Featured in the Spring 2018 issue of MunaLuchi Bride magazine, Nenna and Taylor celebrated their engagement with an elegant and timeless photo-session at the Strathmore Mansion, Maryland. Their love story began as students at the University of Pennsylvania, where the first date was a romantic evening of dinner and a scenic walk through Philadelphia – enjoying each other’s company and conversation while learning more about the one another. They look forward to being joined as husband and wife before family and friends in September.
Read all about Nenna & Taylor’s love story, proposal, and wedding aspirations in their timeless sophistication mansion engagement in Maryland – featuring the photography of MunaLuchi Coterie member Judah Avenue.
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Bride & Groom-to-be: Nenna Akpaete & Taylor Culliver
Occupations: MBA Student & Community Strategist
Venue/Location(s) for Engagement Session: The Mansion at Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD
Engagement Session Date: January 4, 2018
Wedding Date: September 29, 2018
Location of Wedding: Martin’s West, Baltimore, MD
Tell us how you met and all about the proposal. The first time I noticed Taylor was at the beginning of the year hall-meeting in our dorm at the University of Pennsylvania. As a senior in a mostly-freshman dorm, I really had no interest in attending the meeting, but I wanted the hall-mates to see my face at least once. I walked into the meeting just as it was about to begin and scanned the faces. As my eyes met with Taylor’s, his eyes immediately, and significantly, lit up. It was love at first sight – for Taylor. After the meeting I walked down the hall to tell my best friend, and fellow senior, Carissa that “a freshman was in love with me.” Both of us laughed, assuming Taylor’s interest would die quickly.
Slowly Taylor and I started a small friendship. Since I was busy with senior year activities, we would have small talk whenever we saw each other in the dorm. In December, my co-manager, Sarah and I organized a Holiday Gram where dorm residents could send a bag of candy and a nice note to anyone in the dorm. I was working in the cafe on the day that Taylor came to purchase a candy gram. Rather than write the note in front of me, he took it back to his room to return later. I thought nothing of the interaction as I was busy doing school work. On the day they were delivering the candy, I was surprised to see that the note was addressed to me with an invitation to dinner. I responded to Taylor that Carissa and I went to the dining hall every day at 7pm and he was more than welcome to join. (He was not too pleased with that response.)
I spent the next few weeks and months enjoying my last semester at UPenn and taking advantage of all that Philly has to offer. Thinking that Taylor was no longer pursuing me, I allowed the friendship to grow. Because of his kindness, energetic spirit, ability to make me laugh, and his ability to “see the real me,” he quickly became one of my closest friends. When I needed a break from everything after graduation, he was the first person I told and he quickly suggested I visit him in Alabama, which I did.
The friendship continued to grow and strengthen and bloom into a beautiful relationship and the rest is (her)story.
After I finished my first year at business school at UVA, Taylor came down to Charlottesville for a few days. We had planned to do a wine tour the upcoming Wednesday to visit some new wineries and some of our favorites.
The night before the wine tour, my friend Carissa texted me and innocently asked what I was doing the next day. After I told Carissa that Taylor and I were going on a wine tour, Carissa asked me to look cute and take photos for her new apartment. As Carissa had just moved in, I didn’t feel as though this request was strange, however, upon reflecting more that night I wondered, “what if Taylor is going to propose?” I continued to text Carissa to ask what I should wear. The two of us settled on an outfit and I went to bed.
The next day was warm and beautiful. Taylor and I packed a backpack with blankets and water and headed to the first winery, and then the second. We did a few tastings, drank some wine, and continued our tour. The third stop was my favorite winery in Charlottesville and I assumed that if Taylor were going to propose, he would probably do it there. But he didn’t. We again did a tasting and drank some wine. On our way to the fourth and final winery, I was already mentally drafting the text message I was going to send to Carissa about not getting people’s hopes up.
As we walked into Taylor’s favorite winery, King Family Vineyards, there was a food truck outside selling hot dogs. I was starving and offered to buy hot dogs while Taylor got the wine and located a spot for us to sit. When I came to the blanket, we ate the hot dogs and chatted. Taylor then told me to stand up so that he could take a picture of me for Carissa. After I posed for some pictures, he told me that he had a gift for me. I, not thinking that he was going to propose at this point, eagerly waited while he brought out a wooden wine bottle case. On the top were the words, “Nenna, my life, my love, my very best friend.” When I opened the case, I saw “Will you marry me?” engraved inside the lid, with a wine bottle nestled in the box.
I looked for the engagement ring, thinking it was hidden somewhere under the wine bottle. Instead of finding the ring, Taylor took the box and set it aside. He took both of my hands in his and showered me with words of love and adoration before pulling out the ring and getting down on one knee. I of course said yes!
