Like a lot of couples, Eleanor and William Fairey can trace their first meeting to school. What sets them apart is that it was the first day of 2-year-old preschool. On the way home, Eleanor informed her mother, Elsie Owens, that she wanted to invite her new friend over to play. But when Elsie asked the friend’s name, Eleanor dissolved into tears because she couldn’t remember. “All she would tell me was that he was a boy,” recalls Elsie, who called the teacher and was told that his name was William Fairey.
For the next 27 years, Eleanor and William remained the best of friends, even after she moved to Charlotte. That all changed in late 2011 when William, who had been transferred to Charlotte, dropped a note and a gift at Eleanor’s house. “It was so sweet,” says Eleanor. “The first thing I did was call Blair, my sister, and tell her about it. She said, ‘You idiot! He’s in love with you!’”
A kiss at dinner one night convinced Eleanor to give dating a try — but only if William promised to take it slow. “I wondered how much slower they could go since it had already been 27 years,” laughs Blair Stanley Harris, Eleanor’s sister. “They’ve always been a perfect fit, and everyone knew it. They just needed to figure it out. I’m so glad they did.”
The story of William’s proposal begins with the ring, a brilliant blue ceylon sapphire from Thailand surrounded by two diamonds. He’d purchased the stone at the request of Marie, his mother, who asked him to choose a sapphire for her while he was in Thailand during his sophomore year of college. A week after he and Eleanor started dating, Marie gave him the sapphire, now set into an engagement ring. “Even though we’d only been dating a week, she knew he’d need it soon,” says Eleanor. Eighteen months later, while at Sewanee for Eleanor’s five-year college reunion, William decided to ask Eleanor to marry him. It didn’t go quite as he’d planned.
“After the football game, we’d gone back to the house to rest,” explains Eleanor. “William was in the kitchen when I heard something drop. As I walked in, I heard him swear and saw him scoop up a red box. It was so obvious what it was, but I told him that I hadn’t seen anything. We both died laughing.” For the next 12 hours, knowing that the proposal was coming, Eleanor was on pins and needles. She didn’t have to wait long. On a hike the next morning, William proposed.
After so many years as close friends, Eleanor and William couldn’t wait to begin their life as a couple, so they decided to marry just six months after William proposed. “Even that was too long,” laughs Eleanor. “Once we had the dress and the invitations, there wasn’t much to do until we got to the last-minute details.”
Music and food were the two major exceptions. Both Eleanor and William are fond of trying new restaurants, cooking and eating, and they wanted the dishes served at their reception to reflect their culinary leanings. They chose Crawford Pressley who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Academy in London and owns Loosh Culinaire, a Columbia catering company. Eleanor, Elsie and Blair particularly enjoyed the tasting portion of choosing the menu which was organized like a multi-course dinner, complete with wine. In the end, Eleanor and William split the dishes between Southern favorites, like fried oysters and shrimp and grits, and more cosmopolitan fare including ahi tuna bites served on silver spoons, mini lamb chop lollipops and a cheese platter laden with selections from around the world.
Although the food would be wonderful, Eleanor and William actually planned to spend most of the evening on the dance floor, cutting a rug to their favorite tunes. To make sure every song they wanted would make it onto the playlist for the night, the couple booked the band with enough advance time for the band to learn the songs they didn’t already know.
Elsie, along with designer Cricket Newman, staged the 6:30 p.m. event at Taylor’s Mill, a private property that sits off Trenholm Road and was originally owned by Thomas Taylor, an ancestor of Eleanor’s. “Eleanor has known where she wanted to get married since she was a little girl,” says Elsie. “That, the short engagement, and keeping things simple kept the wedding from becoming a major undertaking.”
Eleanor found her dress, a pretty A-line with a sweetheart neckline, in Charleston. Although she adored it as it was, a few alterations and additions made it perfect. “I didn’t want to be tugging at it all night long, so we added straps,” she explains. “It was simple, swishy, light and airy with a gorgeous bustle.” A lace belt was the final touch.
