Though she was raised in Connecticut, Lauren’s parents (who both grew up in Chattanooga) shared their Southern roots with her by incorporating Southern culture (and grits!) into daily life as she grew up. And after a family trip to Blackberry Farm ten years before she would say “I do,” Lauren decided she would get married in the South, too. She and Luke worked with their planner, Jennifer Laraia, to craft a wedding weekend that showed off Lauren’s family roots, weaved in details of their shared love of whiskey, and gave guests a real taste of the South. From welcome bags that included their favorite cookbook and moonshine, to a rehearsal dinner full of Southern barbecue and a bluegrass band, and onto a reception complete with three straight hours of dancing, the result was a weekend-long celebration that was distinctly Lauren and Luke.
As a special treat, we get to begin this feature with a few snaps from Lauren and Luke’s welcome dinner…
We thought a lot about the design and feel of the wedding weekend. I would call it rustic chic or farm chic. We wanted the décor to be beautiful and elegant while incorporating the natural environment, the outdoors, and the farm atmosphere. We used a lot of natural wood, greenery, and elements of the farm that blended with the natural setting. Many of the weekend’s events were outside, and we used big picnic tables and wildflowers from the farm for the rehearsal dinner, fresh herbs at the reception place settings, and wooden and slate slabs for serving trays. We love the outdoors and the understated elegance of Blackberry Farm and the Smoky Mountains, so it was important to us that the décor did not interfere, but rather, enhanced our surroundings.
What was Southern about your wedding? The wedding had many Southern influences. My goal was to show off my family roots and give our guests a real taste of the South. The food at Blackberry Farm is definitely Southern, so we served some of our favorites throughout the weekend: deep-fried black-eyed peas, grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, and so much more. Our rehearsal dinner was a full Southern BBQ, so guests were eating traditional Southern meals all weekend long. We also included Moonshine Cakes and GooGoo Clusters in our welcome bags. The whiskey bar gave everyone a taste of the South during cocktail hour, especially the mint juleps served in julep cups, and we served sweet peach tea during the ceremony. We also had a local bluegrass band playing at the rehearsal dinner, who of course played a strong rendition of “Rocky Top” to welcome everyone to Tennessee.
Tell us all the basics of your wedding! Why did you choose these things? Did any of these details hold special meaning for you as a couple? We were married at Blackberry Farm, a beautiful farm resort in the Smoky Mountains, located in Walland, Tennessee. We were married on May 7, the heart of the spring season, when the trees are beautifully lush and green and the flowers are in full bloom. Our ceremony was outside overlooking the mountains at 5 P.M., when the sun was still shining bright, and cocktail hour followed as the sun was going down. Tennessee is a very special place to me–both my parents grew up in Chattanooga, and despite living in Connecticut, my parents always instilled their Southern roots in our family, and Southern culture was a core element of my upbringing. We visited Blackberry Farm about ten years ago as a family and I immediately fell in love, even announcing to my father that one day I would get married there!
Tell us about finding your wedding dress. What was your favorite thing about it? I was pretty open about my dress. I didn’t have a specific dress or style in mind when I started looking, and I ended up wearing a Monique Lhuillier beaded sheath dress that had a 1920s style. I loved it, I still do, and it was pretty unique. It definitely was not your most common or traditional wedding dress, but it was very me.
Describe your bridesmaids’ dresses. How did you choose them? I didn’t do bridesmaid dresses. I don’t really like the look of everyone wearing the same dress. Instead, I just told my bridesmaids to get any dress in the rose, blush, peach, or natural color palette. Everyone picked their own dresses and we ended up with a great mix of complementary colors and styles that looked fantastic together, but also looked very natural.
The flowers were big, romantic, and natural. We used a lot of greenery to mix in with the outdoor setting, with a lot of white and pops of rose and light peach flowers. We used a lot of big garden roses and peonies. I loved the color scheme and the organic feel of all the flowers.
How did you spend the morning or afternoon before your ceremony? We actually had breakfast together with a bunch of family and friends. Blackberry Farm breakfast is not to be missed, and since everyone on property was attending the wedding, it was a very social breakfast. I then did yoga with some of my bridesmaids and other wedding guests, and then spent most of the afternoon doing hair and makeup and just relaxing with my bridesmaids. Luke spent most of the afternoon with his groomsmen, lounging by the pool and just having fun with all of the wedding guests. We were both very relaxed and really enjoyed the beautiful day.
My dad and I shared a few very personal moments that were special. I gave him a handkerchief with a personal note embroidered into it and he wore it as a pocket square that day. I was his last child (of four) and last daughter to get married, so I think the day had an added significance for him. After he walked me down the aisle and stood with me at the end, he held my hand very tightly and gripped my arm firmly with a long pause before answering the question of who gives me away. It was a wonderful and emotional moment between the two of us, and it felt like no one else was around. I’ll never forget it. And, more importantly, I’ll never forget the huge smile on Luke’s face while we stood there and waited for our wedding ceremony to begin.
Tell us a bit about the wedding ceremony. What part was most special to you? Did you include any special readings? Our ceremony was officiated by my uncle, who is a minister. We had a rather traditional Episcopalian, but also short and sweet, ceremony outside on the front lawn overlooking the Smoky Mountains. My uncle gave a great homily about the history of the mountains and the surrounding area, and the relevancy to our marriage. We loved it. It was a great way to incorporate the significance of east Tennessee to my family and why it was a special place for Luke and me to start our married life together. Once it was finished, we recessed to the Stevie Wonder song “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Cocktails were outside on the patio by the wine cellar. We had a whiskey bar that was made out of whiskey barrels and served three of our favorite specialty whiskey cocktails: a summer Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and a mint julep (it was Derby day). It was a fun way to incorporate a local Tennessee favorite and our mutual love for whiskey. We served various hors d’oeuvres, all with Southern influences. One of my favorite elements was the bags of deep-fried black-eyed peas served on every table.
