Weddings of the Year
A peek inside the celebrations of four local couples
Days to Remember
An Indian celebration for high school sweethearts included a henna ceremony, a cleansing ritual and tying the knot in front of 400 guests
THE COUPLE: Divya Malkani, 25, and Vardahn Chaudhry, 26, both grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Walt Whitman High School. Divya is a graphic designer at Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company in Arlington. Vardahn is a D.C.-based consultant for Accenture. They live in Georgetown.
HOW THEY MET: The two knew of each other and had lots of mutual friends while attending Pyle Middle School and Whitman, but it wasn’t until 2009, at the end of Vardahn’s senior year and Divya’s junior year, that they hung out a few times. He asked Divya to the prom, and she said yes.
THE FIRST DATE: With their upcoming prom date still a few weeks away, the high schoolers started spending more time together. Their first date was an outing to Starbucks on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. They were on their lunch break and wound up chatting for more than three hours, missing class.
THE PROPOSAL: Six years after they started dating, Vardahn proposed to Divya in New York City, where she was living. He was splitting time between D.C. and New York, and decided to propose on an August weekend. After brunch at a restaurant and boating in Central Park, they went to Riverside Park, one of Divya’s favorite places, and sat down to relax. Lingering nearby was Vardahn’s friend whom he’d enlisted to take photos. Vardahn realized that he wanted to start the proposal while he and Divya were standing, so he made up an excuse to leave and as soon as they stood he dropped to one knee. “I looked around to see what was going on and I saw this photographer there and was like ‘Wait, this is really happening?’ ” says Divya, who got over her shock and said yes. They went to Divya’s apartment, where friends had gathered with Champagne, and later celebrated with relatives at a restaurant.
THE WEDDING: Divya and Vardahn were married on Sept. 4, 2016, in front of 400 guests at the Hyatt Regency Reston in Virginia. The celebration included seven events that started 10 days before their ceremony and reception.
THE KICKOFF: The first wedding event was on a Friday night at a Sikh temple in Potomac, where their families often attend the weekly religious service and communal dinner. As a way to contribute to the community there, Divya and Vardahn served food from D.C.’s Indique to about 30 of their close family and friends as well as about 90 others at the temple. They scooped the Indian fare onto everybody’s plates, and also cleaned up. “It was a really nice feel-good event,” Vardahn says.
The next night, Vardahn’s parents hosted a cocktail party at their house in Potomac, and the following night they hosted a religious service. “The tradition is to have an event like this at the home to kick off the week and have everything go smoothly,” Vardahn says. Exchanging gifts was part of the event. “My family gave Vardahn a few gifts and then his family gave me a few gifts,” Divya says. “My parents are builders in real estate and so they gave Vardahn a brick to symbolize the first brick of our first house.”
PRETTY DESIGNS: Four days later was a henna ceremony at Divya’s parents’ house in Georgetown. That morning, a henna artist spent about four hours applying ink in intricate designs on Divya’s legs and the front and back of her hands. (The day after, Divya scraped away the excess ink and was left with the dark red stains that would stay on for about two weeks.) Before the event, Divya painted a mural of an Indian wedding scene on a wall of her parents’ garage as part of the décor. She also made a “wishing tree,” where guests could write wishes for the couple and attach them to the tree with ribbons. Divya enlisted a cousin and aunt to painstakingly bake and decorate dozens of cookies to look like henna-covered hands. About 100 guests (both male and female) arrived in the afternoon, and many of the women also got henna. The party included singing, dancing and guests playing the Indian drum called the dhol.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Two nights before the wedding, about 300 guests joined the couple at Foxchase Manor in Manassas, Virginia, for a celebration called a sangeet. “It’s essentially another reception,” Divya says. The night of singing and dancing included food from the four areas of India where their families are from or spent time. “My family does not dance, but they decided they’d do a family dance, but that’s all they really told me,” says Divya, who was surprised when they pulled off a 60-person choreographed number. Divya and her sister also performed a dance together. The night before their wedding, Divyaand Vardahn each went to a haldi ceremony, where a turmeric paste was put on them in a cleansing ritual. Divya’s event was at her parents’ house, and Vardahn’s was at his parents’ house. “At mine, my cousins and brothers and sisters were going for my ears, my hair,” Vardahn says. “They were trying to make it as difficult as possible for me to get it out.”
