Hitched on a Hilltop


A North Carolina Family Elopement 

all professional photos by Candi Leonard Photography

The last of our 12-hour drive consisted of winding roads with rustic barns and plenty of October wind. The leaves were vibrant yellows, brilliant oranges,  and roasted reds. The hilly mountainsides cast a gorgeous shadow upon the cow ridden valleys. We were definitely not in Kansas  Miami anymore.


By Friday evening, our families had arrived. The craftsman style lodge we rented accommodated all 11 of us comfortably. After saying our hellos, we called it an early night to prepare for the wedding the next day.


screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-15-30-pmclp_0310I wasn’t nervous in the least. As a wedding planner, I was used to the hustle and bustle of wedding day, with strict timelines, giant wedding parties to keep track of, complicated décor … and I wanted none of the above. Which is precisely why we decided to do things differently. We hired Candi Leonard Photography, a husband and wife team, who really understood our vision. The only other “vendors” we had were Ali and Andrea, hair and makeup stylists, to primp me for the day. We used wooden benches from around the porch for the ceremony, and there were no bouquets or centerpieces or ceremony structures. The natural backdrop was all we needed. 


backyard wedding elopement


See what I mean? I woke up Saturday to the smell of my dad cooking bacon. Some of the family had gathered in the oversized kitchen off of the master bedroom I had slept alone in the night before. Warren and I had agreed to not see each other until the ceremony, and in a two story house with 11 people, it proved to be a little difficult. I often found myself shuffling from room to room while shouting, “Don’t come up the stairs, babe!” Of course, our dog had decided to stick by Warren’s side the entire morning, which didn’t surprise me in the least. 

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Our dads and brothers, who had never met previously, played Pool and chatted about sports until it was time for me to walk down the aisle. Now, that was the beauty of our private elopement. We had no timeline. We had no caterer needing to plate food or DJ waiting for his music cue. When asked when the “ceremony” would start, I shrugged and said, “whenever.” If it rained, we could push it back an hour. If the sun was due to set early, we could move it earlier. We had no where else to be but here, in the moment.

Andrea and Ali completed my hair and makeup with loose barrel curls and a golden natural glow.  I listened to Halloween music on Pandora and drank chocolate milk while getting ready. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

hair and makeup wedding

I was completely relaxed. Every so often, my mom would come in to check on me. My older brother, Kyle, provided a lot of laughs that made me relive our childhood. As “Irish twins”(born less than 12 months apart), we always had a special bond.

here we are writing “REDRUM” with fogged glass breath. #typical

Like Rapunzel, confined to the bedroom, I rushed to write my note to Warren since moments earlier, he had slipped his envelope under my door.clp_9948clp_0142



Everything about this wedding had a sentimental meaning attached to it. My wedding gown was custom made. The base of the white dress was a Ralph Lauren steal from Macy’s. A one-shoulder, spandex/rayon mix and the most comfortable material I’ve ever laid on my body! My mom had saved her wedding gown from 1987 but the shoulder pads just weren’t “2016”. I decided I’d find a way to somehow incorporate her dress. My mom’s train had enough lace to trim the edges of my cathedral length veil. With plenty of lace to spare, pieces were hand sewn on to the dress leg slit, and neck line. Skin-toned mesh created long sleeves finished with a lace border grazing my top knuckles. My ring shyly peaked through. 

My shoes were a $7 find (no, really!) with a comfortable 3 inch heel. The heel was covered with the lace of Warren’s grandmother’s dress that had lasted as long as her 60 year marriage (and going on more). When “Grandmama” Glenda saw the “something old” piece that I’d be “walking down the aisle” in, her eyes teared. She didn’t immediately recognize the fabric adorning the shoe. As the photographer captured her reaction, it finally hit her. She gave me a giant hug filled with deep appreciation.


