lauren + james // Ellicottville Backyard Wedding

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It’s so special when couples choose to get married in a location that has sentimental value to them. Maybe I’m biased because that’s exactly what Ben and I did. We got married in our house that we had just purchased. It was huge (to us) and very empty because we couldn’t afford to buy furniture right away, but it was such a special place for us; the place where we would build a life together. And so we have. :)

Lauren and James chose to get married in Lauren’s parents’ backyard, in the very same spot where they were married 20+ years prior. It’s a place with history and family roots, and as beautiful as this wedding was, I think the story behind the location makes it all the more beautiful.

Lauren and James’ love story is also the absolute sweetest and lucky for you, they were kind enough to share it! Be sure to read their comments as you scroll and I have no doubt you’ll just adore them as much as I do.

Lauren: “Our story begins like any other; we met through mutual friends. Except instead of love at first sight and a ride into the sunset in each other’s arms, we began our friendship with regular Monday evenings at the Salamanca Bowling Alley with our friends. As is typical in the beginning of any relationship, we acted like we were not interested in each other, and were also convinced that the other was not interested either. Now fast-forward to St. Patrick’s Day. Enter Jim and Robin Holtz (my parents).

I happened to have spent the weekend in Erie, PA with my friends from college to celebrate the holiday. In typical Gannon Alumni fashion, I awoke at 5am that day for Kegs and Eggs at The Cellblock. Sometime that evening, my parents stumbled into The Gin Mill and were tended to by James. After several St. Patrick’s Day cocktails, and having no knowledge of mine and James’ friendship, my mom assured James that he should ‘date her daughter’ (seriously, when does that ever work?).

Soon after, James and I exchanged phone numbers, and shared our first kiss on the roof (yes, the roof) of Balloons in Ellicottville after a prom-themed party.

Lauren: “The dress I chose was actually not at all what I had in mind prior to shopping, but I had to have it after trying it on at Dalia’s. My dress was full length and all lace. After the work that my rock-star seamstress (Jill Monroe) did, the dress fit me like a dream and I felt amazing in it.

Lauren: “One of my favorite parts of our wedding day was seeing James for the first time. We decided to do a First Look to ease our nerves and have a special moment to ourselves before the excitement started.

James: “Seeing Lauren for the first time in her dress was moving and very special. Lauren definitely cried… maybe I cried too; it’s hard to recall!

Lauren: “The first moment of our wedding day that stands out to me is when our florist came to my suite to drop off my bouquet. Prior to that moment, I’d spent the entire morning feeling like it was any other, normal day. Being handed my wedding bouquet made me cry my first happy tears of the day and made everything feel so real and amazing.

Lauren: “James proposed on December 24th, 2016 at the final Bills game of the season. James happens to have a lot of friends within the Bills organization who were a huge help in planning the surprise. After tailgating with our friends, we arrived at the field early, as we had on-field passes. James was able to get us on the field during warm-ups, where he proposed. After the proposal when I realized what was happening, I looked up and all of our friends and some of our families were there cheering us on.”

James: “Having an outdoor wedding is very rewarding and yet very challenging. We had 3 days straight of the heaviest rainfall that I can remember in recent history. The tent company got their truck stuck in my in-laws’ lawn and we couldn’t set tables and chairs up until the day of the ceremony because the grass underneath the tent was soaked. But both of our families and close friends came together to make our very special day happen, regardless of mother nature’s actions.

Lauren: “Saying my vows and hearing James’ vows during our ceremony was another favorite moment for me. I’d put off writing my vows until just before I put my dress on that day and by that time, I was so full of love, gratitude and excitement that the perfect words came to me right away. During the ceremony, James’ vows made me so emotional and full of happy tears that I could barely get my own vows out.

James: “My favorite part about our wedding was seeing how many special people we both have in our lives, I really feel that these feelings get taken for granted sometimes and seeing that in action was truly special.

Lauren: “In planning our wedding, we decided on a ‘theme’ that felt authentically US. James and I have a collection of vintage cake stands, Pyrex and milk glass items in our home, so it was only fitting that we incorporated that into our wedding decor. The tables at our reception were decorated with mismatched vintage glassware, candlestick holders and milk glass vases. Our desserts (Paula’s Donuts) were displayed on various mismatched cake stands as well.

