Jan. 12, 2014 at 12:03 PM ET
While a trip to IKEA can sometimes be a good test for a couple's relationship, it was anything but stressful for Kristen Mallard and Michael Beckler. That's where the couple — now newlyweds — shared their first meal: a plate of Swedish meatballs.
They'd met years before through Kristen's older brother, who had been in Michael's dorm in college, and though they didn't know each other well, Kristen remembered him for his “giant fro of hair—that one thing set him apart.”
They started to get closer when Michael graduated from college two years later, and they began chatting on Facebook. But it took a trip to the IKEA cafeteria to solidify their friendship.
“We were just hanging out,” Kristen said of the dinner — which wasn't exactly a date. “And Swedish meatballs sounded really good.”
Kristen was immediately charmed by Micheal’s spontaneity and silly side. “He started dancing in the middle of the store,” she recalls, “and he ended up dancing on an older woman, totally unbeknownst to him, and she was making this hilarious face. The whole time we were there, I couldn't stop laughing at him.”
The laugh-a-thon was just the beginning. Kristen and Michael walked away from IKEA with two new coffee mugs and a budding friendship, and before they knew it, they were dating.
Michael immediately found himself trying to impress her. “The thing about her, she's quiet most of the time. She's brilliant, but quiet," he says. "So I'd always find myself trying to do things that would provoke her, to make her laugh. I'd really try. But eventually I found that being myself around her made her react more than when I was trying."
And Michael was determined to win her over. "I knew pretty early on that she was the one," he says. "I worked for two years to marry this girl.”
The site of their first official date was a little place called Marieta's Pizza Company, and while that date didn't end with a first kiss, the restaurant still proved to be chock full of good luck—it was there, a year and a half later, that Michael took her to dinner before popping the question.
“I knew he was going to propose, I knew he'd talked to my dad,” Kristen admits.
After dinner, with the ring burning a hole in his sock, they went for a walk around the town square. That's when they ran into Kristen's parents, whom Michael had arranged to meet up with later. “When we ran into my parents, I kinda had a feeling,” Kristen remembers with a laugh.
Kristen didn't hesitate when Michael got down on one knee and pulled the ring out of his shoe — and soon after, she found herself scouting for wedding dresses, and fell for a structured, one-shoulder Vera Wang gown. “I ended up finding it on the first outing,” she says. “I put the dress on, then the sash, then the headpiece. And my mom was like, 'That's you.'”
It did, however, take the couple much longer to find a venue, but once they did, the rest was a breeze.
The Conservatory at Waterstone in Downtown Acworth, Georgia made sure that every last detail was taken care of, supplying everything from the indoor white lights, to the flowers, to the lantern centerpieces, to the buttercream strawberry cake that concluded the evening.
On top of that, it already boasted the classic vibe the couple was going for.
“It was just beautiful and old and arsty,” Kristin said, “with exposed brick and a spiral staircase. The wedding venue was so beautiful that we didn't have to do a whole lot ... there were not a whole lot of stressful moments.”
Kristen and Michael were married on May 31, 2013, after eight months of being engaged, in an outdoor ceremony in front of 75 guests.
Prior to their exchange of "I dos," though, they first exchanged love letters.
“That was pretty emotional, because he's a really good writer,” Kristen says, calling it her favorite part of the day. “And we read them to each other around a door, so we couldn't see each other. That was a really sweet moment.”
Although the ceremony was quite traditional, the couple couldn't help but put their own spin on things.
“We ended up tying a sailor's knot, instead of doing sand or lighting the unity candle,” Kristen says. “We literally had a rope and part of our ceremony was tying it. We just wanted something different.”
Following the ceremony, everyone moved inside and the pair turned their attention to the most important part of the reception: cutting loose and being together.
“We wanted to dance a lot,” says Kristen, a dance teacher and professional contemporary dancer, who even changed donned a vermilion party dress and flip flops to show off her moves.
“There was a point where we started to do the Harlem shake,” Michael recalls. “And everyone started shaking and we just went all over the place. I ended up falling on her grandma, but then she ended up dancing because of it.”
Still, the bride and groom continued to make room throughout the day for the quieter moments. That, for both, was the real highlight — how connected they felt throughout the day.
“The most important thing was that we were able to enjoy it together,” Michael says. “You get married and then it's hard to pay attention to your wife. So what was most important was making sure we enjoyed it together.”
Both say they were surprised by just how big the day actually felt when it arrived.
“It doesn't seem like a big deal and then you get there and it hits you: 'I'm getting married to this very beautiful woman and I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm going to go with it, because this is awesome,'" Michael says. "It snuck up on me at the last moment.”
Kristen agrees: “There is this overwhelming sense of 'this is actually happening.'”
As for what 2014 holds, the newlyweds are off to a busy start: Kristen is pregnant, and they're in the process of finding a house. Thankfully, they've got an IKEA close by, should their new place require extra furniture — or more meatballs.