A Romantic Cliffside Wedding with Breathtaking Views of Big Sur

bride and groom by cliff
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances Chae, a professional dancer, and Neilson Powless, a professional cyclist, had plenty to talk about after they met on Hinge in November 2019. "We had our first date on a Sunday morning at Faria Bakery, and walked around the neighborhood of Oak Park after," says Frances. "We talked for over two hours and the rest is history!" Since their careers would keep them separate for much of the year, with Neilson training in Spain and Frances dancing with the Sacramento Ballet, "we were dating very seriously from the beginning because we knew we had limited time before we would be in a long-distance relationship," says Frances.

Neilson returned to the United States in October 2020, and proposed five days later in Houston's Eastern Glades Park. "He had suggested we go for a picnic, and we arrived around sunset," says Frances. "We laid out a charcuterie board and there was a ring box in one of the wine glasses!" After she said yes, Neilson surprised her by having both their families join them for dinner. "We loved getting to have that time with both our families together, just reflecting on the past year and looking forward to a future together," says Frances.

The couple chose their wedding date—November 7, 2020—to align with Neilson's off-season, and decided to move forward with an intimate wedding instead of waiting for COVID-19 restrictions to lift. "Although I had always imagined myself having a big wedding—my sister had a 500-person wedding at a country club—when the time came, I had a completely different vision because I knew that, with Neilson, my fairy-tale wedding was on a cliff with him and our immediate family," says Frances. "I narrowed down the most important details, which, for me, were a cliffside wedding, the dress, and the flowers. From there, everything kind of fell into place behind it."

The couple let the natural beauty of their cliffside location in Big Sur's Garrapata State Park serve as the core of their wedding aesthetic, inviting their eight immediate family members to join them for the ceremony and dinner at Mission Ranch Carmel. "I also loved the trend that came out of COVID weddings which is, really, when you pare down everything that's important about a wedding, it truly is you and your spouse getting to commit to one another," says Frances. "The rest is just extra!"

01 of 19

Simple and Elegant

wedding invitation suite
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances and Neilson chose a completely custom invitation suite from Ester Nersisyan, which included a one-of-a-kind monogram, a unique floral design on the envelope liner, and a collection of vintage postage. "Everything about them was personalized for us!" says Frances. "They incorporated the beiges, soft pinks, and creams that were in the bouquet and place table settings." The bride chose matching place cards and menus, and asked her friend at Emily Reeves Calligraphy to address the envelopes.

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02 of 19

Just What She Wanted

Bride with bouquet by wall
Nelli Noel Photography

For her custom wedding dress, Frances turned to family friend Jenny Kim of Jenny Kim Couture. "She always suggests that brides go try on gowns in stores before coming to her, so I went dress shopping and then came to her with exactly what I wanted," says Frances, who requested a scoop neckline, A-line circle skirt, and a piped, pleated waistline. "I knew it was the one because it wasn't fussy and made me feel elegant," she says. "I love the waistline and how timeless the shape of it is, and the little details on the back that Jenny added—pleats and tiny silk-covered buttons. Luckily, with the fast nature of our wedding plan, she is a wizard and was able to make the dress quickly."

03 of 19

Old and New

lace veil details up close
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances opted for simple detailing on her gown to show off the lace on her heirloom veil, one her grandparents purchased on a trip to Belgium. "They were exploring Brugge, a city known for lace—and my grandpa said my grandma went into every shop until she found the perfect veil," says Frances. "My mom, aunts, sister, and cousin have all worn this veil." For jewelry, she chose her favorite pair of diamond huggies—a gift from her parents on her 18th birthday—with a wedding-day upgrade courtesy of a jewelry designer friend at Andrea Montgomery. "She suggested making drops to hang off of my everyday earrings," says Frances. "She made beautiful pink moonstone and little dangly pearl drops. I loved how they added movement, but were so simple."

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04 of 19

Blue and Pink

embroidered handkerchief
Nelli Noel Photography

The mother of the bride used the couple's invitation monogram to design a special keepsake. "My mom embroidered a handkerchief with our wedding date and initials on it that I tucked into my pocket—my dress had pockets for just this reason!" says Frances. "I kept the handkerchief there and it was ready every time I needed to wipe a tear." She completed her outfit with pretty—and practical—footwear. "I chose to wear tennis shoes for the wedding!" she says. "I knew we would be walking down natural terrain for the ceremony. My favorite color is pink so I chose pastel pink Veja Esplars."

05 of 19

Gray Area

groom in black suit by rock wall
Nelli Noel Photography

Neilson chose a gray suit from Bill Walker Clothier and a white button-down shirt from Brooks Brothers. "My dad took Neilson to Hermes to pick out a tie for the wedding," says Frances.

06 of 19

Love Letter

groom reading letter
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances and Neilson chose not to see each other before the ceremony, but asked their photographer to deliver Bibles and handwritten notes in person that morning. "It is a gift I will cherish forever!" says Frances.

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07 of 19

Daddy's Girl

bride and dad hugging
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances and her father shared a first look before he escorted her down the aisle. "He turned around and cried when he saw me," says Frances. "It was a really sweet moment to ourselves before we went to see everyone else. I'm his baby and his last daughter to get married. My dad isn't usually very emotional, so when we see him crying, everyone in the room is in tears."

08 of 19

Altared State

groom watching bride walk down the aisle
Nelli Noel Photography

Neilson and the wedding party waited for Frances and her father at the cliff where the ceremony was held. "The main priority was finding a cliff that was child accessible—my nephew was the ring bearer and 11 months old at the time—and easy to access in a big wedding dress," says Frances. "There are so many beautiful spots along the coast that it was hard to pick just one, but once we settled on this one, we knew it was just right. There was an archway of Cyprus trees leading to the spot we chose, and I loved how it framed my dad and I walking down the aisle and then arriving at the altar."

