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I knew I was going to love Jessica and Nick’s wedding as soon as I started reading their interview–their day was completely packed with some of our very favorite things! A meaningful location full of family history? Check. Details inspired by their love story and pulled together/created by family and friends? Check. Plenty of Southern traditions and cuisine? Check! Nick even built their beautiful sweetheart table, which now lives in their new house for them to enjoy their meals at every single day. Wedding details that can literally become part of your newlywed life are so special–not only are they a great way to remind you of your wedding in the years that follow, they can also help you focus on all the good that is to come when you’re in the midst of planning. Be sure to read J+N’s interview–I wouldn’t want y’all to miss a single sweet thing!

Thank you so much to Annamarie Akins for sharing this special day with us!

One of my bridesmaids lives in Charleston, and while visiting her, we had set up an appointment to look at bridesmaid dresses. I ended up trying on wedding gowns at the same time, and completely fell in love with one! The dress fit my style so well, and embodied everything I wanted my wedding to be: classic, modern, casual, and a little bit nautical! It was such a special moment with my bridesmaid, and there was no pressure or stress–that really helped me to know I was making the right decision. The salon was kind enough to ship the dress I loved back to Virginia so I could try it on with my family; once it was dad-approved, the decision was made! I was able to meet with the designer on our next visit to Charleston, and together, we customized a few details of the dress. I was thrilled to be able to purchase a gown from a Southern designer who was just launching her wedding gown line.

Describe your wedding flowers. I am so fortunate to have a mother-in-law who happens to be a fantastic floral arranger! Nick’s mom is an active member in the local garden club, and she organized for her garden club friends to come over to the house on Friday morning to make all the arrangements for the reception. Women I had never met were bringing flowers from their own gardens to help make our day beautiful–it doesn’t get more special than that! A local florist and family friend of the groom, who had provided flowers for my now-sister-in-law’s wedding, also provided gorgeous bouquets for the bridal party. I knew I wanted a relaxed, garden-style arrangement with natural colors of predominately white and green. The florist was also able to incorporate magnolia from my parents’ house in order to make my Alabama (my home state)-meets-Virginia (groom’s home state) vision come true in a magnolia and cotton wreath for the church doors.

Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding and why you chose them. We had a string duet play at the church for the ceremony, and they put together “The Book of Love” specifically for Nick–it’s one of his favorite songs! I walked down the aisle to “Canon in D,” the song that my mother had walked down the aisle to. We chose to sing “Be Though My Vision” as a congregation during the ceremony. A traditional hymn, this song is special to my family because we had just sang it at my sister’s wedding a year prior. Perhaps it will be a new family tradition!
Did you write your own vows? If so, what was your favorite phrase, verse or line? We chose to say traditional vows. There was something special about speaking the same words that our parents and grandparents vowed to one another so many years ago.

The most memorable moment was arriving to the reception by boat and seeing all our family and friends, drinks in hand, cheering and waiting for us to celebrate with them! Nick and I were so happy, and we couldn’t wait to get up to the yard and spend time with everyone. It was such a great feeling to have people from all walks of life standing in our favorite place, experiencing why we love this part of Virginia.

What made you choose your ceremony and reception venues? Did they have any special significance to you? Nick and I spend most of our free weekends during the warmer months down on Gwynn’s Island, a remote area on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. Both sets of grandparents have a history there, my parents own a summer house on the island, and Nick’s parents live a short drive away. The house has a way of drawing us all together, no matter where we are in life, to watch the sunset and share meals together on Saturday nights. We knew immediately that we wanted to share this region with our family and friends. Nick’s family is a member of a stunning historic brick church where Nick was baptized, and it was so special to have our ceremony there! The river house and the church were natural choices to meld traditions from both our families.

My favorite detail of the wedding was the sweetheart table. Nick started hand-crafting our wooden table with his dad a few months before the wedding, and it was stunning! He searched for weeks for the perfect plans and images to create the table that we now use in our dining room of our new house. It’s so special to have a handmade piece of the wedding in our everyday lives!

Describe your wedding cake or dessert. This was a no-brainer for us! I have been known to eat pie for breakfast on multiple occasions, so we had an assortment of apple, pecan, and chocolate pies from our favorite Richmond bakery, Ukrops. We also had a small cake made of funfetti, the groom’s favorite! I hand-painted some oyster shells I found on the beach near the house and arranged them on top of the cake the morning of the wedding with my bridesmaids.

Our first dance was to an acoustic version of “Mean to Me” by Brett Eldredge. My dad had chosen our father-daughter dance song many, many years ago, long before I met Nick. It was so special to finally dance to “I Loved Her First” by Heartland with him after picturing this day as a little girl!

