Just a few months before Caroline + John said “I do” at their garden wedding, Caroline’s sister discovered an old wedding announcement for their great grandparents which detailed their similar wedding venue, arched floral altar and silver heirloom pieces that Caroline planned for her own nuptials. I love how the bride’s family history played such a large part in the details of the big day, whether planned or not. “If we drew a family tree of my side of the family, we could point to every branch and talk about an heirloom that was included in the wedding,” said Caroline. They only made the day more romantic — and just the way I envision New Orleans weddings.
Like the bride, we fell head over heels for the paper goods and signage included in the big day that only make the details even more lovely and personal and the fun photos that resulted from their killer band! (Fun fact: Caroline found her calligrapher, Elizabeth Porcher Jones, through our Williamsburg Wedding editorial in V4!) We’re sending huge hugs to Magnolia Pair for sharing C + J’s lovely day with us.
Pure wedding day bliss! I love this photo of Caroline + John’s first look.
I had been buying Martha Stewart Weddings magazines for years (as I told John when he caught me with one when we’d only been dating six months – “If I did it before I even met you, it’s not weird that I do it now.”), but I had opinions about everything except the dress. I had no idea what I wanted. I tried on a lot (probably 30+) before I found “the one.” I liked a few mermaid-style dresses, but I ultimately chose a flowing, romantic and feminine dress with dainty cap sleeves. When else do you have an occasion to dress like a princess?
Describe the proposal. John was determined to catch me off guard with his proposal and knew I would immediately suspect something if he made a big thing of bringing me to an out-of-the-way romantic location. So last year, I walked into John’s house after a frenzied day of Christmas shopping to find John waiting with a big, goofy grin on his face. Before I’d even had the chance to put my bags down, he dropped to a knee (with a gorgeous antique engagement ring he’d picked out with one of my best friends!) and asked me to be his wife! I was elated and said yes right away but was sort of thinking, “Why did you just propose in your bedroom?” I thought he might have something else up his sleeve when he then suggested going for a celebratory cocktail at one of our favorite restaurants around the corner. When we walked into the bar of the restaurant, I found a horde of family and friends cheering their congratulations and pouring champagne. We celebrated there before heading back to John’s house, where my mom, whose family throws notoriously large and riotous tailgate parties at LSU, had a “tailgate” waiting just in time for us to watch the Tigers play (and beat!) Ole Miss. Perfection!
Tell us about some of the songs you used throughout your wedding. Walking down the aisle, walking back up the aisle, first dance? I struggled with choosing the song for my entrance because I love, love, love Pachalbel’s Canon in D on strings, but I thought it was too “boring” for the bride’s entrance. In the end, I went with my gut, and I thought it was a lovely, romantic choice for our garden wedding. John chose our recessional song, “Christmas Jig” by Natalie MacMaster. It was one of our first wedding decisions! A couple of days after John proposed, we were listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s “Songs of Joy and Peace” album while we were cooking together, and John said “I love this song. Can we play this at some point in the wedding?” It’s this beautiful, hopeful medley for a fiddle, cello and harp. Our string trio began playing softly as the minister was pronouncing us man and wife and hit our favorite part when he said “You may now kiss the bride.” After we recessed, the trio went into the festive jig of the song as guests began exiting behind us. Harry Hardin with New Orleans Finest Musicians was a peach for accommodating my crazy requests to time the music to the action. Our first dance was to “A Wink and a Smile” by Harry Connick, Jr. – a playful melody by a New Orleans-born artist.
We got married in a rose garden so I wanted our flowers to look textured and loose, like they could have been picked from the garden. My bouquet included peach Juliet roses (my favorite), pink garden roses and plum ranunculus and was wrapped with antique handkerchiefs from each of my grandmothers’ mothers. All of the vessels that held flowers at the wedding were antique family pieces. The summer before my wedding, I ventured into my parents’ attic and found a ton of silver water pitchers, champagne buckets and trays that my mom had inherited from both sides of the family. She couldn’t part with them but had no more room in the house to display them all. A wedding was the perfect excuse to polish them all up.