At roughly 3:00 in the afternoon, our family made their way to the backyard. The sky was a radiant blue with the sun shining brightly. The 50 degree weather was chilly to my Florida blood, but it was the Fall weather we wanted. Warren walked with Rogue to “Marry Me” by Train. I knew that song was my cue to walk out the front door and start making my way to the stone stairs on the side of the house. It was the closest thing to my childhood staircase I had always wanted to walk down. 

At the top of the stairs, it hit me. My stomach got all fluttery and I could feel my body shaking. I took deep breaths, as I heard Piano Guys instrumental rendition of “A Thousand Years” begin to play. At the 3rd stone step, it happened. My veil got stuck! The tears in my eyes dried quickly while I silently mouthed, “one minute” and readjusted myself. I’m the world’s clumsiest person, so that was so “me” for it to happen. Meanwhile, I couldn’t have had a better reaction from my groom. 


screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-38-12-pmAnd the minute I saw the love of my life standing right there in front of me, I became a giddy school girl.screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-6-39-03-pm

Our dog, Rogue, was the ring bearer Best Pet. She got a special sparkly collar and pristine white leash for the occasion. As the gag reel for the entire ceremony, she promptly chewed through said leash and thought it was belly rub time when Warren went to detach the rings from her collar. 




Warren’s grandfather officiated the ceremony with Bible passages and some heartfelt marriage advice. 


In less than 10 minutes, we were husband and wife. 

first kiss bride and groom

After a few family photos, and some bride and groom portraits around the property, we changed into comfy clothes, and grilled some burgers!

burgers wedding



screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-7-02-42-pmWatching our families interact like they had known each other forever was such a neat experience. We made s’mores by the campfire and played Catchphrase, HeadsUp and Cards Against Humanity until past midnight. I have never seen my father-in-law laugh as hard as he did that night. Our brothers became quick friends, and our families shared moments that they otherwise never would have had. We couldn’t have asked for the day to go any better.


I know everyone says their wedding was perfect. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Not the fact that my veil got caught. Not even that Warren had a giant bruise on the side of his nose from Jiu Jistu!  I am so glad we decided to have a family elopement! I love being a wife , having a “new name” and getting to say “husband”.  But the thing I love most about being married is that every once in a while, during the most routine movement like drinking a water bottle or scratching his head, I see a ring on his finger. And I get butterflies every. single. time. 






Happy Planning!

(Mrs.) screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-8-58-25-pm

all professional photos courtesy of Candi Leonard Photography


I Do (x 2)

How To Have Your Dream Wedding without Settling

Just minutes after we publicly announced our engagement, we swarmed with questions from friends and family. “Have you set a date? Where will the wedding be?” Seeing as we’d been engaged less than 24 hours, I was immediately reminded of the many questions I had myself. “How many people should we invite? How long should we be engaged for? Where are we going to get married?!”

Being a wedding planner, I had the advantage (and disadvantage) of knowing the answers to most of the “standard” questions. I knew just about how much we’d be spending per person, and the typical price of each wedding vendor. But I was absolutely clueless about where we would have our wedding.

The ideas came into my head just as quickly as I dismissed them. Ever the realist, I found reasons that each location wouldn’t possibly work. We just had a magical engagement here in Savannah, one of our very favorite spots. So maybe we could get married here? But no, that would be too far for both our families. I was born and raised in a suburb outside of Chicago. The majority of my extended family was still there, so we could have the wedding there… but, no, that meant it’d be unlikely that Warren’s family and all our current friends, neighbors, and coworkers could make it. We could have the wedding locally in South Florida or maybe even Tampa, where we met. A local wedding did make sense. I could use vendors I trusted and had worked with numerous times before. A local wedding meant I could visit our venue multiple times for meetings. However, a local wedding would also mean sacrificing what we had both envisioned for our big day.

Warren and I had always agreed that our wedding would have a cool Fall breeze, with the leaves changing colors. There’s something so incredibly nostalgic about the transformation of leaves in Autumn and the smell of a dusk October bonfire. I had always pictured saying, “I do” in my childhood home backyard. I’d make my way down the front staircase that I had taken so many prom and homecoming pictures on.


