Whether they end up good, bad, or in between, first dates are almost always nerve-wracking. For Ashton Lunceford Hanson, who had accepted a date with Johnny Hanson in July 2017 after the two had spent a few weeks getting to know each other via text, the initial meeting was even more stressful than most.
“I had been living in Los Angeles for a long time and, for safety’s sake, had gotten into the habit of taking certain precautions on first dates,” she says. “Johnny and I had a few mutual friends, so when he suggested that I come to his music studio, I said yes instead of insisting we meet in a public place. I felt it was an okay decision … until I got there. There was no sign, just a big warehouse, and the neighborhood was super-sketchy. As I was walking towards the front door, all I could think was, ‘Where am I?’”
Although Ashton’s comfort level increased dramatically when she entered the building — the exterior belied a hip, stylish interior — the moment turned uncomfortable when Johnny offered to show Ashton around. “It turns out he lived there, too, which meant walking right by his bedroom,” she says. “It was a little awkward, but we managed to laugh it off.”
Once the tension had dissipated and the couple had driven to a nearby Tiki bar, Ashton found that she and Johnny shared a surprising number of interests, especially a passion for music. “He’s a producer, songwriter, and composer, so his whole career is about making and playing music; I was in a band when I first moved to LA and now represent several musicians,” says Ashton. “We bonded over that shared love of music.”
Ashton is not exaggerating when she says they bonded. “After our first date, we didn’t go a day without communicating,” she says. “Most guys are so noncommittal; you date them for three months and you still have no idea where you are. Johnny put it all out there, which was wonderful.”
Johnny adored Ashton from the very beginning as well — so much so that sometime during the couple’s second month of dating, he mistakenly uttered the “L word.” “When we first started dating, I think on our fourth or fifth date, I accidentally said ‘love you’ very casually as I hugged her goodbye,” he says. “I say that to close friends, and it just slipped out. It got really awkward, and I just changed the subject quickly and said, ‘Wow, look at the moon.’ Then I tried to cover it up by saying ‘later’ in a weird way that almost sounded like ‘love you.’”
Ashton remembers the moment as well. “He started talking a mile a minute to cover it up,” she says. “We didn’t talk about it for months, but when we did, we were both able to laugh about it.”
Early challenges long forgotten, Ashton and Johnny settled into their relationship, going to see bands, listening to music together, and meeting each other’s friends, family members, and coworkers. Leore Hayon, a college friend of Ashton’s who also served as her maid of honor, met Johnny around the couple’s third date, which happened to be Ashton’s birthday. “He was so different than anyone else she’d dated,” she says. “He’s warm and an old soul, just like Ashton.”
Ashton’s younger sister, Logan, who first heard about Johnny at the end of the summer of 2017, says that she could tell that her sister felt differently about her new beau than she had about any other boyfriend. “As she spoke, I realized that I really wanted to meet him because this was obviously a special relationship,” she says. “When we met him later, I saw how down-to-earth he was and how he fit in perfectly with our family.”
By the summer of 2018 Ashton and Johnny had begun to have serious discussions about marriage, and when the topic of engagement rings came up, Ashton mentioned that her mother had given her a diamond that had belonged to Ashton’s grandmother. “I told him right where it was in my jewelry box, then spent the next six months checking every day to see if it was still there,” says Ashton. “When it always was, I actually started to get a little bit annoyed.”
That year, the couple decided to spend Christmas in South Carolina with Ashton’s mother and stepfather, Jan and Jim Bonniville. On Christmas Eve, Johnny suggested a walk around a nearby park. “He was acting weird, and my mom had suggested that I might want to look a little nicer, so I wondered if he might propose,” says Ashton. “But then I thought, ‘No way, he doesn’t have the diamond.’”
It turns out he did. Unbeknownst to Ashton, Johnny had cleverly taken the ring to a jeweler and had the diamond replaced with a cubic zirconia, then had the original diamond placed in a new setting. “I knew she had been checking to see if the diamond was still there, so I found a jeweler who could make the switch in an hour,” he says. “I had a tour coming up and at the end of it, I was going to meet her in South Carolina to spend Christmas with her and her family. I wanted to propose on Christmas Eve, and I had already called and asked her parents’ permission beforehand. I had to travel around the states on this tour with the engagement ring in my backpack the whole time, which made me pretty nervous!”
