Chelsea Conn and John-Michael Ryall met in law school at the University of Memphis and fell for each other during a trip to San Francisco in 2012. In May of 2015 John-Michael popped the question quite unexpectedly. “We got engaged on a Thursday evening, which isn’t the most usual day for an engagement,” explains John-Michael. “I am notoriously bad at keeping secrets and surprises.” He planned for a big weekend proposal, but the ring was burning a hole in his pocket, and he popped the question when they returned home from dinner at Porcellino’s.
This unconventional proposal led to an equally unconventional wedding in September of 2016. The couple took a total DIY approach to their big day, and both families came together to make the day spectacular with charming details. We are simply smitten with this casual, thoughtful and intimate affair!
Twenty-five guests attended Chelsea and John-Michael’s intimate outdoor ceremony.
The beautiful Blecken Pavilion is in a more secluded area at the Memphis Botanic Garden. “Once we walked through the gardens and saw the pavilion we knew it would be perfect for our intimate ceremony,” says John-Michael. “The surrounding trees also provided some much-needed shade on a surprisingly warm September day.”
John-Michael and Chelsea chose not to have attendants, however they could not have a wedding ceremony without their beloved dogs, Pippa and Sadie, escorted by the groom’s sisters, Susan and Marie Ryall.
A family affair: Mother and sister of the groom, Dixie and Susan Ryall of Ménage Fine Stationery & Gifts, created John-Michael and Chelsea’s wedding invitation suite. “Through the almost 10 years Ménage has been in business, we have made it our goal to be the preeminent letterpress stationery shop in Memphis,” explains Dixie. “So, when it was time for my son to marry, I was excited to have the opportunity to do a letterpress invitation for his wedding. I was fortunate that both John-Michael and Chelsea also loved letterpress. I felt like part-mom, part-wedding planner as we helped put together little details for their wedding that we had seen done by the many wonderful Ménage wedding customers.” Dixie also did the calligraphy on the invitations.
Chelsea and John-Michael did not want the typical fancy scripts used in wedding invitations, opting for an enlarged traditional block font instead. The bride wanted a floral design, so her soon-to-be sister-in-law Susan designed a floral magnolia background intended to be subtle, in a whisper shade of gray.
Pippa, you may now kiss the bride!
The bride and groom share a laugh during their ceremony. The couple exchanged traditional vows, as well as ones they wrote to each other. A close friend read the poem “On Marriage” from Khalil Gilbran’s The Prophet, and Chelsea read from the poem “Love” by Roy Croft.
The groom wore a navy suit by Calvin Klein. The couple chose not to have a color scheme. “We wanted an organic, casual setting with arrangements and décor to mirror the already wonderful vibes of the day,” explains John-Michael.
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Chelsea and John-Michael specifically chose venues to provide a relaxed, informal setting for their loved ones.
The family of four
For the reception, the party expanded to 75 and moved to Chef Kelly English’s The Second Line restaurant adjacent to Overton Square. The layout of the old Victorian-style house-turned-restaurant made for the perfect intimate reception venue. Guests mingled freely throughout the dining rooms, bar and outdoor patio.
The day before the wedding, the bride and groom’s mothers, grandmothers, sisters, cousins and friends gathered to make all the floral arrangements. The ladies had so much fun recreating the prototype the bride made to show how she wanted the table top arrangements. Buckets and buckets of wonderful flowers — hydrangeas, spray roses, eucalyptus leaves — all went into the assembly, along with love from the women closest to the couple.
Clever and old school, Rolodex cards were provided for guests to sign instead of a traditional guestbook.
Frost Bake Shop provided the three-tier Neapolitan-style wedding cake with each layer a differing flavor — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry — topped with buttercream icing.
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Hog and Hominy’s famous peanut butter pie was served in single-serving glass cups.
Guests were welcomed to the reception with Chelsea and John-Michael’s cocktails of choice — Sazerac and Dark and Stormy. And John-Michael’s sister Susan designed the food and drink menus to mimic The Second Line’s existing ones.
Guests feasted buffet-style for three courses of Kelly English’s most tantalizing New Orleans-inspired dishes including Natchitoches meat pies, fried Gulf oyster po’ boys, chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with cornbread, shrimp and grits, “fancy-ass slaw” and spinach Madeleine.
The bride and groom steal a kiss at the indoor bar.
Chelsea and John-Michael share a toast to a happy day. “We approached the day as a chance to celebrate everyone else — to show our love and gratitude for them and their support of our relationship and union,” says John-Michael.
Keeping with their DIY-ness, music was provided by “DJ Spotify.” The bride and groom did not have the traditional first dance, but they did dance to TLC’s “No Scrubs” at some point in the night.
Ménage also designed the koozie favors, reminding guests of their night spent “gettin’ RYALLed up”!
The party enjoys The Second Line’s outdoor bar and patio. When asked what the most memorable part of his wedding was, John-Michael says, “University of Tennessee beat Florida in football!” Following the big day, the couple honeymooned in Seaside, Florida.
Thanks to John-Michael and Chelsea for sharing all the marvelous details of their wedding day with us! Here’s to a lifetime of happiness!
Photography: Donny Granger of Creation Studios
Invitations, programs, koozies and menu cards: Ménage Fine Stationery and Gifts
Wedding gown: The Barefoot Bride
Venue: Blecken Pavilion at the Memphis Botanic Garden
Reception venue and food: The Second Line
Cake: Frost Bake Shop
Hair: Pavo Salon Spa
Makeup: Gia Marina
Day-of coordinator: Russell Whitehead of Russell and Ruthie Events
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