Then I’d walk into the backyard where I had played Ghost in the Graveyard every summer night, made snowmen at Christmas, and marked my growth on an oak tree each year. I had it all worked out. Unfortunately, by the time I got engaged, my childhood home was no longer in the family, so I had to find something equally as perfect. No palm tree or sandy beach would be an adequate substitute for the crisp fall air or the Kentucky bluegrass that feels so soft on a bare foot.



We quickly concluded that what we wanted wasn’t going to be found in Florida. With a guest list approaching over 200, there were a lot of things to consider about planning a wedding in another state. The mere thought of trusting vendors I had never met sent me into a panic. Not being able to visit the venue at last minute didn’t appeal to me either. So here was this dilemma: do we have a wedding locally with the vendors I know and trust in a less than ideal location? OR do we have our dream Fall wedding in a different state without knowing a single vendor and never having visited the site?

I made a list of pros and cons. I slept on it. I searched online forums for advice. I really couldn’t decide which option was best. Exhausted, I threw my hands up and said, “why don’t we just elope?!” Now, realistically, this would never fly with our parents. Plus, we couldn’t imagine a wedding without our families. So with a Grinch-like smirk on my face, a light bulb lit up. A family elopement.

I was so excited to finally be getting married, I wanted to shout it from the mountaintop! So… I found myself a mountaintop.

We’d officially be married at a private estate in Waynesville, North Carolina.


And since our parents and brothers would be the only ones invited, we didn’t have to worry about guest travels and accommodations. Upon making this decision, we felt immensely at ease. We were going to get our dream wedding! Ideal outdoor location during the fall? Check. Family? Check.

Buuuuuut I didn’t want to forego a wedding party! (insert whiny voice) I still wanted a bouquet toss. I wanted to see old friends and family. I wanted to use the vendors I love. I wanted those traditional things. I was back at my original dilemma, because I couldn’t have both weddings… Or could I? The old saying goes, “it takes two”, and in our case, it takes two… weddings.

A month or so after our family elopement, we would have our “celebration” in Florida with all the vendors I trust, at a venue I could easily visit, and with a traditional bridal party and all the normal wedding events. The idea didn’t go over well with some people we told. Reactions ranged from, “so I’m not invited?” to “wait, you’re getting married twice?” I felt borderline offended when people belittled our decision. “Well an elopement isn’t a real wedding…” To me, the private ceremony in North Carolina was real. It was the one that meant the most to us. This was our ideal setting. Our favorite time of the year. A real dream come true to have my “backyard wedding”. How come no one could see that? At times, having friends and family laugh at the idea of “two weddings” made me doubt how great of an idea it really was. What in the world was I thinking, planning two weddings, my weddings… on top of the numerous client weddings I already had on my plate. Luckily, my fiancé was amazing. Through all the tears and panic attacks and doubts and sticker shock, he constantly reminded me that it wasn’t about everyone else or their opinions. All that mattered was us. US. We weren’t marrying anyone else but each other. 

10 months later, we started our drive to North Carolina.



The Classic Movie Romance

Years ago, engagement pictures were a half hour session full of prom-style poses in a local mall. With the expansion of social media and advanced technology evolution that includes digital picture frames, the photos we take and share are more elaborate than ever. More thought, effort, time, and money goes into pictures of ourselves and our family. From the hair and makeup, to the ideas that no one has done before, we want to be remembered. Valentine’s day studio sessions, quiceńera photos that rival a full production, and elaborate gender reveal parties. Call it vanity, or a desperate desire for physical memories of life events; photos are no longer candid polaroids. 

For a while, I didn’t think marriage was for me.  So when I finally met my real life prince charming, my entire stance on the celebrations of anniversaries and relationship milestones changed. I knew when it came time to have my engagement photos taken that I wanted something beyond the average studio session. I wanted something that truly represented us and our interests. With schedules that could not be more opposite, Warren and I rarely get time together. I wake up at the same time he’s getting home from work. When I’m getting home from meetings all day, he’s already left for the night. And the every-other-weekends we get together only happen if I’m event-free. Needless to say, “our” time is precious. When the universe finally aligns, we’re both beyond exhausted from long events or a stressful week, that all we really want to do is curl up on the couch, put in a frozen pizza, and watch a movie. That being said, yoga pants/gym shorts, and contacts out, are the normal “date night” attire.

