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Y’all know that I cry just reading about weddings, so it should be no surprise that I have cried at every single wedding I’ve been in, plus all but one I’ve attended! However, ironically enough, neither BDK nor I cried during our own ceremony. There was such a feeling of peace and joy that we simply couldn’t stop laughing or smiling! A childhood friend of mine, also known for crying at weddings, told me afterwards that he didn’t cry at our wedding either, because we were smiling so much! I’m sure the small group of family and friends who were present at Leila and Sterling’s ceremony felt the same–I hope the photo of them laughing during their ceremony is on their favorites list! After the joyful, intimate ceremony, Leila and Sterling danced the night away at The Camp at Esseola Lodge alongside guests and the big, vibrant flowers. How amazing is that floral chandelier, y’all?

Thank you to our Blue Ribbon Vendor Anna Routh for sharing Leila and Sterling’s wedding day!

Tell us about finding your wedding dress. I was adamant about only spending one day looking for my dress, because the dress was not a huge priority for me. I knew exactly what I wanted (or, rather, what I didn’t want): something with lace and a natural waist, and nothing strapless or bright white. A friend flew in from New York for a weekend in early January, and she, along with my mom, came with me to two shops in Raleigh. At the second shop, Alexia’s, we found the perfect Lela Rose gown. I had heard a few horror stories about dress shopping, but my experience was the opposite–very low key, low stress, and really fun to do with one of my best friends and mom.

We had two readings. My cousin read “The Irish Blessing,” which has special significance to my family. It has been read at many weddings on my mom’s side of the family, including my parents’. My older brother passed away a few years ago and we read it at his memorial service as well. The message is one of hope, enjoying the “simple things in life,” and the promise of heaven–great reminders on our wedding day. For our second reading, Sterling’s best friend read a poem that Sterling wrote himself. He is an English teacher and a great writer. The poem, “These Patient Rings,” speaks to our family history and the fate that brought Sterling and me together.

What made you choose your ceremony and reception venues? Did they have any special significance to you? I grew up going to my grandparents’ house in Linville–it’s a beautiful, tiny, casual, very unique mountain town in North Carolina. Sterling and I have enjoyed spending weekends there throughout our relationship. I knew when I started dating Sterling that I wanted to marry him and that I wanted it to be in Linville! We thought it would be a fun place for our family and friends to get to visit, and since it’s so small, all of our guests spent the full weekend together with us. Since we had a big reception, we wanted the ceremony to feel more intimate, so we chose to do it at Wee Kirk Presbyterian, an adorable little white wooden church. Sterling and I loved the simple and personal “vibe” of our ceremony. It was fun and comfortable, and everyone in the chapel was a close family member or friend who had been in our lives for a long time. The reception was at The Camp at Eseeola, an indoor/outdoor pavilion overlooking a beautiful lake and golf course. It really stuck with the rustic mountain theme.

What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? The most Southern thing about our wedding, in addition to the gorgeous location in the North Carolina mountains, was the FOOD. We felt strongly about serving filling, delicious, Southern food to our guests, and the Eseeola Lodge pulled through with an amazing menu. I don’t think anyone left hungry! At four separate stations, we served ham biscuits, mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, fried oysters, rolls with tenderloin, sliced tomatoes, and lots more.

