Eily + Sam by Sarbo Studio

What we would put down to our working so well as a couple is that we both find so much joy and humour in so many of the same things.

Tell us a little about yourselves, what you do, what you love…

Eily is a high school teacher of Drama and Art. Sam works full-time in Video Marketing and also runs his own Wedding Photography/Videography Business – SJR Media Co – on the side. We are obsessed with our two little fat cats – Tony Pepperoni and Rocco Bellissimo, whom we adopted almost two years ago. Together in our little terrace house in Wickham, we love to cook exciting foods (Sam is the master of all amateur cooks), do small renovations in our house, drink coffee or wine on our veranda, and watch the world go by. Eily is someone who loves making things and being creative, sewing clothing for herself since she was in high school and, more recently, getting pretty good at making sourdough after learning how in lockdown. Sam is a musician, playing drums since primary school and also someone who can play guitar and bass pretty well despite never being taught how. He played music in numerous bands all through high school and uni with the guys who ended up becoming his groomsmen.

How/where/when did you meet – and what were your first impressions?

We first met at O-Week for Uni at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst in 2009 at a night designed for students living off campus to make connections. That night, we had one conversation and never saw each other again until 2013, when we met again through friends. I (Eily) had no idea who Sam was; I had seen him out and about with some friends of friends, but honestly, I thought he must have lived in Sydney and only visited Bathurst occasionally or something. Then, a friend said, “HOW do you not know who Sam is?” It turns out I had been to several parties he had been at over the years, and I knew a lot of his friends, but our paths just hadn’t crossed. We then chatted a few times at bars, and I developed a little crush. On Valentine’s Day in 2013, I was at work (whilst calling bingo numbers at a club). I asked my friend to devise a risky text to send; we ended up with ‘Roses are red, Violets are Blue, Vodka is cheaper than dinner for two. Are you going out tonight?’ While I nervously waited for a reply, I realised, either way, I’d put my cards on the table. It turns out he had a cold, but we ended up planning a first date for the following week, and then after a few more great dates, we very quickly became a couple and moved in together sometime less than a year later.

When did you first realise that this was someone you’d like to spend the rest of your life with?

There wasn’t necessarily a particular ‘moment’ when we realised this because being together has always been something that has been so easy for us. We fell very quickly after we started dating into a pattern of just wanting to have fun together, to do new things, and to enjoy the little things in life. Perhaps we met one another at the point in both our lives when we weren’t going to play games in dating or act too cool to impress someone. We were both just openly ourselves, and that meant that we appreciated the best and the weirdest parts of each other right from the get-go. What we would put it down to in terms of us working so well as a couple is that because we both find so much joy and humour in so many of the same things, we actively make efforts to make each other’s life better in every way by continuing to share these things because it makes us both happy. And because we love watching each other laugh at things or be amazed by the same things, there’s so little effort required in fuelling our interests together so it’s not as though one person’s interests or passions are something boring and fatiguing to pretend to be interested in, it’s just easy.

One major moment in our relationship was making the decision to move to Newcastle from Bathurst in 2016. We had never been there, but Sam’s job at the time asked if he wanted to shoot weddings in the Hunter rather than in the Central West. We were really unsure if it would work out, I had just graduated from teaching, and it was all very up in the air. We promised each other that we’d give it a year, and then we don’t think we ever had a moment of thinking we had to go back; we just loved it here, and moving here brought new excitement to our relationship, we had so many places to explore together, and a place to host our friends and family.

