Carrie Merrill and Kyler Rowley’s love story is proof that home really is where the heart is. Though they both grew up in New Canaan, Connecticut—and even had friends who dated—they never got to know each other. However, their luck would change during a fateful outing to a bar in Geneva, New York in 2014. (Suffice to say, they’ve been each other’s little slices of home ever since.) Five years later, Kyler got down on one knee while the couple was hiking in Acadia National Park. With him? A celebratory bottle of champagne and an engagement ring by Brad and Vandy Reh, jewelers from New Canaan.
Though Carrie and Kyler share a hometown, they opted to get married at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande, Florida, which feels like a home away from home. The bride spent weekends there growing up with family. She shares, “We knew it would be the perfect place to get married, not only because it’s beautiful, but because the inn feels like home to everyone.”
Unlike most modern couples—who have had to postpone their nuptials due to the ongoing pandemic—Carrie and Kyler always had their wedding scheduled for April 10, 2021. “When we began planning, Covid-19 had only just begun,” the bride shares. “We sent out a two-sided save-the-date card to all 250 guests, with one side saying ‘a little something to look forward to…’ over a watercolor of three sandpipers running on the sand. We felt that this was a charming way to cheer up our friends and family who had been in lockdown for a few weeks at that point.”
Though the couple had to make some adjustments—notedly, whittling down their 250 guest list to 134—the event went off without a hitch. Keep reading for an intimate look at the special day, as planned by Camille Williams and photographed by Jacqui Cole.
Carrie and Kyler were inspired by the Gasparilla Inn’s rich history, and wanted to create an atmosphere with a sophisticated, yet, tropical spirit. “We told [our team] we wanted to stray away from just flowers; we wanted color, texture, and personality,” the bride explains. “We knew we didn’t want consistency and for each table to be its own oasis- and that’s exactly what happened!” The classic invitations from J. Papers laid the foundation for the elegant soiree.
Prior to the wedding day, the couple had a rehearsal dinner for their guests. Little did they know, the weekend would kick off with a sentimental surprise. “When my parents got married, my mother’s father gifted my dad a key to the house in Wisconsin that my family has been going to for generations,” the bride recalls. “On the night of our rehearsal dinner, my dad gifted Kyler the same key to the house.”
The bride stunned in a strapless, A-line dress by British designer Suzanne Neville, a decision that even surprised Carrie. “From the beginning, I said that I did not want a strapless dress,” she recalls. “I thought I had picked out another dress by a different designer, and the Suzanne Neville dress I ended up with was hanging up on the rack next to where my changing room was. My mom saw it and suggested I try it on to confirm that I did not want a strapless dress. As soon as I put it on, I knew I had to change my decision and get it! It was so comfortable and I loved that it had pockets.” Carrie accessorized her dress with baby blue mules by Jimmy Choo and Lisa Hall jewelry.
Carrie always knew she wanted her bridesmaids to wear ivory, as that’s what her mom did for her wedding. The bride selected versatile frocks from Reformation and gifted each of her friends something blue. “Lisa Hall, who designs jewelry with sea glass, replicated my earrings with blue sea glass for my sister, [who was the Maid of Honor],” she says. “She also made earrings with all different shades of blue sea glass with a drop pearl for my bridesmaids.”
The groom looked dapper in a black tuxedo, complete with a Guinea feather-clad bowtie from Brackish Brand. “Kyler always knew he wanted our wedding to be black tie so it was an easy decision to choose the tux for his friends to wear on the wedding day,” shares the bride.
“The easiest part of planning was deciding where to have the ceremony,” Carrie shares. “Right away, we knew that Banyan Street would not be beautiful and unique!” Tampa-based florist Botanica transformed the ceremony venue by mixing soft, organic foliage like smilax with bolder, architectural blooms like monstera and alocasia. “We used a mixture of white Hawaiian dendrobium orchids and white spray roses for a subtle floral detail,” the bride says.
