Hayley Steele and Nick Aurelio were friends in high school, but it wasn’t until after college when they were both living in Los Angeles that their romance began to blossom. “The great part about how we met is that we were strictly friends first, so we had a lot in common and established an amazing friendship before we did start dating,” confirms Nick.

For their first outing, which he admits Hayley probably did not realize was an official date, he took her to an evening event at a local horse-racing track, as he was working in the business at the time. “We made a few bets, had some drinks, and to this day, it was probably one of the best dates we have ever been on together!” he asserts.

As their relationship continued to grow, an uncle of Nick’s mentioned he knew a great jeweler in Chicago. Once he was ready to propose, the hopeful groom-to-be explained the design he wanted over the phone to his uncle and flew to the “Windy City” for a weekend trip. “I definitely recommend working with someone you really trust to help find the right ring,” Nick advises.

Once the ring was in his possession, Nick waited for the perfect opportunity to ask his beloved to marry him – The Steele family’s annual New Year’s Eve party at their winter home in Montana. “He took me outside in nine-degree weather at 11:13 p.m. and got down on one knee. It was a moment I will never forget,” Hayley muses. 

Finding a venue was easy, as the couple selected a Santa Barbara resort where they had fallen in love years prior. As an interior designer, the bride had a strong vision when it came to working with her wedding planner on the design of the big day. Nick, on the other hand, chose to keep his focus primarily on the food and beverages. “I just really wanted her to be happy and have what she wanted,” affirms the groom.

Electing not to have a “first look,” Nick did not see his bride in her extravagant mermaid gown with cascading pearls along the edge of the open back until she walked down the aisle towards him. “I will never lose that mental image and the big smile on her face,” he divulges. Yet that still did not match the feeling after they were pronounced husband and wife. “It was almost like time stood still for a few minutes,” Nick reveals. “We looked at each other and couldn’t believe how happy we were to be officially married. It’s an awesome feeling to know that your best friend is now your wife.”

“We looked at each other and couldn’t believe how happy we were to be officially married. It’s an awesome feeling to know that your best friend is now your wife.”

Hayley handpicked everything under the reception tent, including the crystal chandeliers, plush chairs, and lush tablescapes. “I wanted a clean, fresh, elegant, and contemporary look,” she explains. The Hidden Garden helped her to achieve this design with arrangements of snowy white blooms accented with glimmering votive candles that provided a warm, romantic ambience.

The head table, showcasing an elegant glass top with pear-shaped crystals along the border, featured similar centerpieces. A smaller version of the head table held the gorgeous vanilla bean cake adorned with gold detail. Although the centerpieces were stunning, the modern vision of the bride was particularly evident through stationery – especially the fact that it was not on paper. Invitations and place cards were made of Lucite, which also tied into the ghost chairs at the ceremony.

For couples who intend to host a destination wedding, the groom advises them to arrive early. He and Hayley traveled from the San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Barbara the Tuesday before their Saturday nuptials, which allowed them to share some alone time before their guests began to arrive. “We were able to relax and settle in instead of feeling rushed and overwhelmed by everything we had to get done in the days leading up to the wedding,” notes Nick. The bride recommends: “Enjoy yourself and savor every moment, even the tiny ones. You will remember all the little things leading up to the big day.”