Lauren: “The speeches that were given during our reception are something that I will never forget. It was incredible to hear our best friends Connor and Kristy deliver speeches that spoke of family, friendship and support of our marriage. Those speeches really made us feel even more loved. In addition to those speeches, we asked my brother, Matt, to give a toast before dinner. Matt’s toast spoke of love and history. The property where James and I were married was mine and Matt’s childhood home and also the same property where our parents were married more than 30 years prior. The speech was beautiful and incredibly meaningful not only to us as newlyweds, but for my whole family.

Lauren: “The song we danced to was the San Francisco Symphony version of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Being big Metallica fans, we’ve always joked about it being ‘a Metallica love song’, so it only seemed fitting. After the ceremony was finished, I surprised James by telling him that his wedding band had been engraved with the name of the song.

Lauren: “Halfway through our first dance, we invited my Dad and James’ Mom to come up and dance with us.

James: “I was a HUGE fan of Lauren’s decision to bring in Paula’s Donuts instead of doing a traditional cake, it was very unique and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lauren: “The portion of the evening when our DJ started playing songs still gives me butterflies when I look back on it. Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t particularly love dancing at all, let alone in public. Our DJ played mostly 90’s hip hop after dark and James and I spent the entire night singing and dancing with our friends and family. I can honestly say that I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun that I did that night.

A few words of advice from Lauren and James to those currently planning: “Everyone tells you this when you get engaged, but having been there, our best advice to anyone in the planning process is to delegate. There are so many things that need to be done, appointments that need to be scheduled and decisions (big and small) that need to be made. There’s a good chance that your wedding party and families are dying to help, so let them! There is no reason to take on all of the planning, DIY’ing and coordinating yourselves. Also, if things don’t go as planned, don’t sweat it. We promise you won’t care by the time your ceremony starts.

Lauren: “Jenn was seriously amazing and we are so happy with how our wedding photos came out. Her documentary style of photography was exactly what we were looking for, and she caught so many great candid photos from our wedding day that we will cherish forever. She did an excellent job making us comfortable in front of the camera and captured photos from all aspects of the day.

Wedding Vendors Include:

Getting Ready Location: Brickstone Suites
Venue: Private Residence
Dress Shop: Dalia’s Bridal
Dress Designer: Enzoani
Make-up Artist: Kelsey Koebel
Groom’s Look: Jos. A Bank
Florist: Flowers off the Farm
Dessert: Paula’s Donuts
Tent/Linens/Lighting: Cayas Canopies
Furniture Rental: Flowers off the Farm


kirsten + gabe // Adirondack Woodcraft Camp

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It feels like I’ve been wanting to blog this wedding for a million years and the day is finally here!  So, I’m not big on having “favorite venues,” because for me, this work I do is all about the people. The place just doesn’t matter all that much. But, if I ever did have to choose a favorite, I think Adirondack Woodcraft Camp would have to be it. I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondacks. My family spent time up there every summer of my entire childhood, so I think my biggest reason for loving this venue is the nostalgia I feel when I get to spend time up there as an adult. It’s a truly magical place for me. The weekend we spent with Kirsten and Gabe was just incredible, and I’m so excited to finally share these images. The thoughts and memories they shared throughout the post really bring it all to life, so make sure you take a minute to read them! They are the sweetest couple. 

Kirsten: “Our first date was the first time I flew to NY to visit. It was terrifying and soooo awkward because we had only been talking via phone and Skype as friends at that point. But Gabe picked me up from the airport and we went to Fort Stanwix, which is this weird historic fort. We were followed around by this super enthusiastic actor dressed and acting like a soldier. It’s was incredibly awkward and hilarious at the same time.

Kirsten: “So the story of my dress is actually pretty funny. I went to Charlotte NC for the weekend with one of my bridesmaids and met with my Mom, aunt and grandma. We had a wonderful weekend filled with mimosas and dress shopping. Finally found a dress that we all loved and we decided to order it in champagne! I’m not a super girly girl so I wanted something simple and with gold undertones. Well, a couple weeks went by and one afternoon I received a frantic call from the woman who helped me find my dress. Another woman had chosen the same dress and color and hers had come in that day. She called right away to tell me we had a huge issue- I had accidentally ordered a pink wedding dress! My least favorite color. The color ‘champagne’, which was supposed to be slightly gold, was actually pink in person. I was pressed for time and Gabe could tell I was stressed so the next day he drove me two hours to the shop and he actually helped me pick out my dress that I wore on our wedding day. It was pretty hilarious because obviously he was the only man in there and was super uncomfortable but he actually picked the dress out off the rack and when I tried it on I knew it was the one!

