Grab a Badge
Justin & Nathan: An Urban Autumn Wedding in Washington, D.C.
Photos By Casey Hendrickson Photography
By Lauren Kathryn on Aug 8, 2016 at 3:00 am in Modern and Urban
When Justin Hartsell and Nathan Smith met eight years ago at a mutual friend’s house party one November eve, it was as close as it comes to love at first sight in the real world. Neither had wanted to attend the gathering, but both showed up anyway, never imagining it would be, for them, the beginning of everything, the start of a life beautifully shared. Despite an initial communication blunder, the North Carolinian undergrads hit it off right away. Pleasant chitchat quickly turned to deep conversation that lasted until the stars disappeared into dawn. Naturally, this led to a first date the very next night, and a relationship was kindled. Though the duo had to navigate the perils of a long-distance romance six months later, they discovered in the process that their love for each other was of the enduring kind.
Once Justin finished school, he packed up his belongings and his beloved cats and followed his heart to Washington, D.C., where Nathan had ventured after his own graduation two years earlier. The couple got a one-bedroom apartment in the up-and-coming Columbia Heights neighborhood, and after the long stint of being four hundred miles apart, they relished the simple day-to-day aspects of living with one another. They began to lay down solid roots, creating a cozy home, making new friends, joining a Unitarian Universalist church, and establishing careers—Justin as a high school chorus director, Nathan as director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The two “talked constantly” of their future together, and one day Justin decided to make that imagined future a crystallized reality, devising an elaborate citywide scavenger hunt for his soulmate that ended with Justin down on one knee atop the stone steps of the Dupont Circle fountain.
Entwined as they are in the fabric of their city, it made sense for the two to hold their wedding in the District, and it didn’t take long for them to select a nuptial site: Logan Circle’s hip and historic Fathom Gallery. Once a dilapidated brake shop, the newly renovated event venue aims to foster a community-wide appreciation for local arts and culture within a storied space that blends modern aesthetics with the eclectic urban elegance of old 14th Street. Here, the couple tied the knot on a crisp October day in an intimate, autumnal affair that featured fresh twists on fall favorites. Vibrant oranges and purples were paired with steely grays that complemented the industrial elements and whitewashed brick walls of the Gallery’s interior. But the chic ambiance was no match for the tangible warmth of the celebration, which outshone all else. It was, Justin recalls, an evening utterly “filled with love.”
“It’s possible to have an affordable wedding,” Justin says. “To accomplish this, sit down with your significant other and decide what the two of you find most important, so you can figure out how to best allocate your budget. For example, we wanted to make sure our guests had great food, so more of our budget was spent on catering than on décor. We decided to buy fewer flower arrangements and repurpose them throughout the event, with ceremonial flowers also used as centerpieces.”
In addition, Justin and Nathan were able to save money by crafting some of the décor themselves. The silvered pumpkins were achieved with some spray paint, and Justin created both the photo booth backdrop and the wedding programs, which were wrapped in bright orange belly bands emblazoned with a laser-cut monogram.
Designed by The Dandelion Patch, the couple’s coolly contemporary invitations featured a grayed illustration of D.C.’s skyline.
Justin and Nathan got ready together at the Dupont Circle Hotel. “I love that they wanted to share every single moment of their wedding experience,” says photographer Casey Hendrickson.
The couple exchanged vows in the Fathom Gallery’s rooftop garden, surrounded by lush greenery and budding pear trees.
“My favorite part of our ceremony was the ring warming,” Justin says. “We strung our rings on a length of ribbon, and during the ceremony they made their way to each guest, who had a moment to hold them close and bestow a blessing on them before passing them to the next person. Every time I look at my ring, I think about not only my wonderful husband, whom I love dearly, but also each and every one of our guests who shared and blessed our commitment to each other.”
“I think my favorite moment was when we exchanged our vows,” Nathan says. “Writing our vows together allowed us to think deeply about the commitments we were making to one another, so to recite them in front of our friends and family members was especially meaningful.”
Justin showed off his crafting skills with this impressively intricate confetti-inspired backdrop, made entirely by hand. “Between the two of us, Justin is by far the more artistic one, so a lot of the special touches were his ideas and his craftsmanship,” Nathan says. “I loved them.”
D.C. is known for its cupcakes, so Justin and Nathan made sure to have an array of seasonal varieties on hand from The Sweet Lobby, a boutique Barracks Row bakery that bills itself as “the ultimate advocate for your sweet tooth.”
Being big on gin, the couple also created three takes on gin and tonics: The Classic (just your standard G & T), The Saint (G & T with a splash of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur), and The Rosemary (G & T with a splash of Justin’s homemade rosemary simple syrup). “They were a hit!” Justin says.
“During the reception, my dad and Justin’s mom gave toasts,” Nathan says. “I came out as gay to my parents when I was a teenager, and it was, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever done. For them to attend my wedding and for my dad to tell everyone how proud he was to have Justin join our family was something I couldn’t imagine as a teenager. It was really powerful for me.”
Sharing is Happiness
Photography > Casey Hendrickson photography
Videography > Photography by sARABIA
Ceremony Venue > the fathom gallery
Reception Venue > the fathom gallery
Flowers > amaryllis
Catering > main event caterers
Cupcakes > The Sweet lobby
Grooms’ Attire > J. Crew
Invitations > the dandelion patch
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