It’s no surprise that there isn’t a wedding magazine called Modern Groom for when it comes to weddings, it really does tend to be all about the bride. But the groom and his family have a lot to prepare as well, from dreaming up an irresistible proposal to planning a rehearsal dinner that will complement the wedding without stealing its thunder.
Just ask twins Stevens and Sadler Walker and their parents, Lisa and Frank. Over the past few years, both boys proposed, became engaged and got married. About as close as two brothers can be, each had very different ideas about the lead-in to their weddings as well as the weddings themselves. Sadler’s proposal to the former Morgan Donohue was an extravagant, romantic fantasy planned to the last detail, and the couple held a destination wedding at The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia. Several years ago, Stevens couldn’t wait to ask the former Meredith Sawyer to be his bride; the couple wed in Columbia. In both cases, Lisa and Frank planned wonderfully festive rehearsal dinners that not only matched their sons’ personalities, but worked within the scheme of their weddings.
Here’s how they did it.
The Walker family: Sadler, Morgan, Frank, Lisa, Martha, Meredith and Stevens gather before the rehearsal dinner.
Though opposite in scope, Stevens’ and Sadler’s proposals both utilized wily ruses to pop the question. Stevens’ proposal took place in July 2011, just before a long-planned vacation to the Bahamas. “I had been working on getting the perfect ring designed by Nica Sweeney for about five months, and throughout the entire process, I tried and tried to plan an incredible and creative proposal, but I don’t consider myself very creative,” he explains. “Everyone had told me that once I had that ring in my pocket it would burn straight through it, and they were right. Once I had the ring, I just had to propose.”
Remembering that Meredith wanted a new pair of sunglasses to take on their trip, Stevens suddenly had his plan, placing the ring into an old but new-looking sunglasses case and wrapping the whole thing up to look like it had just arrived in the mail. Not willing to wait another moment, Stevens took the package to Hooligan’s in Trenholm Plaza, where Meredith was having dinner with the children she babysat for regularly. “I was dying to get the kids back to the house and into their beds so I could do this thing,” he laughs. “They of course wanted to go get dessert, which I couldn’t even consider eating at that point.”
Tall arrangements with calla lilies were clean yet dramatic for Sadler and Morgan’s rehearsal dinner. Sadler and Morgan’s rehearsal dinner was held at a small museum next to a lighthouse and served as a blank slate for Lisa’s creative spirit.
From her perspective, Meredith was a bit disappointed that her pre-vacation gift was only going to be a pair of sunglasses. “I thought he was saving up for a ring,” she says. “Turns out he had been! He’d done such a good job hiding it for all those months. I had no idea! As soon as I saw the ring, he dropped to his knee and asked me to marry him. We got the kids up, called my parents and friends and had an impromptu celebration that I will always cherish.”
Where Stevens was low-key, Sadler, who lives in Washington, D.C., went all-out for his January 2014 proposal, concocting an elaborate plan that started with a supposed work event at the St. Regis hotel and ended with a surprise family brunch. “To get Morgan to the hotel without suspecting anything, I told her that my boss was hosting a party to kick off the new year and that everyone was to bring spouses and significant others,” he says.
On the day of the proposal, after telling Morgan he was going to Best Buy, Sadler went straight to the hotel suite where the supposed party would take place, which he filled with two dozen roses, candles, wedding magazines, cupcakes that spelled out “Marry Me” and a pair of handkerchiefs he’d had embroidered, one with Morgan’s new monogram and the other with his monogram and the date. Then the waiting began. “I was so nervous,” he says. “While she was getting ready for the ‘party,’ I couldn’t stop running through exactly what I was going to do in my head. When we got there and I stuck the room key into the door, my heart was pounding.”
Sadler and Morgan Walker after their destination wedding at the Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia.
Recalling the night, Morgan laughs when she realizes that she didn’t even notice that Sadler had a key to a room where there was supposedly a party going on. “When he opened the door and I saw the roses, I actually thought we were in the wrong suite! But then I walked in, read a note he’d written and my Prince Charming got down on one knee, and I said ‘yes!’” The surprise continued the next day when the couple’s families and close friends magically appeared in Washington, D.C. for brunch.
Now it was time for Lisa to get involved. “By the time they got engaged, both couples had dated for a while, so we knew the families well, which really made planning the rehearsal dinners easier. I couldn’t have done it without Sharon Sawyer, Meredith’s mother, and Susan Donohue, Morgan’s mother; they were both incredibly inclusive and allowed us to be part of every wedding decision.”
Lisa wasn’t surprised when Stevens took an active role in planning his and Meredith’s rehearsal dinner, which was held at the Summit Club. “He had an opinion about the menu, the look, everything. He really wanted me to run things by him.” They decided on a rustic chic décor that included deer antlers — Stevens is an avid hunter — cotton and pewter. “The Summit Club was a very masculine space with lots of dark wood, and it really fit Stevens’ personality,” says Lisa. “It was also beautiful for an evening event.”