The cocktail hour was outside on a patio by the wine cellar, so everyone had to walk through the outstanding wine cellar to reach the reception. The reception dinner was in the beautiful barn, which has stunning exposed wooden beams and an open kitchen. It’s one of my most favorite buildings on the property, and probably anywhere. After dinner, we moved to a tent outside of the barn for three straight hours of dancing.
We love to cook so we tried to incorporate some favorite cooking elements–each guest was given a Blackberry Farm cookbook (it’s one of our favorites) as part of their welcome gift, we used fresh herbs at each place setting, and at the rehearsal dinner, we used our favorite kitchen dish towels as napkins. We also incorporated our love for whiskey throughout the weekend with whiskey barrel tables, a whiskey bar serving specialty cocktails, and our welcome book was an old whiskey barrel top that everyone signed. Of course, a lot of the wedding was centered around my family’s Southern roots, but we incorporated Luke’s home state of Michigan and Italian roots as well. I think everyone walked away from the weekend thinking it was a wedding that was very distinctly ours.
Tell us about your wedding cake or sweets. We didn’t do a wedding cake. We were not that into the idea of cake and were far more excited about offering a variety of Southern sweets, so we had a big dessert table that had mini fruit crisps, banana puddings, chocolate fudge bars, and many uniquely flavored cupcakes like carrot cake, key lime pie, and caramel. I also have a real sweet tooth for candy, so we had apothecary jars filled with all sorts of gummy candies and chocolates, as well as Jordan almonds, a tradition from Luke’s Italian roots.
The reception was pure fun. Our band, Simply Irresistible, was spectacular and played for three hours straight. The dance floor was packed and they kept everyone dancing until the wee hours. I don’t think Luke and I ever took a break–it was too much fun and there never was a dull moment. The band even let Luke finish off the evening with a performance of “All I Do is Win,” which easily was the highlight of his weekend!
Don’t miss Lauren + Luke’s sweet highlight film by Hampton Road Studios!
How did the two of you meet? Tell us your story. We met in business school while on a trip to Dubai hosted by a mutual friend. Despite attending the same school for a year and a half and sharing some mutual friends, we had never met before the trip. We were in a music club in Dubai with our group of classmates, and there was only one seat available at the table. It was next to me, so Luke took the open seat and struck up a conversation. We immediately hit it off through our casual interaction, and Luke asked me on our first date later that night (although it took me a few weeks to say yes).
Describe the proposal: We got engaged in Kenya while on a safari. Luke wanted it to be a surprise and I was truly shocked, although I figured out it was coming right before the actual proposal. He and the resort had planned a beautiful cocktail hour set up in the middle of the bush during one of our afternoon game drives, complete with a fire overlooking the open plains. Luke was oddly focused on what I was going to wear and how the weather was evolving–a big thunderstorm was rolling in and everyone was a bit frantic about getting there before the rain–so I started to sense something bigger was happening even though I couldn’t fathom it was actually a proposal. Needless to say, we beat the rain (barely), the setting was stunning, and I was still truly surprised.
How did you prepare for marriage while planning your wedding? You get a lot of solicited and unsolicited advice on marriage when you are engaged, which can be varying degrees of helpful. But a lot of conversations with friends, family, and colleagues definitely helped us prepare. We also made sure we sat down together and had honest discussions on some of the obviously important topics and pain points for married couples.
How many guests attended your wedding? About 180
Bride’s favorite detail of the wedding: We gave small bags of Tennessee grits with personalized tags that included my family’s signature recipe as a thank you gift to guests. I made the tags and assembled them myself, so maybe I was biased, but I loved them. Grits are a staple at my family’s breakfast table, and growing up and living in Connecticut, we were always introducing our Northern friends to them for the first time. It was a fun way to introduce all of our wedding guests to a traditional Southern food, not to mention a family favorite.
Tell us a bit about your first dance. Our first dance was to Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.” We wanted an upbeat song that set the tone for the night and that was also fun for us to dance to. It also had a fitting message! We were so excited to be married and to celebrate with all of our friends and family so we wanted to make sure our song choice reflected that. Luke is a big Motown fan too, so it was perfect on many levels.
Tell us about your grand exit. After the band finished its three-hour performance, Luke and I departed with a sparkler exit, which was fun. The energy was high and all of our wedding guests lined the outside of the tent and started singing “America the Beautiful” as we ran down the whole line. The exit was fake though because we “exited” to the late-night party, where there were late night snacks and more dancing for those guests who still had energy.
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you looking forward to in the future? We are just excited to finally live together in the same city after two years of long-distance, and can’t wait to continue our life together. Life together has been truly amazing thus far, but we know the best is yet to come. And we will continue to eat and travel our way through it, even when we have kids!
Photographer: Natalie Watson Photography | Videographer: Hampton Road Studios | Planner and Designer: Jennifer Laraia | Venue and Caterer: Blackberry Farm | Florals: Floressence | Dessert Baker: Magpies Bakery | Bride’s Gown: Monique Lhuillier | Bride’s Shoes: Manolo Blahnik | Hair Stylist: Bangs and Blush | Makeup Artist: Claire Balest | Men’s Fashion: J. Crew | Paper Goods: Swiss Cottage Designs | Calligraphy, Escort Cards, and Place Settings: Laura Hooper Calligraphy | Rentals: All Occasions Party Rentals | Linens: La Tavola Linen | Transportation: Chariots of Hire | Lighting: Bandit Lites | Photo Booth: The Photo Blaster | Band: Simply Irresistible | Guest Lodging: Tremont Lodge and Dancing Bear Lodge | String Trio: Farr Horizons Trio