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Fashion / Weddings

Creative Houston Couple Enjoys a Dream Santa Barbara Destination Wedding — With a Tiny Twist

Intimate Affair Brings Gigantic Wows

BY // 01.03.18
photography Kurt Boomer Photography

Washington D.C. friends of Elizabeth Esfahani and Robert Willey III were convinced that these two, both with careers in the media and similar interests in design and interiors, would hit it off. Their first date took place in a select booth of the D.C. brasserie Le Diplomate and things went swimmingly. They talked about her work as a business writer with Time, Inc. and then as press secretary to the congressional Financial Services Committee and they discussed his career as a food and travel writer for Esquire, Food and Wine and Details magazines as well as the New York Times.

They never imagined that one day they would be married, living in Houston and heavily into the interiors business.

Dating began in earnest with the couple returning numerous times ( Willey only half jokingly estimates it was 100)  to “their” booth at Le Diplomate. Three years later, in November of 2016, they were already in the process of relocating to Houston, but work continued to bring Esfahani back to D.C., where she was running the newest outpost of Matt Camron. It was during one of those return visits that Willey conspired with Esfahani’s sister, Sarah Tringhese, to lure her to their favorite booth at Le Diplomate for what she thought was a casual bite with friends. But it turned out to be a carefully orchestrated proposal by Willey, who had flown up to surprise her.

The couple wed last July at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. Esfahani’s family had earlier vacationed at the spot dubbed America’s Best Hotel by Forbes Traveller and Worlds No. 1 Resort by Travel & Leisure. (It is also the place where John F. Kennedy and his bride, Jacqueline, honeymooned.)

“I just fell in love with it,” Esfahani tells PaperCity. “Everything about it – the charming town, the beautiful landscape, the perfect light. And the San Ysidro Ranch takes all of these qualities and amplifies them. It’s one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever been.”

The couple planned an intimate wedding for 15 family members. “But we wanted to make it feel special,” Willey says. “Just because it was small, we didn’t want it any less momentous than a big wedding.” The couple was clearly grown up enough to make the planning process seamless.

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Esfahani adds, “When it came time to plan our wedding, we had a really clear vision of what we wanted: A long and beautifully set table outdoors, our families gathered around it, great food and delicious wine, lots of toasts, stories, and laughter. And that’s exactly what we got.”

Of the various wedding venues scattered across the romantic 500 acre property, the couple chose the Wine Cellar locale. In addition to the cellar with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, stucco walls and antiques, the adjacent private garden provided the ideal spot for such a wee wedding party. The ceremony was held beneath a canopy of loquat trees next to a wood-burning fireplace, which was lighted as night turned to day and dinner was served.

Keeping this day very much in the family, the groom’s sister, Carey Willey Sims, collegiate minister at Mary Washington University, officiated over the wedding. Sitting in the front row of seats were the couple’s parents, Jennifer and Matt Esfahani of Houston and Lib and Bob Willey of Alexandria, Virginia.

The al fresco candlelight dinner that followed was fairy tale beautiful, the scene lighted by long ivory tapers on the table and twinkling Tivoli lights overhead. The table was dressed with elegant Casa De Perrin settings and bouquets of pastel-hued roses and greenery by Toast Santa Barbara. Making the evening ever more magical was the guitar duo which performed classical music and lilting Spanish tunes as the families dined on a gourmet feast. When it came time for the couple’s first dance, they waltzed to “Married Life,” the soundtrack for the Pixar film Up. For the father/daughter and mother/son dance, the couple selected “What a Wonderful World.”

Esfahani credits Jen Ellzey of Style by Ellzey with handling styling for the wedding party. She assisted the bride in her selection of a gown by Zuhair Murad and insisted on navy blue velvet pumps by Alexandre Birman, a color surprise adored by the groom, who wore a custom suit from Sid Mashburn.

The blue shoes, Esfahani says, were part of the “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” that Ellzey also insisted on. Thus, Esfahani wore her grandmother’s pearl earrings, old, (worn at her wedding as well as by Esfahani’s mother and sister at their weddings). The new was a surprise gift from her parents — a family heirloom diamond bracelet. And for something borrowed, Esfahani wore the veil that her sister had worn at her wedding.

After honeymooning in Provence and Corsica, the couple returned to Houston where Willey owns Galerie Novella, featuring 20th century French, Italian and Scandinavian furnishings, and where Esfahani is co-creative director of Matt Camron in the Upper Kirby/River Oaks area.

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