Kirsten: “Before our First Look I was so nervous for Gabe to see me all dolled up, but it was the perfect moment and he reacted in the best way.

Gabe: “When I first saw Kirsten at our First Look I thought to myself ‘I’m the luckiest man alive’.

Kirsten: “Gabe will always make me laugh. He will go exploring anywhere I want to. We are constantly finding new adventures to take together. We like to hike, take photos and just generally explore. We love to find ghost towns and abandoned buildings (basically anything creepy). We value each other and the time we spend together exploring new places.

Kirsten: “My favorite special touch was the Girl Gang jackets I had custom made for my babes. I wanted the bridesmaids gifts to be something they could use on the wedding day and also take home with them and wear time and time again. Seeing the looks on my bridesmaids’ faces when I gave them their gifts was something I will hold on to forever.

Gabe: “Looking out into the crowd before the ceremony started and realizing that all of my family and friends from all over the country were all here, in one place, made me feel incredibly thankful for each and every one there.

Gabe: “Having Bailey as our flower dog was the perfect addition to the wedding party. She walked down the aisle like a pro and laid quietly through the whole ceremony. We were very proud dog parents that day.

Kirsten: “Gabe and I wrote our own vows during a weekend getaway in the mountains and saying them to each other in front of all of our closest friends and family was an unforgettable experience, made possible by Gabe’s cousin Stephanie, who officiated our wedding.

Kirsten: “Our first kiss and the moments that followed were the happiest I have ever felt!

Gabe: “After the ceremony we slipped off into the woods while everyone went ahead to the cocktail hour. Those quiet moments were a chance for everything to sink in. All I kept saying was, ‘We are really married! We did it.‘”

Kirsten: “The wooden mountain landscape [above the fireplace at the reception] was a surprise that Gabe’s Dad made for me for the rehearsal dinner. He created it using our wedding invitations as his inspiration and when he showed me I was stunned. It is so beautiful and Gabe is planning on making us a new a bed frame and using it as our headboard!

Kirsten: “The Ciotti’s have a chant that they like to yell during family functions and a few minutes before going into the reception, while standing outside with the wedding party, I could hear a crowd of people chanting ‘C- to the I to the O-T-T-I’ and that’s when it hit me, I was officially a Ciotti!!!

Kirsten: “Our first dance song was ‘I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire’ by The Inkspots. It’s an older song that not many people know about. I hadn’t heard of it until Gabe played it for me on the guitar. He sang it to me early on in our relationship and it quickly became ‘our song’, so when it can time to chose our first dance neither of us had to think about it. It just seemed silly to chose any other song.

Kirsten: “The father-daughter dance was very hard to chose a song. Growing up, my dad and I would watch The Muppets all the time and I love the song ‘Rainbow Connection’. Gabe and I spent hours listening to covers trying to find the perfect song. We never liked any of them as much as the original, but having Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy sing at our wedding also felt a bit absurd. Luckily Gabe comes from an incredibly talented family and his uncle, Elliott, and cousin, Stephanie, are especially amazing. I asked Stephanie and Elliott if they would be willing to perform the song at our wedding and they did. It made the dance so much more special having them play and sing it. Having the other Ciotti cousins chime in and sing along was the perfect ending to a beautiful moment.

Kirsten: “A piece of advice: have a day of coordinator! We luckily have a wonderful friend, Maggie, who offered to act as ours during the wedding. She made sure everything went smoothly and answered questions so Gabe and I didn’t have to! Honestly without her I’m sure we would have been stressed out, but having someone in charge left us carefree and able to have the time of our lives!

Working with Jenn and Ben was so wonderful. They are incredibly talented and knew how to keep us on our timeline, which I’m sure was difficult because I get distracted easily. We felt very comfortable with them and I recommend them to everyone I know who is getting married. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience or better photographs!

Wedding Vendors Include:

Venue: Adirondack Woodcraft Camp
Cake: Kenwood Kakes

All other elements of this beautiful wedding were DIY