Start Slideshow View Grid Start Slideshow 59

A Lovely Wedding at the Gadsden House in Charleston

By Alexandra Macon | Photography by 

Jamie Street and Michelle Pullman at Rad + In Love

Christmas came early for Olivia Rae James, a photographer, and Blake Suárez, a designer and illustrator, who, after three years of dating, became engaged while at home decorating their tree. “Blake kept asking me to turn around, and I was telling him to hang on because I was in the middle of stringing the lights,” remembers Olivia. “When I finally paused and looked over at him, he was on both knees and holding a ring with the biggest grin I’d ever seen across his face.”

The Charleston-based couple was set on a small local wedding, though the final list hit 130 guests. “We realized how many people we wanted there, so the goal became making the day feel as intimate as possible, while accommodating a bigger group than we originally envisioned,” says Olivia. “I also knew that I didn’t want to get married at a venue where I’d photographed a wedding, so Blake and I started our hunt.” The duo soon discovered the newly renovated Gadsden House, a historic manor in the heart of the city. “We instantly thought it was perfect,” smiles Olivia. “It felt elegant, yet cozy, and it was minimal enough that we could make it our own.”

As a laid-back bride with an affinity for comfort, Olivia didn’t have the easiest time choosing a dress. “I tried so many wedding gowns on,” reflects Olivia. “They were all so beautiful, but it was tricky finding something that I felt like myself in.” Eventually, she found the one by vintage and bohemian-inspired designer Sarah Janks at The Dress Theory in Nashville. “I fell in love with the easy and effortless slip dress shape, and the delicate beading and layered tulle dressed it up,” Olivia says. Moved by the lightness of the tulle, she made a last minute decision to cut off the train. “The seamstress was horrified,” laughs Olivia, “but I didn’t want it slowing me down (or tripping me)!”

To complete the look, Olivia wore her engagement ring (a diamond from her late grandmother’s ring reset by Anna Sheffield), antique diamond earrings from Croghan’s Jewel Box (a pre-wedding gift from her in-laws), and silver Loeffler Randall shoes. The ceremony was informal, with family and friends packed into a bright room at The Gadsden House. “The second Blake walked in, I heard the loudest screams and hurrahs,” says Olivia. “Everyone was so excited—the rowdiness level was off the charts!” Happy tears and cheering continued when Olivia and her dad entered the room, becoming so loud that the band halted mid-song. “You expect it to get loud after the ceremony, but not before,” laughs Olivia. “It was such a funny and spontaneous moment that completely melted away my nerves. Rose champagne was also served right before, so that may or may not have contributed to the high enthusiasm levels.”

A close friend of the couple’s, Nat Gunter, officiated the heartfelt service. Olivia’s sister served as maid of honor and Blake’s sister was best lady (both in silk white dresses by Charleston-based designer Kate McDonald), while spirited flower girls in rose and jasmine crowns wooed the crowd. There were three readings: one funny, one tearjerker, and one poem in Spanish for Blake’s Venezuelan side. “We were both prepared to cry throughout the entire ceremony, but I surprisingly held it together,” Olivia says. “Blake not so much!”

Following the ceremony, guests made their way to the house’s terrace where they were serenaded by a gypsy jazz quartet as they sipped margaritas under a golden sky. Once the sun had set, they moved to the courtyard where long tables sprinkled with flowers and candles were waiting for them to begin a family style Italian feast—starting with charcuterie boards and ending with three different handmade pastas. During dinner Olivia’s father and Blake’s sister gave toasts. “They were beautiful,” smiles Olivia. “Then my grandma, who’s never one to shy away from the spotlight, decided to give one too, and she had everyone in stitches.”

The newlyweds had their first dance to “You and Me” by Penny & The Quarters, which was followed by “Till There Was You” by The Beatles (performed by Olivia’s dad). “When my dad started singing everyone joined us on the dance floor, and I loved that moment,” reflects Olivia. Next, it was time to turn it up a notch (or three), so the duo looked to the DJs Cassidy and the Kid. “When we first started dating they played at every party we went to,” Olivia says. “They’re such a blast, they even blow a whistle during some of the songs!”

As the reception came to an end, the pair made way to a “Just Married” pedicab as family and friends threw lavender on them. “I hopped on barefoot and empty-handed, so we took a joyride around the city before looping back to the venue to gather our things,” laughs Olivia. Then, the last men and women standing (which ended up being half of the wedding guests) headed to the Spectator Hotel where they drank Champagne and laughed until four in the morning. “I wanted it to be the happiest, most golden, glowing, and magical evening—pure fun and joy with all the people we love the most,” says Olivia. “And it was!”

Video by Wade Koch