When Nigel Gross decided to propose to Rachel St. Lifer, it took him three tries. “Nigel wanted to propose on the Brooklyn Bridge, and convinced me to take a walk to the bridge on a hot and crowded Friday afternoon,” Rachel remembers. But when he got ready to get down on one knee, he noticed the three-inch gaps between the planks, and quickly decided he didn’t want to risk the ring falling through. From there, he asked Rachel on another walk—this time, in Prospect Park—but she was hot and it was late, so she called an Uber to take them home, instead.
At this point, Nigel was frustrated and out of options, so he walked out to their backyard, got down on one knee... and waited. “I was making dinner, and ignored him when he called me to come outside,” says Rachel. The pair’s dog ran outside instead, bringing along a drool-covered ball that he dropped right down the front of Nigel’s shirt. There was nothing he could do but laugh...and wait. Finally, Rachel came outside with plates of food, and saw her drool-covered boyfriend down on one knee. “I dropped the food on the floor, ran over to Nigel, and started to cry!” she remembers.
The bride is an event producer, and the groom works in design, so they tag-teamed on the planning, and then called on Rachel’s colleague, Andrew Barlow, to run the show on their wedding day. Says the bride, “It’s tough being an event producer and coming up with the perfect vision for your own wedding—it’s much easier when there’s a client with a direction!” The couple focused on a simple, modern celebration full of love, whipping up an eight-foot design deck to share with all their vendors. “We’ve worked with many of them for years, and they were cracking up when they saw our design board,” says the bride.
But that direction was exactly what they needed to produce a sleek, up-to-date wedding in a lush and natural setting. On June 10, 2017, 120 guests gathered at Handsome Hollow in Long Eddy, New York, for a woodland ceremony and a big city twist on a barn reception. Photographed by Hailley Howard, these college sweethearts’ wedding was all about good people, good music, and good food.
The property’s 18th-century barn was the perfect setting for the early summer celebration. “We loved the magical feel of the property, as well as the fact that it’s so close to my grandparents’ mountain home,” says Rachel.
The bride’s gown added a modern feel to the event, with just enough of a tomboy vibe to make it perfect for dancing. She topped the sleeveless gown with a sheer-belted jacket.
Rachel skipped the bouquet in favor of a long wristlet inspired by Bianca Jagger. Poppy pods, astilbe, bird’s nest fern, and silver brunia hung from the bride’s wrist. Dramatic earrings by Dylanlex were paired with rings on Rachel’s right hand that spelled out her new last name.
The groom donned a custom black Isaia suit, which he paired with Balenciaga shoes. The bride’s block-heeled Paul Andrew sandals were perfect for the woodland setting.
A path of balloons led guests to a ceremony in the middle of the forest. The aisle, lined in ferns and surrounded by white flowers, gave way to a semi-circular altar of white delphinium, larkspur, snapdragons, and wild ferns.
Guests sat on wooden benches, surrounded by trees in a grove lit with golden sunlight.
Rachel walked down the aisle with her mother to “Angel” by Jimi Hendrix, a song that reminds the bride of her late father. The bride’s cousin officiated, telling both funny and romantic stories about the happy couple.
By the barn, guests sipped Jack Daniels on the rocks—a tradition in the bride's family—and lounged in the grass before heading inside for dinner.
Long wooden tables were topped with the last fresh lilacs of the season, while the barn’s beams were wrapped with wisteria, delphinium, ferns, and plumose.
“We wanted the flowers to bring in the surrounding natural elements,” says Rachel. Each place setting featured a gray charger, sleek silverware, and menus designed by the groom.
“As students at Syracuse, our go-to restaurant was Dinosaur BBQ,” Rachel says. “That’s where we went to celebrate finishing finals, eating pulled pork sandwiches on the curb. It was a no-brainer to have them cater our wedding day!” The menu included brisket, Memphis-style pulled pork, honey hush cornbread, and macaroni and cheese.
For dessert, Rachel and Nigel turned to the bride’s go-to caterer for events in New York: Pinch Food Design. “We had churros hanging from a custom umbrella, kettle corn on a limbo stick, and brownies and cookies hanging from floating balloons,” she says. The couple cut a personal flan as their wedding cake.
While planning, Rachel and Nigel got a great tip from a friend, which they say changed the way they experienced their wedding day: “Make sure you stay with your spouse throughout the entire experience. That way, you’ll leave your wedding with the same memories that you’ll share for the rest of your lives.”
Venue: Handsome Hollow || Bride's Dress: Houghton || Bride's Shoes: Paul Andrew || Bride's Jewelry: EASTNWESTLABEL, Dylanlex || Hair: Gigi Manapat || Makeup: Maya René || Groom's Attire: Isaia || Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands: Tiffany & Co. || Floral Design: Raven Hollow Guild || Paper Products: Nick Vidovich || Catering: Dinosaur BBQ || Cake: Pinch Food Design || Entertainment: DJ Gambit Bronson || Photography: Hailley Howard