The couple, who share a passion for cars and motorcycles, chose the historic Packard Motor Car Co. site for their wedding venue
Cristy Lee is married!
The HGTV star revealed exclusively to PEOPLE that she tied the knot with her longtime love, John Hawkins, on Nov. 18, 2023. The couple said their "I dos" surrounded by 160 guests at the historic Packard Proving Grounds in Michigan, a 17-acre site designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn for the Packard Motor Car Co. in 1927.
The venue was a fitting choice for Lee and Hawkins, who share a passion for cars and motorcycles. In addition to hosting HGTV's Steal This House, Lee is an automotive expert known for her roles in MotorTrend's All Girls Garage. She also starred alongside Ant Anstead on Celebrity Joyride: IOU in 2021. Hawkins works for General Motors as a senior business process engineer.
"We took one look at the Packard Proving Grounds and we were like, 'This is it. This is the place. This is perfect for us,'" Lee recalls. "It just oozed automobilia and history and had this amazing retro, eclectic car vibe. We fell in love with it on the spot."
Overall, Lee and Hawkins envisioned a fun, casual wedding that would feel like one big party. To that end, they opted to keep their ceremony "short and sweet," exchanging simple, traditional vows. "It gave us more time to share the day with our guests," Lee notes.
A friend officiated the ceremony and recited a poem he wrote for the couple, which Lee says was "funny and fitting and uplifting."
The bride walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of "Swing Life Away" by Rise Against, performed by a keyboardist and violinist. She wore a Revolve strapless satin dress with an A-line silhouette, paired with Jimmy Choo shoes and Oscar de la Renta crystal teardrop earrings.
"As soon as I put it on, I knew it was the one," Lee says of her dress. "It had this really beautiful slit up one of the legs, but the pleating of the [skirt] hid it so well. You had that opportunity to have that clean, classic A-line look but also show just a little leg, a little peekaboo, if you wanted."
"And the real highlight: the pockets," she adds. "I don’t know what it is about pockets on dresses, but it just makes them better!"
Inspired by her and Hawkins' love of cars, Lee revved up her wedding decor with unique, "automotive-themed" touches including vintage thumb oilers as the table card holders, a 1950s Craftsman toolbox as the card box, and black and white "bride and groom" motorcycle helmets on display. In addition, Hawkins' 1950 Chevy 3100 was parked in the reception hall.
For the flowers, Lee teamed up with her mother, a former floral designer, to create arrangements for the ceremony and reception. "It was such an amazing moment to have with my mom," says the TV personality, who also did several other DIY projects to personalize her wedding.
"Just seeing it all come together, the fruits of your labor, is so rewarding," Lee adds of the work and creativity she put into the event.
During the cocktail hour, guests were invited to take a private tour of the water tank building where a collection of vintage Packard cars is housed. Then, as the reception kicked off, they enjoyed a buffet dinner featuring a carving station with New York strip steak, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, roasted vegetables and more.
"It just felt like it was part of that casual celebration that we were going for," she says of their dinner.
For dessert, in lieu of a traditional wedding cake, the couple offered a table of cupcakes, with flavors including double fudge Oreo, strawberry cheesecake, red velvet, salted caramel, and traditional vanilla and chocolate buttercream.
Lee and John enjoyed their first spin on the dance floor as husband and wife to the Aaron Lewis ballad "Someone." "It was one of the first chances in the night that John and I had to just kind of talk to each other," she recalls of their dance. "The rest of the wedding disappears in that moment."
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For Lee, celebrating her dream wedding was particularly poignant and emotional, as she faced a serious health crisis leading up to the big day.
Hawkins popped the question just before Christmas in 2022 while the couple — who had been dating for eight years — was enjoying a winter getaway to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with friends. A month later, they snapped up the very last Saturday wedding date available in 2023 at the Packard Proving Grounds, and their wedding planning began in earnest.
However, just days after, Lee woke up with a severe migraine and was subsequently diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, Graves' disease and thyroid eye disease (TED). Despite having to undergo two eye surgeries and beginning a treatment regimen, Lee was determined to carry on with her November wedding plans.
"We considered postponing but then we decided, 'We’re doing this. We’re going to do this wedding regardless of how I look or if I feel well enough. We’re making it happen,'" she tells PEOPLE. "Nothing was going to take this day away from me. I thought, 'This is my day!' "
Lee did a lot of the planning from bed, while recovering from her surgeries. She says it was "a hustle to the finish line" to get everything done for the November nuptials, but their family and friends stepped up to support her and Hawkins through it all.
"We couldn’t have done it without them. The outpouring of love and help from the people who are most important to us was just incredible," she notes, adding, "Everything I went through with my health just puts life into a totally different perspective. In the end, what’s most important is the people close to you."
Though they are still working out the details, the couple is planning a spring honeymoon. Fiji and Hawaii are on their short list of destinations.
Next month, Lee will return to HGTV in the new competition series Battle on the Mountain as a challenge host. The show, which was filmed in Breckenridge, Colorado, and premieres on Jan. 22, will see three teams of up-and-coming renovators remodel a rundown mountain home and vie for a $50,000 cash prize.
"Shooting the show was such a great experience. It was so meaningful for me to get back on camera [after my health crisis]. I'm honored to be a part of it," Lee says.
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