Today’s real wedding is set in the gorgeous historic Riverside on the Potomac in Virgina. Rachel & Dexter handcrafted everything about their special day – from the amazing alter decoration handmade by her father and ceremony decorations from her aunts, right down to the details of their unity ceremony led by a dear friend and uncle. Wanting it to be a truly family affair the details of this navy, blush and gold military wedding will blow you away. With friends & family playing such a pivotal part in this couples lives it must have been hard for Dexter knowing his best man would be deployed at the time of the wedding, luckily for him, Rachel had a surprise up her sleeve and as you can imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The whole wedding is handcrafted with love and captured with love by the fab Brett Denfeld Photography, who also happens to be the bride’s cousin!
My husband Dexter secretly planned a surprise on my birthday, February 5th, in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. 4 years earlier, we had our first weekend away together in Kitty Hawk where he asked me to be his girlfriend. Two years after that on New Year’s Eve, he told me he loved me at my parent’s house in Duck. With the help of his best friend (and best man) Mason, he created a story about Mason not being available for a weekend vacation he had booked and how he had decided to give it to us as my birthday present (fake text messages and all).
We drove down early the morning of my birthday and he begged me to go on a beach walk with him. With it being about 20 degrees, I was less than inclined but decided that I could manage for a short one. While we walked down the beach, my best friend and her two friends set themselves up on the dunes by the hotel. He had contacted her a few days before and she agreed to meet him down there to help. We walked down the beach a little ways and he recalled some of the best moments of our relationship. When we turned around to go back into the hotel he stopped me, hugged me, and I could feel his motion to someone. The entire drive down I had convinced myself that he wasn’t going to do it so I wouldn’t be disappointed so at this point I still wasn’t sure what was happening. He asked me to turn around and I saw my best friend and two people I didn’t know (they were friends of hers that offered to drive her) holding up a sign that said “Rachel, will you marry me?” I turned around and he said he saw what he can only describe as “insta-tears”. I, of course, said yes! Turns out he had been hiding the ring in a cooler in the trunk of his car for a month and I had no idea! We were engaged for about a year and a half before our wedding day.
There were a few things about our wedding day that we had decided were important before we even got engaged. We knew we wanted an outdoor ceremony, we wanted to get married on a historic property, and we knew we wanted to involve a lot of our friends and family. We always imagined getting married somewhere with a kind of history so as soon as we got engaged we started looking at places that had older houses or large country properties.
We had only gone to two other venues before we visited Riverside on the Potomac in Leesburg, Virginia and decided it was perfect. It had a beautiful, historic home built in the 18th century, a large barn reception area, and two ceremony spaces to choose from. It was large enough to accommodate our guests and beautiful enough to not have to fill it with so many decorations.
I had been planning my Pinterest wedding for a few years at this point and had decided we wanted to have a beautiful barn wedding without so much of the “rustic”. We just wanted everything to look put together and casual at the same time. Our colours were blush and navy blue with accents of gold. My mom and I planned the whole wedding down the last detail. In the end, I can’t really put a finger on what the theme of our wedding was, but it was just what we wanted. If I could describe our wedding in 3 words I would say it was romantic, rustic, and personal. I have a very large family and had always known our wedding was going to be large. We ended up having about 215 guests attend.
When we went looking for venues we really didn’t go in expecting anything. However, we quickly realized that there were some people who really cared about the people who were getting married at their location and some who really couldn’t have cared less. We toured two venues before we decided on ours and neither one of those places made us feel like we were very important to their business. The husband and wife who own our venue made us feel very welcome and answered all of our questions. They personally toured around with us, pulled out pictures for us to look at, and explained in great detail what they could offer to us. I think regardless of if we looked anywhere else we would have chosen them because they made us feel really valued as customers. It only helped that the venue was unbelievably beautiful and suited all our needs. We knew that we wanted to have our ceremony and reception in the same place in order to make things easier for guests. Our venue made all of that really easy. They had two different ceremony spaces for us to choose from; a garden ceremony with an abundance of flowers or a patio that overlooked a pond out towards the Potomac River with a large, live oak providing shade. After the ceremony, guests were directed to the cocktail space they had below the barn. It was a converted stable and breezeway that had antique style lighting and all the horse stalls had been converted to private seating areas. The reception space was the upstairs barn that had custom lighting, Amish made shutters, large sliding doors, a vaulted ceiling, and a private catering area. It was essentially a blank space that we could make into anything we wanted.
