Oceanfront Garden-Theme Wedding at Montage Laguna Beach

Catherine and Matthew
Photographed by: Dalal PhotographyLocation: Laguna Beach, California, United States

Catherine Pharris and Matthew Anderson were “outstanding friends” for two years before they started dating. Of their foray into romance, Matt jokes, “I finally woke up one day and realized I was friends with the most perfect girl and wondered why the heck I hadn’t started dating her yet!” Catherine wondered the same about him, and they soon discovered they need not look any further; love had already found them. One Friday night after work, Matt surprised Catherine with a picnic on the beach, and just after the sun set, he asked her to marry him.

Once the couple had set its heart on the relaxed elegance of the Montage Resort & Spa, a June date was chosen and the wedding planning began. While the stylish details were important in creating a dreamlike experience for their guests, according to the bride and groom, they committed to a very short list of things that really mattered: the groom showing up; the bride showing up; and the pastor who would marry them. “Beyond that,” assures Catherine, “everything else was like a bonus.” This kind of focus helped the detail-oriented duo to avoid stressing over the small stuff.

But the so-called “big picture” also allowed Catherine and Matt to have fun while designing a spiritual ceremony and chic reception that were visually unified by Catherine’s favorite color, blue. Each periwinkle-clad bridesmaid carried a different shade of hydrangea—purple, blue and lavender—and man-made trees bearing clusters of blue flowers arched over the bride and groom as they said their vows. Catherine’s junior high youth group leader led the ceremony and conducted a private communion just for the two of them behind the trees. Each of their fathers read passages from the Bible; a friend performed two heartfelt songs; and when the couple kissed, doves were released. “To us, the ceremony was the most important part of the day,” says Catherine.

That being said, the reception was still the most fun. With tables dressed in blue pintuck taffeta, rhinestone hurricane candles and silver vessels cradling hydrangea, orchids, peonies and lavender, the room was at once both soothing and dramatic. “Catherine loves to cook, so it was hugely important that the food be outstanding,” says Matt of his bride-to-be’s affinity for the culinary arts. A white sand dollar, in honor of Matt’s grandmother who collected them, graced each place setting, and menus displaying the evening’s meticulously designed meal were personalized with each guest’s name. A showering of lavender roses hung over the white dance floor where Catherine and Matt and their guests enjoyed themselves so much that the band was asked to play an extra hour. Lounges with couches and ottomans were arranged under canopies in the ballroom and in the adjacent open-air courtyard to allow partygoers a break from the action. Placed on the outdoor tables were framed photos of Catherine and Matt as kids in poses so similar, guests could hardly believe the resemblance.

The four-course meal began with a delicate cream of roasted pepper soup and moved onto a salad with raspberries, poached pears and Maytag blue cheese, filet mignon and miso-glazed sea bass, then ended on a sweet note. In addition to a decadent dessert trio—cheesecake brûlée, apple tarte Tatin, berry tart with lemon sabayon—and a wedding cake with layers of carrot cake and devil’s food cake, personalized edible surprises were given to guests as the evening ended. Photos were taken of each guest or couple as they arrived for the ceremony, and during the course of the evening, they were laser printed in food coloring onto jumbo chocolate lollipops. Needless to say, they were a huge, nostalgic hit.

But they failed to upstage the toast given by Catherine’s father, who eloquently summed up the warm and moving tone of Catherine and Matt’s wedding. “He had the whole place choked up when he talked about Matt being the answer to a prayer and telling us that the best gift we could give to our own kids was to love each other,” remembers Catherine. “It was a beautiful moment.”