THE ENTRANCE: On the wedding day, the Hyatt Regency Reston closed the street in front of the hotel. “It’s quite traditional in Indian weddings for the groom to be escorted by the groom’s party into the wedding venue,” Vardahn says. Carrying a fake sword, Vardahn rode a horse a block and a half to the hotel entrance, with guests from his side joining him for the 30-minute music-filled procession. Divya and her bridesmaids watched from a hotel balcony.
THE CEREMONY: Divya designed a program explaining 12 of the components of their hourlong marriage ceremony, which was held in a hotel ballroom. One part is an exchange of floral garlands. “The idea is whoever puts it on first is going to wear the pants in the relationship,” Vardahn says. “You sort of defend yourself. Divya was really aggressive. She got it on but in doing so the headdress that I was wearing fell in the process. We had a lot of laughs.”
THE RECEPTION: With décor that featured pink, magenta and gold, and lots of candles, the reception included hours of dancing, and food from Indique. For most of the year they were wedding-planning, the couple was living in London so they let their parents make many of the decisions. They chose a basic white cake, then had two of Divya’s aunts add pink flowers.
THE GOWN: Divya wore an Indian outfit for the wedding that was a gift from Vardahn’s parents, then changed into another for the reception. Both were purchased in India.
THE HONEYMOON: More than a year after their wedding, the couple took a 16-day trip to Indonesia.
VENDORS: Henna ceremony: Catering, Rani Jai Singh and Supriya Deval; henna artist/hair, Mala Amin; photography, SKB Photography. Sangeet: Décor, Dharma Events; DJ, Ravi Prasad (Dynasty Entertainment); catering, Passage to India; hair/makeup, Mala Amin; photography/videography, Studio Nine Photography. Wedding: Cake, Amphora Bakery; catering, Indique; décor/flowers, Dharma Events; DJ, Ravi Prasad (Dynasty Entertainment); hair/makeup, Salon SBS; photography/videography, Studio Nine Photography.
—Kathleen Seiler Neary
Home Run Wedding
A 12-year friendship that began with Bethesda’s collegiate baseball league blossomed into a marriage at Rocklands Farm
THE COUPLE: Emily Adams, 30, grew up in Bethesda and graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. She is the special education coordinator at Truesdell Education Campus in Washington, D.C. Alex Thompson, 35, grew up in Potomac and graduated from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. He is a partner at Prestige Beverage Group, a wine and spirits wholesaler, in Elkridge. They live in Takoma Park.
HOW THEY MET: The two met in 2001 while stuffing envelopes with baseball schedules at Bethesda Big Train, a summer collegiate baseball league Emily’s dad, Bruce Adams, cofounded. She regularly volunteered at picnics and parties, or ran the scoreboard. Alex worked for the nonprofit organization during summers throughout college. One summer, Emily was an intern for Alex.
THE FIRST DATE: After 12 years of friendship and conflicting relationship timelines, the two were finally both single. Alex was living in Rockville, but he visited his brother in New York City, where Emily was living, many times over several months as an excuse to spend time with her. When Emily was home for a weekend in the summer of 2013, they went to a Big Train game and Alex seized his opportunity to ask her out. “It had never really crossed my mind,” says Emily, who was very nervous and excited. Their first date was at a Fourth of July party in Baltimore. “It was kind of cool—our first kiss was with fireworks in the background in Baltimore,” Alex says.