Caroline’s timeless taste is New Orleans perfection, y’all. Candle-lit banquet tables with a gorgeous garland running down the middle? I adore it.
What Southern details or traditions did you include in your celebration? What was Southern about your wedding? If we drew a family tree of my side of the family, we could point to every branch and talk about an heirloom that was included in the wedding — the antique handkerchiefs in my bouquet from great grandmothers, the vases we used for the flowers and several silver-plated trays engraved to commemorate things like Rotary Club honors and international dog show awards. John and I cut our wedding cake with a cake knife from my mother’s side that was engraved with a date in 1835 from the first wedding where it was used. It was really special to incorporate these pieces from my family’s history into our day. A few months before we got married, my youngest sister Laura was looking through online newspaper archives as part of a project for her summer internship. She found my great grandmother’s wedding announcement in a 1930 Vicksburg Evening Post and sent it to me. After choosing our ceremony site and deciding that I wanted to say our vows under a floral arch, I read that my great grandparents also married in October in a garden – at the home of the bride’s grandmother – beneath an “improvised altar decorated with arches of flowers.” The article, which amusingly called the affair “an outstanding event of the month,” went on to describe the décor at the reception, including a “table set with a handsome lace cover and decorated with crystal and silver appointments.” My great grandmother might have had the exact same crystal and silver pieces holding flowers at her wedding. She passed away when I was only two, but I must have inherited a little of her taste and sense of style.
The most memorable moment would probably be our last dance to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” In college, my sorority sisters and I would all sing and dance around together every time it played, and if I wasn’t out when it played at a bar, I would get late night voicemails from my friends singing the song to me – at least this was a favorite move of my friend, Taylor. Deacon John had the dance floor packed all night so when he announced the last song, John and I were surrounded by friends and family. Our guests formed a circle around us as the band started to play “Sweet Caroline” and everyone was so into it! It was so fun jumping in circles and dancing with John and my mom (who had somehow gotten her hands on a tambourine…again) and sisters and mother-in-law and friends. There’s a great shot of my mom giving me a hug during the song, and my friend Taylor is right behind us wiping a happy tear from her eye. It was the perfect send-off!
Our favorite detail of the wedding was: I’d have to say all of the signage. I fell in love with Elizabeth Porcher Jones’ traditional but loose calligraphy when I saw the signage featured in the V4 Williamsburg photo shoot on Southern Weddings. I eagerly contacted her to create our wedding invitations, which turned out to be even more beautiful than I had hoped, and I asked her to create some small pieces for the wedding day. I think her beautiful hand written touches added to the casual elegance we were hoping to create at our garden wedding. We carried the artful, hand-drawn style to John’s chalkboard ice cream bar menu. I tracked down the chalk artist who does these amazing menus each week at Tiny Boxwood’s, a delicious café in Houston where John and I love to go on dates. I asked him to create something sort of fun and whimsical, and he nailed it. We now have the sign hanging in our kitchen!
How did the two of you meet? Tell us your story. John moved in with my best college guy friend, Trey, at the beginning of our junior year. That fall, we started having regular Sunday night dinners at the guys’ house. I’d cook and bring friends, and they’d provide the wine. I always thought John was nice and cute and smart, but sort of quiet. Senior year, I had a light course load for the spring semester so I tried to convince Trey to take a swing dancing class with me. Trey’s schedule conflicted, but John surprisingly told me he’d sign up. The weekend before the class started, I got my first law school acceptance letter and a bunch of us, including John, went out to celebrate. Though John and I had been casual friends for a couple of years, that was the first night I had a meaningful one-on-one conversation with him. We sat in a corner of the bar and talked all night about how I was excited but nervous about going to graduate school so far from home and about John’s plans for after graduation. I went home that night and announced to my roommates “I think I have a crush on John Wells!” After two weeks of dance classes, I was completely smitten. And after the fourth week, John asked me to his fraternity’s formal in New Orleans, where we danced all night and shared our first kiss! We’ve been together since. The first wedding vendor we booked was Deacon John and the Ivories – our wedding band and the band that played the night of that first date!
