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Southern Weddings

Author: Lisa

I first discovered fine art wedding photography almost four years ago, when a friend of mine left a Facebook comment on someone’s wedding pictures. Being the wedding picture-stalker I tend to be, I checked out the wedding album and was floored by how gorgeous and cinematic the photography was. Their photographer? None other than Tim Willoughby of Tim Will, who photographed today’s real wedding! Since Tim could be credited with the start of my love for amazing wedding photography, I’m especially honored to be sharing Rachel and Daniel’s beautiful Chattanooga wedding today. Their wedding is overflowing with Southern elegance, and you won’t want to miss their adorable proposal story—I definitely got tears in my eyes when I read it!

Tell us all about the proposal! Daniel and I have an affinity for bluegrass music. I just listen to it, but he plays the mandolin and guitar, and suffers from a banjo addiction. The song that we have always considered “ours” is “Ocean of Diamonds” by Jimmy Martin. One Sunday night last June, I returned to Charleston from out of town. Daniel had cooked dinner since I had been traveling all day. He told me he heard a great new band that I just had to hear. I was exhausted and stuffing my face when he started playing it. It took about five seconds for me to realize that it was him singing and playing guitar, mandolin and banjo. He had recorded it for me on Garage Band. Still not convinced he was proposing, we started dancing in the kitchen, and with our chests together I could feel his heart racing… that’s when I knew what was up! He got down on one knee and I was crying so hard, I can barely remember what he said. I said yes, and he gave me his grandmother’s diamond filigree ring.

The flowers were romantic and ethereal. The pale soft roses and peonies contrasted so well with the sharp blue thistle and dark blue anemone centers. My florist also wrapped some gold wire around my bouquet and the boys’ boutonnieres. It added a fairytale whimsy to the pastels!

Cami, my bridesmaid and best friend, sang “Be Thou My Vision,” a Gaelic hymn, right before I walked down the aisle. It is so hauntingly beautiful and her voice is so angelic, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the building. It meant so much to have her sing at my wedding. She has been in my life since the beginning!

What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? We had a few. My favorite was Song of Solomon 8:6-7. It speaks of an unquenchable love. That’s exactly how I feel about my groom.

Tim Willoughby is a photographer I found in Charleston. His ability to capture timeless, breathtaking images sold me immediately. Having him in Chattanooga for the weekend made me so calm. I didn’t have to worry if he was getting all of the right images because I knew he was. He was able to see all of the things I couldn’t. Over time, memories fade, and it gave me peace of mind knowing I would have his photos to look at forever.

Seriously, y’all, I could look at pictures of Rachel’s dreamy Vera Wang gown all day. If it looks familiar to you, it might be because our very own Emily tried it on during one of her dress shopping trips almost two years ago, at the same salon where Rachel bought her dress!

One of the most Southern things about our wedding was my dad’s bluegrass band playing for our cocktail hour. They also played our first dance, which happened to be “Ocean of Diamonds,” the song Daniel proposed to me with! I think the juxtaposition of the bluegrass band in a modern art museum was such a funky twist on what “Southern” can be. Who says Southern has to be at a plantation or in a barn?

Describe your wedding cake or dessert. My cake had a subtle floral pattern inset into the buttercream icing. The roses and blue thistle floral accents really stood out against the simple design. Daniel’s cake was a real work of art. I mentioned his banjo addiction right? Well his cake was a chocolate, to scale model of a Gibson banjo. It was insanely realistic…and delicious.

You know how much we love a gentleman in seersucker! This adorable duo is actually Daniel’s grandmother and her twin brother. Aren’t they the cutest?

