The couple choice XO by John Mayer as the song for their first dance (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Bridesmaids in Amsale (Photo by Liz Banfield)
The new Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Making a grand exit (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A great time was had by all (Photo by Liz Banfield)
The bride and her parents (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A precious flower girl (Photo by Liz Banfield)
The beautiful invitation suite by Dallas' Alyssa Reeves set the tone (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Welcome gifts for guests included local St. Louis treats (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Going to the chapel (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Lucy Wrubel spun from an eight-foot tower at the surprise after party (Photo by Liz Banfield)
In lieu of a traditional guest book, a table featured three Simon Pearce vases and a note from Fort and Atkinson asking guests to pen personal messages that would later be engraved on the vases and displayed in their home in Dallas (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Flower girls showing off their moves on the hand painted dance floor (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Guests mingle under a floral archway (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A floral arrangement pops at one of the thoughtfully composed food stations (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Lovely details at the reception (Photo by Liz Banfield)
The bride and groom's faces on signature cocktails by The Grand Bevy (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A view from the stunning reception tent with custom herringbone wood floors (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A painted wood facade and cascading roses make a bar into a design statement (Photo by Liz Banfield)
A view of the dance floor before guests arrive (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Candles and golden lanterns add a warm glow (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Trading heels for flip flops on the dance floor (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Fort's parents surprised the newlyweds with fireworks as they drove off in a 1960 Silver Cloud II Bentley Rolls-Royce (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Confetti cannons took the party up a notch (Photo by Liz Banfield)
Egan ensured the reception was as conducive to conversation as it was to dancing (Photo by Liz Banfield)
(Photo by Liz Banfield)
There is an art to executing a good surprise. It requires not only a combination of presentation and perfect timing, but also a genuine insight into someone and a desire to truly delight them. The result can be magic, electric and unforgettable.
Ask any of the 300 guests at Dallas couple Natalie Fort and Brian Atkinson’s wedding in St. Louis, Missouri, and they will tell you the night was like experiencing this over and over again.
It’s fitting, then, that when the time came for Atkinson to pop the question, six years after he and Fort became college sweethearts at Texas Christian University, he worked with her father to execute the perfect surprise proposal over Christmas with her family in Cabo San Lucas, their favorite vacation destination. The couple considered Cabo venues for the wedding before deciding to host the affair in the bride’s hometown of St. Louis.
As a former account executive with Droese Public Relations, Fort was more than familiar with Dallas’ leading event talent and knew there were few better partners to make her and Brian’s day exactly as they envisioned. With Jackson Durham supplying the florals, DJ Lucy Wrubel spinning at the after party, and events and design mastermind Sara Fay Egan running the show, St. Louis feted in true Dallas style.
“We wanted to make it different from what the city had seen before,” Fort says. “It felt like a destination wedding even to the people from St. Louis!”
From the beginning of the planning process, Fort and Atkinson’s focus was always on their guests. They chose Fort’s favorite baker Beth Rhodes to make their cake (“my mom once carried one of her cakes on a plane to Texas for my 21st birthday,” she says), but selected four crowd-pleasing flavors so everyone would find something to enjoy.
For the menu — a top priority for Atkinson, who works in mineral acquisitions in Dallas — the couple opted for food stations, a departure from the traditional seated dinners that are typical of society weddings in St. Louis.
A selection of hearty, comfort foods they knew would satisfy guests was made, with no end to barbecue short ribs with potato puree and cornbread, bacon fried rice, toasted ravioli (a St. Louis staple), and a pasta station complete with hand-shaved truffles.
The couple’s thoughtful approach was something their hospitality-oriented planner could certainly embrace.
“They were always thinking about the comfort of their guests, ensuring they enjoyed a good time,” Egan says. “It sounds like something most people would do when having a wedding or a party — but it’s really not always the case.
“When you think about your guests, they truly have the best night of their lives.”
Fort and Atkinson’s wedding was one of Egan’s first since going off on her own after six years as a co-owner of Jackson Durham and, before that, director of sales at Todd Events.
After a beautiful ceremony at St. Peter’s Episcopal, the church Fort grew up attending, it was time for the first surprise of the evening — this one planned by Egan for the couple.
When the two arrived at The Old Warson Country Club to preview their jaw-dropping reception space and enjoy a special private dinner before guests arrived, they were greeted by their own smiling faces — printed on fondant atop specialty cocktails by The Grand Bevy.
“We couldn’t believe it,” says Fort, considering the photo had been taken barely an hour before, at the ceremony by their photographer, Liz Banfield.
The couple’s guests had the same reaction when handed their own cocktails at the door, and the delightful surprise was just beginning. Egan and team had completely transformed the elegant, 1954 venue, and constructed a breathtaking tent to serve as the main reception space.
The custom damask motif from the invitations, designed by Dallas’ Alyssa Reeves, served as a design element throughout. The design showed up as a tight, residential-wallpaper-style print on tent walls and was blown-up and hand-painted in pale pink on the dance floor, with a stunning chandelier of hanging orchids overhead.
In lieu of a traditional guest book, a table featured three Simon Pearce vases and a note from Fort and Atkinson asking guests to pen personal messages that would later be engraved on the vases and displayed in their home in Dallas.
As the night went on, Fort switched her custom Nardos gown for a festive fringed frock. Food stations flipped to late night, serving up crispy chicken and waffles and an espresso bar with ice cream (another surprise for the couple), while band Jessie’s Girls had everyone on the dance floor, which was outfitted with confetti cannons for added pizzazz.
When it was time for the couple to make their grand exit, guests gathered outside with sparklers. The newlyweds faces lit up when their pathway became a stream of fireworks — another perfectly executed surprise by the parents of the bride.
But there was one more surprise in store, this one for the guests. As they waved the bride and groom off in their 1960 Silver Cloud II Bentley Rolls-Royce, waitstaff passed Brandy Alexanders along with notes that read: “The fun continues. Join us in the ballroom.”
Guests made their way back inside to the ballroom, which had been closed off all night for the surprise after party (don’t worry, the newlyweds circled back to join in on the fun). In the center of the room was DJ Lucy Wrubel, perched atop an eight-foot-tall podium.
“Lucy’s head was literally between two chandeliers. It was more of a DJ tower,” says Egan. As the dancing continued, guests received individual boxes of St. Louis’ famous Imo’s Pizza – the final surprise capping off an unforgettable evening.