Photography by Vicki Grafton.
Whitney & Shaun’s destination wedding with just 35 guests is a total dream, set against the backdrop of an Italian villa right out of a movie! The couple started dating at 16, and during their 10 years together they studied in Florence, where they fell in love with all things Italian. Once they got engaged, they quickly realized their proposed guest list would clock in at over 400 people, so they started considering a major change of plans. Whitney says “in years past we had mentioned the idea of going back to Italy for our ‘one day’ wedding, but once we were engaged and saw that huge list, the ‘idea’ that had once seemed so far-fetched ended up turning out to be exactly what we wanted!”
Did you include any traditions in your wedding? Something old: My mother-in-law’s engagement ring, which Shaun had made into a necklace that I wore. Something new: My dress. Something borrowed – earrings from one of my bridesmaids. Something blue: Blue was one of our main wedding colors. Shaun and all the bridesmaids wore blue, and there were also many pretty blue flowers used throughout the decor.
We actually chose to forgo many traditions like the bouquet toss, garter toss, etc. None were really important to us and we did not miss them at all!
Why did you choose this location for your ceremony? Our ceremony and reception were held at the same location, Borgo Stomennano. Once we made the decision to have a destination wedding in Italy, we knew Florence would be the city. We wanted everything outdoors in a garden ceremony and reception. We ended up choosing a location further away from Florence than we originally anticipated, but the decision proved to be the right one! We held the ceremony at the end of the olive grove in front of a brick pillar in the middle of a semi circle of cypress trees.
Your ceremony in three words. Religious, intimate, sentimental.
What was your ceremony music?
Processional of groomsmen, parents, groom – All of Me by John Legend
Bridal Processional – Marry Me by Train
Recessional – Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Stevie Wonder
How did you go about planning your ceremony? Shaun and I both have an extensive history with weddings as we worked with catering companies for several years and Shaun still works for the food and beverage industry. This experience helped tremendously with planning both the ceremony and reception. While we were pretty sure of what we wanted, we certainly knew we would need help. We worked with Sara Pietrelli of Chic Weddings in Italy. She was tremendously helpful in navigating the language barrier and Italian wedding traditions while still making sure the few American traditions that were important to us were also included. Our officiant also had a template that was useful to me in the planning the actual ceremony schedule.
Who officiated your ceremony? How did you choose him/her? Rev. Gary Moore officiated. He is a US native who has lived in Italy for several years. He was recommended to us by our wedding planner. He was great!
Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your wedding ceremony? We chose to have an unplugged ceremony. Best. Decision. Ever. I love seeing the photos of our ceremony where our guests are present and not looking at us from behind their phones.
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? This is hard question. The whole thing was jam packed with amazing-ness! We included a wine box and love letters ceremony where we locked a bottle of wine made at Borgo Stomennano and love letters we wrote to each other on our wedding day. If ever we feel like our marriage is in jeopardy of coming to an end, we are to open the box, share the wine and read the letters we wrote to each other. The idea is this will never happen! So we can also open the box on our 5th year anniversary, and replace the wine and letters every five years as a lovely anniversary tradition. We currently have the box on display on our mantle at home.
What were your ceremony readings? We included an excerpt from Relevant Magazine written by John Mark Comer, and Union by Robert Fulghum.
What were your vows like? Rev. Moore sent us a copy of the traditional vows and Shaun and I both liked them. It was important for us to both say the same thing to each other.To personalize our ceremony, Shaun and I each wrote down five things we love about each other and emailed them to Rev. Moore. He pulled them out at the ceremony and we heard those for the first time.
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? We included a “jumping of the broom” portion of the ceremony, a tradition typical of many African-American weddings. We loved doing that – it was such a fun way to end the ceremony.
How would you describe your reception? The perfect black tie gathering with a relaxed feel.