Not familiar with the park, and nervous about what he was about to do, Johnny found himself randomly pausing during the walk. “I’d stop somewhere and say, ‘Wow, this is really beautiful’ to gauge if she thought it was,” he says with a laugh. “I finally found a little bench at the end of the trail that the stream bent around. We sat there, and I got on one knee and asked her to marry me.”
Ashton was shocked. “He’d really fooled me by replacing the diamond,” she says. “It never occurred to me that he would go that far to keep a secret!”
Although Ashton and Johnny had plans for a long engagement — the wedding date was set for May 2020 — the couple was forced by COVID to delay until Aug. 28, 2021.
Ashton and Johnny thought long and hard about where to marry but in the end decided that the Santa Ynez Valley in California would be the best fit. Not only had they spent many happy weekends visiting the area’s wineries, but most of their friends lived in California, and Ashton’s family was happy to make the trip.
One aspect of the Santa Ynez Valley that particularly appealed to Ashton and Johnny was the string of tiny towns that runs through the valley. With dozens to choose from, the pair settled on Los Alamos, which was originally a stagecoach stop and is named for the cottonwood trees that thrive in the dry, sunny climate. Today, outdoor cafes and friendly tasting rooms fill a walkable downtown that Ashton and Johnny loved from the moment they arrived. “I always pictured myself getting married here in this part of California,” says Ashton. “It’s beautiful and casual.”
But what sealed the deal for Los Alamos was the 1880 Union Hotel, a historic nine-room property where they could not only stay but hold the ceremony and the reception as well. Though rustic on the outside, the renovated interior is a mix of beautifully restored period furnishings and modern pieces set on hardwood floors awash in light from tall original windows. The property is surrounded by neat gardens that are shaded by cottonwoods, magnolias, and stately pines and hemmed by ivy-covered brick walls. “It was the first venue we visited, and we loved it immediately,” says Ashton. “We were able to hold all of our events outside.”
More than a year later than they had originally planned, Ashton and Johnny kicked off their wedding weekend with an outdoor pizza party that quickly became a night of laughter as guests took advantage of the open mic to regale each other with stories about the couple. The next day, after an in-town breakfast and a visit to a winery, Ashton and Johnny said their vows before friends and family under a flower-covered gazebo in the hotel’s garden. Ashton wore a full-length gown with a gathered tulle skirt that highlighted a sleeveless bodice fashioned from modern lace. Though quite different from the more traditional dress she had originally chosen, the vintage gown suited both the bride and the atmosphere.
“By the time I put my original wedding dress on for a fitting, it just didn’t feel right,” says Ashton. “The dress I wore was a little bohemian, very ethereal, and so comfortable. I loved it.” Bridesmaids Leore Hayon, J.J. Nolan, and Logan Lunceford wore neutral dresses that they each chose themselves.
To go with her look, hair and makeup stylist Aaron Barry created a style he calls boho whimsical. “We left her hair down and added minimal floral accents to accentuate the style,” he says. “For Ashton’s makeup, I used a smudged out taupe liner and individual lashes to enhance the eye. I used cream blush and contour so everything was subtle — a hint of a tint if you will.”
Ashton could not have been more thrilled. “I felt like an elevated version of myself,” she says.
After sipping Marvin Margaritas and Shadow Spritzes, signature cocktails that the couple named for their cats, the group enjoyed a seated dinner reception, feasting on flat iron steak, salmon, roasted vegetables, and cacio e pepe, a cheesy pasta dish that is Ashton’s favorite. At sunset, Brynn Elliot, a friend of the couple who is one of the artists Johnny plays with, performed her hit, “Tongue Tied.” “It’s a sweet, sweet ballad made even more special by hearing her play it for us,” says Ashton. “Even the setting was perfect. When she started, the sun was going down and the lights were just coming on.
“I was so grateful to actually have a wedding, with people together in one space. The entire weekend, everywhere we went, I was surrounded by friends and family members. It was like a reunion. It was perfect.”