Samantha and Ben's romance began four and a half years ago when they 'hit it off straight away' on a casual date with friends at The Bavarian. Two gorgeous miniature long-haired dachshunds (Doug and Ruby) later, and with a bespoke investment property project well underway, it was a total surprise when Ben completed the package with a romantic european trip and a Slovenian castle proposal:
'Ben's proposal was a COMPLETE surprise! We'd never really spoken about it, and we'd just bought our investment property, so I thought we were strapped for cash. Apparently not! We went to Europe - UK, Iceland, Hungary and then Slovenia which we fell in love with! Our last night there he asked to take me out to some fancy restaurant but all I wanted to do was go back to the cute pizzeria we found haha! So I foiled his plans!
So the next morning, which was our last, we had planned to go up to Ljubljana Castle. It is up a mountain and looks over the city. In this beautiful castle room, covered in marble, Ben got down on one knee. That night we celebrated in Paris with family which couldn't have been better!'
A successful graphic designer and photographer by trade Samantha, the founder of Samski Designs, relished the opportunity to put her creative talents to use crafting and organising the wedding of her dreams. The couple focused on hosting a day that revolved around their combined priorities rather than a conventional 'theme' or 'feel’:
'Our wedding was themed around what was important to us rather than a colour or a particular style, and I always had a very clear vision of how everything would come together. Being that Gabbinbar is such a beautiful venue, and is stunning all on its own, we wanted to highlight and complement that with small touches.'
Brisbane-based, the couple fell in love with Gabbinbar Homestead, even though Ben initially had some reservations about the location and the prospect of some guests having to travel:
'Gabbinbar Homestead was everything and more!' It was my first pick, just from seeing everything online. As we live in Brisbane, Ben was unsure about it being in Toowoomba. He didn't know Toowoomba well and thought it was much further away than it is!
Isaac, the owner, took us on our tour and Ben said that's what sold it for him! The way he spoke so passionately about everything done there - from the food to the setup, and he was so willing to work in with whatever we wanted to dream up.'
When we arrived at Gabbinbar, I knew instantly THIS IS THE ONE! Driving up the driveway, you're transformed into another world. It honestly feels magical. We loved that Gabbinbar included the ceremony and reception space, so our guests didn't have to change locations and could enjoy a lovely garden party while we were off having our photos taken.'
With the venue confirmed and the date set for June, Samantha, with her exceptional organizational skills and attention to detail, excitedly set about planning her wedding prioritising finding key vendors and curating the ideal team to bring her vision to life:
'My vendors were everything!!! To choose them, I sent my favourite prospects a list of questions, and then created an excel spreadsheet with each company and a column for each question. As they got back to me, I would fill in the spreadsheet. I'd then compare and choose. I wasn't going off the cheapest , but an overall vibe.'
And then, like for so many brides in 2020, the worldwide pandemic turned the best-laid plans into a wedding plandemic, and they found themselves having to reschedule their date to September:
'When I first found out we had to postpone I cried. I'd been getting so excited and planning for so long that by that point I was devastated. I was also anxious about my dad's health, and because of this and of course we were excited to be married, we only pushed our June wedding back to September.
Gabbinbar was amazing through this time. They were so good at keeping us updated and later when things were getting underway again, sending suggestions to make the day even better.'
After countless emails, phone calls and working around the clock with Gabbinbar staff (assisted by the MyGabbinbar online planning platform) to ensure a smooth date transition, Samantha and Ben kept guests informed with a custom made wedding website:
'Since grade 9 I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer and started design college on my school holidays, work experience at design studios and print houses, then followed by university. Since then, I've worked in design studios and ad agencies and designed for many big household names.
I live and breathe all things creative, which is why there was no doubt in my mind that I would design my stationery and wedding website. It came up a treat, and I had so many compliments on it. The wedding website was beneficial for those who found it easier to rsvp with a couple clicks of a button and to check on any scheduling information. It also came in handy when we postponed due to Covid, before I could get the updated invitations out.'
