Love on the Bay

Having your wedding at the Calvert Marine Museum allows for the usage of the Museum’s two skipjacks for the best water views anywhere. Photo: The Hitched Company/Birds of a Feather Photography.

A guide to crafting a Chesapeake wedding

By Duffy Perkins

When Holly Schultes’ boyfriend Brett surprised her by walking her out onto the beach and putting a ring on her finger, she knew she was getting everything she had ever wanted. He was her soulmate, she loved his family, and the ring was perfection.

But then reality hit. And it hit hard.

“Even though this was something I had been thinking about for 30 years,” she says, “the reality of planning a wedding and doing all the things was…well… a lot.”

Schultes isn’t alone in her thinking. The wedding industry brings in roughly $50 billion annually, with weddings in Maryland costing on average over $20,000. But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed the way couples are viewing wedding planning, creating a tangible paradigm shift in how we celebrate love.

“Before, there was a lot of vanity and competitiveness within wedding planning,” says Sara Reynolds, a professional wedding planner on the Eastern Shore with her business Sara Reynolds Events. “Brides were always aware of what their cousin or sorority sister had done, and wanted to do things differently. But now, couples are aware of the importance of getting everyone together in the same room, and how special that is.”

For local brides and grooms, the Chesapeake region offers a natural splendor that allows for celebrating in a safe, beautiful way. “I read recently that Maryland’s Eastern Shore is the eighth most popular place in the country to get married,” says Reynolds. “The area offers so many opportunities to make your day special in every way possible.”

For Reynolds, helping make the day special is both her job and her passion. “I love being front row to love stories,” she says. Because, in essence, weddings are love stories. Within the hustle of modern life, however, the love underlying relationships can be forgotten.

“Wedding planning was not something that was fun for me,” says bride Brooke Streit, who is tying the knot with her fiancé, Taylor, in the Shenandoah mountains this summer. “At first, we were going to just elope. But then we started to think about how we’d miss having our friends there, and we knew we wanted to throw a party in a place that meant everything to us: the mountains.”

Understanding what is important to a couple is of singular importance for Reynolds. “When I first start working with a couple, I ask for three things that they noticed in the last few weddings they attended. If they say the food was awful, I realize we’re going to be spending money on the food. If they say nothing about the invitations, I know that we’re going to save money by not focusing on elaborate paper products.”

For local bride Elle Wells, having her wedding reception at the Eastport Yacht Club was a done deal. Groom Andrew is a Naval Academy graduate, so getting married in town was significant. But Wells’ father has a severe seafood allergy, and the kitchen at EYC is one of the places he can safely eat in town without fear of cross-contamination.

“The other bonus, besides not worrying that we’d have to stab my dad with an Epi-Pen, is that in Eastport venues can have you there until 10 p.m. instead of 9 p.m., which is the restriction in downtown Annapolis,” she says. “We wanted to have a later evening reception on the waterfront, and EYC just checked all the boxes.”

For many couples, guest lists have been decreased significantly to maintain safety nets around the virus. But this often creates problems when looking at traditional wedding venues.

“We wanted to keep it smaller,” says Schultes. “We’re a little older, and we realized the importance of saving up for a house instead of spending extravagantly on the wedding.”

Schultes stumbled upon her reception venue when she was dining at Knoxie’s Table, the upscale restaurant on the grounds of the  Chesapeake Bay Beach Club in Stevensville. “The Chesapeake Bay Beach Club is a super popular venue for weddings, but we didn’t have a big enough guest list to justify it,” she says. Knoxie’s Table, with their delicious food, stunning porch, and impeccable service, fit the bill perfectly.

Atmosphere is everything when celebrating your nuptials, and no one knows that better than Stacey Hann-Ruff, director at Annmarie Sculpture Gardens in Calvert County. “Our most popular wedding package is the indoor / outdoor format, where couples can get married outdoors in the sculpture garden and then come into the gallery for their reception,” she says. Three patios surround the gallery as well, and high windows showcase butterfly gardens and stunning artwork. “Mother Nature helps you decorate,” she says.