What was your most memorable moment about your wedding day? Gosh, how can I pick one moment? I guess the most memorable would be the dance floor, because I spent the majority of the night there. The dance floor was packed from start to finish. Everyone was dancing like maniacs! I am a super awkward dancer, but being with old and new friends, my family and Daniel’s family all together was kind of mind blowing. I kept looking over and seeing two people from two completely separate parts of my life breaking it down together like fools. It was a once in a lifetime thing.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. Daniel and I met at a football game during our junior year of high school in 2005. We dated all through the rest of high school. When college came, I was going to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and he was headed to join the crew team at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. We thought it was over from the horror stories people told us about long-distance relationships. Over those four LONG years of dating 650 miles away, we realized that no matter how hard a long-distance relationship was, it wouldn’t even be close to the pain that would come from not being in each others’ lives. Luckily we survived, and I was able to move to Charleston, SC after graduation to be with him when he started medical school.
When did y’all get married? May 25, 2013
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 325, give or take.
Tell us about finding your wedding dress. My mom, two sisters and future mother-in-law came to Charleston one August weekend for a day of dress shopping. We started in the morning at Maddison Row in downtown Charleston. My dress was the third one I tried on, and I just knew. I tried on a few others, but kept going back to the Vera Wang Emmeline. I told them when I first walked in that I loved tulle, and this dress has TONS of tulle. I ended up buying it that morning and canceling my other dress appointments that day. My mom was disappointed that the shopping ended so quickly!
Did you decide to do a “first look”? Why or why not? We did not do a first look. Since I was a little girl, I have been looking forward to having my church doors swing open and my groom seeing me with the rest of my guests.
Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? No way! I can’t write to save my life. Daniel and I wrote each other letters before the wedding. My words are best kept on a private piece of paper.
Did you have something borrowed, blue, old, and new? If so, do tell! Something borrowed was a hair barrette my mother had gotten as a gift from her parents when they vacationed in Mexico. My something blue was a blue stone bracelet of my mother’s. New was a delicate lace handkerchief wrapped around my bouquet that a family friend wove on her loom! For my something old, I had my late grandmother’s costume turtle brooch peeking out of my bouquet.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? The biggest challenge for me was narrowing down my ideas. Between reading wedding magazines and being on Pinterest all day, it is so hard to decide which direction you want to go! There are so many amazing ideas out there. Eventually I had to just close my eyes and imagine my ideal wedding. Things started to fall into place.
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Enjoy it. Your engagement is a time to savor. It only lasts a short while! Don’t stress the little things. It’s easy to get wrapped up in planning a “dream wedding” and to forget that you are marrying the man of your dreams.
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? Daniel and I are settling into our new house in Charleston. He is continuing medical school, and I have an awesome interior design job. We just got a sweet new doggy, and we’re enjoying everyday life as a happy little family.

lisa Written with love by Lisa
20 Comments
  1. avatar Laura reply

    Love these beautiful pictures! Chattanooga holds a special place in my heart so I loved that they incorporated some of the city’s best known landmarks into the photos.

  2. avatar Emily reply

    I ADORE her gown! Tulle perfection!!

  3. avatar Wedding 101 Greenville reply

    Everything about this wedding is stunning! Beautiful photography, insanely gorgeous gown, and the texture of the flowers = to die for!!! Love this one!

  4. avatar Kat reply

    Every time I see that gown I die just a little!!!! LOVE it!

  5. avatar Kristin reply

    Transportation via bright yellow school bus AND a dress that is something straight from a fairytale? Yes, please!! Love!!

  6. avatar Lauren reply

    The pictures are gorgeous and those cookies? Amazing!

  7. avatar Occasions In Print reply

    What a beautiful dress and bride! I love the groom’s cake! Just pinned it on our Western Wedding Board.

  8. avatar Christina reply

    Love, love, love this wedding!! Does anyone know who she used for the koozies? Random, I know. But every Southern wedding needs koozies! ;)

    • avatar Rachel reply

      Christina and Jay:
      Hi from the Bride! I used Totally Koozies. My friend Emily illustrated that logo and uploaded the image in their custom section

  9. avatar Carey reply

    As a wedding guest and mother of one of the bridesmaids, I can say that this was the most beautiful and meaningful weddings I have ever attended. I have known Rachel since she was a child and Daniel since they began dating. This wedding was a celebration of two beautiful people that love each other and two special families that bring together many people who love them and who were honored to celebrate, with abandon, this special day with them. It was not only a celebration of the couple, but of their amazing love of family and our love for them and their families! We love you, Rachel & Daniel!

  10. avatar Jay reply

    Lovely wedding!! Where are the zoozies from!?

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    […] Totally love that this wedding party was carried around town in a big yellow school bus! […]

  12. avatar Taylor reply

    LOVE this! Where are the personalized drink stirrers from? I am obsessed with those!

