This Is How You Throw a Moody, Art Deco-Inspired Wedding in Santa Barbara
Jason Lai and Justin Thiele matched on a dating app in August 2016, but with Justin preparing to take the bar exam, the pair wasn't able to schedule their first date until November. "We had an instant spark, and we spoke for hours while sipping on Champagne and dining on delicious small plates," recalls Jason. A little more than two years later, while on a vacation with Justin's family on a yacht in the British Virgin Islands, Jason prepared a surprise proposal on a secluded dock on Prickly Pear Island. "After saying yes, we walked back to join the family, hand in hand, and noticed that Justin's nieces and nephew had written congratulations messages in the sand for Justin and me," says Jason. "It was very cute and romantic."
As the couple began planning their wedding, they focused on venues in Santa Barbara—one of their favorite weekend destinations. Jason, an interior designer, also prepared a thorough "concept book" for their planner, Nina Moore, detailing his vision of an event that was "sophisticatedly tailored and timelessly elegant with an Art Deco flair." The resulting aesthetic: An intense palette of black, charcoal, and dark teal; white flowers and olive branches; and accents in a blend of materials that included concrete, copper, ceramic, and acrylic. "I really wanted the wedding to have a masculine feel with personal touches," says Jason.
When the couple's 169 guests finally gathered for the celebration on November 9, 2019, at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort in Santa Barbara, California, every detail had been addressed, from drink stirrers with the couple's custom logo and floral crowns for their pets to a carefully curated request list for the band and a chic black-frosted cake. "We honestly felt like we just showed up to our wedding without any worries," says Jason. "It was so enjoyable to work with Nina." But despite their flawless day, the couple does offer soon-to-be newlyweds one piece of very practical advice: "Pace yourself with the alcohol on your wedding day—you don't need to drink every beverage people bring to you," they say. "We also suggest filling your Champagne glass with ginger ale every other refill. It looks exactly like Champagne—nobody will be able to tell!"
In the Dark
Invitations from Prim and Pixie previewed the event's color scheme with black-and-dark-teal cards and copper printing. "We had a custom logo designed with two J's—something that looks abstract and structured," says the couple. They used the logo on drink stirrers, ceremony signage, and even custom stamps, creating a motif they describe as "tailored" and "masculine."
The grooms and groomsmen wore understated boutonnières of white flowers and green olive leaves tied with textured gray ribbon from florist Anna Le Pley Taylor.
Men in Black and White
Justin chose a timeless black tuxedo, while Jason sported a white jacket and vest with black lapels, buttons, and accents; both of their ensembles were sourced from Indochino. The grooms also wore matching Hugo Boss shoes and donned significant pieces of jewelry presented to them at their Chinese tea ceremony—a Rolex from Jason's parents, and a jade ring from Jason's aunt.
Instead of saving their first look for after they were dressed, Jason and Justin spent the morning getting ready with their bridal party. "Being in the same room as we got dressed with all of our groomsmen, bridesmaids, and family was very emotional," says the couple—as was the tea ceremony which followed. "This was the first for Justin's family—there was laughter and happy tears," notes Jason. That ritual also led to one of Jason's favorite moments of the day: "My parents calling Justin 'son' for the very first time. This was a huge gesture, and hugely emotional," he says.
Shades of Gray
Jason and Justin's groomsmen wore peak lapel tuxedos from The Black Tux. "We wanted the groomsmen to be as classic as possible, but with a modern, tailored look," says the couple. Beaded cap sleeves added a little sparkle to the steel-gray chiffon of the JJ's House bridesmaids' gowns, which, say the couple, "added a soft, feminine contrast next to the groomsmen's tailored attire."
Room with a View
Jason and Justin held their ceremony on a walled veranda at the hotel, where wide, arched windows looked out over the city and ocean. A see-through black backdrop created a focal point without fully blocking the views, while concrete planters filled with olive branches and a garland of white roses up above highlighted the altar space.
An Elegant Entry
A freestanding wall at the entrance to the service area showed off a copper version of the couple's logo, while a tightly-packed arrangement of white roses and olive branches adorned the top.
Ready to Wed
As the processional began, says the couple, "Justin's nieces ushered our beloved pets, Pixel and Lakota, down the aisle." Each man was escorted by his parents: Justin first, as guitarist Chris Fossek played an original song, and then Jason, to Fossek performing Ed Sheeran's "Perfect."
Sealed with a Kiss
Jason and Justin wrote their own vows, which they exchanged in a ceremony officiated by their friend Kelsey J. Patel. Both men talked about their love and respect for each other, their confidence in the commitment they were making, and their willingness to face the worst and best parts of life together.
A Clear Choice
A large-scale escort display incorporated all the décor elements the couple chose for their big day: Copper frames held acrylic sheets listing each guest's seating assignment, and were placed over potted trees and floral arrangements that tied into the white, green, and black color palette.
Monogrammed drink stirrers reintroduced the couple's logo during the cocktail hour.
Back in Black
Justin and Jason didn't shy away from the dark tones of their palette come the reception: Black chairs and tablecloths added a moody elegance to the room, which was lit by candles and eye-catching chandeliers. "Being the very first to see the reception room all set up—with candles in it, tables and linens set, and all of the décor in place—in that moment, we were so overcome with emotion about how beautiful it all was!" says the couple.
Round tables throughout the room featured tall centerpieces that mimicked olive trees, lit from below with small LEDs. Taper candles in glass holders, teal glassware, and votives enhanced the "luxe and romantic" atmosphere Justin and Jason hoped to create.
Strong and Soft
Longer black tables on the sides of the room had floral arrangements in a variety of sizes and taper candles running down their length. Jason and Justin chose cement vases to hold their centerpieces of white blooms for a bold contrast.
At the Table
Black ceramic chargers topped with dark teal salad plates added texture to the tabletops, while glimmering copper flatware provided a chic metallic accent. Above each charger, the couple placed a marble place card customized for each guest.
Lele Patisserie decorated the couple's four-tier cake with white blooms and gleaming accents, and incorporated two different flavor combinations: citrus cake with citrus meringue buttercream filling for the three smaller layers, and chocolate orange cake with mint meringue buttercream for the bottom tier.
A "Perfect" Pair
For their first dance, the couple took the floor to Ed Sheeran's "Perfect," with the band tweaking the lyrics to replace "woman" with "man" throughout. Afterward, they shared a tandem dance with their mothers to "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, with their fathers cutting in halfway through the song.
The men hired live band Vanity Fair to provide the music, but hit some roadblocks when creating their playlist. "One thing that was surprisingly difficult was picking the live band's music for the evening; we spent hours and hours listening through our library for songs that we fell in love with," says the couple. "Ultimately it was perfection—our band was epic. Everyone was raving about Vanity Fair.""
Photography, Anna Delores Photography
Venue, Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort
Event Planning, Nina Moore
Flowers, Anna Le Pley Taylor
Videography, Emma Lynn Cinema
Officiant, Kelsey Patel
Stationery, Prim and Pixie
Cake, Lele Patisserie
Music, Chris Fossek (ceremony and cocktail hour); Vanity Fair (reception)
Rentals, The Ark; Theoni; Town and Country
Grooms' Tuxedos, Indochino
Grooms'Accessories, Hugo Boss shoes; Rolex watches
Hair and Makeup, Team Hair and Makeup
Bridesmaids' Dresses, JJ's House
Menswear, The Black Tux
Lighting, Bella Vista Designs