09 of 19

Natural Wonder

bride and father walking down the aisle
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances and Neilson invited the women in their immediate family to wear shades of emerald and blue "to match the ocean background," and asked the men to wear dark suits. The only ceremony decorations were the bouquet and boutonnière from Fleurish Floral Designs. "The florist was able to beautifully reflect our surroundings in my bouquet with an organic, whimsical bunch: roses, eucalyptus branches, orchids, ranunculus, dried hydrangeas, and assorted dried flowers," says Frances. "The rest of the décor was truly the flora and fauna that can only be found by the ocean—and to me, that's very iconically California." They decided against music, allowing the ocean waves to provide the background noise. "There is truly nothing more serene," says Frances.

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10 of 19

Edge of Greatness

cliffside wedding location over the water
Nelli Noel Photography

The cliffside location inspired the entire aesthetic of the day. "The main vision I went into this wedding with was a cliff!" says Frances. "I have a very minimalist style and wanted to pair that with a coastal setting. We knew we wanted it to be intimate, yet near a huge expanse of space by the ocean. One of my favorite photos is one where you can see the vast expanse of the scenery around us and how small we are; you can see our little group at the edge of the cliff and waves crashing against it, and it just makes me so happy. That photo is exactly what my vision for the wedding was."

11 of 19

Words of Love

Bride and groom exchanging vows
Nelli Noel Photography

Caleb Cole, a pastor at the couple's Sacramento house of worship Project Church, officiated the Christian ceremony. "Our belief is that marriage is a sacred act first shown to us through Christ's undying love for us," says Frances. "My sister and Neilson's sister read scriptures from 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 and Philippians 2:1-8. We went with traditional vows—I think it's really special how the traditional vows connect us with those before us who have said the same ones, like our parents and grandparents."

12 of 19

A Prayer for the Newlyweds

wedding ceremony by the water
Nelli Noel Photography

The ceremony also included a Native American tradition honoring Neilson's family heritage. "His dad brought tobacco to spread on the ground that we were married on, because in Native American culture, that is how you thank the Earth for serving you," says Frances. "We wanted simplicity, and for the attention to be on the beautiful act of commitment that we were making to each other. We just wanted to celebrate the uniqueness of our families joining together." As the pastor prayed over the couple, the rest of the family laid hands on the bride and groom. "It was such a beautiful, intimate moment," says Frances.

13 of 19

So in Love

bride and groom embracing
Nelli Noel Photography

As husband and wife, Frances and Neilson posed for post-ceremony portraits on the cliff's edge. "Having that time to ourselves to take in the beautiful views and the momentous occasion that had just occurred was so special," says Frances. "I think the ocean will forever make us remember our wedding no matter where in the world we are. Even now, living in Spain, when we go to the coast and sit by the ocean, we are taken back to the day we committed our lives to each other."

14 of 19

Dinner Al Fresco

long guest table with gold candles and floral centerpieces
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances had an equally simple vision for the reception: "An intimate, candlelit dinner with family, with toasts and tears, dancing and drinking, and a space that felt just the right size and complemented the cliffside ceremony," she says. A garden at Mission Ranch Carmel fit perfectly, as overhead string lights created a warm glow and lush landscaping carried the natural atmosphere of the cliff through to the second part of the day.

15 of 19

Going for Gold

table setting with place card and floral centerpiece
Nelli Noel Photography

Frances chose "a unique, whimsical table," with settings that included gold flatware and candlesticks, shimmering votives, and hand-calligraphed place cards. "For our wedding, I wanted timeless, organic beauty that wouldn't age with the passing trends," she says.

16 of 19

Just Desserts

two-tier cake with gold candle holders
Nelli Noel Photography

An understated, two-tier cake—vanilla with raspberry and almond buttercream—from Freedom Bakery was decorated with fresh flowers.

17 of 19

In Perfect Harmony

bride and groom first dance
Nelli Noel Photography

For their first dance, the couple chose "Beyond" by Leon Bridges—the same song they heard when Neilson first told Frances he loved her. "There's a line in it that says, 'I'm scared to death that this might be it, that this love is real, that the shoe might fit,' and to me that encapsulates everything that's so beautiful about love," says Frances. "We spend our whole lives searching for 'the one' and when we do, it' so scary to let go of our inhibitions and just enjoy every moment of it!"

18 of 19

To the Bride, to the Groom

groom giving speech at reception
Nelli Noel Photography

One of the couple's favorite parts of the day came after the meal, as they enjoyed the evening with their closest loved ones. "After we ate dinner, almost everyone at the table gave a toast," says Frances. "It felt so intimate and right. We loved getting to relish in all the stories and histories that lie between our families."

19 of 19


bride and groom by the water
Nelli Noel Photography

Photography, Nelli Noel Photography
Venue, Garrapata State Park, Big Sur, CA (ceremony); Mission Ranch Carmel (reception and catering)
Fleurish Floral Designs
Caleb Cole, Project Church
Ester Nersisyan Creative
Emily Reeves Calligraphy
Cake, Freedom Bakery
Rentals, Chic Event Rentals
Bride's gown,
Jenny Kim Couture
Bride's accessories, Veja shoes; Andrea Montgomery jewelry
Groom's suit,
Bill Walker Clothier
Groom's accessories,
Brooks Brothers shirt; Hermes tie

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