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Caitlin Johnson and Michael Dowd’s first encounter took place one night, unfolding like a scene from a movie. Caitlin was walking home in the lower east side of Manhattan carrying heavy bags of groceries. “A homeless man in front of me started to yell that I was too close to him and then followed me to my front door,” Caitlin says. Frightened, she was struggling to figure out what to do when a man rode by on a bicycle. Noticing what was going down, he used his bicycle as a barricade and then turned to Caitlin and told her to simply “get inside.” “I walked all the way up to my fifth floor walk-up and, after regaining my composure, knew I needed to find my knight,” Caitlin says. She immediately placed an ad on Craigslist’s Missed Connections, which Michael, her unknown hero, happened to check later that night. After writing to her through the ad, the two had their first date.
Two years later, Michael, a master’s student at MIT, popped the question on the morning of Caitlin’s birthday. Caitlin, an advisor for the art lease start-up TurningArt, wanted to open her presents. “Michael had wrapped up a spoon in a long box and when I looked up confused, he was holding a ring,” Caitlin says. “I hadn’t even brushed by teeth. It was awesome.” The now Boston-based pair, who consider themselves New Yorkers at heart, decided on an intimate summer wedding on July 19, 2014, at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel with 67 guests in attendance. With an art background, the bride dreamed up an event inspired by post-minimalism, Dutch still-lives, and the notion of decay—using blood red, burgundy, black, blushes, and flesh tones.
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Impressed with the look and feel of the Wythe Hotel, the 70-room boutique hotel housed in a refurbished factory on the Williamsburg waterfront, the couple decided to hold their celebration there. “They had a beautiful suite for us to stay in and took care of everything, including the knockout food,” Caitlin says of the Brooklyn venue.
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Venamour by Lisa Hedge designed the floral stationery. “She has absolutely beautiful work and was so gracious and helpful in getting us all squared away with our invitations and other paper goods,” Caitlin says.
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After visiting three different bridal salons in New York City without any luck, Caitlin traveled to The Plumed Serpent in Westport, Connecticut, on the hunt for the perfect blush pink gown. Following her mother’s suggestion, she tried on a Monique Lhuillier dress that was only available in ivory at the showroom. “Amanda, who was helping us, let me know I could order it in blush and quickly pulled up an image,” Caitlin says. After seeing the dress in the right coloring, “we both started crying.” The bride added sleeves to her dress to soften her tattoos.
A long blush veil from the same designer and a cage veil from Debra Moreland topped off her look. “I wanted this dramatic feeling of being wrapped in tulle,” Caitlin says. “I wanted to look almost otherworldly.”
The groom donned a navy suit by J.Crew with a red-and-white pocket square.
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The couple collaborated with Ingrid from Tin Can Studios to design the flowers for the wedding. “She knew just how to translate my art references into something real,” Caitlin says. “We played with incorporating older flowers or flowers starting to shed petals to create a creepy effect.” Her burgundy clutch featured ranunculus, scabiosa, and dahlias.
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The First Look
The couple and their photographer, Leila Brewster, took to the streets of Brooklyn before the ceremony, snapping first look photos in front of some graffiti, then venturing to the greenway for a Manhattan backdrop, and finally returning to the hotel.
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Like Mother Like Daughter
The bride’s mother selected a full-length teal dress from Net-a-Porter. “She bought it on a whim and ended up winning,” Caitlin says.
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Like Mother Like Son
Michael’s mom decided on a Tracy Reese cream-colored linen dress with lace cutouts and a plum slip and sash.
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The bridal party consisted of Caitlin’s best friend Stephanie, younger sister Victoria (who was also the maid of honor), and close gal pal Rebecca (who happens to be married to the best man). They each wore long black Monique Lhuillier dresses.
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The Wedding Garland
While keeping the ceremony flowers more traditional with white blooms, Caitlin and her planner created the wall garland as a little foreshadowing to what would take place in the reception room. “We came up with an idea for flowers tumbling on the wall,” Caitlin says. “We wanted people to walk in and be floored.”
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Although there was a dub step festival happening right next to the hotel, everyone was relieved that it didn’t interfere with the service. “The festival ended up being a hilarious backdrop for our wedding,” Caitlin says. “As I waited to walk into the ceremony, I had a group of people offering me a drink and dancing for me.”
Caitlin’s mother escorted her down the aisle to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. “She whispered in my ear just wonderful, supportive things,” Caitlin says. When the bride met her groom at the altar, the two couldn’t hold back their tears. “That’s such a hard moment holding your soon-to-be husband’s hand and all you want to do is hug him and you can’t,” Caitlin says.
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The Flower Girl
Adele, the groom’s four-year-old niece, acted as the flower girl in the wedding.
