Ulrica and Craig in Kyrkhult, Sweden

Burlap tablecloths and a wheat bouquet define a Scandinavian celebration

Her castle was crumbling, but Ulrica Wihlborg was secretly relieved. Returning home to her native Sweden from Los Angeles three weeks before her July 29, 2005, wedding, she found scaffolding and construction debris surrounding the former royal palace she had chosen a year earlier as a reception site. "At first I was freaked out," she says, "but then I looked upon it as a blessing. I hadn't wanted anything too fancy." So the couple quickly found a lakefront private estate called Forneboda in the nearby town of Kyrkhult. As West Coast weddings editor for People magazine, Ulrica had covered so many over-the-top celebrity weddings (including those of Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro, Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, and Alicia Silverstone and Christopher Jarecki) that she simply wanted a relaxed fete. The bride and her groom, Craig Forrest, a Hollywood screenwriter, walked together down a forest path to the lakeside ceremony. On the way, Ulrica impulsively plucked a sheaf of wheat from a bucket to use as an impromptu bouquet. "I had never really wanted a bouquet," she says. "But the wheat felt just right." So did the wreaths they exchanged. (They later gave each other rings privately in the forest.) "We left the wreaths by the lake as a remembrance that something beautiful happened there," says Ulrica.

For the reception in the dining room of Forneboda, Ulrica and event planner Eden Rodriguez of End Design in San Francisco sought rustic simplicity. Pink silk runners covered burlap tablecloths. Candles in honey jars hung from the ceiling; at each place setting was an ivory card pierced with a strand of wheat (picked by the bride herself) and bearing a single word: kindness, peace, joy or serenity. "These were our wishes for our guests," Ulrica explains. After dining on filet mignon, grilled chicken and smoked salmon, the guests danced to American and Swedish songs.

The next afternoon, everyone reassembled at her parents' inn for a traditional fika (a spread of coffee and pastries). "I tied on my Swedish apron, put my hair in pigtails and served my guests," recalls Ulrica, who created a storybook celebration more personal and poignant than anything she could have written about.

Learn From Ulrica and Craig
Create a theme for your ceremony: Ulrica and Craig paid tribute to the four elements: air (guests exhaled together and prayed); earth (carnations left on the ground); fire (vows burned in a jar); and water (the lake).
Remember that favors can be eclectic: Ulrica filled cotton bags with organic soap, homemade cookies, a personal note and a photo of the couple.
Let them eat cake—later: The couple served the wedding cake the day after to make it the highlight of the Swedish fika (a coffee-and-pastries party).
Enliven your reception with a contest: Ulrica and Craig had a competition to see who could sing the loudest: the Americans or the Swedish. (The Americans won with a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game.")

The flower girls, Craig's nieces Sarah (left) and Eva, wore Swedish summer skirts, tank tops and handpainted clogs.