My mom was the genius behind our beautiful flowers. The only thing I knew was that I did not want traditional, formal, pale/muted arrangements. I wanted lots of color that reflected the season and the mountain vibes–she made it happen beautifully! Our arrangements were big and vibrant, and the most amazing part was a huge “floral chandelier” hanging above the main bar right at the entrance to The Camp.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. Sterling and I have known each other since we were little. Our dads went to high school together, and all four of our parents were friends in college at UNC. His mom is actually my godmother! Sterling and I lost touch as adults–though we always kept up with each other through his mom–but reconnected at a wedding about a year before we started dating. He was living in Baltimore and I was living in San Francisco at the time. When we both moved back to North Carolina a few months later, Sterling asked if I wanted to go to a concert with him, and that turned into our first date. We fell in love very quickly and were engaged nine months later.
Tell us all about the proposal! Sterling proposed to me in Freedom Park in Charlotte on a beautiful Saturday in December. I was totally surprised, since the day had been a completely regular day for us. We went to the park to walk my dog, Riggins, and he got down on one knee beside the lake and proposed with my grandmother’s engagement ring. It was the biggest surprise of my life. After I said yes, we looked across the lake and all four of our parents were hiding in the woods. We had the most fun celebration with our families for the rest of the weekend. Sterling planned a proposal that was exactly what I would have asked for – casual, thoughtful, and involved our families.
When did y’all get married? September 12, 2015
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 255
Describe your wedding cake or dessert. Sterling and I decided not to have a traditional wedding cake. We did not want to pause the party to cut the cake and did not have strong feelings about a particular style or flavor, so we thought, “Why force it?” Instead, the Eseeola Lodge created a really fun dessert table with all sorts of options: cake pops, fruit, brownies, and more. Throughout the planning process, we wanted to make decisions that made sense to us, not just do things because “that’s the way it’s done.” The wedding cake was just one example of us following our hearts and breaking the mold if something didn’t fit with our personalities.
How did you plan for your marriage while planning your wedding? Sterling and I loved the marriage counseling we did with our minister, Christopher. He became a really important part of the engagement period and helped us think beyond the wedding towards the important part, the marriage. We learned a lot about each other and ourselves, and the sessions we did with Christopher made us even more confident in this huge step we were about to take.
What was one way you saved money or cut costs at your wedding? Sterling and I decided early on what was important to us: a lively band, delicious Southern food and an open bar, transportation for all of our guests, and having the venue in Linville. Beyond that, our response to most decisions was, “Which is cheaper?” Sometimes, our moms had other opinions, but for the most part, we invested in the things we cared about and cut costs elsewhere. We also decided not to have a bridal party, which ended up being one of the best decisions we made. It allowed us to cut costs and save some headache around logistics (pictures, timelines, hair and makeup, dresses, gifts). But, most importantly, our amazing friends still made us feel so supported and loved throughout the whole process, and isn’t that the main reason for a bridal party? Whether or not to have a bridal party is a really personal decision, but one that proved right for Sterling and me over and over again.
What is the one detail or vendor that you were so happy to have as a part of your wedding? OUR BAND. Perfect 10 was everything we hoped for, and our dance floor did not clear out once throughout the night. We were so sad when the party had to end because the momentum was still soaring late into the night. The band was easy to work with and really listened to what we wanted. They interacted with the crowd the perfect amount. When we think back on our reception, we both have an amazing mental picture of a dance floor packed with guests.
What’s next for you as a couple? What memories are you looking forward to making together? Being newly married is a hopeful and joyful time in life. Sterling and I have a lot to be grateful for in this moment, and also a lot to look forward to in our future–travel, kids, more rescue dogs, careers, and the simple, special moments of marriage. We are very lucky!

Photographer: Anna Routh Photography | Second Shooter: Robyn Van Dyke | Videographer: Story Spark Films | Planner: Events by Elizabeth Ashley | Ceremony Venue: Wee Kirk Presbyterian | Reception Venue: The Camp at Eseeola Lodge | Florist: Callista Designs | Dessert Baker, Caterer, and Rentals: Eseeola Lodge | Band: Perfect 10 | Paper Products: Snow In July Designs and Taylor’s of Raleigh | Bride’s Gown: “The Forest” by Lela Rose | Bride’s Earrings: Gabrielle Jewelry

Anna Routh and Robyn Van Dyke are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

marissa Written with love by Marissa
  1. avatar Michelle Edgemont reply

    Her mama made all of the flowers herself!??! Wow! What a wonderful gift to her daughter! I particularly love the chandelier…you know me, the more color the better. :)

  2. avatar Laura reply

    These florals are some of the most beautiful wedding florals I’ve seen. I especially love how the front of the church was decorated.

