I could put together an entire post gushing only about how spectacular this venue is… a beautiful race horse farm in rural Maryland with lush green pastures, picturesque views, and its own vineyard… I mean, wow. But you see, I would have barely scratched the surface of the story because this farm is home to this bride’s childhood and her family’s history (the little girl in me just melted). Brought to us by Brooke Courtney Photography and Bliss Weddings and Events, this elegant east-coast wedding is so gorgeous it will make your head spin. It’s also filled with tons of DIY details and nods to the couple’s friends and families. The result is a warm, intimate, incredibly personal event filled with the glow of one very in love boy and girl and you can see it all right here in the gallery.
From Bliss Weddings and Events… Michelle & Harry approached us to help them pull the details of their wedding day together. Despite being on a tight budget, the couple felt it important to include as many of their family and friends as possible without compromising their vision. So with some cost saving tips from us, Michelle’s creative intuition, and the help of family and friends, we all worked tirelessly to bring their vision to life.
Michelle & Harry met their freshman year at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA. It was a case of “opposites attract” for this beautiful country girl from Maryland and handsome city boy from New Jersey. After seven years together they knew they wanted to plan a wedding which was personal and meaningful, and would be a reflection of them as a couple. Since she was a little girl, Michelle had always dreamed of having her wedding on her family’s race horse farm. This 400 acre property with its sprawling hillsides, a working race track, and a vineyard would certainly be a breathtaking backdrop. The farm houses 3 generations of the bride’s family, including her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
In creating her personal touches, Michelle drew inspiration from her family, her friends and her farm. One of the couple’s favorite paintings is of a horse that won the Preakness in 1983 (and the cornerstone of the family business). This very painting, which hangs above the mantle in Michelle’s grandmother’s 18th century home, is depicted on their invitations and response card, and its theme is carried out through much of the décor. Carol St. John, the groom’s mother is a well established designer in NYC, and, with the help of her florist friend, Patti Pearce, designed all of the wedding flowers. Michelle’s bouquet was hand tied with lace from her late Aunt’s veil and her great grandmother’s locket. The guests’ tables, named after famous racehorses, were decorated with lush flowers in vintage vases and each place setting had a sprig of rosemary, a symbol of remembrance, in honor of those who could not be with them on this day. Michelle’s father, Kevin, hand crafted the ceremony seats and bar backboard from old barn wood. They decorated the bar backboard with jockey silks, plaques, awards and photos – a tribute to the family’s history and legacy in horse racing. All of the wooden signs, directing guests to the day’s activities, were specially designed by Kevin and the bride and groom.
The local neighbors took part in their wedding by transporting guests in hay wagons from the breeding shed at the base of the farm to the beautiful ceremony spot which overlooked the property. Following the ceremony, as the newlyweds recessed back down the aisle, guests tossed oats in place of traditional rice, to celebrate their union. The couple then boarded their private “Just Married” get away wagon pulled by the most beautiful Clydesdale horses. The celebration continued with delicious food served during cocktail hour including oysters straight from the Chincoteague Bay, local cheeses, produce, and homemade recipes. A traditional southern BBQ with pit beef, ham, turkey and all the sinful fixings were washed down with Makers Mark (a family favorite), and wine made right on the farm. Because of Michelle and Harry’s love of pie the dessert display included every kind of pie imaginable. The final touch was a 1 tier wedding cake, baked locally using Michelle’s great grandmother’s famous recipe.
Other meaningful details included silhouettes of Washington and Lee painted on the game of corn hole which paid homage to the couple’s alma mater, and a Bruce Springsteen biography book which the couple used as their guest book, paying tribute to New Jersey and their love of music. This book is displayed on the coffee table in the couple’s home and they love flipping through the pages to read love notes from guests bringing back memories of the day. Every detail of Michelle and Harry’s wedding had a purpose and was a true labor of love.
From Jeff of Brooke Courtney Photography… When I first spoke to Michelle before she booked our team, I knew her wedding was going to be special. On the tippy top of a beautiful horse farm was where they shared their I do’s. But before then, Michelle shared a very special first look with her father. It’s become a tradition now to have a first look between not only the bride and groom but also the bride and her father. And I love it. With that first look, both Michelle and Dad were at ease and ready to enjoy the day. Without a cloud in the sky, guests were taken by carriage up from the house to the hill. There aren’t enough words to explain how beautiful it was. As the sun set we took portraits upon that hill. It was perfect. We rode the carriage back with the sun setting behind us. Music, singing and laughing, all shared by great friends. During the reception, so much love was shared by each family, and their speeches were some of the most touching I’ve ever heard. Such a relaxing, beautiful day for a relaxing, beautiful wedding. Certainly one of Sam’s and my favorites from the 2012 season.
