George King first laid eyes on Lauren Kondor at the Ainsworth sports bar in New York City, where they were both busy watching an Alabama football game. “I was born and raised in Alabama and have long been a fan of the Crimson Tide,” explains George, who works in corporate development for a global aerospace company. “Lauren on the other hand is from California, so you might be wondering what she was doing there.”
Turns out, Lauren, who works at a healthcare start up called Remedy Partners, had done some disaster relief work in Tuscaloosa (after a destructive tornado hit the city hard in 2011) and had fast become a fan of the college football team. The two swapped numbers that day and spoke on and off until their first date a few weeks later. As for what they did for their second date? You guessed it: they went back to the Ainsworth to catch another Bama football game.
Three years of dating (and many more football games) later, George planned an elaborate engagement surprise, which he carefully disguised as a birthday trip for Lauren. A few days before her 27th birthday, George told Lauren they were flying off to Paris for the weekend. “I had planned all of our dinners and left the days free for whatever Lauren wanted to do,” he says. On their last night, they came back to their hotel after dinner and George finally gave Lauren her birthday gift: a lock engraved with their names and the date to add to Paris’s famed Bridge of Locks. After giving her the present, George got down on one knee and proposed. “I had originally planned on proposing the next day at the bridge, but I couldn’t wait!,” he admits. “Lauren happened to be sitting on the edge of the bed and was so surprised/overwhelmed that she lost her balance and fell off of it!”
When looking for the perfect location for their wedding, Lauren and George knew they wanted three things: good food, good wine, and a stunning view. Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm, located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, covered all of their requirements. As for the chapel, Lauren was inspired by John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette’s low-key ceremony on Cumberland Island. “I loved how two people, who could have gotten married anywhere in the world, picked this tiny little chapel,” she explains. She settled on the tiny Primitive Baptist Church, which was built in 1887. “It took me a bit to convince George, but I told him to trust me,” she adds.
The wedding planning was ultimately split between Blackberry Farm’s on-site planner Melinda Franco and Amanda Graves of Southern Bliss Weddings, both of whom Lauren credits for helping keep her stay sane. For both the ceremony and reception’s decor, Lauren’s motto was “less is more,” so they chose to embrace the setting’s natural beauty. The chapel was decorated with draped garlands and roses from LB Floral of Knoxville, and finished off with lit candles all around. “I was blown away when I walked into it the first time!” Lauren says. The reception was kept equally simple: table florals along with a chandelier filled with greenery.
Carolyn Bessette’s wedding not only served as inspiration for Lauren’s location, the late fashion icon also clearly inspired the bride’s wedding dress vision. “I wanted a simple sheath dress; something timeless. No lace, no beads, just a simple white dress,” she explains. “It was unbelievably difficult to find this!” During a trip to Denver with her mother, Lauren decided to pop into a bridal store, just in case she happened to find the one. “The stylist at the Little White Dress brought out a few Charlie Brear dresses and I immediately fell in love with her simplicity,” she says. Since Lauren had such good luck in Denver, she went ahead and tried on a veil from Love Veils there too. “It had a very antique, old school look to it that I felt would be perfect in the old chapel. She rounded out the look with a pair of Momoni shoes George had gifted her during a trip to Italy the year before, and a pair of diamond earrings that belonged to her great grandmother. George wore a blue suit, and performed double duty as his bride’s “something blue.”
Lauren is lucky enough to count Kelli Barlett, Director of Makeup at Glam Squad, as one of her good friends. She not only did her makeup, but also attended the festivities, too. “It was so great having her around for the ceremony and reception because I got some nice touchups,” Lauren notes. For hair, she decided for a half-up style with loose curls as she wanted to stick with something that she’d normally wear.
Instead of a big bridal party, the couple opted for one wedding wrangler: their 13-year-old family friend Lockley, who was in charge of the rings and walking their beloved Doodle, Bonnie, down the aisle. “I started babysitting Lockley when she was six months old, so having her as part of our wedding was a must,” Lauren says.
On the Friday before the big day, Lauren and George invited their loved ones to go tubing down a nearby river. This was followed by a welcome dinner with a live bluegrass band and barbecue. The next day, the groom prepared for his wedding by fly-fishing with some friends, while Lauren squeezed in some yoga in the middle of the mountains. And while the bride was ready in time, she happened to arrive a little late to the ceremony due to traffic. “I was told by some of our New York guests that it was well worth it because they saw a mother black bear and cubs while they waited!” she says.
Lauren was walked down the aisle by her two brothers to “You Are My Sunshine,” while George’s aunt served as the ceremony’s officiant. During the short service, two of Lauren’s girlfriends read Ben Harper’s “Forever,” while George’s cousin read a poem that [late Alabama coach] Bear Bryant kept in his wallet for years; a nod to their first meeting back at Ainsworth all those years ago.
After they were declared Mr. and Mrs. King, the newlyweds and their guests headed to Blackberry Farm, where a three-course dinner and live country band awaited. “I’m a lover of country music, and I’m slowly getting George on the country bandwagon.” Seems like so far she’s succeeding, as the two had their first dance to Garth Brooks’s version of “Make You Feel My Love.”
After dinner, dancing, and several impromptu speeches, the newly married couple, along with Bonnie, drove off into the night in their golf cart. “It happened to be a full moon, and it lit up the grounds of the property,” remembers George. “All you could hear were crickets and the song of whip-poor-will birds. It was the perfect ending. I’ll forever associate the sound of whip-poor-will with our wedding.”