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The transition between late summer and early fall is one of my favorite times of year. The cooling temperatures and changing colors seem to signal the richness of all that is to come — cozy evenings, delicious food, and sweet community. Even if it doesn’t quite feel like fall yet where you are, we hope this inspiration from Southern Weddings Volume 7 encourages you to savor these fleeting weeks. The truly cooler weather will be here before we know it!

Big hugs to our Blue Ribbon Vendors Anna Routh and Graham Terhune for taking these lovely photos!

Photographers: Anna Routh and Graham Terhune / Film Processing: Richard Photo Lab / Coordination: After Yes Weddings / Designer: Emily Allen / Florals: Bows + Arrows / Bouquet Wrap: Oatmeal Lace / Venue: Aldredge House / Bride’s Gown: Vera Wang / Bridesmaid Dresses: Camilyn Beth / Hair and Makeup: Beauty and the Blush / Paper Goods and Calligraphy: Blue Eye Brown Eye / Sweets: Cakewalk Bake Shop / Cuff Links: Bourbon and Boots / Bow Ties: High Cotton Ties / Wardrobe Styling: Rian Nichole Fashion Consulting / Tables: The Olive Bench / Ceremony Chairs: Juniper Rentals / Reception Chairs: Bella Acento / China: West Elm / Flatware: Pottery Barn / Linens: Williams-Sonoma

Anna Routh, Bows + Arrows, and Graham Terhune are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

emily Written with love by Emily
  1. avatar Yours Truly Wedding Albums reply

    Gorgeous bride! Love the dress!

  2. avatar Kelsey reply

    I love the vibe of this setup! So sweet and cozy and the epitome of southern!

  3. avatar Southern Fall Wedding @ Taylor'd Events reply

    […] from the land of peaches, comes this beautiful back yard wedding from Southern Weddings.  I love fall weddings more then anything else in the world, and this wedding is just […]

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It is always a joy to introduce y’all to the couples who so graciously let us into their hearts and homes here on Southern Newlywed. I have to admit though, today’s post is extra special to me, because it features one of the couples I, and I’m sure many of you, admire most! Southern Weddings’ Creative Director, Emily, and her husband, John, are incredibly kind, generous, and fun, and they’re also so intentional about enjoying and celebrating both the big and small things of life. I could hardly wait to get my hands on their interview to soak up their wisdom, and I hope you’ll love reading about their marriage and their cheerful North Carolina home as much as I did!

Thanks so much to our Blue Ribbon Vendor Anna Routh for these beautiful photos!

P.S. Be sure to keep an eye out for cameos by one of the Thomas kitties (the other is a bit camera shy!), and don’t miss E+J’s very exciting announcement below! :)

The couple: John and Emily Thomas, both 28
Years married: Just about three
Where you live: Apex, North Carolina
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. John and I are an interesting mixture of contrasts and similarities. We are united by our faith, our love for one another, our love for our families and friends, our passion for financial literacy, our love of travel, and our intense love for our cats. We are both introverts at heart who believe life is ultimately a serious business, not something to be frittered away–and therefore, should be celebrated seriously and lived to the fullest!

Tell us your love story in one sentence. Her middle school unrequited crush took an unexpected turn when he proposed a first date in high school–and they’ve been together ever since. (If you’re interested in the long form version, see here.)
What is your favorite part of being married? My favorite thing about being married is being known so intimately. There is no one else on this earth who knows me as well as John, and in fact, there are pieces of me that he has seen that no one else has ever seen. What a beautiful and precious trust that is! I am never afraid to be my whole self with him–the good, the bad, and the ugly–and in turn, I learn more every day about who my true self really is, and how to make that true self better.