I had seen viral photos circulating of couples who did their engagement photos while working out, or at their favorite pizza parlor. (Both things Warren and I absolutely love to do together), but I wanted something more. When our photographer, Martha, from Unique Design Studios asked us to come up with some ideas, I was forced to hone in on what really made us, us. “What do you like to do as a couple? What makes your relationship dynamic?”

Well… our date nights are mainly movie-driven. We were on to something.

Warren and I are old souls. We have that classic movie romance. What do I mean by that? It’s the chivalrous, timeless, no-eyes-for-anyone-else love seen in Casablanca-esque movies. And what makes it even better is that we actually love those classic films! I’d say one of the most unique elements of our relationship is the mutual admiration we have for old black & whites. Some of our favorites to watch together are Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ In The Rain, and It Happened One Night.

Sunset Boulevard 1950

Anyone who knows these movies is aware of some of the most iconic scenes and movie plots in cinema history.

Sunset Boulevard is the story of a washed out movie star longing for the cameras and red curtain once again, replaying old films to anyone who will watch. 

A runaway heiress and news reporter cross paths and the unlikely pair fall in love while breaking the law in It Happened One Night.

Now where could I find a setting that was stuck in time, where we could be transported back to the 1930s? A good friend suggested I check out the main street in Homestead, Florida. Upon some further photo research, I found that its downtown really looked like a scene from one of these films.

mr2_4906A portion of the street spanning no larger than a quarter block, housed an old theater. Originally opened on November 26, 1921, the Seminole Theater had been recently revamped without any formal grand opening. I contacted the appropriate managers and scheduled a time to see the building in person. As soon as I was taken into the main theater, my heart fluttered. It was perfect. The empty stage was adorned on each side with a seemingly never-ending red velvet curtain.

Since the theater hadn’t been used since its renovations, you could still smell the fresh velvet of the theater seating. 

Across from the original town hall just next door was a lonesome clock pole, which immediately made me think of a well known part in Singin’ In The Rain when the main character does a dance number while hanging from a street light.


I was sold on the location right then and there.

Not only did we find the quintessential 1930s town, but the movie theater itself held so much meaning to us with our shared love of watching films.

Without going too kitchy or overdone with the “classic” theme, I knew I wanted to modernize the timelessness of our love with a modern twist. But what should I wear for my engagement pictures? What colors look best? What style dress looked best for my body? I didn’t want the typical decade-appropriate bright red lips and long pearl necklace. With the help of my favorite website, Lulus.com, I risked an online purchase and ordered a gorgeous floor length, ¾ sleeve navy lace dress that I never tried on and accented with silver dangling earrings. GP Exclusives gave my normally limp, bone-straight hair some volume and to-live-for curls. Dressing up for our photos felt really nice, and also really different, since our norm is comfy clothes!

curls on curls on curls on curls

mr2_4432I told Martha we wanted to recreate versions of the iconic love scenes from our favorite films and, well, our photos speak for themselves…

“Singin’ in the r… sunlight!”


Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
“I proved once and for all that the limb is mightier than the thumb.”
“Why didn’t you take all your clothes off? You could have stopped forty cars.”                 “Well, ooh, I’ll remember that when we need forty cars.”

The black and white effect Martha edited with really added to our timeless look. Is it just me or does everyone look better in black and white? Haha.



So, when it comes time to take your engagement pictures, it might feel like a whirlwind. A list of questions like, “What do I wear? What are ways to make my picture unique? How should I do my hair?” and Pinterest searches of “best engagement shoot outfits” or “what to avoid wearing for engagement pictures”… my best advice to you would be to simply stay true to your relationship.

The End (and a nice end at that)

Happy Planning!


all photos courtesy of Unique Design Studios