When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is: “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaroon towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we’ve decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to Charles Beaman, a neurology resident at Columbia, and Ashley May, who works for renowned East Village artist Kiki Smith (and is an artist herself). The pair held a “wildflower wedding” this past April on his parents’ ranch outside Austin, Texas, and ended the night with an impromptu DJ set at 4 a.m. on the deck of an Airbnb.
Ashley: Our priority was that when people left our wedding they would say, “Oh that was just so Ashley and Charles.”
Charles: We were thinking about Cape Cod, because it’s one of Ashley’s favorite places, or western Massachusetts, where Ashley is from. We were talking about it among Ashley’s friends at dinner in New York, where we now live, and just opened up the question, where do you guys think we should get married? All of her friends started chanting, “Texas wedding!” My parents have a place in the hill country, near Austin.
Ashley: I think New Yorkers are very interested in Texas. That seems to be a trend in bars and restaurants.
Charles: I also proposed at my parents’ place in Texas, when we were spending the weekend there with friends.
Ashley: The ring looked kinda medieval — a minimalist band with a square emerald in the middle — from the Brooklyn designer Wwake.
Charles: We went to the same boarding school in Massachusetts and we joke that we always had our eye on each other, but we really hit off at our ten-year reunion. Ashley’s friends are from California and New York, and my friends are from or live in Texas, so Austin was a geographical center.
Ashley: The property has a turquoise creek lined with white limestone; it’s beautiful. But oh my God, this was an education. We thought, oh, it’ll be a budget choice to do it at our own place! What we learned is that, actually, there’s a reason that venues cost as much as they do, because we had to bring in everything: the dance floor, the lights, his family had to take out an insurance policy, chairs, tables, glasses, the napkins (all the rentals cost a total of $3,345, from Whim Hospitality). Every little thing you can think of, we had to find a vendor and bring it in. In terms of planning and budgeting, the smartest money we spent was hiring a wedding coordinator for day-of coordination. She was above and beyond [$1,700, Silver Thistle Weddings & Events].
Charles: Ashley got her hair done in the morning in Austin [$250, Nova Hair Collective], then she and all the girlfriends left on a mini bus to the ranch earlier, like noon or 1 p.m. A lot of her friends are very creative and talented people, and they ended up helping with doing flower placements for all the tables.
Ashley: We hit upon the theme of a wildflower wedding. The hill country is famous for its wildflowers, and I love wildflowers. Charles’s brother and sister-in-law work at Lanier High School in Austin where they teach the students the business of florals, so they grow flowers, they pick the flowers, they learn how to make arrangements, and they learn the business skills of selling. It’s a nonprofit, so the money you pay just goes to the school and the kids. I say they were inexpensive, but I was still shocked at how much it cost — $1,500 [Lanier Future Farmers of America]. We had the flowers delivered, and I said to my girlfriends, we will be arranging flowers, you’re all invited, but there’s no pressure, it will be work! But everybody just threw themselves into it and loved it.
Charles: My friends and I, we came out a few hours after them but we hung out near the water in a totally different area of the ranch. We didn’t play golf or do anything very guy-oriented. We had everyone arrive on buses to a welcome area with blue bonnets growing, down by the creek. There were cocktails for 30 minutes, then everyone walked up this big hill to the most elevated area of the land, a big pasture field where we set up a ceremony in the round.
Ashley: His friend is a minister through the internet church, so he shared officiating duties with my best friend, and we all worked together on what they would say. It was a combination of toast and wedding ceremony. There was a presentation of rings, there was a poem: my friend Hallie read “Coming Home” by Mary Oliver. At the end, we had them say, “Ashley, you may now kiss the groom,” to remove the male subjectivity.
Charles: I had a suit made that was a dark olive green [$550, Black Lapel]. I wore a bolo tie, white shirt. Kind of casual. But Ashley’s dress, she really stole the show. She converted this vintage dress — I couldn’t even imagine how she came up with what she did.
Ashley: My dress was $150. I got it on Etsy [Etsy vendor astateoftheunion]. It was vintage, 1960s, this huge ur-wedding designer now but then it was more boutique, Edythe Vincent for Alfred Angelo. I found a designer in the city named Yalenis Cepeda, and we worked together to alter it. It started out as a pretty shapeless tunic with sleeves. And we took the sleeves off, we made it fitted, and we separated the front panel of the tunic from the back panel because I really wanted a cape.