Because we shared a lot of our wedding details on Facebook, we decided that we didn’t want to send save the dates. I also couldn’t really wrap my mind around spending a whole bunch of money on an invitation suite. In the end, my husband and I chose a really beautiful design from the website Minted. It had really beautiful typography font, pink peony flowers, and gold accents on a navy background. I ended up doing our RSVPs online through The Knot because it was easier to keep track of things digitally. I printed out cards to put in the invitations explaining how and where to RSVP. Only a few people experienced issues with the website and I just ended up submitting their RSVPs for them.
My dad recently purchased an antique Chevrolet pickup truck in baby blue. It’s his dream truck and he treats it like his baby. We joked for a while about having it as a getaway car, but we ended up coming up with the idea of my dad and I driving down in the truck to the ceremony and having it be my something blue. Both of my godfathers drove in the cab of the truck and kind of gave me away too. My dad and I rode on the tailgate together sitting on a quilt handmade by my other grandmother who was unable to attend. It was a really special moment for my dad and I. It was one thing I had never seen before and the truck made a really nice backdrop for our grand exit. It also looked really lovely next to the antique cars that our vendors also had parked around the property.
I had been working on growing my hair out for the wedding and had really long, blonde hair. I loved it down and curly so I found a style that pulled some of my hair back into a braid and my headpiece was worn kind of like a headband. The rest of it was long and wavy. I wanted it to look really romantic without looking too formal.
I really wanted my accessories to make a statement but to not be too overwhelming or excessive. I chose a really gorgeous belt from BHLDN that matched the ivory in my corset. It was a really gorgeous crystal design in the middle. Because the belt was such a statement, I tried to downplay my jewellery on my neck and ears. I went with a simple necklace from Chloe and Isabel and some crystal earrings (that were on sale, SCORE!) from J. Crew. I ordered a crystal headpiece from a seller on Etsy and was large, marquise style crystals. I had a hard time finding what I wanted. Most of the headpieces I found were really delicate and dainty. I wanted something a little bit bigger that wasn’t going to get lost in my hair. I searched endlessly for the perfect hairpiece and I was floored when I found this one from Floral Jewellery in my price range and exactly what I wanted! I wasn’t going to wear a veil, but my mom kept hinting about it so I ordered a really simple veil from a seller on Etsy as well.
I ended up only going shopping once for wedding dresses and found my dress after trying on only 6 dresses. We went to BHLDN in Georgetown, Virginia because they carried some really romantic style dresses that I wanted to try on. I really had my heart set on a particular design by Watters Wtoo but it ended up being not something that I wanted. However, because the corset and skirt were from a collection of separates I was able to try the same corset on with a different skirt and completely fell in love. It was just enough princess without feeling like a cupcake and it was flowy and romantic. I loved my dress so much. I was nervous that my husband wasn’t going to like it because he’s very into traditional dresses but he was completely in love with it as well. My favourite part was that because it was separates, it was really light. The skirt was mostly made of tulle and didn’t weigh that much and the corset sucked me in and gave me a nice figure. It was sad to take it off at the end of the night.
Groom and his Men
My husband had intended on having most of our groomsmen in their military dress uniforms, but we had a few of them who were unable to attend due to their military obligations. I had no real preference for the suits so he organized everything with his groomsmen. They rented some really nice suits from a website called Generation Tux that custom sized everything and sent them a few weeks before the wedding. He picked everything out and they looked really awesome!
With my husband being in the military, it was really important to have all the servicemen in the wedding party in uniform. I had thought about choosing a specific colour and having the bridesmaids choose their own dress, but I was worried it wouldn’t look very cohesive with that many things going on. By some act of God, we found a dress that looked amazing on everyone! I really wanted long dresses that didn’t look too formal. We found a v-neck, flowy dress that looked effortless and beautiful on everyone. It had a really flattering waist design that made everyone look amazing.
