There is nothing quite as exciting or fabulous as a surprise wedding. And this version crafted by Ashley Baber Weddings (in one month!) takes the ease of a fabulous dinner party and mixes in the best parts of a wedding – the love, the family, the ceremony – in such an intimate and unexpected way. The images by Harwell Photography speak volumes for just how magical this day must have been. See it all right here.
From The Bride… Earl and I knew each other in passing in college, but did not travel in the same social or academic circles. In fact, I distinctly recall having the impression that he didn’t seem to like me very much at all. Life found us in various different cities and coasts, but with one very dear friend in common with whom I traded texts every morning. She mentioned him in passing from time to time and I thought nothing of it well apart from believing he didn’t like me very much (he looked at me in a strange way!). And then one night I had a dream that Earl and I were together at an outdoor event and that he was my husband. Of course, I mentioned the dream in my morning text, as it seemed so completely bizarre. After all, I hadn’t seen or really thought about Earl in over 16 years, when we bumped into one another by chance on a crowded New York City street. Her response? “Weird. I’m on the phone with him right now. Will call in a few.” And with that, an idea germinated. She would later say that she didn’t know why she hadn’t thought of orchestrating the match sooner. It seems I misinterpreted the nature of those strange looks and after trading emails and telephone calls, he flew to Los Angeles for our first date. Before our second date, he told me he thought we should marry. Eight months later, we secretly married in a courthouse ceremony in Santa Barbara, California with my best friend and my father in attendance on what would have been my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary. Five days later, I moved to Atlanta to join Earl and begin our life together.
I’ve never been a wedding person, but having an actual wedding was important to Earl so we compromised, agreeing upon a short invitation list, a great dinner party and fabulous food and wine. As I began thinking through our wants and musthaves, it occurred to me that we might avoid some of the traditional wedding stressors, by planning a surprise wedding. Earl was game. We had settled on Quinones at Bacchanalia for our dinner venue and I had fallen in love with and ordered Monique Lhuillier’s Candy in blush prior to my move from Los Angeles. A friend connected me to the brilliant Tifany Wunschl of Gourmet Invitations who designed our invitations and related stationery. She is a master at drawing from you what you really want and integrating the competing tastes and styles of opinionated brides and grooms. We received countless compliments on our invitations, which matched the blush color of my dress and informed the color palette for the evening.
A dinner party/wedding for thirty should be an easy enough event to plan in a new city right? As it happens, not so much. A month before the event (yes, a month!) I engaged the unparalleled and unflappable Ashley Baber of Ashley Baber Weddings to coordinate our Engagement Dinner Surprise Wedding. She connected me to the remainder of my dream team of creatives, notably the incomparable Scoobie West for hair and makeup, the inspired Jeremy Harwell, for photography, Eva Behrendt who expertly designed our tablescapes and candlelit altar and Ed Wilson who partnered with us to craft and deliver a personalized marriage ceremony, perfect for us.
On March 16, 2013, we gathered in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard with our closest friends and family for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, enjoying the unexpectedly mild weather. At the appointed hour I slipped away to change into my wedding dress while our guests were welcomed into the dining room, then utterly transformed by Eva Behrendt’s team in mercury glass, candlelight, peonies and English roses. At each place setting, atop the menu card laid a program card, which began: Welcome to Tanya and Earl’s Engagement Dinner Surprise Wedding! (wording suggested by Tifany Wunschl – see! I told you she’s brilliant!). From our respective locations, Earl and I had the delicious thrill of listening to the emotional gasps of wonder and tears of joy as guests realized they were actually attending our wedding. The music began and we were married in candlelight in front of the people that we most loved amidst the sobs and raw emotion that surprise weddings evoke because no one is prepared – everyone is in the moment!
What followed was a glorious evening of exceptional food, wine, and first-rate yet unpretentious service by the acclaimed Quinones at Bacchanalia against the backdrop of a playlist of songs
we loved. There were so many highlights but our favorite moment was when our guests spontaneously began singing along to Larry Graham’s, One in a Million together. As each person realized that the others were singing as well, the singing grew louder. It was a beautiful, impromptu and unifying moment during which Earl and I knew that, with the help of a great team, we had achieved what we had hoped for – a seamlessly executed evening that was
elegant and warm without the stuffiness and false formality we abhor. A year later, I am typing this narrative with one hand because I’m holding our newborn in my other arm. Some dreams do come true…