In what month did you get married? October
How many guests attended your wedding? 250
Did you decide to do a “first look”? Yes! John and I highly recommend it! It was really special to have an intimate moment with John before the wedding, but I was even happier that we did it when I saw Holly’s incredible pictures. She captured gorgeous, relaxed and natural photos we’ll cherish for a lifetime. I especially love the ones where John is making me laugh! Practically speaking, if you have an evening wedding, it will likely be too dark to catch those beautiful, light-filled images together after the ceremony. And after the ceremony, we were ready to laugh, eat and dance with all of our guests! We probably would have rushed through the photos to get to the reception. Taking photos with John and family before the ceremony meant that we could move right on to the party!
Did you write your own vows? No. In this regard, we’re both pretty traditional and we chose to use the vows that had marked the beginning of so many wonderful marriages before ours.
What readings, if any, did you have at your ceremony? Two of my close friends read passages from Ephesians 3: 14-19 and Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12. We also included Mark Twain’s “A Marriage” on the back cover of our ceremony programs.
Describe your wedding cake or dessert: Our wedding cake was a traditional, tasty almond vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting, but we were most excited about John’s dessert! As John is a huge fan of ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s “Chubby Hubby” in particular) we did an ice cream bar in lieu of a groom’s cake. Creole Creamery, an amazing New Orleans ice cream shop, let us choose from their hundreds of incredible flavors and even concocted a replica of John’s favorite flavor, which we dubbed the “Chubby Groom” for the occasion – an innocent play on words at which my marathon-running husband feigned offense! The ice cream bar was a huge hit with our guests. John likes to say that at one point, he looked around the room and saw that the dance floor was packed and there was a long line at the ice cream bar, and he thought, “This is awesome!”
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome while planning your wedding? My job. I’m a corporate lawyer in Houston, and Big Law and bridal don’t mix. Planning a destination wedding from out of town while being a first-year associate definitely meant I was spread a little thin. Being the perfectionist that I am, I tried to handle every detail myself at first. As the wedding got closer, I realized I had to let go and ask for help. Luckily, my mom loves throwing parties so she handled a lot of the logistics, and I focused on the décor and details. Divide and conquer!
What is the one thing you are most happy you splurged on? The band! Deacon John was a little more than we wanted to spend but totally worth it. He’s a New Orleans legend, and the dance floor was never empty.
What advice do you have for folks currently planning a wedding? Be ready to roll with the punches. A dear family friend told me the day before the wedding, “Something will go wrong, and you’ve got to be ready to brush it off because you’re marrying a wonderful man and the rest is just details.” I had to remind myself of this more than a few times on the wedding day. Our ceremony started late because half of the buses carrying our guests got lost, and then, just as I walked up the aisle and joined hands with John, I heard the not-so-distant sound of a marching band. It turns out that there was a high school football game starting in the immediate vicinity of our ceremony site. The band continued to play within earshot throughout our entire ceremony. I wanted to cry. But if you stop to pout at any moment during the wedding, you’ll miss it. The day goes by in a flash, and you don’t want to waste one second of it moping or being angry. I just kept telling myself, “You can’t see the sounds of drums and horns in pictures.” Holly’s beautiful photos from the day almost make me forget about this glitch…almost.
What’s next for you as a couple? What are you looking forward to in the future? We’re just enjoying being married! Being engaged was fun, but kind of stressful. Now I get to wake up next to my best friend on Saturday mornings with a day full of possibilities that don’t involve wedding planning in front of us. We love to cook and have friends over so we’re looking forward to hosting more dinner parties with the aid of all of the new cooking gadgets and lovely entertaining pieces we received as wedding presents.