It's hard to know when someone is a real catch, but Chris Dellaripa made it easy for Michaela Johnson when they lived on the same hall as students at the University of Connecticut. "One night, I was having a rough time and had actually hidden in the old phone booth on our floor to cry," she admits. "Chris walked by and saw me in there, but instead of moving on, he asked if he could join me." The pair spent hours talking that night, and a decade later, in April of 2017, Chris proposed while walking their dog on the North Fork of Long Island. "The beach was completely empty, and even though Chris had planned to propose on our dating anniversary the next day, he couldn't wait any longer," Michaela recalls.
For their wedding, Michaela and Chris returned to Connecticut, the place where they first met and fell in love. "We share a love for beaches in the off-season and historic properties, and Eolia Mansion at Harkness State Park fit the bill," says the bride. "It's on the shoreline right across from where we got engaged, and the mansion has an approachable, warm feel that is often lacking in some of these grand, old properties." They set the date for October 27, 2018, and invited 115 guests to join them there for a fall wedding surrounded by history and love.
To create a contrast between the formal setting and the less formal vibe they were after, they added unexpected touches like a string quartet that played hip-hop during the ceremony and mac and cheese on the dinner menu. "We also wanted to embrace the natural beauty of fall, but skipped fiery colors or too many pumpkins," Michaela adds. Instead, they dressed up the space with eucalyptus and apples alongside cream, copper, and burgundy blooms.
Keep reading to see all the stunning photos by Jenny Naima Photography and the two custom gowns by the bride's best friend, designer Brandon Maxwell.
Chris and Michaela wanted a wedding venue with a "dose of nostalgia" and found that in the magical gardens surrounding Eolia Mansion. "We'd hoped to have the ceremony in the garden, but a thunderstorm and crazy winds caused a last-minute change of plans. But it all worked out beautifully!" says the bride.
Michaela has been best friends with designer Brandon Maxwell since they were teenagers and always knew she'd bring him wedding dress shopping when the time came. "I had no idea that he'd wind up being a ridiculously talented designer, or that dress shopping would mean Brandon designing my wedding dress himself," she admits with a laugh. "I knew I was in incredibly capable hands with a close friend holding the needle and thread."
To match the estate's grand setting, Brandon proposed a duchess satin ball gown with a pleated bodice. "He really dreamed up a dress I couldn't have dreamed of myself," Michaela says. "And there were pockets!"
Michaela accessorized with a matching tulle veil, pink velvet J.Crew kitten heels, and a colorful and voluminous bouquet of roses, lisianthus, peonies, and ginger flowers.
Chris wanted to be low-key, and told Michaela that he was just going to rent a tuxedo. Then, after the ceremony, she told him that his tux looked even better than the one he'd tried on. "He revealed that he'd gone tuxedo shopping two days earlier," she says with a laugh. "He lied and told the saleswoman that he was a wedding guest—and not the groom!—to not put pressure on her 48 hours before the wedding"
Michaela's sister, the maid of honor, wore a blush mini dress with a long belted coat by Brandon Maxwell, while the rest of the bridesmaids—and Brandon himself—wore all black. "Chris called them The Ravens," Michaela adds.
While the rain meant Chris and Michaela couldn't have their ceremony outside, the venue's breakfast room made the perfect indoor alternative. "In fact, during our tour, I'd told Chris that I would love to get married in that room," Michaela admits. "It was actually a dream come true!"
The couple's officiant included a bit of the building's history in his script. "The mansion is named after Eolia, home of Aeolus, the Greek God of the winds," says the bride. "Our officiant noted that Aeolus himself must have been in attendance because of the weather outside!"
For the reception, Michaela changed into another Brandon Maxwell design finished off with a huge black bow.
"We wanted the evening to be about cozy, unfussy elegance," says the bride. The couple's florist created this look by filling mercury glass compotes with burgundy, cream, and pale pink blooms. The indoor fireplace was filled with votives to create a warm glow.
The night's menu emphasized seasonal comfort food, including warm lobster rolls with drawn butter, sweet potato fries, Jamaican beef patties (a nod to the bride's Jamaican mother), and tomato soup shooters with grilled cheese. To keep guests warm, they served "The Scofflaw," a cocktail of rye whiskey, vermouth, lemon juice, and grenadine. "For dinner, we had seared duck magret, mac and cheese popovers, chicken and vegetable pot pie, and butternut squash ravioli," Michaela says.
A live band took over for the string quartet when it was time to dance, playing "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder for Michaela's father-daughter dance. "We love Motown, and the cover band we hired was phenomenal!" she says.
The only pumpkin allowed at Chris and Michaela's fall wedding was in the cake, which was made with a pumpkin flavor and cream cheese icing.
Looking back on the wedding planning process, the bride had this advice to share: "Know yourself, your likes, and your dislikes, and all of the decisions will come easily," she says. "There's no rule that your wedding has to fit into someone else's vision!"
Venue: Eolia Mansion at Harkness State Park
Bride's Dress, Veil, & Reception Dress: Brandon Maxwell
Bride's Shoes: J.Crew
Bride's Jewelry: Tiffany & Co.
Hair & Makeup: Allure Traveling Beauty
Maid of Honor's Dress: Brandon Maxwell
Groom's Attire: Hart Schaffner Marx
Best Man's Attire: Calvin Klein
Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands: DeRobertis Jewelers
Floral Design: Brambles and Bittersweet
Paper Products: Flimbee Print Shop
Catering & Day-of Coordination: A Thyme to Cook
Cake: Zest Fresh Pastry
Ceremony Music: OBrien Strings
Reception Music: The Soul Sensations
Rentals: PEAK Event Services, A1 Tablecloth
Lighting: Dawson Entertainment
Transportation: Premier Limousine, First Student Charter Bus Rental
Accommodations: The Whaler's Inn
Videography: Margo Sees Stars
Photography: Jenny Naima Photography