Why did you choose this location for your reception? We chose Borgo Stomennano not only because it’s stunning, but also for its size. We were able to have a distinct location for each of the day’s events (i.e ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing) and did not have to “flip” any of the spaces.The cocktail hour was held the front of the venue in the Italian gardens. The dinner portion was held at the back of the villa under a canopy of trees. This allowed for us to hang gorgeous chandeliers which cast such an awesome glow during dinner. The wooden table featured a long garland of greenery with vases of flowers and candles on vintage holders mixed in. The dancing portion was held by the pool.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? I made up the phrase “Tuscan glam” which I used throughout the planning process to describe wedding we wanted. We wanted some glamorous elements which included the luxurious villa, black tie attire, and chandeliers in the trees, but we were also adamant on choosing the humble, simple, delicious food and creating a close family atmosphere indicative of Tuscany.
Shaun and I also wanted our wedding to feel authentically Italian without being stereotypical. We were already in Tuscany so we were careful not to try to re-create Italy. We allowed the scenery and atmosphere to speak for themselves. We made decisions which we thought highlighted the things we love most about the country: the emphasis on food, wine and family.
Are there any DIY details you’d like to tell us about? Neither Shaun nor I are DIY-ers or very crafty. So we sourced many vendors who crafted the majority of our details.
What was the best advice you received as a bride? In the age of Instagram, Facebook and Pintrest, there can be inspiration overload and it can be easy to second guess yourself. Once you make a decision, whether it be the bridesmaid dresses, the photographer, or wedding colors, move on.
Do you have any budget tips for other brides? Oh yeah! While we had a small wedding, we did not have an unlimited budget. I was still in law school while planning the wedding, so it was important not to overspend. I would say once you set your budget, take 10% and put it away in another account as a contingency. Then move heaven and earth to stay within that slightly smaller budget. The contingency will be there if you really need it, but you can also use it for the honeymoon, your home, or just a rainy day.
Also, if you have a destination wedding, especially in Europe, keep an eye on the exchange rate and find out early if your vendors will require a deposit via wire or if you can pay them in cash on the day of the wedding. I saved a lot (i.e. thousands) by exchanging money when the exchange rates were low, shopping around different banks, and asking to pay balances in cash on the day of the wedding.
If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would do differently? I had this idea that I needed all this extra “stuff” – a reception dress, fancy shoes, a second wedding cake. In hindsight, I didn’t need any of that. If I could do it again, I would have cut those items all together.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? If your budget can handle it, get a wedding planner. It was so amazing having someone there to coordinate the set up, decor, vendors, etc. while I was getting ready with my girls. Also, if your photographer was anything like mine, she or she is a wealth of information. Use them! They have seen so many weddings, and they know what works and what doesn’t. Vicki Grafton helped with things like planning the schedule of the day and she received many emails from me with random questions. She was an incredible source of information.
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. Rain threatened the entire day, and Shaun and I had to make the decision whether or not to move everything inside. An indoor wedding as just not part of the vision, so after a quick prayer, we decided to stick with Plan A. A few showers passed through during set up, and it sprinkled a little bit at dinner, but the rain stayed away and we were able to enjoy the gorgeous Italian gardens with views of the Tuscan hills.
What type of cake or dessert did you serve?
We cut into two wedding cakes! One was the traditional Italian wedding cake, millefoglie, which is layers of puff pastry, chantilly cream, and fresh fruit. It was made in front of the guests by the chef. So many of our guests said it was the best wedding cake they ever had. We also had a tiered naked cake, and then we served gelato and an assortment of Italian cookies around midnight during the dancing portion of the evening.
What was your first dance song? Latch by Sam Smith (acoustic version).
Do you have any final advice for couples in the midst of planning? Yes! Continue dating your soon-to-be-spouse throughout the wedding planning process and do everything you can to stay connected. Do things completely non-wedding related! It can be very easy to lose sight of the whole purpose of what you’re planning, and in the end, its really not about the wedding at all. Rather, its about starting your life with your best friend. Be sure to keep the focus on the marriage, and not just the wedding.