Michelle and John's Outdoor Wedding at a Cattle Ranch in North Carolina
"The wind was blowing and the cows were mooing," the bride recalls of the emotional destination celebration on a relative's property. "You could feel the love, not just among the people there, but in the surroundings, too."
On a sunny spring day in 2013, Michelle and John sipped wine and snacked on Brie and baguettes in Paris's Buttes-Chaumont park. The couple, who met in San Francisco and now live in Chicago, were winding down after a cycling trip with friends through France. "At one point, Michelle said, 'This picnic is perfect,'" recalls John. And that was before he proposed.
John, the cofounder of an online men's clothing service, had worried that popping the question in the City of Light might feel trite or expected. "But I wanted to do it outdoors, in a romantic, just-us kind of way," he says. A similar desire struck as they scouted wedding venues. "None of them felt personal," says Michelle, a design strategist. "Something was missing." Until her mind wandered to Thanksgiving a few years back, when the couple had visited John's cousin Eric and his wife for a particularly fun stay at their Marion, North Carolina, cattle ranch, Double Down Ranch. "That place was meaningful to us," she says. The pair e-mailed Eric, explaining that they had a crazy idea. His response came immediately: "We're in."
The 214-acre property provided the natural beauty and personal connection the couple wanted. But it wasn't exactly wedding-ready. "They moved heaven and earth for us, literally," John jokes. Eric spent days on an earthmover, leveling the ground. He ran electricity through the yard, while Michelle's Columbia, South Carolina–based planner brought in flooring, furniture, and a tent. The work paid off when 100 loved ones gathered under a pine tree for an emotional, nondenominational ceremony officiated by a friend.
September 6, 2014, was a hot, humid day, a fact easily forgotten by guests who sipped Dark and Stormies and French 75s. After speeches and a friend's rendition of "Like a Prayer" (followed by an encore of "Material Girl"), the party was going so strong that many attendees, protected by the tent, didn't even notice when it started to pour.
The most memorable moment for the bride, though, occurred at the ceremony. "The wind was blowing and the cows were mooing," remembers Michelle. "You could feel the love, not just among the people there, but in the surroundings, too."
Michelle designed the stationery, with calligraphy by Emily J. Snyder.
"A destination wedding is a big ask," John says of their remote North Carolina locale. "But most of our friends were coming from big cities, so everybody was psyched to get out in the country."
The Bridal Bouquet
Protea, delphiniums, astrantia, leucadendrons, and rose hips made up the lush bridal bouquet by Fern Studio.
Bridesmaids paired lacy Diane von Furstenberg cocktail dresses with sandals of their own choosing.
The bridal party carried bouquets of king protea, hydrangeas, ranunculus, and silver-dollar eucalyptus finished with trailing teal satin ribbons.
John and his groomsmen wore bespoke suits also designed by Trunk Club.
A Special Guest
The ranch's resident donkey wore his own ranunculus-studded crown for the occasion.
The Ceremony Setup
Vignettes of vintage crates, flowers, and antique lanterns framed the spot where the couple said "I do."
The Bride's Entrance
Michelle's father walked her down the aisle to "Blackbird" by the Beatles, performed by two members of the Brooklyn-based Dexter Lake Club Band.
The ceremony took place underneath a centuries-old pine tree, high on a hill overlooking the ranch's eight-acre lake.
On the nearly 90-degree day, guests kept cool with the help of chilled cocktails, including a French 75.
Die-cut escort cards shaped like cows nodded to the ranch locale. The "cattle" were hung from branches with twine and clothespins.
Dinner tables were set up beneath a sailcloth tent.
Setting the Table
Blue linen runners, spread across long farm tables, were topped with dark red tapers and clusters of astilbes, ranunculus, radishes, sweet peas, and thistle.
The night's menu included brined pork tenderloin and grilled swordfish, with sides of orzo, cauliflower, and grilled zucchini served family-style.
The First Dance
For their first dance, Michelle and John picked Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."
A Moment With Mom
John and his mother swayed to "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong.
The couple opted for a dessert buffet, which included Mexican wedding cookies, fudge brownies, and sugar-dusted apple crisps.
The Second Dress
Michelle stayed in her ceremony dress as long as possible, considering the heat. But when the guests really started dancing, she changed into a reception dress by Lovely Bride.
Location: Double Down Ranch
Event Planning and Design: Jessica Rourke
Catering: Arlene Cotler Catering
Flowers: Fern Studio
Photography: Landon Jacob
Photo Booth: Hot Dog Photo Booth
Calligraphy: Emily J. Snyder
Music: The Dexter Lake Club Band
Hair: Charlotte Murphy of Ananda Hair Studio
Menswear: Trunk Club
Groom's Shoes: Scarpe di Bianco
Transportation: Elite Limousine
Sound: Carolina Backline
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