Post-elopement, this couple turned an outdoor pavilion into an elegant dining room with custom floral linens, s'mores, and vine-draped chandeliers.
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Senior Cole Holloway didn't make the best first impression—he called out "Dibs!" when he spotted sophomore Meghan Higgins in the hallway of their high school in 2009—and she spent weeks avoiding him, until her Meghan's friend snuck Cole her number. For the rest of the year, they had an "on-and-off romance" that finally fizzled when he left for college. They reconnected through a mutual friend seven year later and, with Cole training for the U.S. Air Force in Oklahoma and Meghan finishing college at the University of North Florida, began a three-month long-distance relationship that include spending hours on the phone in the evenings. "It became immediately apparent to both of us that what we just rekindled was serious," says Meghan.
After Meghan graduated, she joined Cole in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he was stationed for fighter pilot training. In the fall of 2017, the couple received a three-year assignment to Okinawa. A few months before leaving for Japan, Meghan and Cole had "a very romantic talk at a very romantic dinner" in Oregon—and decided to get married before moving. "On October 25, 2017, Cole and I walked from courthouse to lawyer and back in one day and the deed was done," says Meghan. They relocated in November, and spent the next year planning an intimate outdoor celebration for 44 guests at Olivette in Asheville, North Carolina—a destination that reminded them of the spot where they were "paper married" in Oregon.
The date they chose—November 3, 2018—offered slightly chilly temperatures and a stunning display of fall colors along the banks of the French Broad river, where a brief outdoor ceremony was followed by dinner, conversation, and s'mores on an outdoor pavilion. But by then, their celebration had taken on an even greater significance after two life-changing medical diagnoses: In September, Cole's mother, Chrys, found out she had a terminal brain cancer; and, in October, Cole was diagnosed with ALS. He and Meghan chose to keep that news a secret until after the wedding—"to keep that day a positive and sacred memory, untainted by the diagnosis," says Meghan—and to save Chrys from the added stress and heartbreak. Chrys died in December, the day after Cole, now medically discharged from the Air Force, and Meghan returned from Japan.
But despite the tests Meghan and Cole faced in their first year as husband and wife, they're ready for their future together—whatever it may bring—with glad memories of their Asheville celebration which was, says Meghan, "a day bathed in the essence of fall, and an evening filled with meaningful conversations, delicious eats, and the comforts of a warm cabin night in."
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The couple's planner, Rebecca Rose Events, created and organized their paper suite, creating several custom elements that the couple used throughout the décor. The save-the-date displayed an original watercolor illustration of the mountains and river at the wedding's location, while a floral watercolor design on the invitation and envelope liner reappeared on custom linens at the reception.
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Since the North Carolina location required most guests to travel and spend the weekend, the couple stocked welcome bags full of their favorite treats: local Asheville beers, handcrafted jalapeno popcorn, sea salt chocolate bars, and fresh chocolate chip cookies.
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Instead of an official bridal party, Meghan and Cole each chose five friends to add to the guest list—and booked a cabin big enough for everyone to stay together for the weekend. "Because this was also our coming home after having lived overseas for a year, it was amazing to have our friends stay with us and for every night to feel like a giant slumber party," says Meghan. "This also made getting ready in the morning really fun and easy."
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Meghan traveled from Okinawa to Portland, where she met her mother and stepmother-in-law for four wedding-dress shopping appointments over just five days. Though she found her dress at her second stop, she kept looking—and after testing nearly 20 more dresses, she was ready to commit to the ivory Mikaella crepe gown with a plunging neckline and modest train. "I fell in love with crepe after the first gown I tried on," says Meghan. "It has a certain classic elegance. The thing I loved most about my dress was the buttons down the back. With the rest of the gown being rather simple, this added a delicate flair that I adored." She wore Stuart Weitzman sandals and David Yurman pearl and diamond earrings to complete her timeless look.
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When the newlyweds left Oregon for Okinawa, Meghan didn't know that back home in Florida, Jon's Fine Jewelry was finishing up a custom engagement ring Cole designed with his mom, Chrys. The emerald center stone is a tribute to Meghan's middle name, Morakot, which means "emerald" in Thai, and a nod to her favorite color. "Cole gave his mother the idea, and she executed it perfectly, with Jon's help," says Meghan. "Chrys sent it to Cole who then 'proposed' (we were already married!) to me on New Year's Eve in 2017."
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Her Bold Bouquet
Rich fall colors in Meghan's bouquet came from burgundy ranunculous and peonies, quicksand roses, deep blue privet berry, and bronze amaranthus. Leafy ferns—Meghan's favorite type of plant—added an organic, untamed vibe.
