When Sam Derse first reached out to Alison Hillman on OkCupid in October of 2012, she flat-out ignored him. But he didn't give up hope — and instead, he got creative. "Sam changed his username, and for some reason I responded the second time," Alison remembers. The pair planned their first date, but Alison caught a glimpse of Sam a few days early. "I was coincidentally sitting next to him at a bar in San Francisco while he was on a different OkCupid date," says Alison. "I didn't eavesdrop or interrupt, but I immediately recognized him." She sized up his date, determined that the other girl wouldn't be any competition, and started looking forward to her own date the next week. "When it was actually our date, we had so much to talk about that I made Sam stand in line with me for the bathroom so we didn't have to pause the conversation," Alison says. And two years later, after many nights of unending conversation and all sorts of adventures, Sam surprised Alison with a proposal.
"Sam's vintage sports car breaks down frequently (and the muffler has fallen off on a few occasions!) so when he pulled it over on Highway 1, on our way to a glamping weekend, I thought nothing of it," Alison says. "He ran to the back of the car and pretended to check the damage, and when I came around to see how bad it was, there he was on one knee with the California coast in the background!" The pair didn't go far for their wedding, inviting 140 guests to join them on October 10, 2015, at Barndiva in Healdsburg, California. They invited everyone to join them for a three-day celebration that kicked off with a rehearsal dinner at the bride's parents' Airbnb, a fall-inspired farm-to-table wedding, and bagels and mimosas on Sunday to cap it all off. The couple tag-teamed on every detail, crafting an autumnal wedding with rich colors and lots of local wine. If you're searching for relaxed wine country inspiration, look no further than this Healdsburg celebration, photographed by Christina McNeill.
There was one very special guest in attendance at the couple's wedding: Alison's 93-year-old grandmother! "She was with me when I shopped for my prom dress, and again when I went wedding dress shopping," says the bride. "She's effortlessly classy and has a timeless, sophisticated sense of style."
With a shopping partner like that, it's no wonder Alison ended up choosing this elegant and effortless fit-and-flare wedding dress from Essense of Australia, with four layers of lace over an organza lining. "My sister and I danced around the salon. I knew it was the one because it was so easy to move in!" says Alison. She paired it with a flowing veil, a beaded belt, and a stunning fall-hued bouquet of dahlias, ranunculus, and garden roses.
Sam's Theory tuxedo added a layer of formality to the couple's comfortable, sunny day. "We chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen, instead keeping our focus on one another," Alison explains.
The Jewish ceremony took place in Barndiva's garden, beneath heritage trees. The gates leading to the space were decorated with fall-inspired arrangements of ranunculus and warm-hued fall leaves. Sam's mother hand-crafted the couple's chuppah, sewing delicate white handkerchiefs into a patchwork quilt that let hints of light shine through onto the bride and groom.
Alison walked down the aisle with both of her parents by her side. "It was incredibly touching that my mom wanted to be a part of this moment," says the bride. Sam and Alison wrote their own ceremony, which was officiated by Alison's father's best friend, a retired judge. "We sat across from one another at the kitchen table, with a Google Doc open on our computers and a bottle of wine between us," she explains. "The ceremony really felt like us, and captured our friendship and deep love and respect for one another."
After they were pronounced husband and wife, Sam and Alison were showered in rose petals as they came back up the aisle hand-in-hand.
For cocktail hour, guests headed into the Barndiva art gallery, where they snacked on short rib sopes and haricot vert frito misto. Says Alison, "We loved the juxtaposition between the arboretum-like outdoor space and the modern art gallery. It created a dynamic and inviting ambiance and gave us such a great opportunity to celebrate with our guests."
Beneath wrought-iron arches and soft lighting in the garden, guests were seated at long tables around the perimeter of the space. The newlyweds and their families sat at a bare wooden farm table in the center of it all. In keeping with a rustic, fall vibe, Alison and Sam's menus were printed on kraft paper, and a sprig of lavender was placed at each setting.
Centerpieces stuck to the same fall theme, with deep red and orange dahlias paired with peach and hot pink roses. The indulgent farm-to-table meal featured baby greens with strawberries and walnuts and a choice between flat iron steak and sea bass.
"Sam coordinated the logistics, from rentals to the seating chart, while I curated the design and organized the details. We took a lot of pride in crafting our weekend, including an ever-evolving playlist of 'musts' and 'do not play' for our DJ!" says Alison.
"We were raised in different parts of the country, but our upbringings were so similar. Our families spent the week together in Healdsburg, and by the time the wedding arrived, it was hard to tell where one family ended and the other began," says the bride. "We loved how easily two families became one."
The party was kicked off with a rousing rendition of the hora. The couple sliced into a red velvet cake (with cream cheese frosting, of course!).
"Seeing the sheer joy and delight on our friends' and family's faces as we were introduced as husband and wife was incredibly moving. Making eye contact with our parents and siblings was nothing short of epic!"
The couple escaped to Maui to relax for a few days, then traveled to Vietnam a few weeks later for a newlywed adventure. While splitting the planning tasks definitely helped, Alison's best advice is to stay as organized as possible. "Using Google Docs helped us seamlessly collaborate — as well as stay on budget!"
Venue, Catering & Cake: Barndiva || Bride's Wedding Dress: Essense of Australia || Shoes: Badgley Mischka || Jewelry: Kenneth Jay Lane || Hair & Makeup: Skyla Arts || Groom's Attire: Theory || Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands: XIV Karats || Florist: Dragonfly Floral || Invitations: Minted || Music: Gaucho Jazz; Dart Collective || Photographer: Christina McNeill Photography