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 macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers. Though we’re living in a moment in which group celebrations are either being called off or adapting to extreme social distancing, in many ways these pre-quarantine parties are just the escape we need right now.
Here, we spoke with Audrey Mott-Smith and Alex Westerfield, two San Francisco lawyers who adore practical plans as much as they do disco and crushed-velvet pants. In October 2018, they were able to unite their right and left brains for their bayfront wedding on a sprawling pier, where they licked honey off each other’s fingers mid-ceremony before dancing the night away.
Audrey: We got engaged at our dining-room table over a plate of beans.
Alex: It was January 2018. As soon as we sat down to eat, I immediately said, “Is there any reason we shouldn’t get married?” And then we proceeded to talk for three hours.
Audrey: We’re both lawyers, so we’re big talkers, and we really love the process of hashing things out. We’d been dancing around the subject for a while. We met online in 2016 — so there’s no sexy story there — but we had a really phenomenal first date at SFMOMA and a pizza place, Una Pizza Napoletana. He had an incredible facility for language. I enjoyed talking to him right off the bat.
Alex: It was wonderful to be around her, and very quickly we were spending all of our time together.
Audrey: It made a lot of sense for us that an engagement would be one where we were equal partners in the process. It was a long conversation and very practically oriented. At the end, we decided that, yes, this is absolutely what we both want to do, and we were elated to get married.
Alex: We were both wearing sweatpants when we decided to get married. Very practical. But also very romantic. Très chic, non? For our wedding, we wanted something that felt lively and ebullient and inclusive. The reason to get everybody together was to celebrate Audrey and my relationship, but we also wanted to celebrate everybody there for the enormous gifts they’ve given to us, the tremendous amount of joy.
Audrey: We briefly flirted with the idea of a country wedding, but Alex grew up on a farm in Ohio, and the first spot we saw with a barn, his reaction was a hard no. So we decided to get married in the city — I grew up here and never left, and he worked really hard to get here, so we are really bonded to San Francisco for different reasons. I wanted to have something as close to the water as possible, so we went pier by pier down the waterfront to see what might be possible as a venue.
Alex: The venue we chose was Pier 35, which is basically a 100,000-square-foot warehouse. We wanted to leave it partly bare, in part because we’re not independently wealthy, so we weren’t going to be able to decorate 100,000 square feet. It was dictated by scale. But also it’s this big, beautiful yawning chasm with an enormous ceiling and wooden beams and rolling doors that open to the bay. We wanted to leave it untouched.
Audrey: It used to be the cruise-ship terminal for San Francisco. They started using it for large corporate events and, like, beer festivals. We were their very first wedding. We had to bring in everything — the rentals, the caterer, building out a kitchen. The planning was actually really rewarding. We were happy being in the weeds, though we brought on a day-of coordinator based on the sage advice of many of our friends. We tried to make the space warm and inviting, but what attracted us was how raw and industrial it was. Gold was the standout color. We had gold chairs, gold confetti, and then clean whites and greens to keep it crisp. I loved the contrast of warmth and softness next to these really hard, cold lines.
Alex: I would say I like a little insouciance in how I dress, and I tried to translate that into this wedding format. For the ceremony, I wore a white flannel jacket and gray flannel trousers by David Reeves. I didn’t want to wear a necktie because I don’t like them, so I wore a neckerchief, from Britex Fabrics, here in the city. Stubbs & Wootton make the perfect men’s shoe, so I wore a pair of their mustard-colored velvet slippers.
Audrey: I had my dress made for me by a woman named Jinza at Jinza Couture. She was the first place I went, then I did a full tour of the wedding-dress circuit and came back. And the design we ended up on was the first we’d discussed: a super, super-simple silk dress. It was really affirming to come back to the original design.
Alex: We wanted our wedding to feel like the best possible version of a day that we would already have, and on a normal day, I’d wake up next to her and we’d get ready together. She got her hair and makeup done while I was getting my beard trimmed. We took photos at a carousel before we went to the venue, which allowed us to use our advanced bureaucratic skills because we had to get a film permit from the city in advance.
Audrey: A very good friend of ours officiated — DeWolf Emery is his name. Alex lived with him before we moved in together, and I ended up spending a lot of time in their home. He was present for the burgeoning and then growth of our relationship. We had several sessions with DeWolf, brainstorming the ceremony and thinking about what we wanted it to feel like, and he has a background in design, so there were funny little diagrams. But we had no idea what he was actually going to say.
