Although Caren Beck and Michael Thompson attended Washington and Lee University together, where they had overlapping class schedules and friends, their first "official" meeting wasn't until their last semester of college in February 2009. They immediately started dating and, just five years later, on December 23, 2013, Mike took Caren to their favorite spot overlooking Windansea Beach near their home in San Diego. "We had family in town for the holiday and he had asked me to help him run some errands for a beach party we were having that night," she says. "We were listening to Christmas music when I noticed a box-shaped objecting protruding from the pocket of Mike's jeans. My heart stopped and leapt for joy all at once." He got down on one knee with the waves breaking around him and asked Caren to be his wife.
It took the couple three stressful months to find the perfect venue for their March 14, 2015, wedding. "We were open to having the wedding anywhere in Southern California, so we cast a wide net and looked for properties and event spaces that fit our criteria," Caren says. On their must-have list: A spot that could accommodate the ceremony and reception as well as a weekend of activities. Another necessity was space for out of town guests to stay. They found Sparrows Lodge, a Palm Springs venue that had only been operating for six months, that offered flexibility but still felt more unique than the typical hotel ballroom. With the help of wedding planner Constance Curtis, Caren and Mike planned an intimate, personal, and colorful desert celebration and invited 83 of their closest friends and family to enjoy the weekend with them. Keep reading to see all the poppy details, as captured by Chloe Moore Photography.
Just eight short months before their wedding date, Caren and Mike learned their venue had been sold to new owners. "Thankfully our contract was still valid and the new owners turned out to be wonderful people," the bride says. But there were potential changes to the lodge that could have thrown off all of their plans. "At one point we were considering staging the ceremony under a tree in the back of the property until our planner learned the owners were considering painting the trunk with red and white stripes a la Dr. Suess. They ended up changing their minds, but it was a reminder that our wedding, which was leaning so heavily on the aesthetic of the hotel, was the mercy of their design choices." In the end, though, Caren and Mike were nothing short of thrilled with the upgrades the new management made to the spaces.
As soon as the couple got engaged, Caren and Mike decided they wanted a weekend filled with activities, not just one night of revelry. "With so many out of towns guests, we wanted to make the most of having all of our closest family and friends in one place," the bride says. Since most of the weekend would be spent in casual attire (or otherwise lounging by the pool!), the bride and groom decided to elevate the wedding night with a black-tie dress code.
The couple sent guests a colorful save-the-date created by Momental Designs, which gave a hint of the unique color palette to come. Then, everyone received the couple's white and peach invitation suite designed by Copper Willow. The bride and groom designed the custom crest, which was their visual representation of themselves as a pair. It included a seismic imaging rendering (a nod to the groom's profession as a geologist), a fire icon for passion, the California state bear, and an abstract dandelion (Mike's nickname for Caren). Within the tri-fold card, guests learned of the welcome party on Thursday, margarita-fueled pool party on Friday, and the formal wedding on Saturday.
Caren says the best advice she got before wedding dress shopping was that the gown she chose shouldn't feel like a costume. "For me that clicked and I began shopping for a dress to wear on my wedding day rather than shopping for a wedding dress," she says. Although she tried on upwards of 25 gorgeous gowns, the ultimately purchased the first one she put on: A strapless faille mermaid wedding dress from Vera Wang, complete with a double bow back detail and floral beaded embroidery.
She paired the figure-hugging silhouette with Valentino pumps and earrings and a cuff from Alexis Bittar. Just before she walked down the aisle, Caren's father gave her one last accessory to finish off her bridal look. "When I was a little girl my dad gave me a necklace with an inch of tiny pearls for my birthday. Every birthday he had another inch added to the necklace until it was a fully graduated pearl necklace. Before walking me down the aisle he presented me with the pearls and I wore them to get married."
One of the earliest decisions the bride made was choosing her bridesmaids' dresses. Since she wanted her attendants to wear something stunning (and that they actually liked!), Caren started her search by looking at gowns from her favorite retailers. She loved the geometric pattern, bright colors, and keyhole back on these Mara Hoffman dresses and knew they'd be the perfect complement to the couple's desert wedding. And the quick decision paid off — the hues in the bridesmaids' dresses ended up influencing the décor and color palette for the entire party.
