A "Sophisticated Southern" Welcome Party and Al Fresco Rehearsal Dinner in Ojai, California
Though Samantha, a bridal stylist, and Jack, who works in commercial real estate, had both been enrolled at the University of Southern California at the same time—and had lived just four blocks from each other—it took a Bumble match for them to finally connect. That's why it's Jack left nothing to chance once he was ready to propose: He invited Sam to join him on a birthday trip to Pebble Beach to meet his grandmother and aunt, which was a cover for the real plan. "Jack had every hour of our weekend planned out," says Sam. "I didn't put the pieces together until after the proposal, but all of our activities were just a way for him to pass the time and calm his nerves."
As the couple rounded a turn on the beach, Jack assured Sam that his family was waiting at the next cove—instead, she was met by a pathway lined with lanterns and rose petals. "My heart immediately stopped," she says. "I turned toward Jack and he was on one knee. It was perfect and completely blew me away."
As they began planning their wedding at the Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai, California, Sam turned to her former coworkers at event design company Sterling Social, who also helped plan the rehearsal dinner and welcome party for September 26 and 27, 2019, respectively. "I knew their brains and style and they knew mine," she says. "We came up with the most creative and beautiful ideas and went for all of them. I had never felt so creatively stimulated or inspired. I am very sad it's over!"
Sam and Jack left all the details of their rehearsal dinner to his mother and sister, who came up with a Tuscan-inspired outdoor dinner—illuminated by candlelight—which was highlighted by personal speeches from friends and family. Sam planned the welcome party as an "Ode to Oklahoma"—her home state—and in honor of her late grandmother. "I had always dreamed of a 'fried chicken and Champagne' party, because there really is no better combination of words that spark fun!" she says. And with her vision realized, she has expert advice for other brides who have a one-of-a-kind idea: "Don't give up on your vision, keep it authentically you, and have fun!"
A Pretty Party
The overall aesthetic of the welcome party was heavily inspired by Sam's grandmother. "She was my soul sister and, my mom says, my twin—we were so alike!" says Sam. "[There's] nothing compared to her cooking and her attitude of 'must always be around pretty things.'"
Sam, Jack, and their immediate families stayed at Casa Elar, a five-bedroom gated home on the Ojai Valley Inn property with a backyard pool area; the couple immediately chose the locale for the opening night of their wedding weekend. "It had the most gorgeous backyard," says Sam. "We knew we had to use the space for the welcome party."
A Dress with Meaning
Like the rest of the event, Sam's floral Brock Collection dress was an ode to her grandmother. "I channeled my grandma's style," she says. "I picked a dress with a pattern that reminded me of her."
Dressing herself was easy, but deciding on everyone else's attire was more challenging. "The hardest [part] may have been trying to figure out the dress code for our welcome party," she says. "Trying to reinvent and make a Southern palette our own was challenging, but so incredible when it came together. We decided on a dress code of 'Sophisticated Southern.'"
Informal seating arrangements included rectangular high-top tables with wooden stools, tall cocktail tables, four-person rounds matched with metal armchairs, and plush lounge furniture.
"We kept the color palette muted and natural with some fun mixes of different patterns and textures," says Sam. "There was a lot of wood, plaids, and dried florals."
Among the Wildflowers
Florist JL Designs arranged small bunches of green eucalyptus, dried grasses, and ivory flowers in small white or wooden vases, placing them in groups on the high and low dining tables.
In keeping with the southern theme, Sam and Jack put together a menu that included fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and fried okra—made with cornmeal, just like the recipe Sam's grandmother used. "This was a nod to her to have her with me this whole weekend," Sam says. "The fried okra had to be cornmeal and it was so special."
What's on Tap?
Inside, the couple offered four specialty beers; guests served themselves from a custom-built tap wall. "It also served as a great photo backdrop for all of our guests," says Sam.
At the entrance, mini ponies decked out in festive garlands greeted guests, while a gold bar cart offered French 75 cocktails. The welcome sign was reinterpreted on the bar; a smaller iteration, a combination of leather and wood, displayed beer, wine, and cocktail options.
Cocktail napkins with lyrics to the Zac Brown Band song "Chicken Fried" were a playful reference to the menu and enhanced the vibe of the evening.
Games People Play
Custom touches at the party included cornhole boards, decorated with the same floral pattern as Sam's dress.
