Reminiscent of a fabled romance, Heather Oppelt and Austen Gray's first encounter at a friend's birthday party was love at first sight. And in keeping with the fairytale, Austen chose to propose to his bride during a horse and carriage ride through Central Park. They wanted their wedding to take place in less than a year (during the same weekend they had first met), and in Manhattan - no small request - so Heather and Austen went right to work. "From the first minute we got engaged we started planning," recalls Heather. "We wanted to have a city wedding where we both lived and met."
Inspired by their engagement, the bride and groom sent out wedding invitations adorned with a gold horse and carriage motif. The invitations set the grand, storybook tone for the celebration that began in a Renaissance-style church and continued at the legendary Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Designed around an English garden theme, the decor infused a fragrant and manicured lushness into the formal spaces of the church and hotel in shades of white and green. The overall look of "a country wedding in a ballroom" was a nod to Heather's upbringing in bucolic Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as well as her life in New York City with Austen.
Moss renditions of the initials "H" and "A" hung on the church doors, greeting guests as they arrived for the traditional Catholic ceremony. Heather will never forget the excited anticipation she felt as she rode to the church in a limo with both of her parents. She daydreamed about finally walking down the aisle, which was lined with candles and clusters of hydrangea linked by swags of greenery. The groomsmen wore small bunches of hydrangea as their boutonnieres, and the bridesmaids carried matching bouquets of hydrangea in various shades of green. Heather's bouquet was made of white hydrangea accented by chocolate brown and green lady slipper orchids; the same orchid adorned Austen's lapel.
A choir sang as the mothers of the bride and groom assisted Heather and Austen in lighting a unity candle, symbolically bonding the two families together. And as the newly proclaimed husband and wife exited the church, all 300 guests stood on the sidewalk ringing tiny bells attached to celadon ribbons. A horse drawn carriage waited to take the newlyweds down Park Avenue to the reception, stopping so the couple could pose for portraits along the way.
Guests arrived at the hotel, which had been transformed by the smell of gardenias and the unexpected garden feel lent by large topiaries. Escort cards were nestled in a carpet of moss and surrounded by vases of white orchids and candles. Once everyone was finished enjoying sushi and signature martinis at the cocktail hour, the ballroom doors opened to reveal dinner and dancing in what resembled an outdoor paradise. Long tables seating twenty guests were decorated with overflowing potted topiaries, branch-like candelabra, low arrangements of white garden flowers, and candles placed in silver shell votives. Large trees also flanked the tables, and the backs of the chairs were decorated with hydrangea blooms and antique gold ribbons (mimicking the color of the sashes tied around the bridesmaids' dresses). Each individual place setting featured green and white china, a piece of lavender tucked inside the napkin, and a place card personalized for each guest. Overhead, the forty-foot ceiling was lit by a pattern of branches, lending a mystical effect to the entire room.
Capping off the multi-course wine pairing dinner was the wedding cake designed by Sylvia Weinstock. It was bursting with both real green hydrangea and white sugar flowers and boasted two kinds of filling, each a favorite of the bride and groom. The eighteen-piece orchestra did such a successful job of filling the dance floor that the club-like after party in an adjacent salon was exactly what was needed to continue the celebration. Heather changed from her Vera Wang gown into a short Bill Blass tulip dress, and Austen donned his grandfather's green velvet smoking jacket for the late night festivities. In between bites of miniature burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, everyone took turns in the old-fashioned photo booth set up in honor of Heather's occupation as a photographer. Strips of candid photos were split between the newlyweds and their guests as wonderful mementos of the night.
The lucky attendees also left the party with sweet and symbolic gifts: apples covered in chocolate tuxedoes (for the men) and wedding gowns (for the women). The tag on each favor read, "Thank you for joining us in the Big Apple."