This Wedding Planner Dreamed Up This California Celebration Three Years Before She Met Her Husband—and the Result Will Take Your Breath Away
Tamara Kesser may have only met Erik Stahlheber six years ago, but their wedding was actually nine years in the making. That's when Tamara started working with Kim Curtis at TOAST, an event design firm in Santa Barbara. "Over these years we made mental notes, imagined details, and created dozens of design boards for my future wedding," Tamara says. "Once it was official, we started putting them to life and creating the wedding that truly reflected Erik and me as a couple." Erik, whom she met at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013, was officially on board when he proposed to Tamara on a birthday trip to Yosemite in 2018.
That doesn't mean the planning process was a piece of, well, wedding cake. "The hardest part was choosing vendors," Tamara says. "We work with so many talented and kind people who have truly become friends over the last decade, and having to pick them for my own wedding was really difficult." But once she assembled her team, the couple's vision came into being on the weekend of June 8, 2019, when, following a tacos-and-tequila-themed rehearsal dinner on Friday night, the pair exchanged vows in a Catholic ceremony at Our Lady of Carmel Church in Montecito. (Tamara had also always envisioned getting married there.)
Afterwards, they took the party (and their 152 guests) to Grassini Family Vineyards in nearby Santa Ynez. And as they looked out over the sprawling vineyards, surrounded by their family and friends, they realized that the entire weekend was even more extraordinary than either of them could have envisioned, even after all that time.
So in Love
The couple took a California-cool approach when dressing for the pre-wedding party; Tamara donned a floor-length lace BHLDN number with ruffled sleeves, while Erik opted for navy khakis and a festive patterned shirt from Reyn Spooner. "He gave all of his groomsmen matching Reyn Spooner shirts in different bright colors to wear for the rehearsal dinner," says Tamara. "He is known amongst his friends to always be wearing a Hawaiian shirt, so it was only fitting that they all did, too!"
Practice Makes Perfect
Dinner was held outdoors, under the museum's outdoor pergola, crawling with native greens. On the menu? "Both of us being SoCal kids, tacos are our go-to meal," says Tamara. "We wanted to keep with the theme of the SB Historical Museum and our casual, colorful, festive rehearsal dinner, so tacos were the perfect fit! Noe from Taqueria el Pastorcito is our go-to taco guy and his pastor is phenomenal. I can't think of anything else I would've rather had the night before our wedding."
TOAST Santa Barbara put together dynamic centerpieces boasting dahlias, peonies, and scabiosa in rich shades ranging from peach to merlot.
Each place setting was marked by a woven charger topped with a honey-colored napkin; the pom-pom napkin rings nodded to the thematic cuisine.
Guests wore bright floral prints as they sipped margaritas—the signature drink of the night.
As the duo and their loved ones dined on tacos, they were treated to several heartfelt toasts. "We opened up the dinner to anyone who wanted to speak. I figured my brother would say something, and probably Erik's sister, but almost every one of our bridesmaids and groomsmen said something sweet to us and it was a really special memory," recalls Tamara. "I remember laughing throughout most of the entire dinner as everyone told stories about knowing us separately, or when we first started dating, or years into our relationship."
One of Tamara's favorite parts of the planning process was choosing stationery. "I was so excited to start the design with local artist Janice Blair, who I've worked every year since I've been with TOAST," she says. "I knew she would capture our style immediately!" Blair began with a watercolor floral piece that became the backing on invites, and later, the escort cards. And for the custom crest (which appeared on the save-the-dates, invitations, programs, and cocktail napkins), Blair incorporated a loon, the couple's sweet nickname for each other and a nod to the state bird of Minnesota, where Erik's extended family lives.
The Full Look
Tamara wore a Monique Lhullier wedding dress and veil for her walk down the aisle. She first spotted the lace gown with a silk tulle overlay on the brand's Instagram, and they shipped the sample to the Beverly Hills store so she could try it on. "The bridal stylist stepped out for a minute and I was alone in front of the mirror and knew instantly, this was it," Tamara says.