Couples who want to celebrate in lush gardens but need to stay closer to Annapolis can find stunning solace among the two-acre oasis of gardens surrounding the  William Paca House, the 18th century Georgian mansion in the heart of town. Weddings held on the grounds also support Historic Annapolis, the nonprofit organization tasked with preserving historical properties around the city, and allow couples to give back to their communities while celebrating.

For couples with a sailing background, there’s nothing better than getting married on the water. The Schooner Woodwind offers fully-crewed wedding charters out of Annapolis, while the Calvert Marine Museum  in Solomons rents out two skipjacks for celebrations. A bonus is that the museum’s exhibits are on display for wedding guests throughout the celebration, allowing couples the opportunity to take pictures and have personal time without forcing guests to stand around waiting.

“We have the Drum Point Lighthouse, the boardwalk, and the Corbin Nature Pavilion available as spaces for wedding receptions, cocktail hours, photographs, and more,” says Jenny Liese, events and facilities coordinator for the museum. “And guests have full access to the live animals, fossils, interactive exhibits, and local history that the museum provides.”

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St Michaels is another hot destination for couples wanting a nautical feel for their big day. The 18-acre Miles River campus has four separate venues for the ceremony and reception, from the Hooper Strait Lighthouse to the Small Boat Shed. On the Western Shore, the Captain Avery Museum in Shady Side offers a similar historical perspective in a more intimate setting (the museum’s Great Room seats a maximum of 65 guests for dinner). As a bonus, the sleepy West River (to the east) and the quietude of the museum’s rain garden can act as stunning backgrounds for any bridal photos.

While all couples strive for those perfect shots by the water, photographer Alexandra Nurthen of ALN Images has some good advice. “Don’t try to take your photos by the water at high noon,” she says. “It always looks too bright, and you can’t see the water because it’s all blown out.” Instead, Nurthen advises taking advantage of first look photos, where better times can be scheduled. “You save time, and you utilize a more flattering light.”

Schultes took this advice for her wedding photos, getting first look shots with her partner at the State House before meeting her family and friends at Acton’s Landing Park. “When we toured our venue, we saw a bride doing a first look with her dad,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do that. I’ll be too emotional.’ So we did a first look together as a couple, which was great because my fiancé could see my dress and we got a second to breathe, and then met our entire family.” 

Nurthen loves shooting couples around Annapolis because of the gorgeous architecture the city provides. “I’m always looking for texture and lines,” she says. “By looking for that, you’re automatically drawing the eye toward architecture, and for that, settings like the State House, the Governor Calvert Inn, and State Circle can’t be beat.” That Nurthen’s favorite places to shoot are close to the county courthouse, where couples can be married by a justice of the peace, is even more ideal.

Skipping the formal ceremony and having a civil service (where a maximum of 18 guests are allowed) is becoming more attractive for many couples. Modern brides and grooms are conscious of their actions, and understand that authenticity needs to be a hallmark of their celebration.

“I guess I’m just hoping that it feels really true to Tay and me,” says Streit. “I want Tay to feel loved, and I want our love to be celebrated.”

After the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic, that’s something we can all get behind.

Bride Holly Stratton holds a bouquet made by vendor Dandelion Stand, who helped the bride source flowers from wholesale markets and Trader Joe’s to save money. Photo: Nikki Schell Photography

Getting Ready

While photographers are wizards when it comes to working with Photoshop, couples want to feel their best when the shutter clicks. These preparations begin months before the actual day, but can be the tipping point in feeling as special as possible.

“I wanted to have a beautiful smile in my photos,” says Schultes, who went to Annapolis Orthodontics the year leading up to her wedding day for Invisalign treatments. “And even at the beach I’m wearing SPF 75, so I got a spray tan for some glow.” Schultes used Even Keel Wellness in Annapolis for her tanning, as well as their bridal facial package. “I wanted to feel confident and picture-ready, because photos were a big priority for us.”

Hair is also an important factor. And while the “I Do Updo” is certainly a thing, many brides are opting for more creative hair detailing. At Miranda Page Beauty in Prince Frederick, hair extensions are encouraged to give hair more volume and texture, and their applications are included in bridal packages. 

