From Matrimony to Minimony

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Rachel Braun and her fiancé, Matthew, were married at The Cloister Chapel at Sea Island. | Photo: Kelli Boyd Photography

Prompted by the pandemic, the only thing that is small about these intimate weddings is the guest list.

By Ashley Breeding

Last December, during a dreary weekend in Atlanta, Tim Westover and Leah Coppolino decided on a spur-of-the-moment getaway. They searched online for the “10 most romantic hotels in the U.S.” and Sea Island appeared. In love at first scroll, they booked a stay and arrived later that day.

“It’s just otherworldly,” says Coppolino, who immediately envisioned a wedding as she wandered the elegant seaside property dotted with towering palms and other happy couples. Not yet engaged, she and Westover still met with one of the resort’s wedding coordinators and read through brochures. When they became formally betrothed a month later, they returned to
Sea Island and began turning Coppolino’s vision into a reality.

Set to marry July 25, 2020, they planned a formal affair in the Clubroom, where they’d be surrounded by 100 guests and numerous blush peonies. Coppolino would wear a beautiful mermaid-style gown the color of Champagne, her hem sweeping the dance floor as the band played well into the night.

As the couple faced the decision of canceling or postponing due to the pandemic, the resort offered another option: a “minimony.”

Tim Westover and Leah Coppolino exchanged vows under a live oak canopy at The Cloister Garden. | Photo: Brooke Roberts Photography

“This scaled-down ceremony allows couples to keep their wedding date and their vision, with just a few compromises,” explains Elizabeth Killgallon, the resort’s associate director of catering and weddings. “The only thing that is ‘mini’ is the guest list,” she says, noting that a more intimate space is recommended, and while you might also forgo such events as a welcome party or farewell brunch, you certainly don’t have to. All other details, from florals to fine dining, can be honored (you may just want a smaller cake). “Most couples still want to go all out,” Killgallon says. “After all, it’s the big day they’ve dreamed about forever.”

Additionally, many couples, like Coppolino and Westover, opt to have two weddings—a minimony now and a large celebration post-pandemic—especially if outside vendors have been booked and deposits made.

Eager to exchange vows, Coppolino and Westover worked with the Sea Island wedding team to swiftly modify their arrangements. Inviting only immediate family and a minister from Savannah, they moved the ceremony to The Cloister Garden, tying the knot beneath a canopy of old oaks as their loved ones looked on from a semicircle of bamboo chairs.

Photo: Brooke Roberts Photography

Coppolino donned her Champagne dress (which arrived just in time for a rush alteration), still perfectly fitting for the outdoor occasion. “It turned out to be really wonderful, really intimate,” she says. Cocktails at the River Bar & Lounge followed and, instead of the ballroom, they moved the reception to the Wine Cellar; with its brick walls, heart-pine ceilings and large community table (peonies and eucalyptus as the centerpiece, of course), the cozy candlelit setting was ideal for their group of 15.

Fine wine kept pouring and a feast was had, culminating with a wedding cake prepared by the resort’s pastry chef. The couple’s Spotify playlist played softly in the background, making the occasion all the more intimate.

Coppolino was so taken by the entire day—every last detail, she says—that she might recommend a micro wedding to other engaged couples. Perhaps, even post-pandemic, the minimony will remain popular.

Alfresco Affairs

Jacquie and Marcus were wed in front of The Cloister Chapel last June. After the romantic ceremony, they strolled along the river and then enjoyed dinner on the North Patio. | Photo: Olivia Rae James

As some are still feeling apprehensive about being in close quarters, the Sea Island wedding team has seen a rise in outdoor and tented celebrations. “With physical distancing guidelines, being outdoors makes people feel a lot more comfortable,” Killgallon says. “Fortunately for us, we have numerous outdoor venues that are just pictureesque.”

The Cloister Garden may be expansive (at 2,250 square feet, it can accommodate about 300 guests), but its romantic ambiance and whimsy make it attractive even for intimate ceremonies. “Most couples marry under the live oaks,” Killgallon says. A more recent trend is “reservation seating,” where garden chairs are arranged around the altar in small groups to accommodate distancing between families.

Another popular outdoor space is the Black Banks River Lawn, which overlooks the marsh and river. It’s especially beautiful around the sunset hour. “And there’s always the beach,” Killgallon says, for couples who want to say “we do” with their toes in the sand. Romantic and rustic, Rainbow Island is reachable by boardwalk, and features a charming picnic area complete with a stage, fire pits and a screened-in pavilion. The entire area can host up to 500 guests but won’t swallow a small gathering.

