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A Modern Garden Wedding at the Swan House in Atlanta

by Staff

A summer leadership camp brought Sarah and Donovan together in July 2018, when Sarah was a high school junior and Donovan was a high school senior in Atlanta. The two hit it off right away and when they realized they were from the same area, Donovan offered to tutor Sarah. The high school sweethearts continued to date at college and long distance for a while before moving in together in New York City.

In 2020, the couple moved back to Atlanta together and planned a Colorado ski trip with Sarah’s family. When Sarah and Donovan had to head to the airport earlier than everyone else, he suggested they take the scenic route to see the Breckenridge overlook. “We got out of the car to take a quick selfie with the view and suddenly he got very quiet and stalled getting back in the car,” Sarah remembers, “By the time I processed what was happening, I looked across the way to see my sister Carol rolling down a snowy hill in the background.” Carol had been hiding to take some pictures and took a fall in the process. “Needless to say the pictures of the actual proposal were not great but the memory is just perfect,” Sarah says.

Atlanta is where the couple met and call “home.” So, it was an easy decision to host their wedding there. Looking for a venue that would allow for an outdoor ceremony and an elevated ballroom reception, the couple invited 155 guests to the Swan House for their ceremony and the Grand Overlook Ballroom for their reception at the Atlanta History Center on May 20, 2022.

“The old-world charm of the mansion and lush greenery of the grounds really resonated with the timeless-yet-modern event we knew we wanted to host,” the bride says, “We could envision family photos on the column side of the Swan House and intimate moments in the gardens. It was dreamy!”

The couple admits that the planning process was overwhelming at first, but teaming up with planner Kristine from Simply Charming Socials helped them pull off a modern yet timeless wedding with a black, white, and green color scheme (as a play on the couple’s new last name!). Scroll on to see how the couple personalized their wedding day, photographed by Eve Yarbrough.

Sarah and Donovan went with a traditional invitation suite featuring gray lettering on white cardstock. The gray envelope liners featured a custom illustration of the fountain and staircase at the couple’s ceremony venue. Sarah and Donovan gave guests matchboxes with a custom illustration of their one-year-old dog, Attie, as their wedding favors. The wedding party also received custom koozies with the same illustration.

Sarah originally bought an all-lace strapless gown with a plunging sweetheart neckline, but after sleeping on it, she realized that her wedding dress was meant to be something more simple with clean lines. She decided to bring her mom and sister for a second round of dress shopping, and she fell in love with an ivory fit to flare Allison Webb gown with a crescent neckline. Sarah customized the gown with removable off-the-shoulder straps, buttons down the back, and a removable bow. She removed the straps and added the bow to the top of the bustle for the reception. “I didn’t want to take it off!” Sarah says, “I felt like the most beautiful version of myself in the dress, and not that the dress was ‘wearing me.’”

Before the big day, Sarah went to Skin Pharm in Atlanta for facials that would even out her skin’s texture and tone, and she worked with Jennifer C. Nieman for her rehearsal dinner and wedding beauty looks. She went with a warm glowy makeup look and a low bun up-do. “I have very thin, curly hair which does not play well on a hot, humid Atlanta day,” she says, “I wanted a low-maintenance style that would frame and flatter my face and keep with the modern yet traditional vibe, but also something I didn’t have to worry about adjusting all day.”

Sarah accessorized her wedding day look with Loeffler Randall pleated bow heels and a family heirloom veil (she was the sixth family member to wear it!). For her jewelry, the bride wore a necklace made from her parents’ engagement ring, earrings borrowed from her maternal grandmother, and a gold ring that belonged to her paternal grandmother with birthstones for her four children embedded in it.

Donovan wore a black tuxedo from The Black Tux paired with a white shirt with black buttons and a black paisley bow tie from The Tie Bar. On the wedding day, Sarah gifted him custom cufflinks engraved with “Forever and Always” in her handwriting. Donovan finished his look with his grandfather’s watch and a gold chain necklace.

Sarah and Donovan shared a first look because they wanted to maximize time with their guests and have a moment to exchange vows privately. “For us, that was a perfect combination of exchanging personal messages in private and formally affirming our love and commitment to one another in front of all our family and friends,” Sarah says. The couple wrote individual vows and read them to each other during their first look and were joined by their Border Aussie puppy, Attie, for a photo op before the ceremony.

Sarah’s maid of honor and bridesmaids wore black tea length dresses. “I love a little black dress and really liked the idea of a monochromatic bridal party, so I knew from the start that the bridesmaid dresses would be black,” she says, “I think it really fit the ‘modern traditional’ aesthetic of our wedding.” They purchased dresses from Fame and Partners so that each bridesmaid could customize their dress in the same black fabric.

The bridesmaids held smaller versions of the bridal bouquet, but Sarah’s bouquet featured Lily of the Valley, her mom’s (and great grandmother’s) favorite flower. Her mom held a petite posey of Lily of the Valley as well during the ceremony. “We were the only two with that flower incorporated which was a sentimental touch for both of us,” the bride says.