I didn’t want to do flannel shirts or bridesmaid robes for the big day, but I really loved the idea of having a flowy shirt the girls could wear again. I ordered some awesome piko tops from an etsy shop called Shikico and she custom monogrammed all of them for myself and the girls! I still wear mine all the time.
It was really important to me to have amazing florals for myself and the bridesmaids. We decided not to do boutonnieres for the groomsmen because the men in uniform wouldn’t be able to wear them, but our fathers and my grandfather wore one. Our mothers and my grandmother wore wrist corsages. I wanted the flowers to look really elegant and free flowing. I wanted the bridesmaids bouquets to look really seamless with their dresses so I chose white hydrangea and baby’s breath with accents of silver dollar eucalyptus to add a little bit of dimension. I wanted my bouquet to look like it was plucked out of the garden. It had huge pink peonies and roses, dahlias, and I pulled in some navy blue with panda anemones. It had greenery and eucalyptus draping all over. It had really gorgeous ribbons cascading off of it. It was everything I wanted.
Our reception and ceremony florals were not really a priority for me. My aunt is a really amazing craft person and she, along with one of my other aunts, put together some amazing floral arrangements. We ordered bulk flowers from Whole Blossoms and they put together everything. I ordered some things that I wanted and they put together professional looking table arrangements. We had tin buckets that I had embellished with lace down the aisle filled with baby’s breath. My aunt had made amazing faux floral baskets to hang on the custom door altar that my dad had put together. They looked amazing and realistic, you honestly can’t even tell that they’re artificial.
We wanted the whole day to feel like everyone was coming together as a family. We opted to hire 8 ft wooden farm tables for seating and wanted to promote sharing and conversation between people. We had a plated salad service but dinner was a “family style” meal where people passed plates around. We really liked that people could get whatever they wanted and how much they wanted, but we didn’t have the hassle of trying to get 200+ people through a buffet line.
About halfway through the planning process, we decided that it just wasn’t worth it to order a huge fancy wedding cake when what we really wanted was a cake from a local bakery, Victoria’s Cakery in Fairfax, Virginia. I found myself comparing all the cakes to my favourite cake, aptly named “Heaven”, and since my husband didn’t care where it came from he let me choose. We ended up getting 3 different size cakes that my day of coordinator decorated with leftover florals. The cake that we ended up cutting had a really cute cake topper that I had custom made from a shop on Etsy called Alishas Clay Studio. It had little “duke dogs” on top that represented our college mascot. They were just plain white, buttercream cakes and we had different decorations on top. We wanted our “fancy” cake to be buttercream iced anyway so it just made sense to get exactly what we wanted for half the price of what a baker was going to charge us for a wedding cake. We probably could have done a better job of announcing the desserts as I’m pretty sure less than half of the cake and the other desserts got eaten… But we did have our personal cake that we took home with us!
We didn’t have any outside entertainment for our wedding, but we did have an amazing DJ, Mark Maskell. He served as our MC for the evening, made a personal mix of music per our requests, and really kept the party going. He was amazing and the most reasonably priced DJ in the DC area. He brought all of his own equipment for the ceremony, cocktail hour, reception, and he even provided mics for our musicians at the ceremony space and a projector and screen for the surprise video.
My favourite part of our wedding was the fact that we involved so many of our friends and family in the ceremony. Our friend got a certificate to marry us and my uncle assisted her with the ceremony. My husband’s best friend sang for us with my uncle accompanying her on the guitar. My nieces were my flower girl and Jr. bridesmaid. My nephew and our friend’s son were our ring bearers. We also designed our own unity ceremony. We knew we wanted something more personal to us then lighting a candle or pouring sand together. We liked the idea of having our friends tie ribbons around our hands, kind of like a Celtic knot tying ceremony, but we wanted the ribbons to represent certain things. We used the 7 Army values, plus love, and chose people from our lives that represented those values and taught us how to embody them in our lives. It was really special to be able to spend a short moment with all the people during our ceremony. We were so glad to include them because they were so special to us.
