Although Allen Penn first met Rachel Hou in 2004 while attending Miami University in Ohio (he was actually dating one of her friends!), it took a move across the globe for the duo to reconnect. The pair remained acquaintances after graduating college and, nine years later, both found themselves living and working in Asia. Because Rachel (based in Hong Kong) was the only college alum he knew on the same continent, Allen, who was then based in Singapore, naturally reached out. (However, conflicting schedules and living in different countries prevented them from meeting for an entire year.) The fated reunion finally happened in 2014, when Allen conveniently happened to be moving to the same locale as his future bride.
"And the rest is history," she says.
Because of the pair's frequent work travels, Rachel describes them as "two ships passing in the night," and Allen used that to his advantage during his surprise proposal. In December 2016, he was working in Thailand and Rachel was attending an important meeting in Singapore, so the duo intended to travel from their respective locales to meet for a wedding in Chicago. But unbeknownst to Rachel, Allen secretly changed flights to be home with her before she departed. He accounted for enough time to shower and grab flowers and balloons before surprising her, but the plan backfired thanks to a flight delay.
Hurrying from the airport in a hoodie (as an attempt to stay incognito, despite the 90 degree weather!), Allen made it just in time to catch Rachel and pop the question...then told her to wait while he ran to his office to grab the ring! Once the diamond was in hand, the newly betrothed sipped celebratory champagne in the airport lounge before jet-setting back to the States.
Although they now call Singapore home, the couple's shared Southern upbringings—he's from Lexington, Kentucky; she's from in Nashville—came out on top for their wedding on March 17, 2018. Both wanted their nearest and dearest to experience the region's renowned food and charm, and saw an opportunity to "lock everyone away 'summer camp' style" for the entire weekend, without worrying about food, transportation, or activities. Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, had wedding attendees covered on all accounts and beautifully set the scene for the big event.
Given the weekend's overall relaxed feel, the couple opted for a "black-tie-meets-cozy" allure for their three-part celebration: the rehearsal dinner, a tea ceremony, and the wedding itself.
Keep reading to see how it all came together, as captured by Natalie Watson Photography and planned by Jennifer Laraia Design.
The couple gave a sneak preview of the destination venue with an illustration of the dock and lake at Blackberry Farm on their invitation suite.
After a rehearsal dinner on Thursday night, Allen and Rachel really welcomed everyone to Tennessee with a barbecue dinner on Friday. The event was complete with live music and bourbon (a true Southern staple!) to kick things off on a casual note. Per the request of their friends, many of whom were new parents, the couple kept the weekend child-free.
That night, the couple introduced another pillar of the weekend: great food and fresh produce, with the menu (of course!), as well as with vegetable accents on the escort card table.
To add to the intimacy, Allen and Rachel relied on long tables to bring their guests together. The couple also adorned each place setting with a playful menu and a radish. To complete the look, they asked guests to dress in Americana-inspired attire.
The next morning, the couple had a tea ceremony with just their families. "We had a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, which was a really wonderful way for both families and for us to meld two cultures together," Rachel explains. "The focus of the tea ceremony is slightly different than a traditional wedding ceremony as it's really a way to thank and celebrate your parents and family members for raising you and helping you become the person you are today, ready to marry your life partner. It was surprisingly emotional for everyone, and many tissues were passed around!"
For the main event later in the day, Rachel wore a classic Monique Lhuillier dress with a glamorous twist (thanks to a low-back, V-neck, and beaded details). "It made me feel romantic and classic, but with a touch of modernity," she explains. She accessorized with a belt by the same designer, BHLDN earrings, and a hair comb.
Rachel also adds that her parents had never experienced a traditional Western wedding until her own. "It was really special for my mom and me to experience the process of buying everything new together," she says.
The bride (who is actually a florist herself!) asked florist Amy Osaba to create a romantic, asymmetrical bouquet and put in a special request for dogwood as a sentimental reminder of growing up in the South.
Allen, who donned a bespoke Victor York tux, called on seven of his closest college friends to be his groomsmen.
Gearing up for the post-ceremony petal toss, guests helped themselves to handmade paper cones from a gold and acrylic wine bottle holder.
The couple wed on the venue's Main House Lawn, with a prime view of the mountains and a close friend officiating. As for vows, Rachel and Allen thought completely outside the box, creating their own fill-in-the-blank version of the popular Mad Libs game. (They wrote the outline together beforehand, making sure the prompts highlighted both their personalities.) One of the most memorable lines? "Patiently tolerating those things that make you interesting," for which the bride conjured up, "Allen’s love of dinosaurs and dreams of going to Mars," and her better half responded with, "Rachel’s love for flowers and questionable TV shows."
The "Miami Mergers" (as their tradition-obsessed alma mater refers to married students) reveled in their newlywed status and snapped a few quick photos with their families before cocktail hour in Bramble Hall.
Climbing greens and plush, cozy furniture attributed to a homey feeling during cocktail hour, while a color palette of creams, rose golds, and pops of mauve elevated the indoor space for the pair's black-tie vision.
Guests found their table assignments etched into two large acrylic displays, accented with more greenery.
Similar to the welcome dinner, guests dined in close proximity atop long, banquet-style tables. Smoky tapered candles and gray linen napkins elegantly contrasted with the gold dinnerware and cream velvet tablecloths. Long garlands also ran the length of the tablescape, weaving between the place settings.
With Allen's role as global head of Uber Eats, the couple naturally prioritized the celebration's three-course sit-down dinner and were happy to choose Blackberry Farm because of their reputation for delicious food. Fluffy dinner rolls proved to be a menu highlight (some tables asked for seconds and thirds!), as well as the roasted Carolina shrimp starter and North Carolina trout main dish.
After the bride danced with her spouse and her father, the couple's four-year-old nephew dominated the dance floor. Allen even carried him around as he gave fellow party-goers high-fives! One of Rachel's bridesmaids, a talented singer, also belted out a special rendition of one of her favorite songs—Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."
Rachel's affinity for rose gold extended beyond the decor and onto one of the main edible attractions—the cake! The gloriously modern confection featured a sophisticated drip design with cream icing and a few extra florals. The couple also kept guests well-fed with an extra round of late-night bites before the after-party, which they say were both huge crowd pleasers.
At the end of the day, everything fell into place so seamlessly that the pair's "only wish was that it was longer so we had more time with our family and friends."
Venue & Catering: Blackberry Farm || Wedding Planner: Jennifer Laraia Design || Bride's Dress: Monique Lhuillier, from The Bride Room || Groom's Attire: Victor York || Engagement Ring: The 5th C || Wedding Bands: Consider the Wldflwrs || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Jenny Yoo; Watters || Groomsmen Attire: The Black Tux || Paper Products: Studio Chavelli || Floral Design: Amy Osaba Design || Rentals: AOPR, 12th Table, La Tavola || Favors: Blackberry Farm Shop, Studio Chavelli, M&J Trimming || Cake: Magpies Bakery || Rehearsal Dinner Music: The Bearded Band || Ceremony Music: Nashville Wedding Guitarist || Reception Music & Entertainment: Golden Bell Productions || Hair & Makeup: Hannah Farmer Creative || Photography: Natalie Watson Photography || Videography: Colling Films