This Southern Garden-Inspired Ballroom Wedding in Washington, D.C., Was Planned in Just Under Three Months
It's safe to say that John W. Middlebrooks Jr.'s proposal to Denita Renee Conway didn't go exactly to plan. It started strong: The couple was vacationing at the Ritz Carlton in Orlando, Florida, and enjoying the balmy evening when John got down on one knee, illuminated by moonlight. But when he opened the box it was empty. "He was so nervous, that he dropped it. But, together, we found it—and it was such an unexpected surprise," shares Denita.
The couple returned to the Ritz for their March 7, 2020, wedding—this time, in Washington, D.C. "We love the Ritz Carlton brand (the hospitality, service, and attention to detail) and wanted a venue that was going to create a welcoming and warm environment with a feeling of luxury," adds the bride. "The Ritz is always where we stay when on vacation and where we feel most at home away from home." They had three objectives when planning their nuptials: "First, we wanted the guests to truly feel welcome. Second, we wanted them to fall in love. And third, we wanted them to have fun," notes Denita. There was, however, a fourth—they needed to do all three very, very quickly. Thanks to the help of the incredible team at Strawberry Milk Events, the celebration was planned, from start to finish, in just two-and-a-half months.
Denita, who owns an interior design firm and has experience with planning events, had a thought-out vision that she communicated to her team—and then she let them take it from there. "Staying involved was imperative," she says, "but I also had to realize that my level of expertise is just different than theirs. I gave up control." They pulled off her and John's dream of a classic, black-tie event with a Southern garden twist down to the minutiae. And, most importantly of all, says Denita, the final result prioritized their 100 guests: "Their needs were anticipated and they felt taken care of."
Empress Stationery turned around the couple's classic black-and-white suite, which previewed the big-day palette, in a hurry. "We had to do a semi-custom flat printed suite due to timing," explains Denita. "They had some really pretty, tweak-able designs in their 'print-ready' collection that offered a custom look, but took minimal time to produce—a must for planning a wedding in two-and-a-half months!" A custom crest tied the look together.
Bride in Bows
"It was just a gut feeling," Denita says of knowing her Ersa wedding dress was the one. "It was pretty on the hanger and I loved the details." Still, she chose to make several small adjustments: Custom bows, an extended train, a deeper back, and a belt were added to make the gown feel more like her own.
Custom earrings and bejeweled Jimmy Choo shoes completed Denita's big-day look.
Fit to Be Tied
The couple's first look unfolded at the Supreme Court Building in downtown Washington, D.C. "I was excited," reflects Denita, particularly about debuting her big-day look to John. "My dress was a secret. He left every meeting when the dress came up, so it was a mystery. I was so relieved that he loved it and loved me in it."
Denita and John's Southern garden theme was in full effect come the ceremony. The couple's planning and design team at Strawberry Milk Events tempered formal, Champagne satin-covered seating with lots of lush greens, which spilled out of boxwood planters along the aisle and hung from a chandelier overhead. At the altar, a greenery wall—draped with ivory velvet curtains and a magnolia garland—supported a small table, which held the candelabra used during the service's candle lighting.
Arm in Arm
Live musicians performed Queen's "Love Of My Life" as Denita's daughters—linked on either of their mother's arms—escorted her to the aisle.
From the Heart
During the couple's Christian service, they skipped traditional vows, deciding instead to speak from the heart. "We felt it was more genuine," says Denita.
While the newlyweds snuck off for post-ceremony portraits, their guests moved ahead to the cocktail hour, during which they enjoyed the couple's signature drink (elderflower rose Champagne), full bar service, and a number of passed appetizers. A pianist and violinist, elevated on a pedestal surrounded by greenery and candles, played soothing melodies.
At the interlude's close, attendees found their seating assignments from an oversized mirror, calligraphed by Script and Wit; the font informed all of the day-of paper goods, including the reception's menus.
In lieu of table numbers, Denita and John named each station after a powerful African American woman, including Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Denita's mother.
A Place to Rest
The reception décor was opulent, but comfortable. A large lounge vignette, located on the corner of the dance floor, offered loved ones a place to rest during the merriment. The head table, situated just beyond the lounge, was punctuated with magnolia-filled urns for a dramatic effect.
On the tabletops, small green-and-white centerpieces—spaced between lampshade candelabras and modern black metal lanterns—created a lush atmosphere.
Guests were welcomed to their seats with a hand-tied box of chocolates—and, later, sent home with fried chicken biscuit sandwiches in monogramed to-go boxes.
Before the late-night snacks, the group was treated to a feast. The plated dinner began with crab cakes and culminated in a main of marinated chicken breast, potato risotto, string French beans, and heirloom carrots with a porcini mushroom sauce.
On the Dance Floor
The crest seen on the couple's invitation suite reappeared during the reception—in the middle of the dance floor. Denita cites seeing the party room for the first time—the moment captured here—as one of the highlights of the celebration. "It was a dream come true," she says.
During the reception, the couple listened to toasts delivered by their closest family and friends. Denita's best advice to those swept up in the planning phase? "Stay in the moment," she says. "Remember, you only do this once, if you're lucky."
The meal concluded with the couple's wedding cake, which was designed by the Ritz Carlton's catering team. The four-tier confection was composed of two flavors: vanilla bean and marinated strawberries and rich triple chocolate. Guests were served a slice of each during dessert.
In Your Arms
Before switching into party mode, the couple shared their first dance to LTD's "We Deserve Each Other."
Photography, Lisa Ziesing for Abby Jiu Photography
Venue, Catering, and Cake, Ritz Carlton, Washington, D.C.
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Strawberry Milk Events
Videography, John Spears
Flowers, Sophie Felts Floral Design
Invitations, Empress Stationery
Day-of Paper Goods, Script and Wit
Officiant, Pastor Alphonso Lewis
Bride's Gown, Ersa Atelier via Riziks DC
Bride's Accessories, Jimmy Choo (ceremony shoes); Christian Louboutin (reception shoes)
Hair, Toni Yvette; DT Hair (hair design)
Makeup, Jeff Enriquez; Good Brows DC (eyebrows)
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Amsale via Nordstrom
Groom's Attire, Loro Piana; Enzo Custom; Tom Ford (bow tie)
Engagement Ring and Wedding Bands, James Allen
Music, Kushner Entertainment/Sound Connection
Rentals, White Glove Rentals; DC Rental; Revolution Events; La Tavola; BBJ Linen