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The couple’s good friend Donald officiated the wedding. “We knew he would be funny, poetic, sensitive, and supportive to both of us,” Caitlin says. For the ceremony to be comfortable and inclusive, the bride and groom had their guests stand together with them. “The feeling of love and support and togetherness was so powerful,” Caitlin says. “When we were declared married and turned around, they were all standing in a group around us and it felt like this beautiful group hug. We will forever be grateful and in awe of how much we are loved and how much people care for us.”
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The Ring Exchange
After reciting their vows, the bride and groom exchanged wedding bands.
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An Emotional Moment
“I thought it would be a dancing wedding with some crying (we’re an emotional bunch), but it ended up being a crying wedding with some dancing,” Caitlin says of the day. “As Donald led us in our vows, I was overcome with this feeling of how amazingly cool and insane the wedding was.”
There was a thoughtful tie-in for the honeymoon, too. Donald asked Caitlin and Michael to write each other letters before the big day and send them his way. He then sent them back to the newlyweds to read on their honeymoon in Europe.
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The Wedding Kiss
The newlyweds sealed the deal with an affectionate kiss among friends and family.
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The Cocktail Hour
Wanting to incorporate burgundy everywhere, the couple served Lambrusco to start. The hors d’oeuvres included a variety of items in order to accommodate their own tastes—Caitlin is allergic to wheat and Michael is a vegetarian—along with their guests’ tastes. The menu included pigs in a blanket, Treviso with avocado, crostini with goat cheese, fava beans, duck liver mousse with pickles, and arancini.
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The Guest Book
Guests were asked to sign inside an art book on a page featuring sculptor Eva Hess, whose hanging sculptures were referenced in the wedding décor. As for the floral backdrop, Caitlin “wanted flowers that looked like bugs or specimens pinned to different screens.”
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The Escort Cards
Place cards were arranged in a mini file box with alphabetized tabs.
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The Reception Setup
Double doors from the courtyard led to the main event space of the hotel where the reception took place. The bride originally wanted one long table but knew the space wouldn’t permit it. Instead, she and Michael opted for two long tables covered in dark gray linens to highlight the flowers. “The flowers were the largest investment and for me the most important part of the design,” Caitlin says. “I wanted them everywhere doing everything.”
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The Hanging Décor
Tin Can Studios conceived the idea of hanging floral structures and exposed bulbs using wire and brass to create a postmodern vibe.
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The Table Numbers
Bearing a similar botanical design as the invites, the table numbers helped guide guests to their designated seats. The couple worked tirelessly to create a perfect seating arrangement that they knew could spark new friendships. “That was one of the benefits of the night,” Caitlin says. “We wanted to really merge our lives into one.”
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The centerpieces were made up of charm peonies, dahlias, scabiosa, ranunculus, and roses in brass vessels. Candles were lit irregularly throughout the day so that the wax would start to accumulate and so that the candlesticks would all end up being different lengths.
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The Wedding Wine
The couple decided on a Lambrusco red wine because they are fans of the drink. Even the label was perfectly in palette.
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The bride’s sister along with the groom’s best man gave “two incredibly heartfelt toasts,” touching on how miraculous it was that the two first met. “It was a mood that seemed to fill the room,” Caitlin says.
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As for the tasty fare, Reynard at the Wythe Hotel made a plated three-course meal with three options per course. Appetizers were either grilled corn salad with pickled blueberries, purslane, and ricotta; country pâté on toast; or a scallop crudo with plum. Dinner was a choice of smoked eggplant with cashew butter, seared albacore with tomato and peach, or lamb.
For dessert, lemongrass cotton cake and peanut cocoa nib meringues were brought out. Additional foods like French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and dessert canapés were served later in the evening.
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The Wedding Cake
The couple went with a simple buckwheat cake with pickled blueberry and lemon cream. A handful of ranunculus dressed it up.
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The First Dance
The newlyweds danced for the first time as husband and wife to “Heima” by Sigur Rós. “We procrastinated practicing this dance and ultimately my modesty won out,” says Caitlin, who intended to walk in and perform a rehearsed dance with Michael. “We made it about 15 seconds into the song.”
At the end of the night, the florist began taking apart bouquets and arrangements and bundled them together as parting gifts for the guests. Gluten-free donuts were also given out as the next day’s breakfast. “I scurried around like a fairy to everyone making sure no one left empty-handed, and as an added benefit I was sure that I got to embrace everyone who had come,” Caitlin says.
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Photography: Leila Brewster Photography
Location: Wythe Hotel
Event Planning: Sarah True of True Event
Stationery: Venamour by Lisa Hedge
Catering and Cake: Reynard at Wythe Hotel
Flowers: Ingrid Carozzi of Tin Can Studios
Hair and Makeup: Facetime Beauty
Lighting: Social Décor