This Family-Focused Wedding Weekend Included a Southern Brunch and Reception Cruise

bride holding bouquet with groom smiling
Ashley Brown

Sarah and Justin were introduced by mutual friends in May 2017, and the two built a fast friendship that soon turned romantic. And as soon as Sarah met Justin's sons, it was clear the pair were meant to be. "It was an instant connection between all of us!" Sarah says, adding that there was another moment of connection that was just as important. "We laugh because once our moms met, it was like there was no turning back. There's such an easy and natural connection and chemistry between our families."

So, two years later, when Justin was ready to pop the question, he did so surrounded by family: He proposed during a weekend at his parent's house, when Sarah's relatives were also visiting. After everyone shared breakfast one morning, Justin's oldest son, Blake, asked Sarah to follow him. She found all three boys waiting for her, and together they asked, "Sarah, will you marry our daddy?" After Sarah said yes, Justin came around the corner, got down on one knee, and officially asked for her hand in marriage. "It was perfect because the boys were a special part of the engagement. It was private with just the five of us, but our families were right there to congratulate and celebrate with us!" she reflects.

Although the couple lives in Kentucky, they decided to plan an intimate, family-focused wedding weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, with just 18 guests. Sarah's sister, who was her maid of honor, lives in Charleston and works in the wedding industry, so she helped connect the bride and groom with incredible vendors like their planner, Liz Luckhart Schleifer. "This allowed my mom, sister, and myself to completely enjoy the morning without being stressed about the little details that need to happen—even with a small group of 18 people!" says Sarah.

The couple invited their families and closest friends to stay together at the East Bay Manor in Charleston for a wedding weekend that kicked off with a celebration for the groom's birthday. On the big day, which took place on September 1, 2019, the intimate ceremony unfolded in the manor's courtyard, and was followed by a brunch reception on the porch—and then a party a cruise to the Isle of Palms.

01 of 19

A Weekend of Events

wedding welcome bag with various gifts
Ashley Brown

With such a small guest list, the couple skipped formal invitations. Instead, they shared a weekend itinerary by Marti Harris Designs with illustrations of each event's location. The festivities started with Justin's birthday celebration on Friday, followed by a rehearsal dinner on Saturday—the wedding ceremony, brunch, and cruise took place on Sunday.

02 of 19

Let's Rehearse

bride and groom share kiss outside rehearsal dinner venue
Ashley Brown

The rehearsal dinner was held at Leon's, a local oyster shop.

03 of 19

Getting Ready

bride with bridesmaids and mother getting ready
Ashley Brown

On a weekend trip to Charleston shortly after the engagement, Sarah's sister, Meg—her maid of honor—scheduled an appointment at Lovely Bride, so Sarah could get a sense of what she wanted in a wedding dress. The third gown she tried on that day ended up being the one.

She chose an off-white Alexandra Grecco silk crepe dress with hand-embroidered floral appliqué and an illusion V-back. "I knew I didn't want anything too fitted," she says. "It showed off my silhouette, but was still comfortable." She paired her ensemble with simple earrings from Croghan's Jewelry, Kate Spade shoes, her mom's bracelet, and a handmade veil that was made just days before the wedding. "The entire time I had no plans of wearing a veil, but after my last dress fitting—we knew I needed one last final touch!"

04 of 19

Handsome Couple

bride and groom hold hands outside on stone street
Ashley Brown

Justin donned a blue suit from Bonobos, paired with a brown belt and leather loafers.

05 of 19

Bridesmaids in White

bride with bridesmaids wearing white dresses
Ashley Brown

Choosing dresses for her bridesmaids was one of the hardest parts of the planning process, says Sarah. "I absolutely love what we ended up with, but we had many trials and errors, to say the least," she says, adding that she was on the hunt for nontraditional options in shades of white and cream. Ultimately, she loved what they landed on—the small bridal party's mix of skirt-and-top and dress ensembles were sourced from Needle and Thread and BHLDN.

Sarah carried a simple green-and-white bouquet, featuring eucalyptus, olive, ivory garden roses, ranunculus, tulips, and touches of blue thistle, down the aisle.

06 of 19

For the Boys

bride and groom with three sons sitting on outdoor couch
Ashley Brown

Ahead of the ceremony, Sarah shared a first look with the boys and read notes she had written for each of them. "I know the wedding day is traditionally about the bride and groom, but this day was just as much about them and us becoming a family," she says.

The boys also acted as Justin's groomsmen, matching their dad in blue dress pants, white button-up shirts, and brown loafers from J. Crew. "I kept it very simple with the boys; they aren't huge fans of dressing up!" Sarah says.

07 of 19

On Location

East Bay Manor wedding ceremony site outdoors
Ashley Brown

The couple's ceremony took place at East Bay Manor, where everyone stayed that weekend. "I loved that we could easily get ready and walk right downstairs for the ceremony, then come up to the porch for brunch!" Sarah says. They worked with Wimberly Fair to bring tons of ferns into the courtyard space and set up a simple archway with white, blue, and yellow florals. Ghost chairs were set up in a semi-circle, hugging the courtyard.