Do you rent or own? Tell us a little bit about where you live. We own our home…or as John likes to say, we co-own it with the bank :) I feel like that’s an important distinction, because our goal is to have bought out the bank within the next five years! We live in Apex, a small town conveniently located midway between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We actually hated this area when we first moved here (so different from small town coastal New England, where we grew up!), but have come to absolutely love it over the last six years. Aside from the amazing restaurants, one of our favorite things about where we live is that it’s a perfect jumping-off point for weekend road trips: Charleston, Wilmington, Asheville, Richmond, Charlottesville, Atlanta, Savannah, and more are all doable drives, and for two people who love adventure and experiencing new things together, it’s heaven.

Which items from your wedding registry do you use the most often? Definitely our kitchen items–our pots and pans, our Le Creuset, our baking sheets, our griddler, our food processor, our mixer. We cook dinner almost every night, and I’m always so grateful to be able to use these goods that will last us for many years!
Who cooks dinner? John! (Hallelujah!) When we first moved to North Carolina, he was still looking for a job, so he took on the task of having dinner ready when I came home every night. He quickly acquired skill, and so even once he started a new job, he stayed on as chef. I am the happy dishwasher :)

What is your go-to weeknight meal? Weekend meal? I’m pretty proud of the collection of go-to recipes we’ve built up over the last six years. You can find many of the recipes we turn to over and over here, and the ones we’d like to try here.
What’s your favorite place to find recipes? Blogs, for sure. Some of our favorites: A Couple Cooks, A House in the Hills, Oh She Glows, Gimme Some Oven, Naturally Ella, Damn Delicious, A Cup of Jo, and Cookie + Kate. John also loves to browse the Food Network’s archives.

What has been the most surprising thing about marriage? How easy it is? Eek, I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive, because I know it’s not the case for everyone. But you know that saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? I feel “marry your best friend and you’ll never work a day in your life” is true for us. Marriage doesn’t feel hard or like work; as my friend Erin says, “Marriage is our comfort zone and support system. It’s as natural as breathing and just as necessary for making my way through life, with all its good and hard times.”
Tell us about the process of moving in together. Do you have any tips for blending your two styles? This has mostly been an exercise in me learning to not get grumpy when John expresses an opinion. He is incredibly gracious and accepting of my aesthetic choices and priorities in general (which, of course, I try to make with both of us in mind!), so I am learning to follow his example and try to find a gracious solution–or just go along with his idea–on the rare occasions when he does express a strong opinion.
What most makes your house feel like home? Without a doubt, our cats. Again, living away from our families, it was always at best mildly depressing to travel back to NC after spending a holiday or vacation with loved ones. Though we still miss our parents and siblings (and now nieces and nephews!) all the time, things turned a corner when we adopted our two adorable tuxedo kittens. They’re always so happy to see us, and really make our house a home (as cheesy as that sounds).

Where do you splurge and where do you save when decorating? To be honest, at this point, we have made very few splurges–our priority is definitely paying extra on our mortgage! It can be frustrating to feel like there are so many areas of our home that are not “finished” or that don’t look like I know they could if I had more money or time, but having a firm goal is very empowering and motivating. Also, a plan makes me feel more in control when progress seems slow, so I have two spreadsheets I update regularly: one where I track the improvements we’ve made and the improvements we’d like to make in each room, and another where I keep a list of purchase priorities, ranked in order of importance–I refer to it whenever we have money to spend! In the meantime, I wait patiently for the right furniture pieces to pop up on Craigslist or at our local flea market. (I keep a running list on my phone of the pieces I’m currently searching for and relevant measurements.) I shamelessly do careful research and then ask for easy-to-purchase home things like pillows, sheets, and frames for Christmas and my birthday. Lighting can also make a huge difference, and is not that hard to install, even if you’re not an electrician. We switched out the fairly ugly chandelier and pendant lights in our kitchen/dining room with finds from Home Depot and Overstock for less than $200 total. For those who are local to Atlanta, I’m super jealous that you are so close to the Ballard Designs Outlet–such a great resource, where we’ve purchased several items!