The veil was also special. Hand-made in Brussels, Elsie had purchased it while Eleanor was still in college. Although the color didn’t match the dress, Eleanor liked the contrast. “It was so ornate that it was almost highlighted against the slightly darker dress. It worked out better than I could have ever expected.”
With its centuries-old brick walls, the romantic ruins of Taylor’s Mill are a fairytale setting for an outdoor wedding. There’s no roof, but a canopy of trees provides a filigree of shade over the grassy courtyard. “It’s like a beautiful overgrown garden,” says Blair. Although it had always been a special place for the family — Blair had held her wedding reception there in 2005 — the mill was particularly meaningful for Eleanor and William: in high school, the couple had shared their first kiss within the walls. It also gave them both a perfect wedding locale for the intimate gathering of family and just a few close friends that they were inviting. “I love the feeling of a church, but William is closest to God when he’s outside, so we really wanted an outdoor wedding,” explains Eleanor. “We both got what we wanted by transforming the mill into an outdoor chapel.”
Not to take away from the beauty of the surroundings, Elsie and Cricket Newman went with a minimalist approach to creating a chapel inside the brick walls. To enter, guests passed through an archway that had been covered in pale pink and white roses. “We used garden roses instead of hybrids, and the aroma was just divine,” notes Cricket. “The difference between the two is like night and day.”
At the end of the aisle, a table draped with Eleanor’s great grandmother’s lace tablecloth served as the altar; set with flickering candles in glass hurricanes and a cross enveloped in more pale pink and white roses, it was simple, elegant and all that was necessary. Peonies were also part of the décor, appearing with jasmine vine and Sweet William in Eleanor’s bouquet and filling a pair of urns at the mill’s gate. The blooms, placed on both sides of the aisle, had been plucked earlier in the day from family gardens. “It was gorgeous,” says Eleanor. “I spent a little time on Pinterest and saw a lot of things I loved, but as great as Pinterest is, it’s overwhelming. I’m lucky my mom is so good at throwing parties!”
Since tenting the mill would have ruined the ambience, the family decided to hold the wedding in the tent that had been set up for the reception only in the case of a monsoon. Otherwise, they’d rely on all the matching white umbrellas that a friend of Elsie’s loaned her. Good thing: just as Eleanor and William began their vows, mist turned to soft rain. “All of the umbrellas opened up at the same time,” says Blair. “It was magical.”
After the ceremony and the brief rain shower, photos were taken inside the mill. Then, the other guests arrived to celebrate with dinner and dancing in a dramatic white tent. From the dance floor, the guests could see the mill, now aglow thanks to spotlights set around its base. “The tent was a festive decoration to the mill, and the lighted mill was a reminder of why we were all celebrating,” explains Elsie.
Although a heavy rain could have spoiled Eleanor and William’s day, in this case, it created magic. “Dean Jones was in the middle of his homily and just when he got to the part about a man who built his house on rocks so rain couldn’t wash away the foundation, it started to rain,” recalls Eleanor. “It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.” To get the couple from the wedding to the reception without getting drenched, the parking valets came to the rescue, pulling up the small tent they were using in between runs and holding it over the newlyweds as they made their way across the grass.
About mid reception, all of the guests were brought out of the tent into the field where they lit and released about 100 white Thai lanterns. The lanterns have a wick in the center and when lit, the white silk puffs up ––– and they slowly fly away. Just before released, each guest is supposed to make a wish and then let the lantern go. “It was a remarkable sight to see all of the lights sailing through the sky in a mass, just so beautiful,” says Blair. “It still warms my heart to think of all of the wishes for happiness that were sent up for Eleanor and William on that wonderful summer night.”
The evening ended with a Fairey family tradition. “William’s family loves Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream,” says Elsie. “At the end of the evening, we scooped it into demitasse cups and passed it to all the guests. It was fun!”