Caren initially wanted punchy bougainvillea in her bouquet, but her florist wisely advised against it. "It looks so good in the desert, but it doesn't hold up well in a bouquet," the bride says. Instead, she toted a mix of pink blooms including garden roses, ranunculus, ferns, and sweet peas, which mimicked the fluffy look of the flowers she loved.
Since her bridesmaids' dresses already had so much color, Caren selected bouquets of pink-tinted anemones for her attendants to carry down the aisle.
Mike and his groomsmen all wore black tuxedos and fowl and pheasant ties from Brackish Bow.
The bride's father walked her down the aisle before she and Mike exchanged vows in what they call a "loosely non-denominational ceremony" that was officiated by the groom's childhood friend. They kept the décor simple, choosing only bright floral arrangements and to line the aisle with rugs.
Reception tables were arranged around the property's pool, with long farm tables topped closest to the water and round linen-topped tables further out. Each table covered with a variety of different sized clear and green glass vases, all filled with a bright mix of peonies, sweet peas, lily of the valley, ranunculus, and ferns. As another nod to the groom's geology career, Caren and Mike worked with their florist to source white and purple geodes as additional table decorations.
The couple couldn't get enough of their laid-back yet still elegant tables, and though they loved this final look, they almost went with something entirely different. "Three months before the wedding Constance arranged an onsite design meeting with all of our vendors," Caren says. "We walked through every detail and we created a full mock up of what a table would look like. We were standing around discussing something when Constance said, 'Do you guys smell something burning?' One of the bulbous, clear glass vases we originally chose created a vector ray from the strong Palm Springs sun and caught the table runner on fire." Needless to say, they ended up choosing a slight shaded variety to avoid a wedding day emergency and the final product only benefited from their planner's diligent work.
Everyone enjoyed a gourmet poolside dinner, which included options like grilled lamb chop, meyer lemon halibut, and vegetarian green risotto. The bride's mother, a sommelier in training, chose wine pairings for each entrée. For guests that wanted something a little stronger than wine, Pharmacie LA was on hand to shake up delicious and unique signature cocktails.
For dessert, the couple sliced into two tiers of almond cake with layers of raspberry and cream filling, all topped with croquembouche. "Mike loves croquembouche and since it's a traditional wedding dessert, it made sense to have it at our wedding," Caren says. Instead of serving it as the groom's cake, the pair asked their baker to include it on the cake.
The party moved inside the property's nearby barn where Mike's father, a professional guitarist, performed John Haitt's "Have a Little Faith in Me," moving everyone to tears. "It was such a beautiful way to kick off the party," the bride says. After, Caren and Mike took center stage for their first dance. They chose Lord Huron's "She Lit a Fire" and took several dance classes and spent countless hours choreographing their dance. But on the big day, Caren forgot all the moves. "Right before the song started I turned to Mike and said, 'I forgot everything!' The excitement of the day had gotten the better of me and my mind went blank," she says. Thankfully, her groom remembered every step and led the way.
After their special moment on the dance floor, DJ Smiles Davis took over, turning the best, most current music. "She was out of this world amazing!"
The celebration closed out at 10 p.m., and while the couple was initially nervous the party would feel too short, they said the timing felt perfect. Following the wedding, Caren and Mike honeymooned in Thailand, Cambodia, and Bangkok.
Ceremony & Reception Venue: Sparrows Lodge || Wedding Planner: Constance Curtis || Bride's Wedding Dress: Vera Wang || Jewelry: Alexis Bittar || Shoes: Valentino || Hair & Makeup: 10.11 Makeup || Groom's Attire: Hugo Boss || Bow Ties: Brackish Bow Ties || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Mara Hoffman || Wedding Bands: Boudov Designs || Catering: Urban Palate || Beverages: Pharmacie LA || Cake: Over the Rainbow Cupcakes || Flowers: Hollyflora || Save the Date Cards: Momental Designs || Invitations & Paper Goods: Copper Willow || DJ: DJ Smiles Davis || Rentals: Classic Party Rentals || Videographer: Paperback Weddings || Photographer: Chloe Moore Photography
Searching for more California wedding inspiration? Then check out another couple's outdoor wedding in Pioneer Town in the video below.