Emily & Dan – The American Dream

Back in 2014, we were lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in America.  Close family friends were having an intimate ‘backyard’ wedding in Pennsylvania, and we were absolutely thrilled to have been invited to share their day.  Everything about Emily’s and Dan’s day was unique and I can honestly say I will never go to another wedding like it, everything had a story and was done in a certain way for personal reasons to the couple. 

The wedding was particularly special for us to be a part of as we don’t get to see our second family across the pond that often, and also the bride was not long back from a stint in Afghanistan with the US military. 

Emily had a bittersweet engagement.  Dan wasn’t long back from a military shift abroad, and he proposed shortly before Emily was due to leave for Afghanistan, meaning she did most of her wedding planning whilst out there – negotiating bridal magazines and dates between her mum, sisters, and fiancé.  

The wedding was on a sunny Saturday in September, and Emily’s sister kindly offered her gorgeous home and garden as the setting.  A sleepy country estate just outside of the quaint university town of State College, PA, provided a stunning backdrop.  With ample garden space and an outside fireplace and pool, the whole wedding was hosted outside; with a cute gazebo set up poolside for the bar and dancing later.  The setting made the wedding feel very relaxed, yet not informal, and it had a real family vibe as it was being hosted at Emily’s sister’s home – Emily also has 2 other sisters (all 3 of whom were her bridesmaids), plus an older brother. 

“Being deployed to Afghanistan really made me appreciate the importance of family even more.  I would imagine being home a lot before going to bed.  Sometimes I would imagine being at my sister’s house, curled up on her outdoor sofa by the fire with a glass of wine.  I knew I wanted to get married in that beautiful spot and have friends and family share the same feeling I have when I’m there.”  

The Dress
Emily had been told of a non-profit charity that gathers wedding gowns for brides who are either marrying a service member or serve themselves – for free.  Emily was the perfect candidate!  While in Afghanistan, she tried to contact them but the internet wasn’t reliable in her camp and her email to sign up for a dress giveaway was never received.  Luckily though, Dan managed to set up an appointment for Emily for her return.  Emily said she was nervous about going, as she feared she would be too picky and not find anything she liked, however she praised Heidi at Brides Across America who found her something she fell in love with (despite her mandate of full length lace, then leaving happily on cloud nine with a glamourous Hollywood style satin number with crystal detail on the straps!).  

The Cake
Emily’s older sister had used Kim Morrison of Cakes for Occasions for her own wedding, so Emily got in touch to discuss options.  In Emily’s words, “her cakes are as delicious as they are beautiful, and even taste-testing with a sore throat, I could taste fresh raspberries in the raspberry cream and a rich chocolate ganache filling between layers of moist chocolate cake, and I knew that was what I wanted my guests to be treated to!”. 

I can personally vouch for this, as it was one of the best cakes I have ever tasted in my life!  It later came out that Kim has actually been featured on the Food Network and has won several prestigious wedding cake awards – and after tasting it myself, I am not at all surprised.   

The Flowers
Emily briefed her florist at Daniel Vaughn to compliment and coordinate with her sister’s garden.  She had hydrangeas spilling over the fire place mantel, Boston ferns in the fireplace and a magnolia bouquet.  The gents in the wedding party wore thistles and winter berries, as they wanted to pay homage to Dan’s Scottish heritage.  The florist also sourced Dan’s family tartan from Scotland to make shaggy bows for the aisle.  Dan’s lineage was important to tie in the family feel of their day.  

Emily used Jenny from Jenny Naima Photography, and she and her assistant (now husband!) were amazing on the day, covering every angle.  They really got up into the mix of the party, and sometimes a bit in your face, but after a few times you got used to it – and it made for some amazing photos!  Emily had worked with Jenny’s younger sister, and liked Jenny’s journalistic approach, so they worked on an engagement shoot and then the rest is history!  Jenny sent the couple’s photos in a custom wooden box with a tree (similar to their invites – pic below) and a wooden thumb drive with a tree on it too. 

“Everything was so custom and she made everything very special. Jenny and Chris were amazing.”

The Rings
Emily and Dan wanted something to match Emily’s engagement ring.  Dan sourced a gorgeous antique diamond engagement ring for Emily, which turned out to be from WWI; a British officer gave it to his fiancée before going off to war, but never came home.  His fiancée never married anyone else, but wore the ring her entire life. 

Emily and Dan’s wedding bands were custom made by Heather Riley Heimstra.  After hearing the couples unique story of both being deployed to war over 2 separate years, Heather made them something truly unique to them, but still in keeping with Emily’s antique engagement ring.  The rings were platinum, and the jeweller took some metal from each band and incorporated it into the other – such a lovely binding touch!    

Another personal touch to Emily and Dan’s day was their favours, ‘grilled stickies’ and a challenge coin each: 

Grilled Stickies
Grilled stickies are a local speciality in the small university town of State College, supplied by a local college diner (‘Ye Old College Diner’).  Grilled stickies are a must when you visit State College, and something Emily wanted everyone to experience.  They are mouth-watering sugary sticky cinnamon buns, not dissimilar to yum yums in the UK, but grilled and super cinnamon-y, and were a welcome savoury-sweet treat on the way home after a day of drinking!  

Challenge Coins

In the US military, if someone does a great job or wants to commemorate a special time or event, you would have a coin made.  As it goes, you always have your challenge coin on you and if you don’t, you owe the person a drink.  Dan made his own online via www.kiddercorp.com.  I loved this and it was such a lovely memory to take home with us to the UK, I cherish mine as a good luck charm.  

A Final word from The Bride:
“It was tough planning from a distance but it all came together in the end!  Dan and I did a first look for the photographer, and my mom was taken aback that we would do that, but it was so sweet and I loved it!  I loved having that time – just the two of us before the day started, and Dan was still more than surprised to see me come down the aisle so I really loved having that precious moment together!”

Emily made it all seem so easy!  A gorgeously unique wedding, and a gorgeously unique couple. 

We had such an amazing day, it was a thoroughly intimate and family affair and we were so honoured to share Emily and Dan’s day with them.  Despite the free bar, everyone left completely high on life, and with so much love for the couple, and my (now) hubby and I munched through all our grilled stickies in the car on the way home. 


All photos kindly c/o Jenny Naima Photography


Invites:  Allison Joanis; Kateallidesignco@gmail.com
Brides dress:  Heidi @ Brides Across America
Bridesmaid dresses:  ML Monique Lhuillier
Makeup:  Kelly Clark; Kelly@kellyclarkmakeupartist.com
Hair & manicures:  Billie @ J Stephens Salon 
Cake:  Kim Morrison @ Cakes for Occasions  
Flowers: Daniel @ Daniel Vaughn Designs  
Photography:  Jenny @ Jenny Naim Photography
Rings:  Heather @ Heather Reilly
Favours: Grilled stickies from Ye Old College Diner; Challenge Coin from www.kiddercorp.com
Rentals (tables, chairs, clear top gazebo):  Dan Skena @ Party Savvy

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1 Comment

  1. December 26, 2016 / 5:42 pm

    The white gold diamond engagement ring looks so beautiful. I can't wait to get a ring like that. It was such a nice ring. Thank you so much and keep posting things like this.