Over hours of conversation and a six-pack of Harpoon Winter Warmer at Charlotte, North Carolina’s quirky SouthEnd Common Market, Stuart Yochem and Will Ruark quickly realized how much they had in common. They both held “atypical” jobs, with Will spending his days outside as a Park Ranger for the State of North Carolina and Stuart working alongside her mom in their Italian clothing boutique, Amina Rubinacci.
Just before their first date, Will accepted a job at Kerr Lake State Park near the Virginia border, so a tough stretch of long-distance dating defined the beginning of their relationship. For almost two years, they traveled north and south on I-85, listening to endless podcasts and getting to know each other steadily and completely. It was all worth it when Will heard he would be transferred to Lake Norman State Park in Charlotte, where he is now a head ranger.
In February of 2018, Stuart and Will went to Roan Mountain, TN (Stuart’s been every year since she was little), for a weekend getaway in the cabin-lined state park with their dog, Jasper. A hike to sunset views and beers atop Carver’s Gap, where Stuart had been dozens of times, turned into a moment she’d cherish forever. Will had coyly tied a red bandana around Jasper’s neck that read “Stuart, will you marry me?” Stuart says it was “pure magic” because they were surrounded only by nature, the setting sun and one very excited Border Collie.
“Will and I wanted to get married in the mountains not only because of the beautiful scenery but also because it represents who we are and what makes us happy,” Stuart says. “Some of our very first dates were hiking around the Blue Ridge Mountains, taking in the landscapes and getting to know one another.”
They fell in love with Claxton Farm, a charming property nestled in a valley in Weaverville, NC, with a large, open field surrounded by small mountains, llamas, cows, miniature horses and goats. It felt like a place they’d just want to hang out, and its proximity to Asheville was a huge draw. The couple loves that Asheville has something for everyone: fantastic hikes, waterfalls, breweries, galleries, restaurants and activities for the less-outdoorsy.
After a fun Friday night and Saturday morning in downtown Asheville, guests headed out to the mountains for the 4 p.m. ceremony. Upon arrival, two elements were unmissable: The white sails of the tent against a dark mountain terrain, and a friendly, furry llama named Chocolate Chip, the couple’s unofficial greeter and mascot of the farm.
Another important factor of the day? The weather. Picking an outdoor venue with a limited indoor backup plan was a risk, but May 4 was a rain-free day historically in Asheville. However, as the weekend approached, meteorologists called for hail, thunder, lightning, and heavy downpours. “When this happens, you kind of have to adjust your whole attitude and learn to just go with it,” Stuart says.
As Stuart “trotted” (her word) down the muddy path to greet Will for their first look, lightning struck. As guests began to fill into the seats — stilettos sinking slightly in the wet grass — rain pattered on the translucent tent above. But as the bridal party filed out, followed by Stuart and her father, the rain stopped as if clicked off by a remote control, and within a few minutes, just as Stuart and Will were exchanging their very clever and personally written vows, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.
A blue-hued, nature-inspired theme was woven throughout the covered ceremony, dinner tent and reception barn. Stuart was never a pink person, so they went with a cool color palette of various shades of blue, green and white, with both gold and silver accents throughout. “With the tent, I wanted to create an ethereal feeling with as much nature as possible,” Stuart says. In the barn, blue Moroccan-inspired lanterns dripped from the ceiling, illuminated by blue uplighting. Bar tables were adorned with votives, small bouquets and watercolor-inspired tablecloths. A lounge with a grass loveseat and chairs added to the outdoor effect.
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After the ceremony sprinkled with laughs and tears, 200 guests enjoyed a cocktail hour with locally curated wine options, a full bar and delicious bites of crab-stuffed mushrooms, Caprese skewers, chicken and waffle bites and bacon-wrapped shrimp. An acoustic trio played a variety of Stuart and Will’s classic rock and folk favorites while everyone excitedly geared up for the multi-course dinner and night of dancing ahead.
The delicious seated meal was rivaled only by an outdoor s’mores station and a hot pretzel station where soft pretzels could be drenched in local Lusty Monk Mustard or a chocolate dipping sauce. Stuart also planned a late-night surprise — Patron XO tequila shots — since Cinco de Mayo began at midnight. “It seemed to be a big hit, as the dance moves were on par for the rest of the evening,” Stuart laughs. These touches won’t soon be forgotten by the guests who danced the night away in the cozy pavilion to the tunes of The Band Punch.
Stuart and Will will honeymoon for three weeks in New Zealand in January 2020 (the seasons are reversed) to hike, chase wildlife, and just be together in the great outdoors … “plus, I love wine,” Stuart makes sure to add.
When she thinks back on her day, and what might have been a massive storm, Stuart says, “I relate it to not only relationships but to all marriages. There are going to be ups and downs, thunder and lightning as well as clear blue skies, but as long as you go into it with a clear mind and determination to both make yourself happy and your partner happy, it’s all worth it.” Stuart quickly learned that you cannot control every aspect of the day, and sometimes it’s the unexpected squalls that make the day more interesting and memorable.
Thank you, Stuart and Will, for sharing your wedding story — and these gorgeous photos by Rob + Kristen — with us. Cheers to reaching many more summits together!
Venue: Claxton Farm
Photographer: Rob + Kristen
Videographer: ByDesign Films
Bride’s gown: Carolina Herrera from Betty Bridal
Bridesmaids’ dresses (brand & store): Amsale from Bella Bridesmaids
Makeup: Layne Barter
Hair: Powder Me Pretty
Groom’s & groomsmen’s suits: Bruce Julian’s
Custom-made bowties: Knotty Tie
Invitations, programs & menu cards: Kristen Hussey at Sable & Gray
Flowers: Floressence Flowers
Catering: M7 Events
Music: Emerald Empire Band (ceremony/cocktail hour), The Band Punch (reception)
Cake: Gateaux Cakes and Pastries
Lighting design: Eric Winkenwerder
Tables/lighting/grass furniture/tablecloths/dinnerware: Classic Event Rental
Printed linens: La Tavola
SuperBeetle getaway car: Mingle Events
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