"It was loose and full and fluffy!" says Tamara of the collection of peach peonies, garden roses, mock orange, and blueberry foliate that Kim Curtis—her friend and colleague at TOAST—made for her.
"I wanted the girls to look cohesive, but also wanted them to love the dress they were wearing," Tamara says. When she found looks she loved from Needle & Thread, she asked each bridesmaid to pick their favorite style in a shade of blush.
All the Guys
Erik's main request for the day? That the wedding be black-tie so that he and his groomsmen could wear tuxedos. He wore Emporio Armani, and his groomsmen were decked out in suits from The Black Tux and boutonnières made of garden rose buds, mock orange, and blueberry foliage, all wrapped in a hand-dyed silk ribbon.
For the big day, Christy Parker and Kim from TOAST created two trailing semi-arches of greenery, roses, and tons of peonies to flank the doorway to Our Lady of Mount Carmel church. "When we arrived to walk down the aisle, I was in complete awe," Tamara says. "It was one of my favorite design details of the day!"
Just the Two of Us
After walking the flower girl down the aisle (she was nervous to go it alone!), Tamara's father doubled back to escort the bride. "My dad and I tend to get teary-eyed, so we were really nervous about making it down the aisle without crying," Tamara says. "We made jokes about how to keep the walk light and how he would 'dust my shoulders off' before giving me away."
The Catholic mass was a family affair: Tamara's brother gave the first reading and Erik's sister took the second. Tamara's sister, an opera singer, sang the "Ave Maria" during the ceremony, and her boyfriend joined her in a duet of "Panis Angelicus." "It was so special to have them be such an integral part of our wedding ceremony," Tamara says.
Surrounded by Love
The newlyweds made their journey back up the aisle after exchanging traditional vows.
Simply Cocktails offered two signature sips come the cocktail hour: a riff on a French 75 and an old fashioned.
Guests mingled under the 400-year-old oak trees at the vineyard of Grassini Family Vineyards, the site of the newlyweds' reception. "We love to entertain and host dinner parties with friends, so we really wanted the reception to feel like that," Tamara says. "We wanted guests to feel like they were dressed up for an elegant dinner, but then have a really fun dance party after."
To continue the loon theme of their invitations, Tamara had bird calls engraved with the couple's initials and used them to top off the escort cards. They were backed on a wooden board topped with the clever line, "Your Seat Is Calling!"
Janice Blair's floral watercolor design reappeared on the paper section of the escort cards; the botanical detailing spoke to the garden setting.
First Look, Kind Of
"One of my favorite moments of the day was walking out to the reception by the lake and seeing it for the first time," Tamara says of seeing the party all set up. "I'd been visualizing this part of the wedding for so long, it was so exciting to see it come to life!"
Tamara turned to her day job to help inspire her own big day. "When I'm designing floral tablescapes for clients, I always love when we can incorporate something unique," she says. "For our wedding, I wanted to use natural beeswax pillar candles that were the perfect golden tone, but in a narrower size than you typically see."
To further the idea, caterer Maili Halme recommended in-season ingredients, such as cherries and apricots, that could be added to the floral design, too.
The Head Table
Tamara and Erik—along with their bridal party and close family—sat at a long head table, which overlooked the rest of the floor plan, a mix of rounds and rectangles.
The vine pattern on the emerald Limoges plates were one of the details the duo knew they wanted from the very start of the planning phase. On top rested the evening's menu, which included seasonal apricots in a salad with cherries, arugula, and goat cheese. Halibut and short rib were on offer as mains.
Tamara and Erik were nervous about their first dance, and when their plans to take lessons fizzled, they choreographed a routine themselves a week before the wedding. The minute Keith Urban's "Parallel Line" started playing, however, Tamara says, "all of my nerves and worries went away, and it really was just us in that moment. I will never forget dancing in his arms, to the song we made special together, to the dance we made up, and that incredible last dip!"