  13. avatar Emily reply

    That dress!!!! And all of these pictures are AMAZING. I love the one of them on the dance floor with their heads together, totally perfect.

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Emily sure knew what she was doing when she sent me Claire and Michael’s gorgeous wedding for my first Real Wedding post! A traditional church ceremony, lots of romantic flowers, a brick-walled reception space and monograms galore are all straight from my list of favorite wedding details. As if that wasn’t enough to make me fall head over heels for Claire and Michael’s big day, I’m also touched and inspired by the way they made their long-distance dating relationship such a sweet success. Love truly never fails!

The talented Jennifer of Jennifer Laraia Designs brought Claire and Michael’s inspiration to life, and Watson Studios was on hand to capture every moment.

Jennifer sent over a few of the design boards she developed with Claire + Michael, and we thought you might like to see where everything started as well as how everything came together in the end!

So pretty, don’t you think? And here’s how everything turned out!

Seeing Michael on our wedding day brought me back to the very first time we laid eyes on each other, because we met at my sister’s wedding three years ago. Both members of the bridal party, I first noticed Michael for his witty sense of humor. However, his sharp tux probably didn’t hurt, either! I wasn’t sure how long it would last because we lived five hours from each other, but we both quickly realized it was worth putting in the extra effort. We chose to make up for the distance with long Skype dates at night, countless cards sent via snail mail and what seems like an endless number of weekend road trips visiting each other. There seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel when Michael took a job in Nashville; however, we actually got further in distance because I spent one of my last semesters of college in Italy. After returning home, the new three-hour road trip between us was a breeze. I had plans to look for a job in Nashville after graduating, but I didn’t yet know that I would be moving there to finally live in the same city as my fiancé!

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. As it turns out, I am really good at finding wedding dresses. My mom and sister both came to Nashville, and we spent a weekend visiting bridal shops. I fell in love with four dresses, narrowed down from the original ten, but didn’t end up buying anything because I couldn’t choose between them. The next weekend, my mom came back into town, and we went to a new store. I pretty much knew right away that I had found my dress, but I needed my sister’s sign off before making the big purchase. Luckily, she approved!

I love floral crowns on just about anyone, but on flower girls, they’re particularly darling!

For the ceremony, we chose classic songs that sounded beautiful on the church organ, such as “Canon In D” and “Ave Maria.” The reception was a better opportunity for us to add some personality, so we chose Ray LaMontagne “You are the Best Thing” for our first dance. Since we were having a very traditional Catholic wedding, we opted for the traditional vows. We also both agreed that we couldn’t have said it better if we tried.

One of my favorite details was the light-up letters that spelled “Sullivan.” They looked so pretty outside the depot, all lit up at night. I love that it showcased my new last name, and they were extra special because my parents actually made them. I think if you asked Michael though, he might say getting to change into a white dinner jacket for the reception.

What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? For many of our guests, it was their first time in Knoxville. I really wanted to give them a taste of the city and its Southern charm. We had a calligrapher create our wedding monogram, which we used on everything from our invitations to the napkins my mom monogrammed for each place setting. The head table and table that our parents and immediate family sat at were large farmhouse tables. The other tables were covered in lace linens. Cigars were stationed around the Depot on top of old whiskey barrels, and we had vintage Knoxville postcards for guests to leave us a note on. I also decided that morning to go for comfort, so I wore my cowboy boots through the entire ceremony and reception. This decision was solidified as the right one when the band played Rocky Top for all of my friends and family to dance to.

Describe your wedding flowers. Full and romantic. I have a love affair with peonies and hydrangeas, so those were incorporated into the bouquets and centerpieces. The soft colors and textures helped create a romantic setting at the old train depot in the middle of downtown Knoxville.

What is the one detail or vendor that you were so happy to have as a part of your wedding? Jennifer Laraia Designs. As our wedding planner and designer, she really made it all come together. As the planner, she completely removed any worry so I could enjoy being engaged and planning our wedding. From the design aspect, it was invaluable to have someone completely understand the look we were going for and commit to achieving it for us. On the day of our wedding, it was incredible to see everything come to life from the style boards!

When we met, one of the first things we discovered that we had in common was our love of Funfetti cake, so it was an obvious choice for our wedding cake. In addition to cake, we had a snow cone truck pull up and serve late night treats, because anyone who knows me knows that my favorite food group is snow cones!