With guests updated and the new date set they chose the pavilion in the grounds of Gabbinbar to host their stunning ceremony celebrations:
'I was pretty set on the pavillion as our ceremony location so I'm glad Ben was in agreement. There were a few reasons as to why it was my preferred option (and this is a reason why we also chose Gabbinbar) the wet weather option is fabulous! My worst fear was a wet wedding day - but knowing that the ceremony still would have been lovely in the pavillion was a significant factor.
The most important reason for me though was my disabled father. At the time it looked like he would be using his walker or crutches to take me down the aisle, so I needed a flat surface.'
As it would happen, fortune smiled upon them, and they were greeted with a glorious Spring morning at the homestead, and Samantha's father walked her down the aisle towards Ben.
In front of a gorgeous floral laden arbour, which framed the moment beautifully, Ben and Samantha said 'I do', choosing to surprise each other with custom, personalized vows:
'Ben and I both wrote our own vows and sent them to our Celebrant so we didn't know what each other had written. It was hilarious how many similarities we had, which made everyone laugh.
My absolute favourite moment of the day was hearing Ben's vows, I had imagined every part of the day down to every detail, and that was the one element I had nothing to do with.'
The florals for the bouquets, ceremony and reception were fashioned by Wallflower Floral Designs whom she had previously worked with. Given a clear design brief, but also enough licence to let their creativity flow, the exquisite arrangements were a fusion of Australian natives with crimson bursts, blushed toned roses and rich greenery.
'My approach was to guide but not stifle my vendors. I saw all my vendors as very creative and talented in their craft. So while I had a vision, I wanted them to feel free to be inspired and enjoy creating something they were proud of too
Wallflower has done many of our floral designs at work, and I've always found them reasonably priced and stunning. Renae transformed my vision and nailed everything I asked for. She even found a King Pink Protea for my bouquet, which was so exciting when I saw it there on the day.'
With the guests enjoying time in the garden party together, Samantha and Ben took advantage of the nearby Toowoomba escarpment views to capture their stunning wedding photos together.
Hosting an elegant cocktail reception was important to Ben and Samantha who wanted to create a more relaxed feel for their guests, allowing everyone to mingle and socialise freely.
'Our friends and family had such a wonderful day with us. The staff at Gabbinbar were so kind and attentive. And the food was amazing! We had so many compliments, and so many people said it was the best wedding they had ever been to! Not to mention everyone is still talking about it months later.'
With friends and family delighting in the evening's festivities hosted in the conservatory the highlight of the reception for Samantha and Ben was their first dance beneath the fireworks:
'We both loved the first dance at the reception. A couple of nights before we attempted a practice in the kitchen. It ended 20 seconds later and in a fit of laughter from both of us. We both thought it would be the most awkward thing ever. But it was actually really wonderful, and the fireworks were just as fabulous as we had hoped.'
While the guests weren't able to join in with dancing because of Covid restrictions, Samantha stuck with the original plan of having their band Gee'd Up perform as a background accompaniment as well as making a few extra alterations to the evening's proceedings:
'Luckily, we had a wonderful band - Gee'd Up and they said they would be able to entertain us even without dancing. The boys were absolutely wonderful. They had everyone grooving in their seats. I also went with polaroid cameras that people could take their own snaps and keep if they wanted to, or add it to our little album. We also added the shoe game, which was a great addition suggested by Gabbinbar. Our guests loved it, and we had a good laugh too.'
Before the conclusion of the evening, Samantha and Ben snuck out together to take in the beauty of the night garden, dancing under the festoon lights in 'the woods':
'We really wanted to get a few night photos, but also not be away from our guests for too long. But I am so glad that we did because both Ben and I were blown away by our photos in the woods.'