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. Nick and I met at Virginia Tech during our senior year; despite having many mutual friends, our paths hadn’t crossed before. We found out we lived a block apart from each other behind the football stadium, so Nick would walk his dog during the day hoping to catch me on my way to class. My big sister in my sorority had been dating one of Nick’s fraternity brothers for a while, and encouraged me to take Nick up on his offer to go to a pumpkin patch with the group on a Saturday morning. I had no idea it was a couple’s event and we would be paired up, but we had a blast, and Nick invited me over for a home-cooked meal later that week. I promptly called my dad, who works for the FBI, to get some advice (and a background check), and he gave me the thumbs up over the phone. Nick cooked a fantastic meal and we watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on the couch–probably one of the best dates we’ve ever had!
Tell us about your proposal! The nearby town of Urbanna hosts an annual oyster festival, and our tradition is to attend with family and friends and then host a chili dinner, courtesy of my dad’s secret recipe. Nick and I had taken time off to celebrate our four-year anniversary by heading down on Friday to relax before the festival. We grabbed some beer and oysters at our favorite “rivah” oyster shack, Merrior, and headed back to the house for the sunset. It had started to drizzle, but Nick still wanted to take a walk out towards the water. It was then that I saw his handwriting in the sand, “Will you marry me?” Nick’s dad was hiding in the bushes to snap a few photographs, and later that evening, Nick had arranged for many of our friends from Washington D.C. to surprise me by arriving at the house to attend the festival with us the next day! It was so special to have our family and friends together for a river weekend to kick off a wonderful engagement.
When did y’all get married? June 20, 2015
How many people attended your wedding? 155
What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? There were so many Southern touches to the wedding; it’s hard to them narrow down! Nick and I love to cook and eat, especially Southern food. We sat down together and made a list of all the foods we love to eat, and then handed the unorganized list to our caterer. They turned it into an amazing, Southern Virginia-inspired menu, including Virginia ham biscuits, pimento cheese, shrimp and gouda grits, scallop succotash, honey chicken, pulled pork, fried okra, and a biscuit and cornbread bar. Our signature drinks were named after our home states, a Virginia Beau and a ‘Bama Belle. During cocktail hour, we had a champagne and oyster bar from Merrior, the oyster shack Nick and I ate at the day we got engaged. True to Southern tradition, we gifted our bridal party with monogrammed gifts galore–mason jars, seersucker shorts for the gals, and fishing shirts for the gentlemen (their monograms were disguised as nautical flags!). My mother-in-law hosted my bridesmaids and house party for lunch the day before the wedding, and I surprised everyone with a delicious pound cake with cake pulls! My mother-in-law read everyone’s fortune out loud as they pulled their charms. Thank goodness we buried a bottle of bourbon (that Nick had engraved with our wedding date!)–the rain held out until the end of the reception, and as soon as the last sip of moonshine was gone, the skies opened up! The most Southern thing about our wedding though? Having all our family and friends help us work on the house and yard to prepare to host the wedding. The months and weeks before the wedding were spent with our hands in the dirt planting flowers, and my bridesmaids accompanying me to the beach to search for the perfect-shaped oysters for the place cards. The true beauty of the venue came from all the hands that tended to it; it almost brought me to tears!
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? The biggest challenge we had to overcome was the remoteness of my parents’ house and limited vendors nearby. With a background in design, I knew exactly how I wanted everything to look, but when you’re in the country, sometimes you take what you can get!
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $25,000-$50,000
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Strive for a joyful and gracious attitude throughout your engagement, and into your marriage! There are always things that might not go according to plan.
What’s next for you as a couple? What memories are you looking forward to making together? We are starting our lives in Richmond, Virginia! We moved from Washington, D.C. to be closer to our families and embrace the smaller, slower city life. I will continue to work for my D.C.-based architecture firm (while writing a blog and pursuing graphic design and residential design on the side!), while Nick has started a new job in the medical information technology field. We are thrilled to live together in the downtown Fan neighborhood of Richmond and can’t wait to explore this Southern city!

Photography: Annamarie Akins / Second Shooter: Nikki Santerre / Ceremony Venue: Ware Episcopal Church / Reception Venue: Private residence / Florist: The Wild Bunch / Bride’s Gown: Kate McDonald Bridal / Cake Baker: Cakes by Graham / Catering: The White Dog Bistro / Band: JB and the Get Down Browns / Hair and Makeup: Bombshell / Rentals: Paisley and Jade, Grand Rental Station, and Distinctive Events / Coordination and Styling: Ruie and Grace / Bridesmaid Dresses: BHLDN, J. Crew, LulaKate, Nordstrom, and Revolve / Bride’s Shoes: J. Crew and Jack Rogers / Menswear: Jos A. Bank and Bull + Moose / Raw Oyster Bar: Rappahannock River Oyster Company / String Duet: Strings and Things

Lula Kate, Kate McDonald Bridal, and Paisley & Jade are all delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

lisa Written with love by Lisa
6 Comments
  1. avatar Annamarie reply

    Thank you so much for sharing one of my all time favorite wedding days!