Tell us all about the proposal! 
Michael proposed to me the night of my graduation on December 9, 2011. It was truly perfect because he somehow managed to surprise me, and it was clear that he had put a lot of thought into asking me to marry him. He had given me a gorgeous necklace as a graduation present at brunch with my family, but he kept saying he had another gift to give me. I, of course, thought he meant another graduation gift. After dinner at my parents’ house, Michael took me outside on the porch. There were candles set up everywhere and a gift for me. I unwrapped a scrapbook he had made of all our adventures together since we first began dating. On the very last page, it hinted at spending the rest of our life together. When I looked up, Michael was down on his knee asking me to marry him!

When did y’all get married? 
April 6, 2013

How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 
Just over 200

Did you decide to do a “first look”? Yes, we wanted to have a special moment together to share the excitement and joy of our wedding day. We also knew that we had a party to get to after the ceremony, so it was less stressful getting the pictures out of the way beforehand!

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? Planning a wedding in Knoxville, while we were living in Nashville. Thankfully, my mom is awesome at this sort of stuff, and we hired a talented wedding planner to help out.

What was your most memorable moment about your wedding day? The entire reception was a blast — the kind of party you wish you could throw over and over again. But if I had to choose one moment from the day, it would be when the church doors opened for me to walk down the aisle with my dad. Seeing my best friend waiting for me at the altar, having my dad by my side and all of my family and friends there to support us–I think that’s when it all hit me! Just before they opened the doors, my wedding planner gave me the best advice: to take a moment and take it all in. That was a moment I will never forget.

What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? 
Enjoy the process. Our wedding was a fabulous celebration with all of our family and friends, but I am equally as thrilled with all the special memories we created with each other leading up to our big day. Create memories that will last a lifetime and remember that in the end, it isn’t just about this one day; it is about kicking off the rest of your life with your best friend.

What’s next for you as a couple? What are you most looking forward to about married life? 
We bought our first house, so we are thrilled to set up our home together in Nashville, host our family and friends, and take some time to just enjoy being married. We are also pretty excited about finally being able to stay out on the dance floor when they bring all the married couples out for a dance to see who has been married the longest!

Watson Studios and Jennifer Laraia Designs are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

lisa Written with love by Lisa
26 Comments
  1. avatar Aelish reply

    Gorgeous flowers and cake!

  2. avatar Emily reply

    His monogrammed suspenders are the best! And I love those light-up signs — so special that her parents made them!

    • avatar Kristin reply

      Ditto on the monogrammed suspenders. And I love that Claire honored her love of Sno-Cones by serving them as a late night treat!! So fun!!

  3. avatar Dana reply

    could not have been a more perfect first wedding for lisa to write about! love all the details!

  4. avatar Natalie Watson reply

    Thanks so much SW for posting, this was a fun one to be a part of! Congrats Claire + Michael!! xx

  5. avatar Claire + Michael: Southern Railway Depot Wedding – Knoxville, TN this says browser title separater under setup Watson-Studios Photography Blog reply

    […] and Michael’s wedding is being featured on Southern Weddings today so be sure to check here too! I think you will love seeing Jenn’s design boards! She […]

  6. avatar Maggie reply

    Love all of the fun items you were able to incorporate into your wedding that made it so personalized! Where did you find those “getting ready robes”? I just love them!

  7. avatar Kelly H. reply

    Beautiful wedding, love all the monogrammed details!
    Wedding dress designer please?

  8. avatar Claire reply

    Thank you so much Lisa! We are honored to be your first post :)

    Maggie- I actually found the robes at Target, and then just had them monogrammed.

    Kelly- My dress is Allure Bridals Style: 8923.

    • avatar Lindsey reply

      Claire: Where are your flower girl dresses from? They are beautiful!

    • avatar Claire reply

      Lindsey: Thanks so much! We actually had them custom made from a seamstress on etsy, Dress Baby Beautiful. We loved how they turned out! http://www.etsy.com/shop/dressbabybeautiful?ref=shop_sugg

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  12. avatar Lauren reply

    I love the robes that the bride chose for the bridesmaids! Do you have any idea where she got them? All I can seem to find online are floral or waffle knits.

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