08 of 19

Sweet Melodies

violinist playing music at wedding ceremony
Ashley Brown

A violinist played "Amazing Grace" as guests took their seats. She also played "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" for the processional and "You Are the Best Thing" when the couple walked back up the aisle as husband and wife.

09 of 19

Faith First

bride and groom's oldest son reading passage from bible during wedding
Ashley Brown

Sarah walked down the aisle accompanied by both her step-father, Steve, and her mother. Justin's sister, Tennille, officiated the ceremony and put together a faith-centered service with personal memories weaved in. "Blake, our oldest, even gave a reading from the Bible," Sarah says. "It's a moment I will always cherish!"

10 of 19

Together in Prayer

bride and groom surrounded by family in prayer circle
Ashley Brown

After the ceremony, everyone circled together for a family prayer. "I am so glad our photographer captured this moment," Sarah says. "It will forever be one of my favorites!"

11 of 19

Finally Married

bride and groom share a kiss on the recessional aisle
Ashley Brown

The newlyweds' guests formed a tunnel as the duo walked back up the aisle and straight into married life.

12 of 19

Brunch on the Porch

long wedding brunch table set up on large white porch
Ashley Brown

Guests made their way to the second-floor porch for brunch, where one long wooden table was set up with cane-backed chairs and a loveseat for the bride and groom. Cow-hide chairs were placed at either end for texture.

13 of 19

Snacks and Mimosas

wood wedding bar outside with citrus fruit
Ashley Brown

Attendees were served mimosas and bloody Mary's as they snacked on charcuterie boards, pastries, and assorted fruit and vegetable platters that were placed along the table.

14 of 19

Lovely Settings

gold and blue place settings with floral centerpieces
Ashley Brown

Each setting included gold flatware and a translucent gold-rimmed plate, which was topped with a vintage white-and-blue dish with scalloped edges and a small white saucer. Blue goblets held fresh berries.

The centerpieces were lush and varied in size; they incorporated tons of greenery, neutral-hued florals, and sporadic pops of peach and blue.

15 of 19

Time Together

spinach and pepper omelet for wedding brunch
Ashley Brown

As the violinist played songs requested by the couple, guests enjoyed a buffet of brunch items. There was a homemade savory-and-sweet biscuit bar, a station for shrimp and grits, and a chef-attended omelet station. "I'll never forget our entire family gathered around the brunch table smiling, laughing, and telling stories," Sarah says. "I could look to my right and left and see the people that mean so much to me, who have made me who I am, all gathered together."

Instead of a traditional wedding cake, Sarah and Justin decided to serve sweets that would pair well with brunch. They choose a variety of pastries and cookies from Brown's Court Bakery in Charleston.

16 of 19


bride and groom share a kiss standing on boat dock
Ashley Brown

After brunch, everyone boarded a chartered boat, The Osprey, to party their way to the Isle of Palms. "I knew that with our intimate group we could really do whatever we wanted for a 'reception.' I thought—with being in Charleston and on the water—what would be better than a cruise to drink, dance, and continue the celebration?" says Sarah. "It was absolutely perfect—the most wonderful ending to a beautiful and special day!"

  • The Ins and Outs of Getting Married Aboard a Cruise Ship
17 of 19

Quick Change

bride and groom standing on boat overlooking water
Ashley Brown

For the boat ride, Sarah changed into a Yumi Kim dress from Model Bride, which she paired with a set of earrings from Lovely Bride.

18 of 19

Say You Won't Let Go

bride and groom share first dance on boat
Ashley Brown

On the cruise, Sarah and Justin shared their first dance to James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go," a song that has always reminded them of each other.

On the way back to Kentucky after the wedding, the pair stopped in Asheville for a night to reflect on the big day. A month later, the newlyweds went on their honeymoon to Italy. They visited Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorrento, and Capri.

To couples currently planning their own small big days, Sarah recommends keeping it simple—and making the wedding reflect who you are. "I explored every option possible from a big wedding on my family farm, to eloping to somewhere tropical just the two of us, to finally settling on a small, intimate family wedding in a destination-like city. Then, we had a huge party back in Kentucky with all of our family and friends," she says. "It really was the best of both worlds, and exactly how I wanted it."

19 of 19


bride and groom share a kiss sitting on a bench
Ashley Brown

Photography, Ashley Brown
Ceremony and Brunch Venue, East Bay Manor
Reception Cruise, The Osprey
Event Planning, Lizz Luckhart Schleifer
Paper Products, Marti Harris Designs
Flowers, Wimberly Fair
Bride's Gown, Lovely Bride Charleston; Alexandra Grecco
Bride's Veil, Nadya D Studio Design and Alterations
Bride's Jewelry, Croghan's Jewel Box
Bride's Shoes, Kate Spade NY
Hair and Makeup, Meg Workman Beauty
Bride's Reception Dress, Yumi Kim; Model Bride
Groom's Suit, Bonobos
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Needle and Thread
Groomsmen's Attire, J Crew
Flower Girl's Attire, Tea Princess; Jack Rogers
Music, Bespoke Strings
Catering, Hamby Catering
Dessert, Brown's Court Bakery
Rentals, Ooh! Events

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