Deborah Oyeyemi, a resident physician at Yale, and Chad Walton, an IT consultant and photographer, had an “instant connection” when they met in October 2017. “We met on Tinder; Chad was my second and last date on the app,” shares Deborah. “We exchanged texts, then calls, for a week or so before meeting for dinner in downtown Durham. We spent hours together and ended our night on a rooftop overlooking the city after sunset.” By the holidays, they were officially a couple. “We were spending every free moment from my busy medical school schedule at Duke together.”
Three years later, Deborah had moved to Connecticut for her residency and they were set to spend their anniversary apart for the very first time. But, Chad had a surprise in store. “He convinced one of my best friends to take me on a hike,” Deborah remembers. “When we got to the top of East Rock, I saw a man in a suit holding roses. Before I knew it, he was on one knee with a ring asking me to be his wife. He even had our song, ‘Best Part’ by H.E.R and Daniel Caesar, playing.” She was caught completely off guard. “I didn’t even know he was in the state!” she says. But, Deborah answered with a resounding “yes.”
The couple didn’t shout their engagement from the rooftops right away, though. “We took a week or so before telling folks outside of our immediate family, and that time was so precious,” Deborah says, advising other couples to do the same. “Take a moment, even if just for a day or two, after getting engaged to just breathe and soak in the moment.”
Two months later, they found their venue and planning began. “We had met and fallen in love in ‘The Triangle’—Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area—so celebrating our big day in North Carolina was a no-brainer,” Deborah says. They fell in love with Melrose Knitting Mill in downtown Raleigh, which meant planning from a distance. “I had to do my makeup and hair trials the week of the wedding since I couldn’t travel easily with COVID-19 and my demanding hospital schedule,” Deborah says. “Chad and his family FaceTimed me into tastings.”
Everything fell into place, and the couple said “I do” on January 8, 2022, in front of 80 guests. “This wedding was special for many reasons,” Deborah says, looking back. “First, it was a celebration of us reuniting after an unprecedented time apart. The pandemic had interfered with our plans for both sets of parents to meet, so the wedding was also important for bringing two families and their respective cultures together.” She continues: “I am of Nigerian descent, so traditional Yoruba details were incorporated throughout the reception. The groom’s roots guided not only the location of the wedding but also other elements, from the Southern Baptist ceremony officiated by his reverend uncle to the paying of homage to his ancestors, most notably his recently passed grandmother.”
Read on to see all the pretty details of their sweet celebration, planned by the couple with day-of coordination by Steph Smith at Southern Oak Events and photographed by Laura Memory Photography & Videography.
Deborah’s vision for the wedding began with a color palette as hues of ivory, cream, champagne, beige, and rose led the decor. “We wanted our wedding to be light, intimate, and romantic,” she says. Their invites were “partly DIY,” the bride says. They used templates created by Splendid Moment.
Her goal for hair and makeup was “natural glamour” and it started with skincare. “I had my first-ever facial two weeks before the wedding, a gift from Chad. It was amazing!” she says. “I then added a few more skincare items to my regimen leading up to the ceremony.” Her favorites? Fresh Soy Face Cleanser and LANEIGE Water Bank moisturizer in the morning, and Dr.Jart+ Tiger Grass enzyme foam cleanser and LANEIGE Water Sleeping Mask at night.
“I naturally avoided makeup as I don’t wear beauty products to the hospital,” she says. “I rarely wear makeup and really wanted to make sure that we found a nice balance between me being done up and still looking like myself. I essentially wanted my natural skin to shine through and my makeup artist at True Beauty & Skin did an incredible job.”
Deborah got ready with her bridesmaids in a robe by Flora Nikrooz and finished her look with a spritz of her all-time favorite scent, Lady Million by Paco Rabanne. To show off her ring, “I had my first-ever set of acrylic nails,” she says. “They were a nice blush color.”
“I was initially planning on getting a simple fitted gown with minimal or no train, but tried this dress on a whim,” Deborah says of her ivory lace and tulle Essense of Australia gown. It had off-the-shoulder sleeves, a full tulle and organza skirt, lace detailing, pearl buttons down the back, and a long train—anything but simple. However, “I knew it was the one based on everyone’s reactions,” she says. “Literally everyone—all the store staff, another bride and her family, my family—was gushing about the dress on me.”
“I loved that it was dramatic but still managed to feel like a second skin and hug my body,” explains the bride. “The ivory lace and mikado underlay also seemed to go well with the color scheme I was envisioning for the wedding.” And, when Deborah’s mom started crying, the deal was sealed.
“I love my natural hair and wear it proudly so I knew I wanted a more dramatic version of my own hair,” Deborah says. ‘The ponytail gave me nice volume but also allowed my face to shine through.” She accessorized with earrings and a simple veil.
As for the groom’s wedding day look? “Chad has long natural hair too, but prefers compact braided styles,” Deborah says. “He opted for a nice zig-zag braided design banded to the back.”
The groom looked classic in a black tux and black dress shoes, and personalized the look with meaningful accessories. “He wore cat socks that I had gifted him less than a year into our relationship,” Deborah says.
The first look was important because the wedding day itself goes by so fast.
“The first look was important because the wedding day itself goes by so fast,” Deborah shares. “We wanted to have an opportunity to have a moment alone with each other to just check in, say hello, and tell each other how much we loved one another. It was everything we expected and more.”
