A Whimsical, DIY Wedding at Ralston White Retreat in Mill Valley, California

From the get-go, Ellen Eoff (27 and a non-profit communications and development manager) and Michael Kelly’s (28 and a video game developer) relations

From the get-go, Ellen Eoff (27 and a non-profit communications and development manager) and Michael Kelly’s (28 and a video game developer) relationship has been marked by experiences and events that so perfectly capture their fun-loving and outgoing personalities, which just so happen to compliment each other incredibly well. From their first date at a castle in Heidelberg, Germany to their proposal, where Ellen decided to buck gender roles and asked Michael to marry her via an animated video about the story of their relationship, the couple always did things their way and their wedding was bound to be no different. They started by booking the Ralston White Retreat in Mill Valley, CA. The historic home, which was able to host the couple and their families for the entire weekend, is tucked away on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County and surrounded by a forest of majestic Redwood trees. “We knew from the start that we wanted to forego a traditional wedding to create a party that reflected who we are — fun, silly, nature-and-music-loving crafters,” says Ellen. “It was important to us to personalize the wedding and make it our own with handcrafted details and we put a lot of thought and love into everything to make it ours.” Just some of those handmade touches include 400 ft of hand-sewn bunting, 100 vases, hand-stitched and hand-painted signs, the cake topper and even the beer served during cocktail hour. Ellen, Michael and their close family and friends also arranged all of the wildflower, fern and dahlia bouquets, centerpieces and ceremony greenery. All of the details came together to give the day a whimsical, laid-back feel. Another touch that added another personal element today was Ellen and Michae’s first dance. “Shortly after we got engaged, we bemoaned the likelihood that we would have a dull first dance. In fact, we had an ongoing joke about a goofy tap dance in which we were cane-yanked off the dance floor at the end like a bad vaudeville act,” says Ellen. “We enrolled in tap classes at the Shan Yee Poon Ballet School and our instructor, Jillian Talbot choreographed a fantastically fun first dance for us to ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen.” A tip for the taking from Ellen: “We were on a budget, but we were glad that we didn't forego things like a professional photographer or day-of coordinator. A year later, we still continue to love the amazing photos that Marisa got and with so much else to do, we were certainly in no shape to coordinate things on our own on during the wedding weekend!”

Whimsical Handcrafted Wood Sign
Texas transplants, Ellen and Michael wanted a venue that would not only showcase all of the things they loved about their new home — including the majestic Redwood forests — but would also be easy, convenient and comfortable for their out-of-town guests. The Ralston White Retreat tucked away on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais in Mill Valley, CA provided a stunning natural backdrop for the weekend, plus plenty of space to house the couple’s wedding party and guests.
Reception S'mores Bar
Ralston White Retreat Reception Fire Pit
Ellen and Michael left no detail overlooked. In addition to all of the rustic and vintage décor, Ellen made a variety of sweet needlepoint signs to draw guests’ attention to the escort cards, jars of homemade orange marmalade, strawberry boysenberry jelly and strawberry jam, which also served as the favors.
Ralston White Retreat Cottages
Ellen’s sister Emily Eoff, just so happens to be a talented seamstress, which came in handy when it came to the bridesmaids’ dresses. Emily, also Ellen’s maid of honor, handcrafted both her own and Ellen’s best friend’s dresses using cheerful floral-print fabric, which fit with the wedding’s whimsical, laid-back vibe.
Edward's Salon Classic Bridal Updo
Ralston White Retreat Forest First Look
White Wildflower and Fern Boutonniere
Instead of passing out programs, Ellen and Michael decided to give guests the lowdown on the ceremony with a single framed schedule. The wedding’s date, their names and those of their officiant and wedding party were hand-calligraphed onto striped, floral paper and placed in a gilded frame, which Ellen scored at a local vintage market.
Lovers of bluegrass music, Ellen and Michael decided to kick the post-ceremony festivities off with performances from a live bluegrass band — the Mount Diablo String Band. The swinging quintet played a series of lively beats during cocktail hour, while guests sipped Kelly Kölsch and noshed on mouth-watering appetizers like crab cakes, bruschetta and fried baby artichokes and then got guests up and dancing after dinner.
Ralston White Retreat Ceremony Processional
Sophisticated Three-Piece Gray Suit
Taking full advantage of the Ralston White Retreat’s natural setting, Ellen and Michael decided to host the ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner outdoors on the retreat center’s expansive lawns. The site was surrounded by tall, majestic Redwood trees, showcasing one of the couple’s favorite things about their California lifestyle, while lending the day a whimsical, rustic vibe.
Whimsical Ralston White Retreat Ceremony Arch
Traditional Gray Three-Piece Groomsmen Suits
Michael’s aunt, Kim Little, is a Los Angeles-based costume designer with her own shop, Muto-Little Costumes. So, instead of heading to the bridal salon, Ellen decided to have a dress custom made by Kim “The creation of my dress was such an incredible process and I could not feel more fortunate for the opportunity to work with Kim and the wonderfully talented people at her shop,” says Ellen. “They created a dress that was unique and romantic, but also comfortable enough to get down on the dance floor.”
Along with many of the wedding’s other details, Ellen and Michael decided to do all of the flower arrangements themselves. They picked up an assortment of wildflowers, ferns and dahlias from the San Francisco Wholesale Flower Mart and with the help of their friends and family members, got to work putting together all of the bouquets, centerpieces and ceremony arrangements.
Hand-Calligraphed Guest Book Sign
Ralston White Retreat Wedding Group Photo
Ellen took on a number of DIY projects during the months leading up to the wedding. In addition to making all of the signs, favors and floral arrangements, Ellen cut and hand-stitched over 400 ft of bunting to decorate the reception tables. The effort was worth every second, because the result was stunning.
Homemade Strawberry Boysenberry Jelly
Vintage Bottle and Wildflower Centerpieces
Ralston White Retreat Outdoor Reception
Whimsical Fern Minted.com Wedding Invitations
Whimsical Strawberry Short Cake Wedding Cake
Handmade Pinecone Cake Topper
Not wanting to bore their guests with a traditional first dance, Ellen and Michael opted for something a little more their style.“Shortly after we got engaged, we bemoaned the likelihood that we would have a dull first dance. In fact, we had an ongoing joke about a goofy tap dance in which we were cane-yanked off the dance floor at the end like a bad vaudeville act,” says Ellen. “We enrolled in tap classes at the Shan Yee Poon Ballet School and our instructor, Jillian Talbot choreographed a fantastically fun first dance for us to ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ by Queen.”