While the night ended with a romantic sojourn through the woods, for Samantha, the morning had begun in Gabbinbar's luxurious Brides Retreat celebrating with her mother and bridesmaids :
'So many people plan their wedding day thinking mostly of the afternoon and night events, but I was so excited for the morning with my girls! The Bride's Retreat was absolutely lovely and had everything we needed with plenty of space for us all, including my make-up artist and hairstylist.'
While most little girls spend the majority of their childhood dreaming about their 'perfect wedding day' and 'their perfect gown', Samantha had no preconceptions about what she wanted in a wedding dress, leaving the slate wide open:
'I'd just never really thought about it, so after Ben proposed it was like a whole new world opened up! I started looking around and then stumbled across Galia Lahav. I saw Eternal Bride was hosting a trunk show for GL in a few weeks time. I knew I wanted A-line, so I tried a few on before the event, but found nothing I particularly loved.
Fast forward, and it is time for the trunk show. Eternal Bride held it at the Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast. It was the most amazing experience. I went through and chose several gowns I wanted to try, and EB took them into a suite for me. While I was putting them on in the bathroom with help, my loved ones enjoyed champagne and a grazing platter. When I put on the GL-103 I just knew it was the dress for me. It was flattering and just what I pictured. And the bonus was everyone LOVED it! There were many tears from my mum, and I popped some more champagne!
I was then measured up, and the dress was created especially to fit me. Sebastian and his team were so sweet and helpful, and they stepped me through the entire experience. I flew to Sydney to pick up my dress the day before borders first shut. I honestly couldn't recommend them enough.'
And those gorgeous shoes....
'I chose a pair of Jimmy Choo heels to compliment my dress. I chose a pair that I thought I would be able to wear again, not overtly bridal but suited to the day.'
Wanting her bridesmaids to feel absolutely beautiful on the day Samantha had a consultative approach asking each of them what they did and didn't prefer in a dress. With one hating high necks and another not a fan of strapless, she set about collating a dream dress list for them to choose from:
'I knew I wanted long dresses, and preferably in a pink or nude colour, so I went on the hunt. I took their shapes, preferences and requirements into consideration and found a selection of dresses to show them. After creating a pdf with ten different options to vote on, it was obviously meant to be as everyone voted on the lovely dusty pink dresses from White Runway - and even better, they had the dresses to us in under six weeks.'
'Anytime I go out somewhere nice I ALWAYS wear my hair down. So that was my initial thought, but when I chose my dress and saw what a stunning back it had, I didn't want to cover it with my long hair.
Rachel at Aurum Bride does the most beautiful half up half down styles and braids. And she was so affordable, so there was no question in my mind that I needed her to do my hair. We did a couple of trials to try out two different styles, and I locked in the second. She recommended the quality of the Ulyana Aster hairpins so I purchased the ones I liked and thought would go best with my hairstyle and dress. I couldn't have been happier with the end result.'
I still have to pinch myself because it's so hard to believe that I get to do what I love for a living, and even after 11 years as a professional wedding hairstylist every single wedding is still met with so much excitement. I was honoured when Samantha asked me to be her wedding hairstylist last year. She has the most incredible taste, so I knew I was going to be met with an exciting brief. Samantha certainly did not disappoint! We created an intricate and romantic down-style which almost mimics a braid.
We had trialled the hairstyle previously where I recommended hair extensions be incorporated for added fullness to her already long hair as well as hairpins which always compliment this particular hairstyle. Samantha chose delicate lace "Jasmine" hairpins by Ulyana Aster which picked up on the floral lace detail of her stunning Galia Lahav gown.
Her bridesmaid's hairstyle was a beautiful textured low bun with soft face-framing pieces paired with a clear crystal hair accessory worn to the right-hand side so it could be admired by her guests as she said 'I do'. Her design elements were all so perfectly paired. Samantha was such a joy to work with, I can hardly even call it work at all!
