There’s something to be said for getting married to your best friend.
Take Grace Liu Happ and Michael Happ, for instance. When the two first crossed paths at the University of Pennsylvania through their community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, they quickly struck up an easy comradery. As they bonded over their mutual love of Pirates of the Caribbean, adventure, and good literature, they realized that their friendship had the potential to blossom in something more. They began dating and haven’t looked back since.
Shortly before Michael proposed, he received word from MIT that he had gotten accepted into a PhD program there. At the time, he and Grace were living in New York City, so they knew they’d have to relocate to Boston for the start of fall semester. That summer, the duo went on a trip to Barcelona before making the move to the new city. On a romantic boat ride across the Spanish waters, Michael popped the question – and Grace said yes.
When it came time to plan the ceremony, the pair agreed that a simple, personal ceremony was priority number one.
“We really wanted our wedding to be as unique as possible and reflect us as a couple,” says Grace. Since they were both just out of college, they knew the wedding wouldn’t be an extravagant one. As long as it was outside and away from the city, however, they’d be happy with the results. “We both love the great outdoors and, while we were living in NYC, we visited the Hudson Valley frequently to escape…It was important to us to throw our wedding in a place that was near the city where we “grew up” as adults, and where we spent so many idyllic weekends.”
Just as they knew they wanted to tie the knot in the Hudson Valley, so too did they agree to stay far away from anything resembling a hotel wedding. When they happened upon Emmerich Tree Farm in Warwick, the lovers of Lord of the Rings and all things fairytale fell head over heels immediately.
“The tree farm is in the middle of the forest, which was so magical, and had some serious Lothlórien vibes,” Grace enthuses, adding that Kurt Emmerich, the owner, made them feel like family. Since the tree farm only has about 10 weddings a year, it offered the secluded, slightly otherworldly atmosphere the couple envisioned.
On October 5, 2018, Grace and Michael invited family and friends from near and far to celebrate their union in a very special corner of the Hudson Valley. The pair prioritized special touches, like asking a friend to officiate the ceremony and spending time with loved ones by Greenwood Like, where they rented a house to get ready with their wedding party and take photos beforehand. Speaking of the wedding party, it was a mixed gender group. Grace invited a cluster of bridesmaids, who wore a medley of long dark red and maroon dresses to complement the pops of red in the bride’s bouquet.
“Red is a lucky color in China, and we wanted to include some aspects of the tradition in our wedding,” she adds. In the groom’s party, meanwhile, the men donned soft gray suits while the groomswomen wore flowing gray dresses.
As for the bride herself, she sought to find a dress that was just as practical (hello outdoor venue!) as it was beautiful.
“I wanted my dress to feel ethereal and flowy, with as long of a train as possible,” she explains. After returning her first dress, she found a dream gown that was “classic enough for a traditional wedding while feeling comfortable and light for an outdoor autumn wedding.”
In the heart of the forest, Grace and Michael exchanged rings in front of family and friends. The ceremony itself was particularly memorable, since the couple’s friend, who officiated the wedding, orchestrated what Grace calls “the most personal and moving ceremony I could have ever asked for.” To make the day extra special, he shared the pair’s favorite memories of one another, which he had secretly asked them to send to him before the big day.
“[It] was a wonderful surprise to hear about why we fell in love with each other,” Grace says.
Heading into the evening, Grace and Michael kept the decorations simple, the food bountiful, and the festivities meaningful. They named the tables after Lord of the Rings locations in an ode to their shared interest and the wedding’s natural setting. On the menu, they feasted upon down-home staples like beef brisket, mac and cheese, pork sliders, and cornbread. As the sun began to set and the first stars twinkled into existence in the Hudson Valley sky, they huddled around the bonfire and toasted s’mores by the glimmering flames.
“We just wanted everyone to feel like they were in a fairytale,” Grace explains. “Our love story felt like a bit of a fairy tale, so we felt that the venue had to reflect that.”
Looking back on the unforgettable affair, Grace offers up two bits of advice for soon-to-be brides and grooms.
“Stay organized, and do what’s important to you,” she stresses. “While you can try to make all your guests happy, what’s most important is sharing your love for each other in an authentic way. Also, get a videographer, [since] photos are beautiful, but a video allows you to…relive one of the best days of your life over and over again.”