THE PROPOSAL: The couple had visited friends in Margate City, New Jersey, in 2015 and stopped by the tourist attraction Lucy the Elephant, a six-story wood-and-tin elephant formerly used as a restaurant. Emily loved the elephant so much that Alex planned to propose there when they went back to New Jersey for a friend’s birthday later that year. During the weeks leading up to the proposal, Alex coordinated with Lucy’s staff and learned the building was closed indefinitely due to repair work. It wasn’t until the day of the proposal that Alex received confirmation that the building was open again. During a group tour, the couple climbed a spiral staircase to a large carriage seat that is strapped on the elephant’s back. With the 360-degree views of the surrounding area and shoreline, Alex knelt on one knee and proposed. A handful of their friends were on a nearby apartment balcony to watch everything unfold. The two then headed back inside the elephant building where their parents were waiting with Champagne. They later found out that Emily’s grandparents went on their first date at Lucy the Elephant.
THE WEDDING: Emily and Alex were married on Sept. 10, 2016, at Rocklands Farm in Poolesville. Their reception was held underneath a large tent before guests gathered for dancing in a rustic barn decorated in string lights.
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 190
SPECIAL BLOOMS: The spring before her wedding, Emily and her bridesmaids were invited to plant flowers with Seed to Ceremony, Rocklands Farm’s florist. The dahlias and other wildflowers were used in wedding-day bouquets, which also included rosemary and lavender grown on the farm. Alex had a hops flower in his boutonniere to mark his love of beer.
PERSONAL TOUCHES: Alex’s parents are both graphic designers so they created and hand-assembled the save-the-date and wedding invitations. The save-the-date featured a circus-like picture of Lucy the Elephant. The invitation included a map marked with wedding event locations and spots that are special to Alex and Emily, including where they each grew up. A baseball diamond within a heart marked Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, where Big Train games are played. To continue with the baseball theme, they had a home base between them during their ceremony.
SOMETHING OLD: Emily had some of her grandmother’s embroidered napkins sewn into the chuppah (a canopy under which they were married), and also used some of the napkins to hold the bridesmaids’ bouquets together.
SWEET SURPRISE: While the pair were thanking their guests at the reception, they paused to celebrate the birthdays of Emily’s grandmothers. One turned 95 and the other 96 around the time of the wedding. Emily’s aunt brought out mini pies for them and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”
DANCE FLOOR FUN: Alex surprised Emily during their wedding planning by hiring The Colbys, which plays a mix of rock ’n’ roll and New Orleans blues. The band was their biggest splurge. Although they had a nondenominational wedding, Alex is Jewish so elements of the religion were incorporated. They danced the traditional hora, where everyone moves hand-in-hand in a circle. “It was a slow build into this crazy full-blast, 25-minute hora,” Alex says. The 97-degree heat left everyone drenched in sweat. At the end of the night, light-up tambourines and mini finger flashlights were passed out to all the guests as they danced with the couple out of the barn to waiting buses. The Colbys played “When the Saints Go Marching In” to celebrate the couple’s love for New Orleans, a city they have visited every year since they began dating.
THE DESSERT: Instead of serving cake at the reception, they had pies—cherry, pecan, rhubarb and rhubarb apple. Some were made by CurvyMama Pies and others by Emily’s cousin Dusty Horwitt. “When we were planning, we didn’t want to do a traditional cake and the first thing we thought about, that most people enjoy, was pie,” Emily says.
THE GOWN: Emily wore a high-neck fit-and-flare satin Paloma Blanca dress with beaded straps, a low back and a short train purchased at Love Couture Bridal in Potomac. Emily had had recurring dreams that her dress would rip, so she packed a spare white dress—just in case. It was so hot on the wedding day that she was grateful to have a shorter dress to change into midway through the night.
THE HONEYMOON: The couple postponed their honeymoon until August 2017 and visited Croatia, Greece and Hungary. They explored the Trsteno Arboretum, a botanical garden in Croatia built in 1492, and spent a day on a catamaran in Greece eating, swimming and watching the sunset. “There was a heat wave in Europe when we were there, they even named it Lucifer, so the whole trip was reminiscent of our wedding day weather,” Emily says.