In the months leading up to the wedding, my husband had a really hard time because some of the most important people in his life were unable to attend. His best man was called on a year-long deployment with the Navy and would be overseas during the wedding and his little brother would be on a tour with the Coast Guard. He was absolutely devastated that they would not be able to share the day with us. As soon as I found out his best man was going to be unable to attend, I asked if he would be willing to record a video speech that I could show at the wedding. We planned for about a year and a few weeks before the wedding he sent it to me. No one knew about it except my mom, myself, and our DJ who would bring the equipment with him. After everyone had made their speeches, I stood up and took the microphone. I explained to the crowd that there were some people really special to us that wouldn’t be able to make it and revealed to him that his best friend had recorded something special for him. I will never forget the look on his face and the tears of bittersweet happiness that he had. It meant so much to me to be able to make our wedding feel a little bit more like his. We were really lucky to also be able to talk to his brother that evening via satellite phone. I know that he would have loved for them to be there, but it was really special to be able to surprise him, his friend’s parents, and the rest of our guests. There was not a dry eye in the house!
Booking our photographer was easy. My cousin, Brett Denfeld, is the owner of Brett Denfeld Photography. She’s taken photos of our family for years, took my senior photos and my sisters, and photographed countless weddings. I was afraid that she wasn’t going to want to do them because I wanted her to be a guest as well. However, it ended up being so wonderful having her there all day with me. Dex and I were so comfortable with her photographing us and all of our reactions were so genuine because we could just be ourselves. Besides just loving her in general, her photos are unbelievable and sometimes I still can’t believe she actually took some of the shots she did. We ended up booking one of the packages she suggested that comes with a second shooter so when the ceremony was over, Brett joined the party and her second shooter Bethanne, from Bethanne Arthur Photography, took over as lead. We eventually had her join the party as well. Shooting groomsman photos with Bethanne was actually one of Dexter’s favourite parts of the day. He and his friends had so much fun with her because she was willing to do whatever they wanted and took so many genuine photos of him and his friends just interacting with each other. None of our photos felt forced or posed because they were just us.
I searched a lot on various websites for videographers because I knew I really wanted the footage and a really cute highlight video, and I found a really great company out of Culpeper, Virginia called NuGen Media. They had really great representatives meet us at the hotel and they just kind of followed us around all day. They were really friendly and personable and didn’t get in our faces with cameras, which was really important to me. They were amazing and even gave us a military discount!
Bride To Bride
I am a huge advocate for wedding organization, especially if you’re a DIY bride like I was. My mom and I planned everything and I was really diligent about making sure that everyone knew what was going on and I had explicit ideas and instructions for everything. My other advice is to make sure you had a really great team to take care of you on the day of your wedding. Our day of coordinator and catering team were fantastic and took care of so many things for us. Having everything explicitly laid out for my planner to follow and making sure that we were both on the same page made all the difference. I didn’t have to worry about anything the day of because I knew that she knew what I wanted and was going to take care of anything. Don’t be afraid to reach out for more help!
My advice for any bride is to be very organized with all of your details leading up to the wedding but on the day of just go with whatever happens. My husband and I were stress-free on our wedding day because we knew that we had done everything we could up to that point and someone else would take care of it. We definitely had moments of our wedding weekend that were not according to plan. However, the day of the wedding is not the time to worry about it. We had an amazing time at our wedding because we just enjoyed each other, our friends, and our family. It really was the most perfect day and I wish I could relive it over and over!
Venue: Riverside on the Potomac
Stationery: Minted & The Knot
Dress Designer: Watters Wtoo ♥ Dress Shop: BHLDN
Hair: Pins and Brushes by Carly Fisher ♥ Makeup: The Highlight Makeup Artistry
Accessories: Chloe and Isabel // J.Crew // Floral Jewellery // Shikico
Groomsmen Outfits: Generation Tux
Bridesmaid Dresses: Bill Levkoff from Rosalin’s Bridal
Florist: J.Morris Flowers ♥ Wholesale Flowers: Whole Blossoms
Catering & Day of Coordinating: Savoir Fare Limited
Cake: Victoria’s Cakery ♥ Entertainment: DJ Maskell
Table Hire: Barnes Handcrafted Farmhouse Tables