Was there a proposal? Tell us a little about it…

Sam proposed to me in our back courtyard in June of 2021. I had been at work all day and then had to sit at the computer in our study for a few hours doing online parent-teacher interviews for the evening, so I was really tired and stumbled down the stairs in my dressing gown and fluffy scuffs at 7:30 thinking we’d cook some easy dinner and watch tv. Sam had left a little note at the bottom of the stairs saying, ‘Come outside for a special dinner’. I think I could smell all the candles before I saw them, as he’d taken every scented candle in the house outside and lit them all around the garden. I came out the back door to find him. The garden was beautifully glowing, and I couldn’t see him. He’d left a pizza box on the back table (we’re obsessed with pizza; good sourdough pizza is our favourite thing), and inside the lid, it said, ‘Marry me?’. I then turned around to find him, and he was on his knee with a little box. I was so shocked. I honestly had no idea at all that it was going to happen, and we hadn’t had the ’should we get married’ chat. It was completely out of the blue and on such a random and long arduous work day for me that I took a couple of minutes to believe it had happened. He then told me that he’d been talking with the ring makers for months, and it had arrived, and he’d just wanted to ask me right away. He knows me well, so there was a bottle of bubbly outside ready to pop, so we drank that while I stared at my incredible ring. We then went out for dinner to make the evening feel even more special – not before I quickly ran inside and threw on some nail polish for the photos, haha. We were headed on holiday to meet my parents and my sister and her husband in Vietnam only one week later, so it was so exciting to have had the proposal happen when it did because we were just all the more excited when we got to catch up.

Tell us about the vision you had for the mood or style of your wedding.

Okay – talk about pressure. Sam has been capturing weddings since 2013, and so there were a lot of examples that we’d seen to draw from. Ever since his early days of dating, he would bring home images from weddings all over NSW, QLD and then Fiji. We’ve seen so many beautiful weddings, but also some real shockers! I’ve always joked about it when people asked us what our wedding would look like, saying that over this time, my list of things that I didn’t want had grown about as long as the list of things I saw and did want. One thing that was for sure was that we really didn’t want a wedding that people felt like they’d been to before, and we sought out points of difference when we could, moments to insert a bit of silliness and joy. We wanted to go with colour, having seen so many all white weddings of late. Seeing as Sam had been to so many as well, I was determined to create something that he had never seen, with elements of all the best weddings he’d been to and the most fun you could imagine.

The vision really began to take shape, though, with the venue choice. For us, the idea of somewhere with a lot of outdoor space was ideal; we wanted guests not to feel confined to one room and to be able to talk, mingle, relax or dance throughout the night. We were also very sure that we wanted not to travel on the wedding day, to have every part of the day take place in one spot. Wallalong was the first and only space we visited; once there, we were in love with the greenery, the multiple spaces around the property, and the large house to host our family and Bridal party.

Doing what I do for work, creating visuals for theatre shows, constantly talking about colour and composition with art students, and thinking about the experience of an ‘Audience’ in Drama classes is something means that I’m one of those people who sees something and says that I could make it myself. When it came to Styling and Mood, I always knew I’d have a pretty big hand in selecting or making things for the day. As we booked the venue in definitely and looked into styling, it became clear that if we wanted the day to feel special and unique to us, we would need to commit to making some elements ourselves, which we were happy to do. Hand printing the table cloths was a mammoth task – 12 full-length cloths, which we printed with silicon pieces by hand on our kitchen island. Each of the shapes had to be printed three times to get the shadow effect we wanted. We had to do a lot of experimenting to settle on colours and shapes, and we were stoked when we settled on a final plan. Each one took about 2 hours of printing and ironing, so when we saw it all in the space on the day, it was so satisfying to know that the look was unique to us and that it had been worth it.

Some things we had that we thought were fun and different to other weddings were:

  • Our celebrant, Steph, played a game of true or false with all our guests at the ceremony to determine who our witnesses were. It ended up being Sam’s uncle and my work wife. She had said from the beginning that she’d win, and she did.
  • Our MC was a 6-foot-tall bald guy dressed head to toe in a white naval uniform. He is Eily’s brother-in-law, Harry, who serves in the British Navy. According to the Navy, he had an all-white uniform issued to him for the occasion because he was attending an event in a region of the ‘tropics’. He asked Eily permission to wear white, and she was so excited to say yes.
  • We had an awards ceremony within our newlywed speech at dinner – because we had the dress code ‘dress fabulously’ we handed out awards for the most fabulous king and most fabulous queen, as well as the QANTAS support award for furthest distance, travelled, and the keen as beans award for the first guests who arrived (they were so early they walked in on our bridal party shoot that we had on the lawn after the first look.) plus a few more.
  • Our best man iced us and the groomsmen during his speech – he had snuck into he reception tent before anyone else entered and taped them under the tables. He said he was so worried all night that they would fall on people’s laps before his speech. Another of Sam’s friends got up and sang a loud Opera song while we drank – it’s a strange and time-honoured tradition in Sam’s high school friend group.
  • Our cocktails were named after our cats – Tony’s Gin and Tonic and a Limoncello Do Rocco.