But don’t forget the other hair on your head! “False eyelashes should be a must,” says makeup artist Davey Cook of True Colors Beauty. “Cameras tend to wash out your facial expressions, so lashes will make your eyes pop.”

Photographer Alexandra Nurthen of ALN Images loves shooting couples around the stunning architecture of downtown Annapolis. 

Dressing Up

It’s one of the most exciting aspects for any bride. Or is it?

For Elle Wells, who is in recovery from an eating disorder, dress shopping wasn’t something to look forward to. “Another bride recommended BHLDN, the bridal wing of Anthropologie,” she says. The brand is known as being size inclusive and not pushy toward “shedding for the wedding,” which allowed for a body-positive experience for Wells. “I did not want the stress of dress shopping. But my experience with BHLDN was fantastic, and the team there was incredible.”

For Streit, who is financially responsible for her wedding on a teacher’s salary, the Love and Lace Boutique in Edgewater was ideal. “They take pride in finding lower-priced dresses, and have lots of secondhand options,” she says. “I fell in love with two dresses and ended up buying one of them. But I’m so indecisive, I had a complete panic attack and called them the next day and asked if I could exchange it. They helped me make the right decision without any issues.”

Schultes was also trying to be conservative in her spending, when possible. She found her dress on the BHLDN website but knew it was out of her budget. “I found it on, a wedding dress resale site. It was a size too big, but it had never been altered. The bride sold it to me for $220.”

Keely and Tyler Beasley were married on the Schooner Woodwind on June 12, 2021. Photo by Olivia Bush Photography.

Final Touches

Brides today know that bigger is not always better. They’re looking for little details that pack a punch. And with a little research, there are countless ways to upgrade your elements without destroying your bank account.

“We had Dani of Dandelion Stand Flowers do our bouquet and tablescapes,” says Schultes. “I wanted coral peonies, white roses, and butterfly ranunculus, and Dani sourced those from her wholesale markets. But for the filler flowers, she had me purchase flowers from Trader Joe’s to save money.” This floral hack allowed Schultes’ tablescapes to be more elaborate, which was one of her biggest priorities.

Wells also needed to change up her scenery to fit her guest list. “We have quite a few disabled veterans coming to our wedding,” she says. “Eastport Yacht Club has a great water view, but not a lot of seating on their lawn.” Wells rented vintage couches and chaise lounges through Pretty Little Wedding Co. “Going the rental route has allowed us to have nicer things,” she says. “And we are trying to find ways to minimize waste at the wedding, which is important to us.”

Streit and her fiance are passionate foodies, and want to make sure their guests’ dietary needs (and expectations) were met. “We have vegetarians, pescatarians, and then all the omnivores. So we decided to go with a buffet, but we didn’t love the idea of having people wait forever in line. The caterer suggested that we put massive salads on the table so that guests will immediately have food. We’re meeting immediate needs and also keeping our catering budget lower, because we don’t have a big need for servers.”

Gifts That Keep Giving

While the extensive work of planning and executing a wedding falls on the bride and groom, it’s important to recognize the time, effort, and expense involved in guests’ attendance at celebrations. Finding ways to show gratitude toward guests while at the same time remaining authentic to a couple’s vision can be a creative challenge.

“Over 80 percent of our guests were traveling into town from far away,” says Wells. “And most of them used Airbnbs instead of hotel rooms, so we put together gift bags with Rise Up Coffee so that they could drink good coffee in the mornings. Going with our desire for sustainability, we also threw in boxed water so that they would stay hydrated.”

Streit wanted to thank her bridesmaids by getting everyone matching outfits, but floral, silky robes weren’t the right vibe. “I got everyone band tees with their favorite bands on them,” she says. “Their tees are all black, but mine is a white Rolling Stones tee since I’m the bride.”

Schultes and her father have an incredible bond, and she knew her wedding day would be very special for him. “He told me, ‘I’ve been waiting to be the father of the bride for so long.’ So I got him a pair of special socks for my wedding day. I wrote a card to go along with it, and I said, ‘Of all our walks together, this one is my favorite.’”