From the Bride… Our families and friends have spent wonderful times at the farm, and in fact, it was here that Harry proposed to me! For us, the farm is home and encompasses all things important to us…not only family, friends, horses and nature, but also good food, wine, and relaxed good old fashioned Southern fun.
The inspiration for the wedding was to have it be rustic to reflect the farm setting, comfortable and relaxed for guests to reflect Harry and I’s vision for the wedding as a bigger version of the many bonfire and band parties we have had there and at Washington and Lee with all our wonderful friends and family, and also incorporate the racehorse theme that is such a big part of my family and the farm. We wanted neutral colors as to not take away from the natural beauty of the farm but also to reflect the fall season with browns and burgundy and textures like straw, burlap, and wood.
Almost every detail of this wedding was DIY – my dad and mom worked tirelessly on the farm to prepare for the wedding. We did the flowers ourselves and the cocktail hour food as well as the desserts. It was a wonderful team effort, especially for 250+ guests. My dad and his best friend hand made the benches that the guests sat on when we got married. The wooden signs that my dad and I made for parking, directing guests and for ones showing the miles to some of our favorite places on earth.
I hand made our invitations with stamps and used a painting of our horse who won the Preakness as the front of the post card that served as a reply card. That same painting is on the wall in my grandparents’ house on the farm where we got ready for the wedding – it is also on my family’s bottles of wine made with grapes that are grown on the farm that were on each table.
Our signature drinks at the wedding were the “Uncle Chuck” a drink named after Harry’s Uncle that his family loves and “the Buck stops here” – a Maker’s Mark and ginger – my grandfather’s favorite drink, we named it after a plaque that he has on the front of his desk where Harry asked my dad permission to marry me.
Leading up to the wedding the weather was calling for lots of rain but much of our plans included outdoor activities – lawn games, hay wagons, and being married overlooking the farm. We didn’t want to use our backup plan so we took a chance and evoked an old southern tradition which says that the sun will shine on your wedding day if you bury a bottle of bourbon at the place where you are to be married. It worked! … Our wedding day could not have been more beautiful – full of sunshine, love, and laughter.
A few months before the wedding my cousin Ben passed away in an accident on the farm. He was only 20 years old and we grew up on the farm together, he was more of a brother than a cousin. He and his friends were going to play bluegrass for our wedding until he passed away. We had also decided to get married in the field where by coincidence his accident occurred. We decided to still have the ceremony there and asked the bluegrass band to play “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, one of Ben’s favorite songs as well as a theme song for our time at college in Virginia. We dedicated it to Ben.
From the bride + groom… Our favorite moments were getting into the wagon to go to the cocktail hour with our wedding party. We decided to share the ride with them on a wagon we outfitted with benches and beers on ice instead of our own wagon and it was so great. We drove through the farm drinking and laughing – my brother and Harry’s best friend playing the guitar as the sun was going down behind us. It was perfect.
Our entrance into the tent was maybe our favorite moment of the whole day – Our band first did the traditional call to post that every horse race starts with. They then led our parents and the wedding party in with a second line. It was amazing to watch our best friends and family dance their way into the tent in front of us. We made our way to the dance floor where many guests joined us and never left!
Photography: Brooke Courtney Photography / Ceremony + Reception Venue: Bonita Farm / Officiant: Pastor Barbara Stumpf / Event Planning + Coordination: Emilie Hilsenrath of Bliss Weddings and Events / Floral Design: Patti Pearce (friend of the family) of Flowers by Design and Carol St. John (Mother of the Groom) / Event Design : The Bride together with Bliss Weddings and Events / Invitations: DIY by the bride (Stamp from Antiquaria) / Event Rentals: Party Party Inc. / Catering: Beefalo Bobs / Band: Brother Josephus and the Love Revival Orchestra / Bluegrass Trio: Smooth Kentucky / Pies: Woodlea Bakery / Wedding Dress: Anne Barge via Lovely Bridal Shop, New York City / Shoes: Jimmy Choo / Hair + Makeup: Alison Harper & Co.