It was almost 4 a.m. on Christmas morning when Carolina Aguilar's mother rushed into her bedroom, telling her daughter that Carolina's beloved old horse was stuck in his stall. She flew out of bed, not noticing that her boyfriend, Julian Dawes, was no longer asleep beside her, and rushed to the barn. There, she found her horse safely outside his stall, Julian beside him on one knee. "Some people think it's cruel to propose by first giving the girl a moderate heart attack," says Carolina, "but it was perfect and definitely caught me by surprise."
The couple, who met as freshmen at Duke, returned to the home, farm and that very barn for their Spanish and Latin American-inspired wedding on May 13, 2013. "It was a special place to get married for so many reasons," Carolina says. "Above all, it gave us the flexibility to create a really unique celebration!" Heidi Geldhauser of Our Labor of Love was there to capture every gorgeous detail of their colorful, creative day.
"Trying wedding dresses on was the most surprisingly enjoyable experience," says Carolina. "They're one of the few high-fashion items that actually looks better on real women than models!" After trying on nearly 50 dresses, the bride returned to the first gown she ever slipped on—a Douglas Hannant fit-and-flare dress with blue watercolor detail on its bodice and mermaid skirt.
Julian donned a classic black and white tuxedo by Ralph Lauren, securing his cuffs with Carolina's late grandfather's cufflinks. The couple's wedding bands, which fit together like puzzle pieces, are made from a ring that once belonged to Carolina's late grandmother.
Carolina's eight bridesmaids wore a mix of cinnamon-and-bush convertible dresses, which they tied and wrapped around themselves in the ways they felt most comfortable. "I preferred having a variety of looks over having them all look the same," explains Carolina.
The 'maids carried bouquets that mimicked the color palette of the blooms Carolina carried — pink peonies, peach garden roses, yellow ranunculus and silvery dusty miller — with a touch of succulents, too. Like their dresses, each was ever-so-slightly different.
The couple's flower girl (Carolina's cousin) chose her own outfit for her trip down the aisle. "Sophia is a girly-girl and loves purple," Carolina says, "so she rocked a fabulous purple dress and a crown of flowers."
Says Carolina of her Douglas Hannant, "I love how unusual it was. I'm looking for an equally non-traditional bride to buy it from me for her own wedding!" She paired the dress with her godmother's heirloom earrings and ring.
Carolina's father walked her down the grass aisle toward Julian, who waited beside a wall built from reclaimed wood planks. "I've always wanted to make a sculpture in the middle of an open field that is the door to nowhere," Carolina says. "We were lucky enough to be given a giant wall to get married in front of!"
The couple's floral designer, Elegance & Simplicity, marked the aisle with fresh garden roses, ranunculus, and peonies arranged in silver lanterns, set on top of wood stumps gathered by the bride after a tree on the farm was struck by lightning. Later, the budget-savvy couple used those same arrangements as centerpieces at the reception.
Carolina wrote the couple's ceremony, which was officiated by the couple's friend and included readings in both English and Spanish. "It talked about living life to the fullest and being brave and welcoming," she says.
Carolina and her family renovated the barn — staining the wooden floors, clearing out the loft, and covering the industrial parts with burlap — for the reception. "Eventually," Carolina says, "it looked like a real event space!" The couple mixed long banquet tables with round tables covered in vibrant orange linens "to go with our wacky Mexican napkins and gorgeous, diverse flowers," Carolina says.
The couple used Talavera tiles as the escort cards, then designed the menu art to match. Antique vases held a mix of bright roses, peonies, and ranunculus set between votive candles.
Honoring their Spanish and Latin-American theme, the menu featured salad topped with manchego cheese, three kinds of paella—and late-night churros!
Carolina and Julian didn't let the barn's stalls go to waste. Instead, using Craigslist and estate sale finds, they transformed them into lounge areas. "They were comfortable enough that a few people fell asleep in them later that night!" Carolina says. Two artist friends lent the couple paintings to decorate the walls, while the bride and groom hung Moroccan lanterns and laid down rugs and poufs to give the spaces an extra homey feel.
"Julian's idea for the cake was the most creative component of the wedding," says Carolina. He designed the red velvet cake to resemble the works of modern artist Donald Judd, whose stacks of rectangular prisms hang from the walls of contemporary museums around the world. "It came out so cool!" Carolina brags.
Fittingly, the couple's first dance was to "First Dance," a song by Oh Whitney, the couple's wedding band (that Julian used to play bass in!). "They customized the lyrics to tell our story," says Carolina. Later on in the evening, the couple and their guests got down to a mix of Cuban, funk, and Motown between the band's sets.
While the couple hasn't taken their honeymoon yet, they've settled comfortably into married life. "Even though we've been together for more than 10 years, it does feel different to be married," Carolina says. As for the wedding, "having almost all of the people that matter to us in the world in one place was really moving, and will never happen again. It's a cool feeling."
Ceremony & Reception Venue: The bride's family's home || Day-of Coordinator and Floral Design: Katie Martin and Chrishaun Jones of Elegance & Simplicity || Bride's Wedding Dress: Douglas Hannant, from Gabriella New York || Shoes: Call It Spring || Hair: Rania Hosn of Alliage Salon || Makeup: Alyson Cohen of Crystal Method || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Von Vonni || Groom's Suit: Ralph Lauren || Wedding Bands: Wholesale Diamond Consultants || Invitations: Designed by the groom || Music: Pilaseca, Oh Whitney || Catering & Cake: Designed and built by the groom, baked by Canapés Catering || Rentals: Grand Rental Events, Jay Nusbaum || Photography: Heidi Geldhauser of Our Labor of Love