Alex: It was very emotional, very cerebral. We fed each other a spoon of beans, as a reference to what we were eating on the night we decided to get married. And we licked honey off each other’s fingers. It was an adaptation of a Persian tradition that I read about in Persepolis. And, yeah, I eat a lot of honey. I love honey.
Audrey: He’ll just drink honey at home. And in other ceremonies, honey is used as a way to symbolize the sweetness of the union. I’m sure you’ve already gotten the sense that neither one of us was very wedded to tradition.
Alex: In my enthusiasm for honey, I put way too much on my finger and had to clean the rest of it off. I approached it like I was going to have a nice snack.
Audrey: We had people get on their feet for the “I do” part of the ceremony. DeWolf would read a line, and everybody there would read it back so that, ultimately, everybody was marrying us. We were locking in all of their love and support into our commitment to one another.
Alex: And to warm them up for that part, because weddings are not very participatory, Audrey and I turned to face them, and I led them in a quick sing-along to get everybody loosened up. The song was “Cat, Hat,” from The Cat in the Hat cartoon, which we chose because it’s been stuck in my head since I was 3, and there’s no way I’d forget it. I should hasten to add that I am not a singer. We didn’t know if we were going to see looks of skepticism on people’s faces, but people were just beaming.
Audrey: Following the ceremony, we had a cocktail hour. There were tables and stations set up with a slew of cheeses and yogurt dips and finger foods that lent themselves to grazing. One thing that was important to us was to make sure people were not encumbered at any point — we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to move around and interact.
Alex: It’s like throwing a party for your whole life, right? My landlord from when I was in law school, my favorite professor, my friend from when I lived in Paris who flew in from Norway and walked me down the aisle. All these people are in the same room, and you’re all hugging, and emotions are extremely high. It’s just delightful.
Audrey: Within that single space of the pier, we carved out a couple of discrete areas where things would happen. The cocktail space was near the ceremony, and then all the tables were set up for dinner, and the dance floor was beyond that. In picking a caterer, we wanted someone who would work with us rather than just presenting us with a preset suite of options. Taste Catering sat down and really played out recipes and let us say, “We really love preserved lemons. We would like to add preserved lemons to that dish.”
Alex: Persimmons are one of Audrey’s and my favorite fruits, and we got married right at the beginning of persimmon season, so they were able to incorporate them into a salad.
Audrey: We really liked the idea of a family-style meal. The food was representative of the bounty of California in fall: fruits, a lot of vegetables, a bean dish, and black cod with tomatoes because we have a really late tomato season here. Just really fresh and bright flavors.
Alex: Speeches were during dinner. My friend Truls made me ugly-cry in a way that was really cathartic. He read excerpts of emails I sent him over ten years ago, and the first time I emailed him about Audrey, which said: “The Audrey situation has become a constant. I would like you to know her well before you’re invited to a wedding.”
Audrey: Alex and I both changed after dinner. I wore gold crushed-velvet pants that I absolutely love, and Alex had a yellow jacket made for him — just the right touch of ’70s sleaze. We leaned into a disco vibe.
Alex: I made a three-hour playlist, and we had someone at the venue hit play. This goes back to my control-freak tendencies as a former college-radio DJ. For our first dance, we played the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for 30 seconds and then cut to a really wonderful disco song, “Lip Service,” by the Lovers.
Audrey: A lot of disco and music that had been important to us over the years or tapped into the celebratory vibe. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” was nonnegotiable.
Alex: The Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” is an absolute monster jam. It was personally validating when some of the higher-risk, more abrasive dance numbers paid off. We were aided in part by the pier being cold enough that you could dance really fervently without getting disgustingly sweaty.
Audrey: There was no cake. Neither of us are big cake people. But we had a whole mess of canelés, the French dessert, by Le Dix-Sept. We wanted something folks could pick up and bring to the dance floor.
Alex: After, we went back to the Clift hotel, where we were staying, and hung out at the hotel bar.
Audrey: It’s the Redwood Room, this storied bar in San Francisco. It’s this big room with an enormous, gorgeous wooden bar, and the lore is that it’s all made from a single redwood tree. We were all there for a few hours after we left Pier 35.
Alex: We ruminated, basked, hugged people, and brought the day to a close.