To match the understated elegance of the space, Lisa had Chad at Rosewood Florist decorate the room with what she calls “yard greens” — loose, natural-looking arrangements of smilax, white hydrangeas and lilies that looked like they’d come straight from a gorgeous, beautifully maintained garden. “Chad totally got it,” she says. “They were exactly what I had in mind.”
Stevens and Meredith during their rehearsal dinner at the Summit Club. Lisa and Stevens decided on a rustic chic décor that included deer antlers, cotton and pewter.
The invitations, which Lisa had designed on Etsy, were a simple but refined design of green on cream. “The process went more smoothly than I could have imagined until we got to the shipping,” she laughs. “I had no idea the designer was in Canada, so I had to pay customs in addition to shipping! Lesson learned.”
Although many rehearsal dinners these days turn into a late night dance party, the Walkers opted to end the night after the traditional speeches were finished. “We thought about getting a band but Meredith’s bridal luncheon was the next day, and we didn’t want to risk anyone feeling tired.”
Where Lisa had no issues planning the rehearsal dinner for Meredith and Stevens, Morgan and Sadler’s pre-wedding dinner got off to a rocky start. “Since it was a destination wedding, I knew I would need to rely on a planner,” she explains. “I knew the look that I wanted and just needed someone to implement it. Unfortunately, the first planner we hired had her own ideas. Then we discovered that the designer I wanted to use to make the invitations was no longer doing that kind of work. As soon as I found the right team, though, it came together beautifully. I found Darby Cards in Nashville to design the invitations, which were similar to Meredith and Stevens’, and the food and décor were perfect.”
The fact that the wedding was being held at a resort — The Cloister at Sea Island — also required the Walkers to shift their planning a bit. “At most destination weddings, you invite everyone to all events,” explains Lisa. “We were having a bit of trouble finding a venue that would hold all 275 people and that wasn’t already being used for another wedding event. Morgan’s mother, Susan, came up with the idea to hold a dessert and dancing party after the rehearsal dinner. That way, we could have a smaller rehearsal dinner but not feel like anyone was being left out. It worked perfectly and allowed us to hold the dinner in a small museum next to a lighthouse.”
Although Lisa was delighted with the dinner location — the venue had a lovely outdoor courtyard for pre-dinner drinks — the actual dining venue was a bit boring. “It had no personality, which was good because it was a blank slate but a challenge because it takes a lot to make a space like that look really special. On top of that, we had to work around horrible carpet in the banquet room!” Lisa remembers.
To create style without clashing with the carpeting, Lisa topped gold chairs with ivory cushions and chose solid linens with a bit of shimmer. Tall arrangements with calla lilies were clean and dramatic. “It’s so much easier to do things in your home town, but we really were happy with the way things turned out on Sea Island,” says Lisa. “It was just a bit more work.”
Lisa kicked off both rehearsal dinners with video slide shows, created by David Mitchell, of each couple set to music, a project that she enjoyed immensely. Meredith and Stevens’ video played to Better Together by Jack Johnson while Morgan and Sadler’s flowed to the tune of You Are the Best Thing by Ray LaMontagne. The most important factor, however, was choosing the menu. “Stevens was very specific about the food for his rehearsal dinner,” says Lisa. “There had to be tomato pie, and he was all about a wedge salad. To go with the filet, we had the chef create a chicken dish that combined his two favorites — chicken Marsala and chicken piccata.”
Dessert was a bounty of sweetness that included a cake from Chocolate Nirvana, an oversized red velvet cake and an oversized carrot cake both created by Parkland Cakes. “On top of everything else, the boys and Meredith’s dad were all celebrating birthdays that weekend,” says Lisa. “Each boy got his favorite cake — red velvet for Sadler and carrot for Stevens — and the actual cake for the event from Chocolate Nirvana, which we had monogrammed.”
Morgan and Sadler opted for a sophisticated menu that included sea bass with a warm tomato onion jam and edamame succotash paired with a dramatically presented salad that resembled a bouquet. Brian Justice of Tasteful Temptations was the catering mind behind the cuisine. “The location was gorgeous with the lighthouse in the background,” says Sadler. “Mom added so many small touches that made it really personal, like putting pictures of Morgan and me from our childhoods all over the room and having the slideshow going. But the best part was seeing the love Mom and Dad put into the night.”
Lisa and Frank Walker have perfected planning rehearsal dinners in having twin sons as well as learning strategies for planning the occasions through in-town and out-of-town weddings. It just took close knit family dynamics and a creative, yet relaxed mother of twin sons. Now, Lisa might be ready to launch the first edition of Modern Groom!