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Cole wore a burgundy suit, fitted white dress shirt, and black bow tie from Hugo Boss. "We thought this color was very fall appropriate, and Cole's always one to love a bold fashion statement so it fit the bill," says Meghan. On his lapel he wore his father's diamond bat pin.
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A Quiet Moment Together
Meghan and Cole saw each other the morning of their wedding—not exactly a break in tradition, since they were already married. But they still set aside a few minutes before the ceremony began for a first look with their photographer. "Our first look was a special moment for Cole and I to settle in and remember what this day was all about," says Meghan. "We absolutely love that we had those private moments before the ceremony."
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Meghan and Cole chose a secluded spot on the bank of the French Broad River for their outdoor ceremony. A small bridge led guests to a riverside clearing, where a floral arbor created a focal point for the couple to exchange vows.
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Meghan's father walked her down the aisle—her favorite part of the day, she says, "because it was the only part of the day where I was surprised!" Cole insisted on choosing the song that the Allegro Music string quartet would play during that moment—Snow Patrol's "Run"—and kept it a secret from Meghan. "It was such a special moment between the two of us that no one else knew about," she says. "If you can have an intimate moment while a bunch of people are watching, it definitely calms the nerves down."
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The couple asked their best friend, who had also witnessed their courthouse wedding, to officiate a non-religious ceremony. "He read a few quotes Cole and I thought represented our love, and prompted us to exchange the vows we had written for one another," says Meghan. "Then he pronounced us man and wife 'again.'" After the ceremony, the couple and their guests moved to a pavilion on the water for cocktails and dinner.
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With a final guest list of fewer than 45 friends and family, the couple chose a single long table that sat everyone together under a wooden pavilion tented with clear walls. Deep blue velluto linens—a blend of linen and velvet—rented from Nuage Designs created a dramatic background for custom runners from Bess & Baxter, complete with the watercolor floral design featured on the invitation. Exposed beams were decorated with draping smilax vines.
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Rebecca Rose Events provided floral décor for the wedding and reception, accenting the long table with a continuous centerpiece design that incorporated the types of flowers and greens found in the runner artwork—including maidenhair ferns, plumosa, flat ferns, ranunculous, privet berry, antique hydrangea, and peonies.
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Gold-rimmed chargers coordinated with gold flatware and gold-rimmed glassware, while floral napkins matched the custom runners. Instead of a seating chart, the couple placed a small personalized box packed with s'mores ingredients at each setting; the men also received Davidoff Winston Churchill cigars, while the women's settings included green pashminas. Laser-cut wooden menu cards displayed the evening's food selections—Thai grilled shrimp salad, basil-topped salmon in phyllo, braised short ribs—from Arlene Cotler Catering.
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Cole's mother, Chrys, was determined to see her son and Meghan's wedding, despite her terminal cancer diagnosis just two months earlier. The speech she gave became Cole's favorite moment of the day. "Chrys has always had a way of commanding a room with her beautiful words, and I'd reckon this was her best work yet," says Meghan. "There wasn't a dry eye in the room after her incredible speech—we will never forget that moment."
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Though it took a little vision, Meghan and Cole were able to transform the rustic space at Olivette into a chic dining area. "Our venue at its bare bones was just a pavilion on the water, but what it ended up being was a scene from a five-star restaurant," says Meghan. Instead of a DJ or band, they focused the evening on intimate conversation and fellowship. "This felt very natural to our group," says Meghan, "and facilitated an amazing night of catching up with everyone and celebrating our love."
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After the toasts, dinner, and plenty of chatting, the couple and their guests retreated to a waterside fire pit where they smoked cigars, toasted s'mores, and continued the celebration. Toasting sticks and warm blankets waited on a nearby picnic table. "This was such a nice touch to the cozy feel of the evening," says Meghan.
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Photography, Theo Milo Photography
Location, Rosebay Park at Olivette
Event planning, flowers, and stationery, Rebecca Rose Events
Catering, Arlene Cotler Catering
Calligraphy, Jill Velez
Cake, Karen Donateilli
Music, Allegro Music Events
Rentals, Nuage Designs (linens); Professional Party Rentals
Bride's gown, Mikaella Bridal
Bride's accessories, David Yurman jewelry; Stuart Weitzman shoes
Hair, About the Face
Makeup, Powder Me Pretty
Groom's suit, Hugo Boss
Groom's accessories, Allen Edmonds shoes; Montblanc watch
Lighting, Professional Party Rentals
Transportation, Leap Frog Tours
Engagement Ring, Jon's Fine Jewelry
Runners and Napkins, Bess & Baxter's
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