What was one element you were happy to splurge on?

Definitely food, drink, and florals. We were providing a feast for all the senses. We wanted everyone to feel like they were somewhere special, somewhere they may not go regularly with the cost of living moment that we’re all experiencing. We also kept a lot of the styling choices close to the chest so that each new little thing throughout the day was another surprise for everyone.

The catering from Fennel and Co. was absolutely immaculate, helping us achieve our goal of treating all our guests to a multi-course feast.
When we did our final drinks order, we also added three extra cases of every wine, just to be safe and make sure we didn’t run out of anyone’s first preference.

Working with Sophie on Florals, I decided at the last minute to add extra arrangements to the ceremony backdrop and the bar areas for both cocktail hour and the reception tent. We were so glad that we did this because, overall, the pop of colour her work added to these moments was one that everyone commented on all day and afterwards.

Because Sam’s mates are all musical, we were really lucky that we didn’t have to splurge on live music. One of them played for us at cocktail hour as his gift to us.

Eily did splurge on a diamond-heavy wedding band—only because Sam got her such a dazzling engagement ring that she now loves diamonds a lot more than she ever thought she would.

Did anything happen on your wedding day that you laughed about in hindsight (even if it was stressful at the time)? 

The whole day was actually perfect, or even more perfect than we had hoped, so there’s not anything that stands out as stressful. One of the groomsmen’s shoe soles split apart, so for part of the day, until another guest arrived with his new shoes, he had photographs taken in zebra-printed sneakers. This worked kind of well, though, as our dress code for guests was ‘dress fabulously’, and we thought his sneakers were pretty fab. 

One small thing that happened was a random power outage in the reception marquee right before we entered for our first dance. The DJ turned his gear back on, and his list reset, so he had to throw on a song until he could get things right for our entry. The song he played was Sweet Caroline, which was pretty amazing in the end because as we both hid just outside the tent in the dark, we got to watch all our guests standing in a big circle, all singing the words at the top of their lungs and swaying together. Sam and I started dancing together outside the tent while we waited for our song to come on – Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days – and we ended up getting papped by our photographer in some really lovely shots. So our first dance accidentally happened outside the tent with just the two of us really. 

Tell us about your main outfits, what was unique, and if there is a story.

Sam wore pizza slice cuff links to reference our love of pizza.

I sewed my own evening mini-dress. I noticed the trend of wearing minis for the partying end of the night, and I again wanted to make sure that mine was unique. The bottom of the skirt was a vogue pattern that I shopped just for the wedding, but the bodice of the dress was made by pattern-hacking a corset top that I love to wear regularly and which fits me really well. Luckily, it transferred well over to satin because I was really happy with the end result. The best part was also making sure I had hidden pockets for my lipstick by adding them in exactly the size and position I wanted them. By the end of the night I ended up having sunglasses in there, and my lipstick and someone else’s phone.

I used fabric from my mum’s and my nan’s wedding dresses to make a silk and lace petal, which I tied around my bouquet to have with me all day.

I wore a Sapphire ring lent to me by my mum all day – something borrowed and something blue.

CEREMONY & RECEPTION Wallalong House, Wallalong, NSW, 2320, @wallalong_house PHOTOGRAPHER Sarbo Studio, @sarbostudio FLORIST Sophia Wilde, @sophiawilde_ CELEBRANT Wed by Steph, @webbysteph CATERING Fennel & Co, @fennelandco.catering RINGS Kate & Kole, @kateandkole BRACELET Kate & Kole, @kateandkole EARRINGS Kirsten Ash, @kirstenash BRIDAL DRESS Kinsely Dress from Madi Lane, @madilanebridal DRESS ALTERATIONS Design by B, @design_by.b BRIDE’S SHOE Shein
HAIR & MAKEUP MBL Bride, @mblbride BRIDE’S FRAGRANCE Giorgio Armani – ‘Because it’s You,’ @armanibeauty SUIT Rundle Tailoring, @rundletailoring ACCESSORIES Sunglasses – Ray-ban, @rayban