From Friendship to Forever


The St. Regis Atlanta hosts an elegant and timeless wedding reception for college sweethearts.

By Kristin Devoto  |  photography by David Christensen Photography

KellieJustinW_433Men and women often search the globe for love, but for the luckiest few, it’s something they accidentally encounter. Although they never met, Kellie Griffin and Justin Donnelly grew up within 10 miles of each other in the northern Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek. Both chose to attend the University of Mississippi, where their paths crossed during their freshman year when they went on their first date. Though neither knew it at the time, that inaugural date was their first step toward finding lasting love.

The two became friends and remained that way until their junior year of college, when they decided to date again. This time, it stuck. They dated exclusively for the next five years and moved back to the Atlanta area after graduation. Over bananas Foster at one of her favorite restaurants on the auspicious date of Nov. 11, 2011 (“11-11-11”), Justin proposed, and Kellie happily accepted.

The groom-to-be and his fiancee initially took a low-key approach to wedding planning. They worked with Kellie’s mother, Paula, and booked her family’s church for the ceremony. For the reception, the bride knew, without question, that her wedding should be celebrated at The St. Regis Atlanta.

“That’s where I wanted my reception,” Kellie explains. “I just knew. I love the architecture—I love it. If there was anywhere I could be, it’s there.”

Kellie recently opened her own interior design firm and has a sharp eye for style and design, which gave her an edge as she worked closely with Julia McKelvey, catering sales manager of the St. Regis, and Amy Saltzman of A Legendary Event. While some brides become caught up in miniscule details, Kellie’s design experience helped her stay focused on the big picture.

“Having a background in design and being a visual person, I was able to envision what I wanted my dream day to look like,” she says. “I also was able to know the small things that a lot of brides stress about were not anything that would truly affect the big day and overall look. I created a picture in my head of the final product, as [I do] with my rooms.”

KellieJustinW_540Floral Inspiration

Kellie also  says that she was enchanted with a single photograph of a beautiful table setting and statuesque flower arrangement that she tore from a bridal magazine. It became her sole inspiration for the look of her wedding day.

“When you have a bride that has one piece that defines her and she wants to use that as an anchor, it allows us to be the experts,” McKelvey says. “We’re allowed to go from there and create the concept and design. That’s where A Legendary Event was so instrumental. They took this beautiful inspiration and created it as a feeling.”

Kellie adds that she was drawn to the elegance and timelessness of the photo, as well as the over-the-top floral arrangements and the cream and gold muted color palette.

With those qualities in mind, McKelvey began working with Kellie and her mother to create a dream wedding. “Everything we do at the St. Regis is all about customization and the experience as a whole,” McKelvey says. “We want it to be a customized process from start to finish. We knew we could create something that would have an impact. It was a spectacular display of design.”

Saltzman describes the wedding as classic with a contemporary twist, emphasizing floral design. “They chose a classic linen, but in a pattern, and a very classic chair, but in Lucite,” Saltzman says. “[They chose a] classic stemware shape, but it was Murano glass brought in from D.C. The little unexpected twists showed the personality of the bride and groom.”

To capture the elegant feel of the flower display in Kellie’s inspirational photograph, Saltzman crafted two different centerpieces. On some tables, towering silver candelabras were encrusted in white and ivory blooms like hydrangeas, Jeanne Moreau and patience garden roses as well as antique romantica spray roses. The arrangements were so intricate and elaborate that they ended up weighing more than 100 pounds and required specially constructed supportive bases. Alternate tables were centered by full, low floral displays in a silver base that showcased lush arrangements of blooms, while silver candlesticks in various heights and designs glittered.

“It was very beautiful,” Saltzman says. “But it never looked like it was trying too hard to look that way. The staff at the St. Regis was amazing, and we feel like we’re part of their team.”

The smooth collaboration was also evident in the consistent feel of elegance that permeated the entire evening. “As the resort became instrumental in creating this beautiful package, we added a culinary experience that was impressive and complemented the design decor,” McKelvey says.


Delightful Details

The whirlwind planning in the months before the wedding certainly paid off. On Aug. 25, 2012, Kellie walked down the aisle of St. Andrew Catholic Church on the arm of her father, Michael Griffin. She wore an ethereal blush-colored ball gown by Christos that featured a heart-shaped neckline, tulle and delicate floral detailing. A beaming Justin waited for her at the altar, wearing a classic tuxedo with silver vest and tie, and a boutonniere featuring feathers in a nod to his love of fishing. Surrounded by their nine bridesmaids, 10 groomsmen and 300 guests, Kellie and Justin exchanged vows and became husband and wife.

After posing for photos, they headed to The St. Regis Atlanta to join their friends and family for cocktail hour. Kellie couldn’t resist a peek at the Astor Ballroom before it opened to the guests

“I was really blown away,” she says. “I knew with that team there wouldn’t be any issues, but it was beyond my expectations. It was just beautiful.”

Throughout cocktail hour, guests nibbled on butler-passed hors d’oeuvres, such as prosciutto-wrapped mango, seared lamb chops and short rib tacos, while Jack Louden of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra serenaded the party on the violin. A vast display of fresh, jumbo tiger shrimp, crab claws and oysters on the half shell was a crowd favorite.

As the doors to the ballroom opened, Kellie was again amazed by the floral displays and designs. She and Justin danced with each other and their parents before their live music ensemble, The Fabulous Steeler Band, brought everyone to the floor with renditions of current hits and older favorites.

Guests also enjoyed appetizers: a warm goat cheese tart with caramelized onions and roasted tomatoes and a Bibb lettuce salad with bleu cheese, grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and fig-balsamic vinaigrette. The feast continued with an entree duo of beef tenderloin, served with a caramelized onion and port wine risotto, and pan-seared halibut, served with seasonal roasted vegetables.


Lasting Memories

As the guests danced into the evening, the bride and groom cut their cake, a stunning confection of alternating almond pound cake with milk chocolate truffle and vanilla chiffon cake decorated to match the floral detailing of Kellie’s wedding gown. Kellie and Justin both looked forward to performing a traditional Champagne sabering ritual.  “You could see the reflection of Kellie and Justin in their guests,” McKelvey says. “It was a very energetic crowd.”

As the evening came to a close, there was one more flawlessly executed surprise: pyramids of delightfully colored macarons, each detailed with the couple’s monogram. Guests were encouraged to take the raspberry, chocolate, pistachio, lemon and bourbon treats home to savor later.

“It was a beautiful and colorful display,” McKelvey says. “It created excitement and buzz and was the finale to their culinary experience.”

As the brand-new Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly prepared to depart to their honeymoon suite, Kellie remembers feeling as if the night was absolutely magical. “It was my dream wedding; the perfect day,” she says. “I think it was really a St. Regis type of affair. It really wouldn’t have been the same anywhere else.”