Donovan’s seven groomsmen wore classic black tuxedos for a cohesive look. They paired them with black bow ties and simple white boutonnieres featuring ranunculus.

The couple’s ceremony took place at Atlanta History Center’s Swan House, where a fountain framed by two grand staircases served as the focal point. Translucent ghost chairs were set up on the lawn, and an organic open arch made of baby’s breath framed the couple. 

Sarah had the unique experience of watching guests arrive and the ceremony begin. “My favorite part of the whole day was the 15 minutes I was ‘hidden’ in the Swan House with just my dad and had the perfect vantage to watch the full procession from inside the mansion through the front windows,” she says, “It was such a beautiful and surreal moment to literally see it all come together and share that experience with my dad.” After the bridal party processed down the lawn to a string trio playing “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, Sarah and her father walked down the grand staircase to Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”. 

Sarah’s cousin Amanda officiated their ceremony, and since it ended up being over 90 degrees on the day, the couple asked her to keep it short and sweet, focusing on stories and verses that spoke to their 14-year love story. As the couple recessed down the aisle to “You Are The Best Thing,” guests tossed flower petals in the air.

Immediately following the ceremony, Sarah and Donovan grabbed an espresso martini (their signature cocktail) and spent some time with photographer Eve Yarbrough taking portraits around the venue. When the couple selected the location, they understood that they had never allowed photos inside the Swan House. On the wedding day, a venue representative informed them that they had just updated the policy to allow photos inside the mansion, so they were able to be the first couple to take photos there. “We had no idea this was in the works so it was such a sweet surprise,” Sarah says, “I could tell our photographer, who has worked numerous weddings at the Swan House, was super excited as well which made it even more special.”

From the beginning of planning, we were excited to extend this love language to our guests.

Guests found their escort cards on a black display unit that featured framed photos of Sarah’s family members wearing the heirloom veil at their own weddings, and a write-up about the history of the veil. Sarah and Donovan claim that coffee is their love language, so it was only natural for them to have a coffee cart at their reception. “Donovan has been waking me up with freshly brewed coffee or a recently procured latte every morning in a true labor of love,” the bride says. “Espresso martinis are our favorite post-dinner treat and always a sign of good night, so from the beginning of planning, we were excited to extend this love language to our guests as well!”

The couple’s reception took place in the Grand Overlook Ballroom, where the head table held a floating installation of baby’s breath above it. All-white bud vases and black taper candles lined the ivory table runner. Round tables were topped with linens in grayscale tones, with tall baby’s breath centerpieces arranged on acrylic flower stands.

“From moody dark reception chairs to a comfy contemporary lounge, the entire reception was grand, but still felt intimate and stylish,” Sarah says. They served a plated dinner inspired by their favorite meal, surf and turf, including a peppercorn-crusted beef filet with sautéed shrimp, wilted spinach, and herb-roasted fingerling potatoes. “We both love to cook and dance, so our goal for the reception was for it to feel like an intimate dinner party followed by an epic dance party,” says the bride.

Sarah and Donovan shared their first dance to the acoustic version of Sam Smith’s “Latch.” They took a few ballroom dance classes together before the wedding, but at the reception, they decided to simplify the routine with the steps they are most comfortable with. “It was fun learning different dances together leading up to the wedding, but I’m glad we simplified the steps for our first dance so we could both live in the moment and not be stressed about executing a routine,” says Sarah.

The bride shared a dance with her father to Banks’ “NEEDTOBREATHE” and Donovan danced with his mom to Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” The couple hired a DJ along with a live saxophonist and bongo percussionist for the reception. “Both Donovan and I spent the majority of the evening on the dance floor with family and friends,” Sarah says. “We even got on stage to play the bongos for a song or two!”

The couple’s classic three-tiered wedding cake featured vanilla, red velvet, and chocolate cake with white buttercream frosting and a silk bow embellishment. 

At the end of the evening, guests lined the staircase and blew bubbles as Sarah and Donovan exited the reception. When the pandemic hit, Sarah and Donovan made the decision to move from New York City back to Georgia to be closer to family. They decided to rent a beach house for a month and borrowed Sarah’s dad’s Jeep while they were there. “We had the best memories driving to and from the beach daily in the jeep with the top down and the trunk filled with beach supplies,” Sarah recalls. When her dad offered the Jeep as their getaway car at the wedding, the pair loved the idea. “It was the perfect way to end our night: climbing into the jeep with the top down and poking our heads out the top to wave goodbye to all our family and friends!”

Sarah and Donovan later took a well-deserved break from wedding planning at their honeymoon in Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. To couples taking on the wedding planning process, the couple says, “Try to stop worrying about making the ‘right’ or the ‘best’ choices, and focus on really highlighting the aspects of the day that you are most excited about!”

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