Joining the ladies for the morning in the bride’s retreat Ginelle Dale’s focus was on accentuating and highlighting each individuals features while still creating a harmonious styling palette that ensured a consistent look for the day:
'My makeup artist was initially hard for me to choose. As someone who is proficient in their own makeup, I wanted someone to wow me. I timed a trial in with our engagement party and I wasn’t disappointed, she really made my eyes pop which was what I wanted most
She also did a lovely job on the day and I loved how she managed to keep the look of all my bridesmaids consistent but still accentuate their individual features. All my bridesmaids have such unique beautiful features so this was perfect.'
Not to be forgotten in the style stakes were Ben and his groomsmen whose attire was classic formal wearing Versace paired with ties and pocket chiefs to compliment the bridesmaid's dresses.
Capturing and recording a permanent memento of the day's celebrations was another essential for Samantha and Ben. Providing a list of 'must-have' shots for the day, they were intentional about ensuring that the special moments weren't accidentally missed or overlooked in the busyness and excitement of the day's proceedings:
'I couldn't have been happier with how our photos turned out, and that is all thanks to my two wonderful photographers. Originally Ben and I had decided on Jess from Fern and Stone Photography who is based in Melbourne. Jess was wonderful, very invested, and she was so excited for us and touched base with me regularly.
Unfortunately, COVID struck and the borders were closed and she was unable to make it. She managed to find another extremely talented photographer - Shae Estella - who I hadn't seen before and got her up to speed. Shae was exceptional and I'm so thankful she was able to help us.
Shae made everything so comfortable and fast that even Ben and his groomsman who HATE photos enjoyed themselves. Shae then sent the photos to Jess to edit so the style would be how I originally wanted and I couldn't be happier! What a dream team!'
And the talented master behind the video lens:
'I stumbled across Mitch Lally's wedding videos eight years ago, and we've had him do our marketing ads ever since as he is the BEST at capturing emotion. Poor Mitch got minimal direction from me compared to my other vendors, but as always I'm sure he will come through with exactly what I had envisioned.'
With their picture-perfect day complete and guests still raving about the wedding months later, Samantha had five successful bridal planning tips that she swore by:
- Write lists. So many lists. I had one colossal spreadsheet broken into sections and with a timing schedule in particular colours, and I'd tick them off as I go. I added so much over time, but it became my holy grail.
- Get as many of your vendors locked in as soon as possible. I've been surprised with how many brides leave this so late. You want your favourite vendor and at a good price! If you leave it, chances are they will book out, and you may have to go with someone you're not as happy with and even pay more.
- Write briefs for all your vendors. Try and see to this reasonably early too. It checks you're both on the same page and can weed out any issues early. I'm very decisive though so I can't speak for those who may be more flippant. If so, maybe once you lock it in, file it away and don't look?
- Keep track of your budget. I had another spreadsheet that had the quoted price in one column and then I could see what we were looking at as a total. I then had a column for every deposit and put the date of when I paid it. Then another for upcoming payments and when they were due. If you can, be early with your payments, your vendors will love you for it :)
- Work with a fantastic venue which is just as across the details as you are (or even more so).
'The staff at Gabbinbar were excellent from beginning to end. From replying so quickly in My Gabbinbar - their online wedding planning system - which I cannot recommend enough, to on the day being so attentive and helpful.
As an example, I had planned to decorate the tables with my MOH after breakfast, and when we came out, the fabulous Gabbinbar girls already had done it. I was very touched. Nothing was too much trouble. They were wonderful.'
Planning: Gabbinbar Homestead Planning Team Florist/Styling: Wallflower Floral Designs Photography: Shae Estella / Fern & Stone Photography Videography: Mitch Lally Films Wedding Cake Maker: Jillicious Ceremony Officiant: Andrew Sinclair Hair: Aurum Bride Makeup: Ginelle Dale Reception Entertainment: Gee’d up Stationary and Website design: Samski Designs Dress: Galia Lahav