Chad’s boutonniere featured ivory florals and foliage and, like his tuxedo, was personalized. “He had a charm on his boutonniere with his grandmother’s portrait,” Deborah says. “She had passed shortly after we got engaged, so this was the first family wedding that she missed. We were celebrating with her in spirit.”
“I had a round bouquet with a delicate blend of soft white, cream, and light champagne flowers, wrapped with a chardonnay ribbon,” the bride says. Her bridesmaids carried petite versions of her bouquet.
Both ceremony and reception were held at Melrose Knitting Mill, a historic factory built in 1900. “We toured a lot of venues, but what ultimately drew us to Melrose was its location in the heart of downtown Raleigh and its historic charm,” the couple shares. “The former textile mill was so naturally beautiful with exposed brick, large windows, and an adjacent courtyard—it was stunning without decor so we could easily imagine our amazing wedding day there.” Among the original brick and historic details, photo ops abounded.
“I wanted each bridesmaid to love their dress so I focused more on selecting a color scheme and then gave them free rein to choose whatever dress they wanted,” Deborah says. “I ultimately decided on cinnamon, because I felt it would bring out each of their complexions beautifully and would be versatile enough for them to reuse their dresses in the future.” The ladies found gowns at Club L London, David’s Bridal, and Revelry in nearly identical shades, and the men went with classic black tuxes from Men’s Wearhouse to complement the groom.
White and soft pink rose petals lined the aisle, leading to a simply chic altar backed by ivory drapery. Italian ruscus and eucalyptus wrapped around dual panels of champagne drapery to frame the scene.
Deborah’s father walked her down the aisle in traditional Nigerian wedding attire, to the tune of Craig Armstrong’s “Glasgow Love Theme,” a sweet song best known from Love Actually.
The groom’s uncle, Reverend Charles E. Walton, officiated their ceremony. “We opted for traditional vows with Bible readings from various verses about love,” Deborah says. “These included 1 Corinthians 13:4-8—‘Love is patient, love is kind’—and Colossians 3:12-17, ‘And over all these virtues put on love.’ We also had a unity candle lighting.”
After their first kiss as newlyweds, they recessed out to “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole, setting an upbeat mood to kick off cocktail hour.
“For the reception, we opted for simple, natural decor,” Deborah says. “Classic cylinder vases with white hydrangea, pops of soft pink and champagne accents, and votives on each table. Round guest tables were wrapped in satin champagne linen with shimmering ivory place settings. We had natural lighting during the day, and at sunset lit Melrose’s row of chandeliers.”
“Our guests did not go hungry,” Deborah says. After indulging on goat cheese crostini, chicken bastille, and crab cake appetizers, they hit the buffet and loaded up on grilled organic chicken with mushroom sauce, braised beef brisket, risotto, roasted red potatoes, and more. The couple found the perfect drinks to serve, as well: Trophy Brewing Co.’s Trophy Husband and Trophy Wife beers. “Trophy is a great local brewery in Raleigh. We loved how their beers were naturally wedding-themed.”
The newlyweds danced to their song—the same one that had been playing when Chad proposed—“Best Part” by H.E.R. featuring Daniel Caesar. “Music was a big priority for both of us since we both love music and dancing,” Deborah says. “Our DJ was amazing and had a great blend of R&B, Afrobeats, and hip hop. The first song of the night, Beyonce’s ‘Before I Let Go,’ had guests young and old out of their seats doing the Electric Slide. We showed West Africa love with songs from Davido, Rema, Tiwa Savage, Kizz Daniel, and more. Chad and I spent every moment possible on the dance floor with our friends and family.”
The couple sliced into a six-inch cutting cake adorned with blush-toned florals for photos, but the real treat was cupcakes. “In lieu of wedding cake we ordered assorted cupcakes for our guests from downtown Raleigh bakery The Cupcake Shoppe,” Deborah says. There were five flavors, from plain vanilla to chocolate with espresso buttercream to red velvet with cream cheese icing.
“Most important to us was the health and safety of our friends and family,” Deborah says. “All guests were vaccinated, tested, and masked during the ceremony and reception when not at their tables. We got great feedback from everyone about our consistent messaging before and after the event.”
One of the couple’s favorite moments was their Nigerian entrance. “Our reception started with us in traditional Western dress for first dances, toasts, dinner, and cake cutting. We then changed into traditional Nigerian dress for a second formal entrance,” Deborah says. Her mother and grandmother had gone above and beyond sourcing fabric from Nigeria and sewing the attire, crafted partly in Nigeria and partly in the U.S. “My parents’ families joined us for a Nigerian medley with blessings and ‘money-spraying.’ Traditionally money is pinned on the bride and groom to wish them well. We opted to have guests place money gifts directly into bags or baskets carried by our bridesmaids as a fun, COVID-friendly alternative.”
Toward the end of the night, an outdoor oven was fired up for late-night pizza, and the newlyweds made their grand exit. “Our wedding concluded with a sparkler exit down Melrose’s front steps and into a vintage black Cadillac convertible,” Deborah says. “Chad and I drove off directly from the venue to our honeymoon suite.” Delaying an international honeymoon until travel is safer, the couple set off the next day for a weeklong road trip through the South. “We stopped in Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta,” Deborah says. “We stayed at amazing hotels, ate some incredible food, and even visited a few beaches along the way.”