VENDORS: Catering, Simply Fresh; florist, Anna Glenn of Seed to Ceremony; hair, DryBar; makeup, Willie Acklin of BrowBeat Beauty; ceremony and cocktail music, Drymill Road; reception music, The Colbys; photography, Karissa Grantham of Sam Stroud Photo; pies, CurvyMama Pies.
A couple who met at Montgomery Blair High School incorporated Nigerian traditions in their wedding, including a “money dance”
THE COUPLE: Sara Pierce, 28, grew up in Rockville. She is the B2B marketing manager at WeddingWire in Chevy Chase. Onyemaechi “Onye” Agu, 29, grew up in Silver Spring and is the senior regional manager for District Taco. They live in the LeDroit Park neighborhood of Northwest D.C.
HOW THEY MET: Sara and Onye met in 2006 during their senior year at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. They were both varsity basketball captains and met on a team bus on the way to a game. They became friends and hung out over the summer before college. “We didn’t really expect to be thrown into a serious long-distance relationship all through college so it was very low expectations, low pressure,” Sara says. During the first semester of their freshman year, Onye traveled from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore by bus, taxi, plane and another taxi to visit Sara at The College of Wooster in Ohio. They were still friends at that point, but both could see their relationship growing.
THE FIRST DATE: Sara and Onye consider a dinner date during their first college winter break to be their first official date. They went to The Melting Pot in the District. “We had a nice cozy booth in a very private area, and it was dimly lit, very romantic,” Onye says. “We were like, ‘We’re on a date, we want some privacy.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh these kids.’ ” Since Sara and Onye already knew each other so well, there were no first-date jitters. “It was a celebratory first date,” Onye says.
THE PROPOSAL: Ten years after they met, Onye proposed to Sara at Stone Tower Winery in Leesburg, Virginia. Onye had bought a certificate to a spa in Virginia from Groupon, so when he suggested they get a couples massage and then visit a winery, Sara didn’t suspect he would propose. At the winery, they took a bottle of wine outside and Onye asked another couple to take their photo—then proposed. “They got a lot of pictures because Sara just stood there for a while with her mouth open, crying,” Onye says. “And it was a very hot day. So I’m just on this hot ground, just sweating. Just kneeling. Just there for a while.” Finally she said yes. The couple they had asked to take their photo were newlyweds. “We ended up hanging out with them for the remainder of the evening and sharing stories about marriage and engagement and weddings,” Sara says.
THE WEDDING: Sara and Onye were married at Woodlawn Manor in Sandy Spring on May 28, 2017, exactly one year after they got engaged.
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 120
THE CEREMONY: It was a drizzly day, and the couple made a day-of decision to move their ceremony from a garden to under the reception tent. Their florist set up a birch arbor that had been intended for outdoors, and their wedding planner created a small seating area for a couple dozen guests (the rest sat at their dinner tables).
The mother of one of Sara’s college friends, who is affiliated with a Presbyterian church in Leesburg, officiated. Sara’s brother sang “What a Wonderful World” a cappella, and one of Onye’s childhood friends did a reading. The couple slightly altered traditional vows, and had planned to recite them from memory. But at the beginning of the ceremony, Onye whispered to the officiant, “Don’t leave me hanging because I don’t think I got it.” He repeated the vows instead. Sara immediately started reciting the vows when it was her turn. “Everyone was laughing at that because they could tell I was like ‘I got this, I’m saying it, let’s go,’ ” Sara says. At the end of the ceremony, the couple danced down the aisle to Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is.”
