesmaids chose their own dresses, in shades of mauve and rose. The bride wore a beaded Claire Pettibone gown with low Stuart Weitzman heels. The groom wore Ted Baker.
For dinner, the couple took inspiration from their favorite Chicago eateries, borrowing the concept of using recycled green wine bottles as water carafes from Lula Cafe and yellow napkins from Longman & Eagle. The bottles started as a scavenging DIY project and became an Amazon purchase (“taking labels off wine bottles is hell,” jokes Baer). Brass candlesticks were a lucky Craigslist find.
The menu for the family-style dinner took cues from significant moments in the couple’s relationship: lobster rolls for the engagement weekend, the Tofutti-iced pumpkin cake Chooljian baked for Baer’s birthday their first year together, and packets of “Papaw’s popcorn,” her grandfather’s recipe. Favors were jars of cold-packed garlic-and-dill pickles handmade by the groom.
Kasey Mennie of Fir + Feather created paper goods, including a cheeky “signature drink” menu of the couple’s parents’ usual orders. Chooljian’s dad’s namesake, The Barry — bourbon on the rocks, heavy pour — led to a shortage within two hours. (Dawson’s staff rode to the rescue.)
Tucked throughout the venue for guests to find were pieces of the “sometimes unsolicited” marriage advice Chooljian had collected since getting engaged. The sources ranged from Baer’s best friend to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — Chooljian was then a City Hall reporter for the Chicago public radio station WBEZ (she’s now a political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord). Mennie hand-lettered the quotes and placed each one in a frame. And at each place setting was a blue envelope with a handwritten note from the couple (they split the labor) thanking each guest for attending and explaining what it meant to have them there.
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“It was super sappy, and people walked away telling us they felt the ‘big love,’ ” says Chooljian. “That meant the most to us — besides doing the thing we knew we would do since the minute we met — knowing that people knew how we felt about them.”
Any postwedding advice? Baer’s words are frame-ready: “Recognize that it’s a long process and a lot of work, but at the end of the day, you’re going to get married,” he says. “We said that a lot. We’re going to get married, whether the napkins are the right color or we have enough heaters. We’re going to get married. People will show up. Grandma will find a chair. And it will be great.”
Rachel Raczka is a Boston-based writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.
This article has been updated to correct Lauren Chooljian’s occupation. She is a political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord.