Two years after getting married, Denise and Travis had a winter vow renewal in Tucson to celebrate becoming husband and wife. In 2021, while navigating life as a dual military couple in the Air Force and dealing with the pandemic, they had a simple courthouse wedding ceremony. “We were questioning whether we really needed to have a formal wedding and reception,” Denise explained, “But we don’t get to see family often enough! So we decided that, yes, it’s important to celebrate with our family and friends, even two years later.”
Travis and Denise chose to host their vow renewal at the Stillwell House and Gardens historic venue in downtown Tucson. Initially, they were thinking of renewing their vows at a church and then having the reception somewhere nearby. But when they toured the venue, they knew they wanted to have their entire celebration there. The Stillwell House had the “cozy, laid-back but classy” vibe they had in mind.
I met up with Denise at The Graduate, a hotel very close to downtown. She already had her hair done and makeup was about to start. While I was photographing some of Denise’s bridal details, her mom Karen was anxiously getting herself ready. Periodically, I’d see Karen peeking out of the bathroom looking at her daughter with a quiet smile. She was so happy that Denise was finally having her “big day.”
Meanwhile, Travis was at their home, hanging out with his friends and getting ready to meet up with Denise.
So while Travis and Denise planned to have a private First Look together at their vow renewal, they may have cheated a little bit. Travis openly admitted that he had already seen Denise in her dress. What?! “But she didn’t have her hair done, her makeup done, all those things… It didn’t count. Today is different.” And I have to say, Travis had a point. The anticipation while being apart in the morning. The excitement of the day finally arriving. The beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary setting. Everything comes together to create an entirely different experience. And, I mean, look at his reaction. He was still genuinely surprised when he saw her!
The courtyard is by far the most common reason why my couples love the Stillwell House. It’s such a gorgeous space! The sun sets behind the venue in the evening, so it gets dark pretty quickly later on in the day. This is why my favorite time for portraits in the courtyard is in the early afternoon before the ceremony! Also, the courtyard area gets busier and more crowded (with guests, tables, etc.) as the day goes on; that limits the room we have to work with for photos. So if you have your heart set on featuring the courtyard in your portraits, make sure you carve out time prior to your ceremony!
Travis wore his father’s boutonniere that he had worn on his own wedding day. Sadly, Travis’ dad recently passed away; so this special touch felt like he was carrying his dad around with him all day. And look at his tie clip! Travis certainly loves being a pilot.
Denise’s Uncle Dennis was the officiant for their winter vow renewal ceremony. I love it when friends and family are directly integrated into the day’s events! I couldn’t help but think back to my own vow renewal that Mike and I had back in 2019 when he came home from a military deployment. That weekend holds some of our favorite memories that we’ve shared with our friends and family.
Denise chose to save her beautiful, long cathedral veil as a special addition for the ceremony. After family photos, we had a few minutes for some more portraits just before sunset as the reception kicked off. Featuring Denise’s veil was something I wanted to focus on during this second, quick round of couples portraits!
As the sun went down and January’s cooler winter temperatures creeped in, everyone headed inside into the main house for dinner. The simple and clean personal style that Travis and Denise have was the main inspiration for their reception décor.
Naturally, Mr. and Mrs. Vayda (pronounced vay-duh) HAD to play “The Imperial March” as they made their entrance into the reception. I mean, how could they not feature Darth Vader’s theme song from Star Wars?!
By this point in the evening, it was completely dark outside. But this is when the custom lighting nestled underneath the arbor really comes alive! It was such a colorful, romantic setting for Travis and Denise’s special dances with each other and their parents.
After their dances, everyone transitioned from the courtyard into the 1901 bar room for cake and dancing!
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw their cake topper: a couple doing a romantic dip and kiss. Travis dipped Denise so many times throughout the day! What a fitting detail!
I love taking a few minutes at the reception to create a fun nighttime photo with my couple and their guests. The party usually goes on for a few more hours after I leave for the night. Photos like this one, featuring a fun sparkler tunnel, provide a natural end to a full wedding gallery!
And, of course, one more surprise dip and kiss appearance!
In just over a month, Denise and Travis will go on their honeymoon to Australia and New Zealand. I LOVED my experience in New Zealand and I cannot wait to hear about their trip! I just might have to figure out how to sneak into one of their suitcases… I have no doubt that they’ll have tons of incredible adventures!
Wedding Venue | Stillwell House and Gardens
Photographer | Christy Hunter Photography
Hotel for Bride | The Graduate
Venue Coordinator | Christianna Solano with the Stillwell House
Catering Director | Candace Flores Carrillo with the Stillwell House
Dress Shop | Wedding Belles
Dress Designer | Morilee by Madeline Gardner
Invitations | Minted
Florist| Old Pueblo Petal Pushers
Hair and Makeup | The Powder Room
DJ | Michael with MasterMixx Events
Cake Shop | Village Bakehouse
Groom’s Attire | Bespoke Menswear
Christy Hunter is a wedding and portrait photographer based in Tucson, Arizona.
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