The motif also reappeared on beer koozies offered to the guests.
Sam and Jack included the details of their welcome party with the main invitation, but his parents, who hosted the rehearsal dinner, sent a separate card for that event. Swell Press Paper designed a deckled-edge invitation in a pale blush color, accented with taupe letterpress printing and rose gold foil. "The rehearsal dinner invite was soft, feminine, and romantic, which definitely was the vibe," says Sam.
At the entrance to the rehearsal dinner, a large easel displayed a white sign that read, "Rehearsed and Ready"—a motto that also appeared on custom cocktail napkins at the party. The ivory-and-blush florals on the sign previewed the arrangements inside.
The Soon-to-Be Newlyweds
For the rehearsal dinner, Sam chose a calf-length Inbal Dror dress with an off-the-shoulder neckline and a beaded skirt—a more formal contrast to the playful floral dress she donned for the welcome party. For Jack, she says, "We wanted a more sophisticated look—but still a little laid back—for the rehearsal dinner." The final selection: A Suit Supply blazer paired with Topman pants.
Dining Al Fresco
Jack's mother and sister worked out the details of this party, choosing an outdoor spot on the Ojai Valley Inn property (where many of the guests were staying). "It was gorgeous and felt like a scene you would find in Tuscany," says Sam. "Not having known any décor details, our jaws dropped the moment we pulled up. It was so stunning and an entirely different look than the rest of the events. I want to live in that feminine color palette for life!"
Guests sat at a single long table covered in white, floor-length linens. A color palette of soft blush, rose gold, and white came to life in floral arrangements from JL Designs; they included ranunculus, quicksand roses, toffee roses, brown lisianthus, sweet peas, dahlias, and antique carnations. Wooden candleholders and vases added warmth and texture, while white candles on the table—and votives hanging overhead—created a cozy glow.
Tone-on-tone napkins, linens, and plates accented a blush-colored ribbon securing the menu at each place setting. "My mother-in-law and sister-in-law did an incredible job with setting the tone for the weekend with the rehearsal dinner," says Sam. "They knocked it out of the park with the help of Sterling Social. I couldn't have been more in love with their vision."
All in the Family
Sam, her mother, and her sister joined Jack's mother and sister for a few photos before the rehearsal dinner began. "My mother-in-law and sister-in-law wanted to start the weekend off on the right foot and they did!" says Sam. "It was a welcoming, beautiful, and romantic environment."
On the Menu
For dinner, guests dined on an Italian-influenced menu from the Inn that included spring mix salad with strawberries and goat cheese; grilled sea bass with blood orange beurre blanc and citrus tapenade; roasted asparagus; and tagliatelle with parsley and pepper. The final course was a deconstructed lemon torte, which included almond and olive oil cake, lemon confit, almond mousse, and lemon buttermilk gelato.
To the Happy Couple
With just 63 guests—compared to the welcome party's 220—the rehearsal dinner offered an intimate opportunity for personal speeches and toasts. "Jack's dad gave a very touching and humorous speech explaining how we met, and how we interact and complement each other," says Sam. "The majority of our bridal party also gave speeches, which brought out the overwhelming feeling of love and support from all of our closest family and friends."
And after an evening of toasting and sharing stories, the guests weren't quite ready to head to bed: "No one wanted the party to end," says Sam, "so we all stayed up far too late and continued the party at Jimmy's, the Ojai Valley Inn's famed pub."
Photography, Jana Williams
Venue and Catering, Ojai Valley Inn
Event Planning, Sterling Social
Flowers, JL Designs
Stationery, Swell Press
Music, Chris Murphy (rehearsal dinner); Will and Wyatt (welcome party)
Rentals, Found Rentals (welcome party); La Tavola Fine Linen Rentals; Theoni Collection (rehearsal dinner)
Bride's Attire, Brock Collection (welcome party); Inbal Dror (rehearsal dinner)
Bridal Styling, The Bold&Bridal
Bride's Shoes, Aquazzura (welcome party)
Hair and Makeup, Contour Fossa
Groom's Attire, Todd Snyder jacket and Bonobos pants (welcome party); Suit Supply blazer and Topman pants (rehearsal dinner)
Lighting, Bella Vista Designs
Beer Tap Wall, Messex Industries
Engagement Ring, Simons Jewelers