For Julia Gilliam and Daniel Sterling, choosing a venue for their June 2, 2018, wedding was easy: They just went back to the place where they’d first met! Julia grew up visiting The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, with her parents, and after graduating college in August 2013, she returned to the resort to take a job as an event planner there. “There I was, bossing everyone around before the event began, when I noticed a sweet and handsome chef in the kitchen,” she recalls. That chef was Danny, who wasn’t intimidated by the bossy new event planner and sent her a Facebook message the next day.
“That event we were working on took place at Howard’s Creek Lodge, and five years later, it’s where Danny and I had our first look,” she says.
But first: the proposal! Sadly, Julia’s mother passed away from ovarian cancer in late 2016, and Danny knew she’d want something to look forward to. “He made sure I had time to heal and planned a trip for us to Chicago for my birthday five months later,” Julia explains. (Little did she know, Danny had also asked for her mother's blessing in marrying her daughter before she passed.) So, before heading on their trip in May 2017, the couple headed to Julia’s childhood home for an early birthday dinner.
“We sat out on my mom’s favorite porch, talking about our trip and enjoying the sunshine," she recalls. "The next thing I knew, Danny pulled out a ring box and got down on one knee!” He’d also planned much more than a quiet birthday dinner, inviting family and friends to join the couple for an engagement party before their getaway.
Of course, the couple already knew where their wedding would be. “We loved that The Greenbrier had such a special place in both of our hearts for so many reasons, and was also easy for our loved ones to get to," Julia says. "Not to mention, it is beautifully nestled in the mountains!” The couple worked with Jessica Sloane to create an elegant, laid-back wedding full of organic elements and delicious (and healthy!) food. (After all, the duo now has their own catering company.)
So keep reading to see Tec Petaja's stunning photos of Julia and Danny's big day in the West Virginia mountains!
Julia and her sister went on a "cross-country wedding dress extravaganza," hitting up bridal salons in every city they traveled to in the summer of 2017. “She was such a good sport about it!” the bride laughs. After trying on every lace V-neck gown they came across, Julia and her sister discovered designer Mira Zwillinger. “We stumbled upon a trunk show in L.A., and they were able to squeeze me in," she recalls. "I chose my favorite gown, and as soon as they zipped me in, I knew I loved everything about it!” The A-line wedding gown featured layers of soft tulle and hand-embroidered flowers perfectly appliquéd across the sheer bodice.
“It was light and airy, a little bohemian, and had that natural vibe I wanted,” explains the bride. She added a pair of Alexandre Birman sandals for a comfortable yet stylish finish.
Danny and his groomsmen all wore Alton Lane custom tuxedos, with the groom wearing a shawl collar and the groomsmen in notched collars. “He chose a covered placket shirt and no cummerbund for a modern, slightly less formal look,” Julia describes.
Julia paired the floral accents on her wedding gown with a lush bouquet of foxglove, mock orange, blush viburnum, nerine lilies, chocolate cosmos, and distant drum garden roses.
The bridesmaids carried smaller versions of the same floral selection, which perfectly paired with their mismatched champagne, soft grey, and nude dresses. “I chose a few different designers who carried colors I loved, then let them pick a dress from there,” says Julia.
Before the ceremony, Julia met Danny at the place where they’d first met—Howard’s Creek Lodge—for an emotional first look.
“I’d always dreamed of an outdoor ceremony, but the valley was full of mist and rain the morning of our wedding,” recalls the bride. She waited until the last minute before agreeing to let her planner move the ceremony inside the property’s event barn—but once Julia and her dad started walking down the aisle, she says all reservations were gone. “They opened the barn doors as the backdrop, so we could still look out over the Allegheny Mountains, which helped to bring the outdoors in,” she says.
During cocktail hour, guests sipped local craft beers from Brother’s Craft Brewing Company alongside a locally made mint kombucha from Mountain Culture Kombucha. “Danny’s favorite easy-drinking beer is Miller Highlife, so he insisted we serve it," Julia says. "We kept joking that it was our signature cocktail!”
Guests found their seats on an oversized copper escort sign from Paper Birch Designs, etched with guests’ names and table assignments. “We still haven’t figured out what we’re going to do with it now that the wedding is over!” says Julia with a laugh.
Two table designs filled the airy tent. The first featured a pale blue linen with a garland of spirea branches woven between nude taper and votive candles. Additionally, slate blue napkins were placed atop mango wood chargers, and surrounded by copper flatware.
For the second design, wooden tables were dressed with soft runners and topped with terra cotta vessels full of garden roses, tea roses, and fresh greenery. Each was finished off with the same chargers and flatware as the linen-covered tabletops.
As a chef, Danny definitely played a role in the menu selection. “In 2016, Danny was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which really inspired us to pursue a healthy lifestyle to prevent a reoccurrence,” Julia explains. “I became a nutritionist, and Danny and I founded Cumberland Heritage to prepare interesting and delicious food with wellness in mind.” Their wedding menu took inspiration from the couple’s company, using local ingredients to create a meal of a local greens with bright radishes, West Virginia short rib with new potatoes, and maplewood smoked salmon with local summer vegetables.
The Steel Toe Stilettos took to the stage after dinner, keeping the dance floor packed all night. “Late in the evening, we had a deejay take over and served gyoza and chicken potstickers. They were a huge hit!” says Julia.
Looking back, the former event planner turned bride has a piece of planning advice. “As tempting as it might be, don’t try to control the weather,” Julia advises. “Make plans you’ll love no matter the conditions. You may have a vision, but Mother Nature knows best! Remember that it will be an incredible day no matter what.”
Wedding Planner: Jessica Sloane || Venue & Catering: The Greenbrier Sporting Club || Bride's Dress: Mira Zwillinger || Bride's Shoes: Alexandre Birman || Bride's Jewelry: Jane Pope Jewelry || Hair & Makeup: Emily Artistry || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Reformation, Show Me Your Mumu, Joanna August || Groom & Groomsmen's Attire: Alton Lane|| Wedding Bands: Jane Pope Jewelry || Floral Design: Vintage Florals || Paper Products: Jenny Sanders || Copper Signage: Paper Birch Designs|| Ceremony Music: Wirewood Music || Reception Music: Steel Toe Stilettos || Rentals: Paisley and Jade, Emerson and James || Accommodations: The Greenbrier Hotel || Videography: Josh Gooden || Photography: Tec Petaja