CULTURAL HERITAGE: Onye’s father is Nigerian, and the couple wanted to incorporate traditions from his native country. Custom-made purple-and-gold geometric-patterned bow ties for the groomsmen coordinated with bracelets worn by the bridesmaids and were in line with the bright colors often worn at Nigerian weddings. The same colors were used in a traditional Nigerian outfit Sara changed into during the reception. She and Onye, who had also changed into Nigerian clothing, surprised their guests with their outfits. A relative began a “money dance,” a Nigerian tradition of guests slapping money onto the newlyweds as they dance around. At the end of the dance, children scooped the money off the floor and gave it to an adult to count.
The caterer served traditional Nigerian dishes, including jollof rice, moi-moi beef and peanut chicken stew. They selected a Nigerian-American DJ. “I danced all night,” Onye says. “I got cramps in my legs—I had to sit down, eat some fruit, hydrate and then get back on the dance floor.”
BEHIND THE SCENES: Sara’s gown had a train and she wore a long veil, so keeping them off the muddy ground during photo sessions took some maneuvering. For several photos, a photographer or bridesmaid crouched behind Sara, out of view, to hold her dress up.
THE CAKE: The couple chose a “peekaboo cake”—which shows a bit of the cake that’s not frosted—from Buttercream Bakeshop in Northwest D.C. The flavors were apple cake with pear butter filling and cream cheese frosting; and elderflower-soaked lemon cake with blackberry filling and vanilla frosting. A “How Sweet It Is” cake topper referenced the song that played at the ceremony.
SPECIAL SPICES: Sara and Onye consider themselves foodies and wanted to give their guests something food-related. They played with blends of onion powder, garlic salt, cayenne, cumin, pepper flakes and other spices until they were happy with the combination. Onye spent about five hours assembling the jars of spice blend. The jars doubled as escort cards with names and table numbers written on paper hearts. “People now, even several months later, will send us a picture of the salmon they cooked with it or send us something that they made with the spice blend,” Sara says.
THE GOWN: Sara wore a strapless A-line gown with pockets, a sweetheart neckline and a lace floral pattern by Watters, purchased at Lovely Bride in Georgetown. Her Nigerian outfit was a mermaid-style halter dress and matching headdress made by Tai Adeboyeku Designs in Laurel.
THE HONEYMOON: The couple took a 10-day trip to St. Lucia, where they hiked the Gros Piton mountain, went zip-lining and horseback riding, and visited a mud bath at a volcano.
VENDORS: Cake, Buttercream Bakeshop; catering, Eleven Courses Catering & Event Co.; flowers, Meg Owen Floral Designs; hair and makeup, Alison Harper and Company; DJ and sound, Covenant Child Productions; photography, Bakerture Photo & Video; stationery, Colleen McMackin; wedding coordinator, The One Moment Events.
—Kathleen Seiler Neary
From mooing cattle to pie and cinnamon cake, a Bethesda couple embraced the barn setting for their rustic fall wedding
THE COUPLE: Heather Parmelee, 27, grew up in Rockville and graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. She teaches second grade at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School in Chevy Chase. Brandon Altieri, 27, grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and is a risk analyst at Freddie Mac in McLean, Virginia. The couple lives in Bethesda’s Park View neighborhood, in the house where Heather’s grandparents raised her mother, and where her sister lived for a while as an adult.
HOW THEY MET: Heather and Brandon first contacted each other on the dating website eHarmony in October 2014 and quickly bonded over their love of country music and the importance they place on family and being active. They emailed for about a month before they exchanged phone numbers. “She wouldn’t actually go on a date with me for quite some time, so that was a struggle,” Brandon says.
THE FIRST DATE: Two months after they met online, Heather agreed to meet in person. They had dinner at Oro Pomodoro in Rockville and saw The Hunger Games in Hyattsville. “We went out together every weekend after the first date…on the fourth date he asked me to officially be his girlfriend,” Heather says.
