A Preppy Outdoor Wedding in Virginia's Horse Country

Real Weddings
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Photo: Katie Stoops

It was a car—specifically, a Nissan Skyline GT-R—that brought Merritt and Sean together. In 2005, Merritt, who had recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a mechanical-engineering degree, was working for an auto-parts manufacturer. "A friend of a friend put me in touch with a team racing Nissan Skyline GT-Rs, and they asked me to be their engineer," says Merritt, 30. She jumped at the chance—and clicked instantly with crew chief Sean Morris.

The pair began tinkering on engines together after work. Soon friendship blossomed into romance, and the Long Beach, California, couple became inseparable. "We just get each other," says Sean, 38. Which is why, when Sean proposed five years later on Christmas Day, he did it at Merritt's parents' estate in Upperville, Virginia. "It was very traditional," says Merritt. "He snuck out on a walk with my father to ask for permission." Popping the question there meant they could get a jump start on wedding-planning. "I'd always wanted to get married at home," says Merritt. "We immediately chose a color scheme that felt modern and echoed the look of the property—green, steel gray, and stone."

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Photo: Katie Stoops

With some speedy help from event planner Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events, the couple returned to her parents' home just six months later to wed in an outdoor ceremony. The bride wore a lace gown by Anne Bowen and bridesmaids wore dresses by Jenny Yoo. Rusty, the couple's dog, escorted Merritt's mother down the aisle wearing the same green tie the groomsmen wore.

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Photos: Katie Stoops

Arm in arm with her father, Merritt walked down the aisle holding a bouquet of roses, poppy and lotus pods, kale, and seeded eucalyptus: "The stems were wrapped in lace from my mother's wedding dress!" she says. The wedding-program fans were made to look like vintage motor-racing posters. The couple wed under an arch covered in greenery and white peonies and magnolias. Merritt and Sean both wrote their own vows: "They were traditional but modern," Merritt says. "We wanted the bond between a man and woman to feel equal."

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Photo: Katie Stoops

During the cocktail hour, guests nibbled on sweet-potato fries and mini crab cakes. "I loved the mini spinach, pine nut, and goat cheese pizzas!" says Merritt. The hour's beverage offerings included mojitos and Dom Pérignon.

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Photos: Katie Stoops

The couple's 140 guests took shuttles to a tent overlooking the property's pond. "My parents have had a few tented parties by their pond over the years," Merritt says. "I always thought it would make a great reception location. My dad added a deck, so people felt like they were floating above the water," she explains. Tables were named after auto racetracks and topped with blooms from California—the state where they live—and New Zealand, where Sean was born. Next on the itinerary: a dinner of bourbon-mustard chicken, hazelnut-encrusted sea bass, and beef tenderloin. Roses, hydrangeas, ivy, and hanging amaranthus were displayed in vessels made of car parts.

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Photos: Katie Stoops

The buttercream cake was covered in edible engine turbines. "The stand had engine pistons for legs," says Merritt. The chocolate-sponge groom's cake, shaped like a Nissan Skyline GT-R, was layered with chocolate ganache and brownie bits. "I didn't want to cut into it!" remembers Sean.

Expectations were high for the getaway ride, and the newlyweds didn't disappoint—they took off in a gleaming 1941 Cadillac, leaving before the party shut down to rest for their flight to Spain the next day. "It's so great being with someone who loves cars as much as I do," says Sean. Merritt adds, "The FIA GT1 and GT3 races in Navarra just happened to be the weekend after our wedding!"

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Photos: Katie Stoops

Photographer: Katie Stoops Photography || Stationery: Richie Letterpress & Design || Bride's Dress: Anne Bowen || Bride's Shoes: Something Bleu || Hair & Makeup: HF Middleburg Salon || Bridesmaid Dresses: Charvet, available at Jenny Yoo || Groom's Suit: Charvet, available at Haspel || Flowers: Lavender Green English Floral Design || Centerpiece Vessels & Cake Stands: Steven Shaver Designs || Event Planning: Bellwether Events || Ceremony Music: Haase String Quartet || Reception Music: The Fabulous Classics || Tents & Lighting: Skyline Tent Company || Lounge Furniture: AFR Event Furnishings || Lounge Furniture: DC Rental || Linens: La Tavola || Shuttles: Fleet Transportation || Horse & Carriage: Harmon's Carriages || Getaway Car: Prime Transportation || Reception Music: Retrospecticus || Ceremony Venue: Private home || Catering: Design Cuisine || Cake: Market Salamander

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