What did you do on your first date? The two of us went to the Olive Garden in Center City Philadelphia. Growing up, Taylor’s exposure to restaurants was mostly limited to chain restaurants and I had rarely been to restaurants before going to college. One day we were talking about Olive Garden while hanging out in my dorm and Taylor suggested we go have dinner. When we got there I found out that Taylor doesn’t eat vegetables (and I gladly ate the whole salad by myself). Since I ate most of the salad, Taylor ate most of the breadsticks, which I wasn’t too thrilled about. He ordered the spaghetti (Which I would later realize was his typical order at Italian restaurants) and I ordered a seafood dish that I can’t remember.
Afterwards we walked around the city for a while, continuing to talk and learn more about each other.
Favorite thing(s) to do as a couple? One of our favorite things to do as a couple is explore new wineries/vineyards and taste tons of wines. I am immensely happy that Taylor’s palate is finally refined and he can eloquently describe the types of wines he likes (Bold, peppery reds and stainless steel aged whites, etc.). We also love cooking together. It’s been interesting to find recipes that don’t have too many of the vegetables that Taylor doesn’t like. Our favorite dish to make together is stuffed pasta shells. And we love to go to the beach. We go on an annual beach trip every year at the end of the summer to relax and refresh together before closing out the year.
Describe your engagement session. As we were looking for places to have the session, we wanted something that portrayed elegance and timelessness. We knew that we had multiple outfit changes and wanted a location where we could have different backgrounds and settings. We also knew that our photoshoot would happen in the winter and didn’t want a location outside knowing that the trees were dead. I’d been to the Strathmore Music Center a number of times but never to the mansion, so when we went and discovered the mansion was an option, we walked in and thought it was the perfect venue. Unfortunately, we found out there was going to be a concert at the mansion on the day of our shoot, and we were going to be limited to taking pictures in the library and some of the upstairs locations. We figured we would make it work.
When we were thinking about outfits, we originally wanted two changes, one black-tie outfit and one outfit in Nigerian attire for the save the dates for the Nigerian traditional marriage. I wanted us to wear jewel tones but never found a dress that was perfect. I had in mind that I would wear something with the elegance of a gown Michelle Obama would wear and the drama of a gown Beyonce would wear. After searching websites for hours, I gave up on jewel tones and looked for any gown with the criteria above. I finally found the perfect gown, a black sequin open-back gown. When it went on sale for more than half the price the next day, I quickly snagged it. The Nigerian outfits were made in Nigeria and shipped to us. I told my family that we wanted to wear teal and cream and gave them the style I wanted for it to be sewn. After we decided on those two outfits, Taylor suggested we include a third outfit with a “winter wonderland” theme. We decided on maroon, cream and black and went from there.
The night before the shoot it snowed enough that the concert was cancelled and we had access to take photos in the entire building. This ended up being a blessing as some of our favorite photos took place in the music room with the piano, a room that we wouldn’t have had access to with the concert. The snow was also a curse because we decided to take some photos outside and none of the outfits I had picked for the shoot kept me warm. There was a point where we accidentally locked ourselves outside and I panicked, as I was already freezing.
Overall the shoot was a lot of fun. Taylor and I have done a photoshoot together and individually before so we were no strangers to the process. I even had the chance to hear Taylor play the piano for me. The jingle he played (one of the only songs he remembered) made it very difficult to keep a straight face. Nafa was easy to work with, joked a lot and gave us a lot of encouragement throughout the process.
How did you know they were “the one”? Taylor: I knew Nenna was the one from the moment I laid eyes on her and she showed up at my freshman hall meeting. It was clearly a sign that couldn’t be ignored. Since then it’s just been a constant process of getting myself in order enough to be the right one for her.
Nenna: Since I graduated from UPenn, we have never lived in the same location. Every time Taylor and I would meet up, I felt as though I could finally breathe, and the knot inside of me that had developed over the past few weeks finally unravelled. One day as he hugged me goodbye after spending the weekend with me I burst into uncontrollable tears and I knew that I wanted him with me to share the joys and the sorrows for the rest of my life.
How has wedding planning been so far? Wedding planning has been a lot of work for various reasons. I’m currently in business school at UVA and Taylor is working in New York City. Since neither of us are currently living in the state that we’re getting married a lot of work has to be done over email. Whenever we are in the Maryland area we spend most of our time in the car driving between different vendor meetings.
The great thing about wedding planning is that Taylor used to plan events for his old job at Forbes and I am the Social Chair for my business school so we both have experience planning large scale events. We are also blessed to have a great support system between family on both sides, and friends who have recently been married or are currently planning their own weddings.
My favorite part of wedding planning has been designing our invitations so that they’re 100% personalized. They have the elegance and sophistication that I like, and the simplicity that Taylor likes which is perfect.
What are you looking forward to most on the wedding day? Taylor: I’m most excited about my family and friends all being in one place on the same day to join in our celebration. It’s a very rare experience that the people across every different spectrum of your life are brought together all at once, so it should be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to dancing the night away and taking a huge sigh of relief when it’s all over.
Nenna: I’m most looking forward to our first dance together. We are planning on dancing to both a slow song (we haven’t decided which one yet), and one of our favorite songs as a couple. I’m going to use my choreography skills from college to design a dance that brings our guests to tears and perfectly showcases our love.
Photography: Judah Avenue