THE PROPOSAL: Brandon prepared his Love Actually-themed proposal weeks before he asked Heather to marry him in April 2015. “I remember Heather saying that she loved that movie in a previous discussion, so I went with it,” Brandon says. Heather suspected something was up when she noticed Brandon’s brother-in-law from North Carolina run across the front lawn at her mother’s Rockville home. When Brandon arrived at the house, Heather opened the door to find him in a suit and tie with cue cards that he silently flipped through as one of their favorite songs, “Mean to Me” by country singer Brett Eldredge, played. In the movie scene Brandon re-enacted, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) confesses his love to Juliet (Keira Knightley), who’s married to another man. Brandon made it his own, with cards that included inside jokes and personal messages such as “I love you more than Paula Deen loves butter.” One card repeated the main line from the movie—“to me, you’re perfect.” After Brandon rang a bell, about a dozen of the couple’s family and friends came out from their hiding spot in a neighbor’s garage and gathered behind Brandon. He got down on one knee and proposed.
THE WEDDING: Heather and Brandon were married on Oct. 9, 2016, at Shadow Creek Weddings & Events in Purcellville, Virginia. Heather chose the venue because it had the rustic feel she was looking for, and she was excited there would be a horse in a nearby stable during the ceremony.
NUMBER OF GUESTS: 150
PRE-CEREMONY SURPRISE: Mooing cattle close to the barn where the ceremony was held were a little louder than expected, but they weren’t the only surprise. Heather’s good friends and colleagues Molly Crenshaw and A.J. Pagano finished building a cornhole set Heather had worked on with her father before he died in 2013. The two friends presented Heather with the completed set before the ceremony, though wind prevented guests from using it. “My dad had written me a note at some point, so they got his handwriting and [copied] ‘love, Dad,’ on the one we built together, and put their names on the other one,” Heather says.
SPECIAL TOUCHES: Heather and her friend Molly designed the wedding invitations and décor. Heather bought Ikea napkins, then ironed on a label with the couple’s name and wedding date and tucked in a note saying “From our big day to your every day. Please take your napkin to use in your home.” Brandon loves cinnamon so the couple chose a two-tiered cinnamon cake. They also served pies from Mom’s Apple Pie Company in Leesburg after falling in love with the shop’s pies while visiting the area for wedding preparations.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY: During the ceremony, Heather’s older sister pitched in to hold Heather’s veil behind her to keep the wind from blowing it in her face. Her 3-year-old niece was a flower girl and walked down the aisle with Heather’s mother. The toddler made for a funny photo op when she cried as Heather met Brandon at the front of the aisle. Family friend “Uncle Fred” McLain officiated the ceremony. “He and my dad were good friends,” Heather says.
DANCE, DANCE: Heather loves drum lines and mentioned during wedding planning that it would be fun to have one at the wedding. Heather’s mother, who has worked at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School for 30 years and is now the college and career coordinator, asked the school’s drum line to perform so she could make a video to show at the wedding. Heather was thrilled with the surprise.
Heather and Brandon put aside their love for country music to make sure their DJ played music everyone would know. The couple’s first dance was to “Forever Like That” by Ben Rector. They took dance lessons at Chevy Chase Ballroom because “we kind of realized we didn’t want to just be swaying there,” Heather says.
THE GOWN: Heather wore a strapless tulle ball gown with a sweetheart neckline and taffeta top by Wtoo by Watters, purchased at Betsy Robinson’s Bridal Collection in Baltimore. She traded in silk flowers on the back of her gown for buttons.
THE HONEYMOON: Brandon took the reins on a honeymoon destination after Heather took charge of their wedding location. “Being a finance guy, I had a budget,” Brandon says. They vacationed for eight days at the Excellence Resort in Mexico’s Playa Mujeres.
VENDORS: Cake, Sugardust Cookies & Cake; catering, Purple Onion; florist and coordinator, Event Studio; hair, Kirsten Marie Design; makeup, Laura Henderson Makeup; music, MyDeejay; photography, Bow Tie Photo; pie, Mom’s Apple Pie Company; printed materials, Thomas Printers; table and chair rentals, Something Vintage; transportation, Road Yachts; videographer, Monachetti Weddings.