Two Atlanta designers stage ultimate destination wedding in Antarctica

Every interior designer lives on the edge to some extent: crazy budgets, insane deadlines, demanding clients, Excel spreadsheets until the end of time. But how many can say they’ve actually been to the edge of the Earth?

Longtime Atlanta-based HGTV Dream Home and Urban Oasis designer Brian Patrick Flynn can say he has. In December, Flynn married his partner of 12 years, TV and film costume designer Hollis Smith, in Antarctica. The couple exchanged vows on an ice floe surrounded by canyons of ice in a section of the continent called the Lemaire Channel.

The visit to Antarctica was a first for the couple, though 2017 included trips to the Arctic Circle in Greenland, and also to the equator to go shark diving in the Galapagos. Though the couple have a home in Iceland, Antarctica was irresistible as a wedding location.

The extreme destination wedding began with an engagement in Chilean Patagonia (and engagement photos taken at Torres del Paine) followed by an hour and 45 minute flight in a former military aircraft from Punta Arenas at the tip of Chile to Antarctica. The flight contributed to a higher-than-average price tag of getting to the area: $40,000.

Once they arrived in Antarctica, the couple set out with an expedition of five polar scientists in an inflatable boat to find a location for their vows with sightings of leopard and elephant seals and humpback whales along the way. But changes in the weather and then a sudden avalanche made the couple change locations several times in search of a better, safer spot for their ceremony.

“The Lemaire Channel is so unpredictable, that once the weather changes and the ice floe starts to move, it can create one huge piece of ice and you can get stuck in the Lemaire Channel for days,” says Flynn.

Sudden changes of plans are just the way Flynn rolls. Traveling to far-flung locations to design HGTV Dream Homes in Washington state, on St. Simons Island and Florida’s Merritt Island has taught Flynn the virtue of taking nothing for granted.

“I always have three or four backup plans for every single element in the room, and that was pretty much the same way I did my wedding,” admits Flynn, who is currently working on HGTV’s Urban Oasis home sweepstakes and preparing to launch a new collection of furniture and fabric.

Conceptualizing how the big day would look was also critical to the couple. Being a designer, Flynn approached the shoot like the Grace Coddington of the South Pole, deciding on the best camera angles to highlight the shades of teal, black, white and blue in the surrounding icebergs and mountains. A costume designer for shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Halt and Catch Fire," Smith wanted to make sure their formalwear popped against the frozen landscape, and so nixed any gray options — too murky in the overcast conditions. The couple also chose their black stainless steel wedding bands with that landscape in mind.

“It reminds us of all the beautiful black in all the mountains that you see in Antarctica,” says Flynn.

Flynn thinks that destination weddings like the couple’s staged in far-flung locales may be the next big thing. “I think Instagram has really changed people’s minds about destination weddings,” he notes. “We are seeing these incredible locations, these jaw-dropping places that we never in a million years thought you’d go to, that we’ve just seen in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

“I think maybe people are starting to realize how much work and how much stress putting together a wedding is. … And if you’re spending the money, why not do something you’ll never forget and never do again in your life?”

And so after three months of planning, endless changes of weather and some nerve-wracking location scouting, the couple's Danish expedition guide Morten Jorgensen thought conditions were finally safe enough to disembark from their Zodiac boat. (They booked their entire excursion through a company out of the United Kingdom called Swoop Antarctica.)

Flynn and Hollis removed their neon orange and yellow protective parkas to reveal his and his velvet tuxedos in a saturated cobalt blue and muted red (with a layer of long underwear and some Wellies to keep their feet dry) and exchanged vows in what turned out to be a serendipitous moment. Because even designers used to managing countless small details have to contend with the random spitballs of fate. Like so many things in life, even the best-laid plans can change. In this case, for the better.

Wearing a fleece vest, bow tie and a jaunty black bowler, American polar scientist Ken Magowan took out a notebook with some nondenominational vows he had assembled just for the couple.

And then, “out of nowhere the sun came out and the temperature went up to 50 degrees,” muses Flynn. Because of the threat of yet another shift in that mercurial weather, the ceremony lasted less than two minutes, attended by a romantic quintet of scientists and, in lieu of cavorting flower girls and ring bearers, penguins enthusiastically swimming in the water around the floe.

The wedding adventure isn’t over yet. The couple will celebrate with family and friends with a reception in Atlanta, which they hope to hold this December. Flynn said Amy Osaba Events will be doing the wedding design to create a one-of-a-kind Antarctic aesthetic of black, ice, white and icy blues. The theme is ice. And love, of course.