An Old-World New York City Wedding in Chelsea


In May of 2013, Sara Vandermark and Thomas de Swardt were both living in New York City, but commuted to Philadelphia every weekend to attend the Executive MBA program at Wharton. “We actually lived around the corner from one another!” says Sara. All those hours in the classroom (and on the train!) paid off, and the pair both got their MBAs—and found one another.

Three years later, Sara and Tom took a trip to Paris over Memorial Day weekend. “We were taking a suspiciously circuitous walk from our hotel to dinner,” Sara says. Finally, though, Tom found what he was looking for: A small park called La Place des Etats-Unis, where he got down on one knee.

The couple lives in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, and are loyal patrons of Intelligentsia Coffee at The High Line Hotel. “We’ve always loved the hotel’s historic aesthetic, but it was a tour of the 1850 chapel at the General Theological Seminary next door that won us over,” says the bride. The hotel used to be a part of the seminary, meaning those architectural details and that moody, gothic vibe carried through perfectly. The wedding was on August 12, 2017, but the pair went dark with their palette, opting for deep burgundy and gray accented with pale pink and mixed metals. “We wanted to mix classic New York style with European tradition,” Sara explains. They worked with Danielle Elder of Classic Events NYC to truly embrace their setting, weaving the venue’s iconic details throughout the celebration.

Photographed by Heather Waraksa, this New York City wedding is a celebration of both the historic venue's gorgeous past and the couple's future together!

“The hardest part of planning our wedding was being so far from our families,” says Sara. The bride’s relatives are scattered between upstate New York, Boston, and Austin, while the groom’s family is in Zimbabwe. Which is why the couple made a point to spend as much of the wedding weekend as possible with our loved ones as possible—starting with their rooftop rehearsal dinner!

The couple kicked off their wedding weekend with a bit of personalization in the form of their first signature cocktail. “Tom and I weren’t sure what we wanted as our signature cocktail, so my bridal party decided to compete for the winning drink,” says Sara. “They each came up with an elevator pitch to sell their idea, and each one was spot-on.” The winning drink was an Aperol Spritz called “Very Van De Spritz”.

In keeping with the moody color palette, Sara wore dark velvet Gianvito Rossi sandals with a satin ribbon beneath her gorgeous Vera Wang gown. “My mother wore lace for her wedding, so I knew I wanted lace as well,” the bride says. She tried on a number of styles before returning to Vera Wang after the fall presentation to try on a gown she’d spotted on the runway. “I knew it was the one right away. The fitted bodice, lace overlay, and contrast between the deep v-neck and high illusion neckline were perfect.” Sara and her mother both walked away from the appointment star struck—because Vera herself had been in the salon!

Six of Tom’s nieces and nephews, all from Zimbabwe, came to the wedding to serve as flower girls, ring bearer, and page boys. The girls wore lace dresses, topped with delicate flower crowns. “They took their roles very seriously, but still had fun. Some of our favorite photos are of their dirty knees, missing shoes, and mismatched bouquets!” Sara laughs.

Scabiosa pods were paired with greenery for a fresh, almost rustic take on a boutonniere.

Tom and Sara loved the quatrefoils and white biblical statues that filled the chapel. They decorated the altar with a garland of white and green flowers.

The newlyweds made their exit surrounded by loved ones. “We loved that the inward-facing pews gave our ceremony a more intimate feel,” says Sara.

Guests followed an interior courtyard that led from the chapel to the hotel’s lawn for cocktail hour.

A dramatic garland of hops flowers and garden roses led inside to the Refectory, where dinner was served. Urns overflowed with dramatic greenery, filling the corners of the towering space.

Long tables were topped with candelabras and low arrangements of dahlias and roses in blush and burgundy. Gold chargers and flatware enhanced the ornate atmosphere, while wine and water goblets were a nod to a bygone era of entertaining. The seasonal menu included hibiscus roasted artichokes, daube of beef short rib, branzino en papillote, and a mixed berry pavlova. “And of course, we served Intelligentsia coffee!” says Sara.

The beautiful five-tiered wedding cake was decorated with cascading sugar flowers and strokes of gold paint. The cake had alternating layers of vanilla cake with rosewater buttercream and almond cake with apricot-peach puree.

“Try to make the planning process as fun as possible to really extend the celebration,” says Sara. She and Tom filled their engagement with weekly dance lessons, tastings, and date nights that served as rehearsal dinner venue scouting. “It was so fun and romantic, and really built up our excitement for our wedding day!”

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