  2. avatar Nick & Jess reply

    […] images can be seen as featured on Southern Weddings last […]

  3. avatar Daniel reply

    Stunning photos, love the boat picture!

  4. avatar Shore Thing | Creative Cake Toppers | Maine Wedding Venues, Photographers, Planners reply

    […] Painted oyster shells add an elegant touch to this simple white cake.  [Cakes by Graham  / Annamarie Akins via Southern Weddings] […]

  5. avatar Megan reply

    Just wondering if you could provide the name of the designer of the dress? I love the striped silk! I love the cut! Its so pretty.

  6. avatar Mike reply

    Beautiful pictures! Very interesting shell decor on the cake and the whole nautical theme is amazing!

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We love when our couples include beautiful, meaningful details in their weddings, but we also know how stressful it can be trying to make the day go perfectly. When I got married, I remember doing everything I could to ensure exactly that, and then I had a hole front and center in the lace of my gown. Crazy and unexpected things happen, y’all! This makes me love Rachel Lee and John’s favorite detail of their wedding all the more. Their wedding is gorgeous, we can all see that, but their favorite detail was completely unplanned: the beautiful sunset that evening over the Watercraft Center. “This detail was something we never could have planned, and it was truly breathtaking. It reminded us of our marriage: we know that much in life will be unexpected, but the important thing is being together to share it.” Amen to that!

Big hugs to one of our brand new Blue Ribbon Vendor members, Cynthia Rose, for sharing such a lovely day with us!

I had always said a big dress was not my style, but in the end, my childhood dreams of a large, Gone With the Wind-inspired dress won. I love my dress and wish I could wear it all the time. It was a beautiful, rum pink-colored silk with large French lace on the bodice and bottom of the skirt. I spent a ton of time with the designer and Debbie at Enchanting Moments to create a custom lace jacket, modeled closely after Grace Kelly’s wedding gown.

Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding and why you chose them. This ended up being my favorite part of wedding planning! I opted for a trumpet, organist, and violinist. The mothers were seated to “Ave Maria” and the wedding party was seated to “Canon in D”–my favorite! The bridal processional was “Wedding March” by Mendelssohn. Apparently, this isn’t usually used for a processional, but my gut told me to go with it, so I did!

Did you have something borrowed, blue, old, and new? If so, do tell! My something borrowed was my mother’s veil. It was such an honor to wear it. My parents’ 40th anniversary is this year, and when wearing it at 18, I bet my mother never would have dreamed that her daughter would wear the same veil in 2014!

Our wedding day was so special because everything took place in the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. My family has lived in and around this area for generations, and the town has always had a special place in my heart. Beaufort has become a place that John loves as well, and I wanted our friends and his family to enjoy this beautiful, quaint, Southern coastal town. I can’t wait to bring our kids here, just as my parents did while I was growing up in Raleigh.

What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? We served traditional coastal Southern foods, like shrimp and grits, crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms, sweet potato biscuits with country ham, and grilled Mahi Mahi (not a fish you find in eastern NC, but you get the idea!). We also served sweet tea, and Pepsi (which was born in New Bern, about an hour away from Beaufort).

Our favorite detail was the beautiful sunset that evening at the Watercraft Center. Our venue had a dock with cocktail tables, so folks could stand outside on the water and watch the sunset. This detail was something we never could have planned, and it was truly breathtaking. It reminded us of our marriage: we know that much in life will be unexpected, but the important thing is being together to share it.