Botanica offset Carrie’s classically chic wedding gown with a statement-making bouquet. “We chose a cascading design that again was a combination of romantic blooms paired with [more pronounced] foliages: fern, monstera, and magnolia were used with ranunculus and ruffled tulips, accented by cascading phalaenopsis orchids,” the bride notes.
The bride walked down the aisle to a string quartet rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” with her father in tow.
Mother Michelle Robertshaw of the St. Andrews Church in Boca Grande presided over the ceremony, where Carrie and Kyler exchanged vows and wedding bands by Brad and Vandy Reh.
The happy couple recessed down the aisle to a string quartet version of “You are the Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne.
Of course, the music did not stop there. “After the ceremony, we had a saxophonist lead us and all of our guests in a walking recessional from Banyan street to the cocktail tent,” Carrie shares. “We walked through the center of town while listening to him play!”
After the ceremony, the couple squeezed in a sweet photo-op. “Kyler and I are both very traditional and wanted to honor certain wedding day traditions during our weekend,” the bride shares. “I slept with my sister [on] Friday night, and made sure not to cross paths with Kyler all day before the ceremony. We wanted the first time we saw each other to be when I walked down the aisle with my dad.”
Guests, on the other hand, moseyed over to the reception at the Gasparilla Inn. The couple opted for a tent on the inn’s property, which offered ample room for guests to celebrate and social distance. “The tent itself had break-out dining rooms under arches, so that our parents and their friends were seated in what felt like private alcoves,” the bride says. “This allowed for them to hear the toasts and music clearly, while also giving them an opportunity to stay socially distant from others if they wanted to be!”
Inside the tent was a tropical oasis, complete with wicker lanterns, twinkling lights, and lush foliage. “Different from what’s typically seen in ‘tropical-inspired weddings,’ we wanted the look to have a more organic and ‘gathered’ feel,” Carrie shares.
“To emphasize the [preppy tropical theme], we wanted to use prints from the Audubon Society of Florida Birds and old prints of Palm Trees and Florida scenes to hang from the sides of our Sperry Tent,” the bride adds. “The team from Swag Décor created the prints so that the birds hung in the cocktail tent, and the palm trees were in the reception tent. They also used the Audubon bird prints to wrap around the bar during cocktail hour.”
The couple wanted to pepper in small doses of personality throughout their reception. And, what better way to do so than with an eye-catching tablescape? “We used a variety of fruits and vegetables to achieve this look with an assortment of organic blooms and foliages,” Carrie shares. “No two table designs were exactly the same to create a more unique feel.”
If a sprinkle of rain on a wedding day is a sign of good luck, then Carrie and Kyler were showered in positivity—literally. “It started to turn into a mini tropical storm right after our ceremony,” the bride shares. Fortunately, the reception’s well-appointed tent—and several umbrellas on-hand—kept everyone dry and smiling all night long.
After listening to touching speeches, the couple and their guests chowed down on dinner, catered by the Gasparilla Inn.
As for dessert? The couple choose a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and coconut shavings.
For the perfect personalized touch, the couple served a signature cocktail with their sweet treat. “We both love espresso martinis, and often Kyler gets caught making them for my friends and me when we host dinner parties,” the bride explains. “The Gasparilla Inn was amazing and their bartenders made 100 mini espresso martinis for our guests to enjoy while dancing under the tent, and the after party was starting!”
Speaking of dancing, the couple swayed to “Uncanny” by Hall and Oates. Kyler danced with his mother to Van Morrison’s “Days Like This,” while Carrie and her father opted for “Sweet Caroline.” The bride adds, “My dad is from Boston, so we had to!”
Naples-based band Powerhouse Next Generation kept the party going—and everyone on the dance floor—for the rest of the evening.
For Carrie and Kyler, it was the behind-the-scenes team that made the weekend special—offering a little slice of home that they can look back on for years to come. “Once the weekend ended, Kyler and I constantly heard from our friends and family how they were sad to leave the inn because they felt like they were home there,” the bride recalls. “They said everyone who worked there that they encountered greeted them like an old friend, and went out of the way to make sure all of our guests felt safe and comfortable. There is nothing more we could ask for than for our friends and family to have felt all of that.”