What is your favorite memory from your wedding? We both agree that it was without a doubt walking down the aisle to meet each other at the altar. We did a first look, which was joyful but not particularly emotional, so I didn’t expect the intense wave of emotion that hit all of us–bridal party, families, guests–as the music swelled.
How do you remember your wedding in your home? Our photographer, Tanja, took the most beautiful landscape photo of the coastline down the hill from our venue at sunset, and we had it printed on an oversize canvas for our living room. I love that it’s not a huge photo of our faces, and that every time I look at it, I’m reminded of our beautiful day–what incredible weather we had, and what it felt like to be newly married and taking portraits on that beach in the pinky glow.

What’s your best tip for balancing your relationship and other life priorities? This might not be the answer for everyone, but aside from when we’re at work, we are almost always together. We grocery shop together, we exercise together, we work in the yard together, we watch the same TV shows. We don’t really believe in “divide and conquer,” and although sometimes it’s less efficient, we feel our choice makes up for it in companionship and closeness.
What is one small way you love or serve your spouse? John makes me dinner every night, which is a pretty big one!

Which room in your home is your favorite, and why? I would have to say our guest room! I feel like it’s one of the most “put together” rooms in our home, and it houses some of my most triumphant flea market finds (the dresser, bed, and nightstand). The real reason it’s my favorite, though, is because we live far away from all of our family and many of our friends, and establishing a comfy, welcoming place for when they come to visit was one of our highest priorities after we moved in. The reviews have been positive so far :)
How does your family handle finances? Do you use a set budget? Uh, yes. I’d say our passion for financial independence and using our resources wisely is one of the most powerful unifying forces in our relationship! We believe so strongly that the more financially free you are, the more choices you have in your life–about, to name just a few, where to live, where (and how much) to work, how to raise your children, and what causes to support. Over the last few years, we have worked really hard to pay off our student loan debt and both of our cars, save for retirement, and chip away at our mortgage–all while tithing. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy commercial, I believe you can do this, too. As this is one of my biggest passions in life, I blog about it often in my Marvelous Money series. I’d love to see you there!

Do you have children? One on the way!!! We just shared the news this week. I am 17 weeks with a due date of January 15. It took a full year of concentrated conversation amongst ourselves and close friends, soul searching, and prayer before getting to this place and really being able to define why we wanted to have kids. I think we worked out all of the nerves in that time, so now, we are just excited!
Is there anything else about your home or family life that you think our readers would be interested in? Every single night as we fall asleep, I say to John, “I love you. You’re my best friend.” Even if it’s been the busiest day and we haven’t had any other meaningful connection, I take such comfort in that knowledge. Marriage is the best.

Thank you so much for sharing, Thomases! Keep up with Emily and John (and baby Thomas, too!) on Emily’s blog, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

lisa Written with love by Lisa
  1. avatar Abby Nyquist reply

    Congrats Emily + John! So exciting! Your house is also adorable!!

  2. avatar Maureen reply

    Love Emily’s design style and I am SO HAPPY for them!

  3. avatar Kyla Fetzner reply

    Congratulations Emily and John! :)

  4. avatar Julie reply

    Swooning over your beautiful home, Emily!

  5. avatar This Weekend reply

    […] A sweet (and realistic!) newlywed house tour. […]

  6. avatar courtney reply

    You’re such an inspiration, Emily!

  7. avatar Shannon Shaughnessy reply

    Hooray Emily & John! So excited for you two!

  8. avatar Amy reply

    Yay!!! How fun!! Your house is beautiful! My birthday is January 15 too! Congrats!

  9. avatar Rachel Nordgren reply

    YAY! I absolutely adore this home tour and I couldn’t be happier for Emily and John! Those walls are going to be holding so many new and precious memories soon :)

  10. avatar Brent and Anna – Live View Studios reply

    I didn’t realize you all were in Apex! We are over in Fuquay – we should grab coffee together sometime :)

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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