Claire Bechhold and Erik Johnson first met as students at Vanderbilt University, but it took bumping into each other at a bar in New York City for their spark to ignite. They’ll both tell you it was worth the wait. Three years after reconnecting, Claire thought they were headed to Erik’s nephew’s birthday party when she realized they were walking down the same block of MacDougal street where they’d first lived together. “Erik completely surprised me as he got down on one knee in front of our old apartment building,” says Claire. Around the corner at their favorite restaurant, Charlie Bird, their families were waiting to toast the occasion.
Claire’s parents live in Charleston, which made planning a Southern wedding from New York City that much easier. “We wanted to have an outdoor wedding with an authentic feel, and the historic setting at Thomas Bennett House—with its beautiful garden and a central location—checked every box,” says the bride. They planned a formal garden party with help from A Charleston Bride, focusing on a white and green palette that made the garden shine, even on a chilly November evening. On November 11, 2017, 150 guests joined the pair in the garden for a heartfelt ceremony, followed by a cocktail-style reception with an eclectic menu and can’t-miss drinks. “Opting out of a seated dinner meant we could mingle with our guests throughout the evening,” says the bride. Sounds like a party we’d love to go to! Take a peek at the photos by Olivia Rae James to see for yourself.
The subtle botanic motif on the couple’s paper goods was a modern nod to their open air celebration.
The couple’s niece wore a Jacadi linen dress with ruffled sleeves and a crown of baby’s breath over her red hair. The ring bearers all donned gingham shorts and cream sweaters to fend off the fall chill.
Claire’s Rime Arodaky dress was actually the second she purchased—after she almost lost the first! “I bought a dress online and was carrying it around the city one day, and accidentally left it at the grocery store!” she says, laughing. Thankfully she found it—and was able to return it once she found her silk Rime Arodaky gown. “I wanted something simple with a dramatic back, and the draped fabric and floral details checked all the boxes.” Erik paired his Ralph Lauren Purple Label tuxedo with custom smoking slippers.
The bride wore her hair tied in a knot at the nape of her neck and carried a textured bouquet of peonies and roses.
The ring bearers were nervous before their trip down the aisle, so the bride, her bridesmaids, and her father started singing “Old MacDonald.” Says Claire, “It was a pretty hysterical sight—and actually helped calm me down too!”
Erik and Claire are Catholic, so they were wed in a church ceremony on Friday with their immediate families present. “We kept our garden ceremony on Saturday meaningful by having Erik’s godfather officiate," she says. "He did a beautiful job of adding personal touches and telling our story.” The couple included affirmations from their guests, asking all those present to participate in their vows.
Though they opted to not have a seated dinner, the couple still wanted to create comfortable and pretty lounge spaces for their guests. They did that with small tables at cocktail hour, and long tables at the reception.
The Sperry tent was draped with string lighting, and a variety of tables were topped with ivory linens and surrounded by bamboo chairs. Boxwoods added height to the space, while other tables featured small clusters of white blooms in simple glass vases. The four poles around the black-and-white dance floor were wrapped in greenery to tie the theme together.
Following dinner, guests headed to the tiki bar for spicy margaritas, palomas in mini Patron bottles, or hot toddies (for warmth!).
Erik and Claire shared their first dance to “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire—but had the band change the lyrics to “November” instead.
“We tried to stay away from Pinterest and Instagram while we were planning,” says Claire. “Instead of looking for inspiration, know your own personal taste and style and stick to it. At the end of the day, that’s what will make your wedding feel like you.”
Wedding Planner: A Charleston Bride
Venue: Thomas Bennett House
Bride's Dress: Rime Arodaky
Bride's Shoes: Rochas
Hair & Makeup: Paper Dolls
Groom's Attire: Ralph Lauren Purple Label
Flower Girl’s Attire: Jacadi
Engagement Ring: Croghan’s
Floral Design: Palmetto Bloom
Paper Products: Venamour
Catering: Cru Catering
Photography: Olivia Rae James