Charles: She has a thing for capes, and she has flare for the dramatic, too, but this was stunning. She outdid herself, I’d say.
Ashley: The alterations cost $150, so altogether it was like $300. Charles had requested I have a braid. He loves braids. The search for shoes was hard, they’re so expensive. They had to be a statement, and I wanted color. I found this Italian brand, Bellini, from the ’90s, Carmela Soprano definitely wore them, on Poshmark for $16.
Charles: In addition to that moment of being blown away when I saw Ashley, the cocktail hour was a definite highlight for me. My mom built what she called the secret garden at the ranch, an eight-foot walled garden with ivy around it and cacti and roses, trellises. I remember many years ago, she said, “I want to build a garden at the ranch,” and we were like, yeah yeah, okay that’s great. But this garden is one of my favorite places. The bartenders set up in the garden. We had a signature cocktail, which was a spicy margarita.
Ashley: It had a hot jalapeno and a spicy salt rim. A friend of ours outside Austin has a business called The Good Pot, and he did spring-themed hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour. One was fresh cheese, fermented carrot, radish flowers, and pistachio on homemade focaccia. Dinner was then from Salt Lick, buffet-style [$6,100].
Charles: Barbecues are also, for me, a staple of Texas. Salt Lick makes really good barbecue and they have a great catering company. And obviously, it made a much more budget-friendly wedding to avoid high-end food. People really loved it, honestly. You can save a ton of money by just doing things that people actually enjoy more.
Ashley: It was brisket, pork ribs, and smoked chicken, the best potato salad I’ve ever had, coleslaw, bread. Very meat-forward. For vegetarians, there was roasted stuffed poblano pepper. I wanted it to feel like a beer garden, so we had these beer garden tables, café lights, and the plates were blue enamel. We wanted the dance floor to be to the side of the dinner — we hired DJ Cass&Ra ($1,800) — so people could still sit and enjoy even if they didn’t want to dance.
Charles: Both of our dads gave a little toast-speech at the end of dinner, just thanking people for coming out. Then we did a first dance, which was the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song “Helplessly Hoping.” It was intimate, more than I thought it might be. I think everyone sort of appreciated that — it was a chance to savor the moment.
Ashley: It’s a moment where you can soak it in. We found out later that the night Charles was born in Austin, August 29, 1984, his mom’s best friend was on her way to a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert, also in Austin, when she heard that his mom was in labor. She stopped by the hospital, and was the first person to meet him. She didn’t know it was going to be our song, and we didn’t know that story, and she burst into tears.
Charles: DJ Cassie was great, and it was a mix of old-school hip-hop to pop with some country songs thrown in there. The dance party kept going from the end of dinner, and the early bus back to Austin left at 9:4 5p.m., mostly with older guests. Ashley’s mom is kind of conservative, buttoned-up, but she brought glow sticks for everyone and all the kids were running around with 20 glow sticks on their arms.
Ashley: We decided not to have a cake. This is a controversial opinion, but I find it to be more stress than it’s worth. I’m always like, where’s my piece, and then I don’t get one. So we just had blackberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream for the dessert, also from Salt Lick [$648]. But Charles’s uncle Danny and my mother were talking about how sad they were that there wouldn’t be a cake — Danny went to Whole Foods the day of, and got two white cakes with buttercream frosting for $90 each, and they wrote on top, “Let them eat cake.” Neither Charles nor I ended up having a piece. Danny asked my mother to cut the cake and she served it with vanilla ice cream. Around 50 people got a piece. Apparently more people were interested once it ran out. But there was more than enough blackberry cobbler for everyone! And people really enjoyed that, as well. My mother loves that kind of cake, so I was happy for her. Everyone ended up getting what they wanted.
Charles: We had a surprise fireworks display at the end. And then, around 11:45 p.m., we headed to an Airbnb we rented in the middle of Clarkville, which is this hip neighborhood in Austin. It was really nice, a big place with a deck. We brought leftover alcohol and beer from the ranch onto the bus.
Ashley: I’d say half the people came back to our house, and we are lucky to have a friend from Denver who’s a festival DJ and he just did an impromptu DJ set for us, a little Brandy and Monica, a little James Brown, keeping it really fun.
Charles: We knew there’d be a big lull because it’s like an hour drive, so a lot of people even slept on the ride home but then rose from the grave and were ready to go until 4 a.m.