Photo: Olivia Rae James

“We’re also having a lot of fun ideating over small events in spaces we might not normally use,” Killgallon says, pointing outside  to The Cloister Chapel, a charming A-frame structure that looks like it’s straight out of a fairy-tale book. Instead of marrying inside the chapel, for instance, one couple moved the ceremony just out front. “I’ve always loved this little chapel,” says Jacquie (last name  has been withheld per her request), whose family has a second home on Sea Island.

When the pandemic collided with Jacquie’s engagement to Marcus last spring and caused uncertainty around when they would be able to have a ceremony, the Chicago couple decided to get married with just their families at Sea Island. Augusta Cole planned the event in collaboration with the resort team.

On a warm June evening, surrounded by close family, they held a brief and romantic ceremony outside the chapel’s doors, beneath the glint of the lantern. Afterward, they strolled along the river with Aperol Spritz cocktails while a guitarist filled the air with festive sounds, then they sat down for dinner on the North Patio.

With gatherings of this size, Killgallon says it’s easy for the team to get creative. “Everywhere you turn is so gorgeous,” she says. “We’ll say, ‘let’s take a covered terrace we normally use as a walkway and set up a dinner here’ or ‘let’s see how we can use the rose garden (outside the Forbes Five-Star Georgian Room).’ It’s fun to plan these micro weddings because we can get creative with every detail, and that’s what we love to do.”

All the Wedding Bells and Whistles

After exchanging vows at The Cloister Chapel, the celebration for Rachel and Matthew continued in the Wine Cellar. | Photo: Kelli Boyd Photography

Another benefit of a small gathering in lieu of (or preceding) a grand affair is that it allows couples—and the event design team at Sea Island—to create an even more unique experience.

“With fewer guests, we’re seeing couples take their vision to another level,” Killgallon says. “When you have only 10 or 15 people, you can go big—offering additional dinner courses, [bespoke] cocktails, elaborate décor and even personalized accents, like custom aprons for servers or engraved placeholders.”

Jacquie, a lover of John Robshaw textiles, decided to get more colorful with the décor. “I love linens and plates, and had a ton of fun picking everything out,” she says. Jacquie also enjoys calligraphy and watercolor as hobbies, and she created the wedding program and menus herself using summery watercolors. “When there are only nine people, there’s time to do whatever you want,” she says. She topped a custom white-and-blue Robshaw tablecloth with her own collection of complementary Themis Z dinner plates, gold cutlery and copious pink and yellow blooms in little glass vases. In between, dried citrus added another punch of color. Sea Island prepared a seven-course Italian supper, from antipasto to two wedding cakes. “The great wine kept flowing and everyone was having so much fun,” Jacquie says. “It was like we were at our own table in our backyard—the whole vibe of the day was festive and comfortable.”

Rachel Braun, also of Chicago, was to marry her fiancé, Matthew, in March. “They shut down the city 10 days before our wedding,” says Braun, who had invited 230 guests. “We had spent a long weekend at Sea Island a few years back and loved the quaint feel and ambiance.” Not willing to wait, Braun says they decided to move their celebration to the resort.

Photo: Kelli Boyd Photography

In a month’s time, the Sea Island wedding team had arranged a ceremony for the couple and their 11 guests inside The Cloister Chapel, where a violinist set the mood. “I’ll never forget standing at the top of the stairs and the doors opening for me to walk down the aisle,” says Braun, who had been engaged for a year and a half. “It was all so meaningful because we had waited so long.”

The celebration continued in the Wine Cellar, “far exceeding expectations” with a beautifully decorated table (simple flowers, lush greenery and more candles than anyone could count), a five-course dinner and “one of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted,” she says of the chocolate-and-vanilla concoction. When the last fork was put down, the couple put on their playlist and a dance party ensued.

“The Sea Island team was just amazing,” Braun says. “They anticipated our every need and want—they literally thought of everything.” If she could do it all over again, she adds, “I’d do just this wedding. It was so meaningful that I don’t feel the need for another. I would have had my wedding at
Sea Island from the very beginning.”


Wed Your Way

All couples who book a wedding at Sea Island are assigned a wedding manager and designer from the event design team, who collaborate with them, as well as any outside planners or vendors, to bring their vision to life. For those interested in options for an intimate wedding, the resort offers two packages. The Elopement Package, which accommodates up to six guests, includes a ceremony indoors or out at one of the resort’s breathtaking venues; rose petal turndown and a bottle of sparkling wine; and a 6-inch cake created by Sea Island’s executive pastry chef. The Intimate Wedding Package offers the same for up to 22 guests, along with planning, design and coordination services for the event; wine tasting; a two-tier wedding cake, also prepared on-site; and a complimentary one-night stay. Learn more at seaisland.com/weddings.

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