How did y’all meet? Tell us your love story. We met in college during our freshman year. My best friend and John went to high school together, and she introduced us. After about a year of being just friends, we decided to make it official in January 2007. We stayed together for about nine months, and then decided to take some time apart when I was studying abroad. I don’t think either of us knew that after just a few weeks, we would realize how much we missed each other. I returned home in May 2008 and surprised him! We have been together ever since, through graduation, long distance, living at home, starting new jobs, and much more.
Tell us all about the proposal! We were on a trip to Folly Beach near Charleston with some friends. We decided to take a day trip to Charleston, since I had not been there since I was little. We had a great day of touring and shopping, and had planned to go to dinner in town and then drive back afterwards. While shopping, we walked into the beautiful lobby at the Charleston Place hotel. I mentioned how breathtaking their double rounded staircase was and he responded, “I’m glad you like it because we are staying here tonight.” I thought he was joking, but quickly realized he was not. I said, “That’s so sweet, but I don’t have any clothes or contact solution.” He quickly responded with, “I packed a bag for you.” I hugged him and noticed he was shaking. I realized how likely it was that in the next twenty-four hours, he would propose, and I got really nervous too! We checked in and went to our room. When I walked to the window to open it, he came up behind me, hugged me, turned me around, and told me so many wonderful things. He then got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I hugged his neck so hard, and he gave me the most beautiful ring with my grandmother’s diamond in the center. Afterwards, we had the most amazing meal at Hall’s Chop House in Charleston. Some friends called in and got us the best table, and had champagne there waiting for us. We will always remember that meal and how special it was.
When did y’all get married? October 18, 2014
How many friends, family members, and loved ones attended your wedding? 115
Describe your wedding dessert. Our desserts were a lot of fun! We did pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, carrot cake, and apple pie. Our catering was done by Beaufort Grocery, a staple in Beaufort. They are known for their amazing food and carrot cake!
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? The biggest challenge was that our engagement was fairly long, so it got hard to wait and be patient when I just wanted to move forward!
If you are comfortable responding, what range did your wedding budget fall into? $25,000-$50,000
What was your most memorable moment about your wedding day? When we were pronounced husband and wife, we kissed, and the entire sanctuary broke out in applause. For an older, more traditional church, this was a surprise, but a wonderful, heartfelt gesture of love from all the people around us.
What’s next for you as a couple? What memories are you looking forward to making together? We have been enjoying marriage and a more calm life! Having our weekends free to hang and be with friends has been wonderful.

Photographer: Cynthia Rose Photography / Ceremony Venue: Ann Street United Methodist Church / Reception Venue: The Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center / Caterer and Dessert Baker: Beaufort Grocery / Bridal Salon: Enchanting Moments / Bride’s Shoes: Kate Spade / Bridesmaids’ Dresses: LulaKate

Cynthia Rose and LulaKate are delightful members of our Blue Ribbon Vendor Directory!

marissa Written with love by Marissa
1 Comment
  1. avatar Julia reply

    Ah Beaufort, so near and dear to my heart! I love this, and her dress is stunning!

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As y’all may remember from our outfits at the V6 launch party and a number of editorials over the years, we are huge fans of LulaKate here at Southern Weddings, which is why we were completely thrilled to learn that the talented lady behind some of our favorite bridesmaid dresses officially launched a bridal line last year. Kate McDonald Bridal effortlessly blends the chic, flirty vibe we love from LulaKate with a feel of timeless elegance that is perfect for Southern brides. Katherine McDonald kindly answered a few questions we had about her new line, and we are tickled pink to share her answers, as well as a few of our favorite Kate McDonald Bridal designs!

Corbin Gurkin

Tell us about the beginnings of Kate McDonald. Why did you want to start a bridal line, and how did you get started? My bridal line was an evolution of my bridesmaid line, which evolved from the ready-to-wear line. Bridal is my favorite of all three. I love working with the delicate and intricate fabrics. I never intended to have a bridal line, but then, some of my ready-to-wear customers asked me to design their wedding dresses. After saying no a number of times, I finally said yes. After the first dress, I was hooked I love the process of getting to know a bride and her family, and being part of such a special day.

What sets Kate McDonald apart from other bridal gown brands? We are proudly sewn in the USA and have some of the best customer service in the industry. We are also able to customize our gowns for our brides to give them a truly unique style.

Andrew Cebulka

What is your single best tip for a bride about to start shopping for her wedding gown? Remember to purchase the dress you love. Consider your loved ones’ opinions, but make the final decision yourself.

What is your current favorite wedding dress in your collection? If you were to get married tomorrow, which dress would you wear? Waring is my favorite dress from the 2015 Collection. I would wear either her or LaMour, from last year’s collection.

Corbin Gurkin

What is your favorite memory from your own wedding day? My dad playing the drums with the band!

What is the single greatest lesson you’ve learned in business? Never take anything for granted.

Corbin Gurkin

Name three items every gal should have in her closet. Something from your mom, something from your grandmother, and something you can pass down to your daughter/daughter-in-law.

Thank you so much, Katherine! Follow along with Kate McDonald Bridal here:

Website | Blog | Twitter | Instagram

This post is brought to you by Kate McDonald Bridal – thanks for your support of the brands that make Southern Weddings possible!

lisa Written with love by Lisa
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