Toasting the Bride and Groom
A rehearsal dinner celebrating family
Kathryn Van Aernum
A couple’s wedding day is one of the most special days in their lives, when months of planning culminates with the exciting main event as the two embark on the rest of their lives together. But coming in at a close second is the rehearsal dinner party, where the anticipation for the following day’s event is palpable. The air is relaxed, friends and family begin to flow into town, and the feeling of joy and hope is abundant.
So it was on the eve of Chandler Finney and Walker Inabinet’s wedding. Libby Anne and Jeff Inabinet had been looking forward to the evening since their son, Walker, proposed 16 months prior.
Chandler and Walker met more than seven years earlier at a University of South Carolina party on the rooftop at Carolina Walk. It was important to Walker that the engagement be a special, well-thought-out event, as he and Chandler had already spent many meaningful years together. Following their college years, they then supported each other’s decisions post-graduation as Chandler went to medical school and Walker began his career as a financial advisor with the Merrill Lynch Folline King Group. Beginning their lives as husband and wife was the natural and most important next step.
Ever the planner, Walker had painstakingly thought through every detail to make the engagement meaningful to Chandler. He chartered a sailboat in Charleston so they could enjoy Charleston Harbor. Walker worked it out with the boat captain, who was also a photographer, to stop at the Ravenel Bridge where he got down on one knee and asked Chandler to be his wife. The boat captain was ready to photograph the proposal with the impressive Ravenel Bridge in the background. Walker brought on board the boat a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne, which he popped open after Chandler accepted the proposal so they could enjoy it as they sailed back to the dock. He also invited both his and Chandler’s families to meet them for a Champagne toast when they arrived back at the dock to celebrate together.
“Walker has been a planner since he was a child,” says Libby Anne. “And, to no one’s surprise, he wanted to make sure everything was perfect.”
Planning started with the ring. After months of searching at multiple stores in different cities, he took it upon himself to design one instead. Chandler and Walker had never been ring shopping, but after more than six years of dating, he knew what she would like. When the ring was ready, Walker plotted the best way to secretly ask Chandler’s father, Chuck, for her hand in marriage as well as share plans with his parents.
Chandler’s parents live in Florida, so it was no simple task to visit them. Walker planned a time to go to Florida alone to visit Chandler’s parents and sister when Chandler had to work. At the end of a dinner, Walker placed the ring box in front of Chandler’s mother, Lee. When she opened it, he asked Chuck for permission to marry his daughter. Chandler’s younger sister, Colin, emphatically yelled, “Yes!” and was thus the first to give her blessing.
Following that trip, Libby Anne, Jeff, Walker, and his younger brother, Gus, were on a family trip at the Inn on Biltmore Estate. On the last evening at the end of dinner, Walker once again took out the ring box and, this time, placed it in front of his mother. “When I opened it, I just cried tears of joy. The poor waitress thought something was wrong with my food,” says Libby Anne. Walker then swore the family to secrecy and told them his plan for the proposal weekend in Charleston.
Chandler and Walker decided to be married in Charleston as well. Not only was it where they became engaged, but they also have history and family connections there on both sides. As they began planning the rehearsal dinner party, it was important to Libby Anne and Jeff that the event became what Chandler and Walker envisioned.
“I’ve already had a rehearsal party and a wedding,” says Libby Anne. “This weekend was all about them.” The couple wanted two distinct events when it came to the rehearsal party and the wedding. They selected Hibernian Hall, a historic venue that has hosted many high-society events since 1840, as the location for their rehearsal dinner. Libby Anne’s grandfather was president of the Hibernian Society, and his portrait graces one of the walls in the ballroom. Walker and his brother visited the location multiple times with their grandfather when they were children, so the building held fond family memories. That her son wanted to hold the rehearsal party there made it that much more special to Libby Anne.
The event began with Kathleen Wilson playing the harp prior to a cocktail reception, and was then followed by a seated dinner for about 90 people, including the wedding party and immediate family. Having family in Charleston made the planning easier for Libby Anne. She called on the help of her godmother when looking for a florist and subsequently contacted Lotus Flower, which created beautiful arrangements that were both masculine and pretty.
Mint julep cups with magnolia leaves adorned the tables; also, silver Revere bowls held shamrock hydrangeas. The Inabinets have a close relationship with Jack Brantley, well-known for his Aberdeen Catery in Camden, and wanted to ensure he could provide the meal. Libby Anne met with Jack’s team and came up with unique ways to incorporate the family’s Charleston recipes into the entire experience. Libby Anne’s aunt compiled family recipes that are generations old that Jack featured for the seated dinner, with one important exception — his famous tenderloin, which is always a must-have for his clients’ special events! In order to share the story behind the recipes, Libby Anne had at each seat the menu outlining the family’s tasty traditions.
After the seated dinner, all wedding guests gathered together for dessert and jazz. Walker loves jazz and was thrilled to have the Dick Goodwin Quartet perform for the after-party. As with the seated dinner, many family recipes were featured, including “Mommy D’s” kisses, rum balls, and almond crescent cookies, all of which adorned the dessert table, along with Chandler’s favorite fruit tarts. Cordials and coffee were offered to guests, in addition to an open bar. The groom’s cake, created by Bonnie Brunt, was a snapshot of Walker’s life. The sumptuous carrot cake featured a football field, as Walker played football for the University of South Carolina, as well as the NYSE ticker and a bull, with Cocky sitting atop.
Libby Anne included special family elements throughout the event. A poem written by her paternal grandfather that was read at her parents’ wedding and her own was framed and sat on the cake table. Now in its third generation, the poem, entitled “Thoughts from Poppa Tom on Your Wedding Day,” was read to Chandler and Walker by his godfather.
“We asked the wedding party and guests to sign the mat of a watercolor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, which was framed and given to Chandler and Walker after the wedding. St. John’s Lutheran Church was where my parents and grandparents were married. Also, Chandler’s cousins are members of this historic church,” Libby Anne says. “This weekend was all about family, family, family.”
Libby Anne went to great lengths to ensure that distinct family feel. Having been married for 30 years, she had often seen the Inabinet family crest at Jeff’s parents’ home. She took the crest to Martha F. Morris Stationery and had the family crest incorporated into engraved rehearsal dinner invitations. She also took the opportunity to have stationery with the family crest made for Chandler and Walker. “I’m so glad Chandler and Walker were engaged for 16 months, so I had the time to do this!” says Libby Anne.
The setting was also imbued with family tradition. Lace tablecloths that belonged to Libby Anne’s maternal grandmother, who was born and raised in Charleston, and were more than three generations old donned the tables. Libby Anne and her family retold stories while decorating the tables, another wonderful memory she will always hold from the weekend. Each guest received a handmade Charleston sweetgrass basket that included a few souvenirs to remind them of Chandler and Walker — a piece of chocolate wrapped in a photo of the couple and a bag of Sour Patch Kids, a candy Chandler loves.
Despite the many family connections in Charleston, many guests still had to travel. To that end, Libby Anne created a mother of the groom (MOG) kit, which included a lint brush, steamer, breath mints, Band-Aids, and sewing accessories, among other conveniences. “When you aren’t at home, sometimes the little things get overlooked, so my MOG kit came in handy,” says Libby Anne. She also found it important to document the weekend, so she bought a special journal to record the planning and the memories. The MOG kit, along with the journal, have been passed on to her friends who also have sons getting married.
“At the end of the day, this weekend was all about Chandler and Walker,” says Libby Anne. “It was their families, their friends, and their special time. The best gift for me is knowing my child is loved and has someone amazing and caring to spend his life with.”
And, having a great party to kick it off just made it that much sweeter.