How did you meet your partner? We met in January 2010 when we both lived in New York City. It was a total chance meeting; we were out at separate birthday parties in the Lower East Side and he overheard a friend and I talking about how we were about to head to his favorite pizza place (Artichoke on 14th st). My friend had an ‘in’ behind the counter and we were talking about how we could cut the 45-minute line, so despite being a complete stranger, he asked to tag along! That’s why my bracelet I wore on my wedding day is a gold slice of pizza if you look closely :)
How long have you been together? 7 years
Do you have a proposal story? September 2015. It was my birthday and he seemed quite disinterested in celebrating so I had called my sister to express my frustration that my boyfriend kept doing laundry in the basement all day on my birthday. He called me and said he had stepped out for a minute and to go meet the Uber out back, and when I walked out, he was standing there in a tuxedo in our backyard, Love-Actually-style cue cards in hand, and our backyard was decorated magically. Come to find out, he wasn’t doing loads of laundry, he had been transporting candles, twinkle lights, decorations, etc. in the basket and going outside through the basement so I’d be surprised!
What was your wedding date? May 13, 2017
Ceremony Location? Chiesa di San Giorgio in Varenna, Italy
What made you choose there? How did you find it? Italy is a special place for many reasons; I studied abroad on the adjacent Lake Lugano in Switzerland and had always dreamt of sharing this amazing part of the world with friends and family. I took Greg there before we were engaged, but we stayed about 40 minutes outside Lugano in a small lakeside town called Varenna that my parents suggested. The second we got there, we were completely taken. The Alps and the lakefront scenery is so grand yet the town is small and the people are incredibly warm; it was our favorite place we had ever been. The night before leaving, I walked into an old Villa (our future venue) that we heard had beautiful gardens and asked the front desk if I could look around. Upon seeing Villa Cipressi, we were both in awe. After we got engaged, it was hard to choose where the wedding would be. I’m from Virginia, Greg is from Michigan, we met in NYC, we now live in Chicago, and my parents live in North Carolina. You know when you travel somewhere amazing, and all you want is to share it with other people? That’s how we felt about Varenna, and even though planning from afar can be a little daunting, I knew that no décor decision I made or logistical hiccup would override the joy of sitting around tables with my favorite people in my favorite country, drinking wine, and reminiscing.
Location? Villa Cipressi in Varenna, Italy
How was the weather on the day? It poured the night before, and the day after, but was perfectly sunny on our wedding day! I was very, very nervous that people came all that way and we’d end up sitting inside when there’s such a spectacular view.
Was there a reason you decided to get married on this date? No, although the church was consecrated in 1313, so May 13 felt symbiotic!
The Wedding Details
Theme? Our colours were neutral pinks, greens, whites, and creams with gold and rose gold accents. With a destination wedding, I would almost separate this into two parts; my vision for the weekend as a whole and my vision for the décor specifically at the wedding. Early on in the planning process, I thought of the theme "Como Away With Us" for our wedding; almost to brand it as more of a whole weekend getaway than just a single event. We wanted people to come to our wedding, but more importantly come away with us and spend time together in this incredible part of the world. So I bought the domain comoawaywith.us, built out a detailed website to help people plan their trips, and then we sent out 'Como Away With Us' luggage tags for the save the dates a year ahead of time. I really wanted people to feel like they had enough time to not just attend our wedding, but to plan a longer European vacation if they wanted to. For my vision for the weekend, since our guests came from so far away, we wanted to host them both Friday and Saturday, and my biggest goal was for everyone to relax and legitimately feel like they were on vacation.
As far as my vision for Saturday, I was very fortunate, because Villa Cipressi is the farthest thing from a blank slate. The views and the gardens at our venue are breathtaking; I wanted our décor to simply complement the existing natural beauty surrounding us. For some reason, the first word that kept coming to mind when describing the aesthetic was 'breezy'. Not just because of the nautical feel of a lakeside town, but also because I love light, airy decor that doesn't push a particular theme and feels effortlessly in sync with its surroundings. For centerpieces, we chose tall gold candelabras with tapered candles that matched the vintage and romantic feel of the villa (and more importantly, didn't block anyone's view!). Instead of traditional flower arrangements, we opted for an unstructured floral garland with garden roses, hydrangeas, anemones, and peonies with lots of greenery laid loosely at the base of each candelabra. The tables were lit with antique etched glass votives and fairy lights from above, and my one 'bold' color in a sea of neutrals were the bright yellow miniature bottles of limoncello at each place setting that read, 'when life gives you lemons, make limoncello.'
Were any aspects of your wedding D.I.Y? If so What? Anything that could fit in a suitcase, I made myself and brought! I have a lot of crafting tools from my business. I made custom acrylic engraved escort cards for the prosecco glasses at the cocktail hour, I hand wrote all the place cards, made custom welcome bags with my 'ciao' design from one of my doormats (it reads the same way right side up and upside down, since ciao means hello and goodbye!). I taught myself to gold foil while my fiance was at his bachelor party, so I made all the table numbers and signs, and a cake topper that read "Per Sempre," which means 'forever' in Italian. I got ready in a robe I monogrammed to say "get me to the church on time," in true 'Be There in Five' fashion, since my business is named after my tendency to run behind. And of course, I had a giant "Como Away With Us" welcome mat at the entrance of the reception and also had a #ComoAwayWithUs hashtag mat so people remembered where to tag photos.
Wedding Gown (the most important part!)
Kate looked breathtaking wearing the 'Caitlyn' gown by Karen Willis Holmes. She completed her look by adding the 'Genevieve' skirt overlay.
What made you decide to come into Karen Willis Holmes? I saw a photo on Pinterest from a Green Wedding Shoes article! Then I went deep into the website and obsessed over all of the dresses. They are so unique and captured the exact aesthetic I hadn’t been finding with other designers. I especially LOVE the skirt overlays/ dress toppers. The way they add dimension to the texture of the gowns and allow you to make the ensemble skew more ethereal or glam for different parts of the day was something I really appreciated. I had always joked that I wanted a dress that matched my typical day to day outfit; a white v neck t-shirt. When I saw a white, short-sleeved, v neck dress, I thought it had to be too good to be true! I had never seen this simple silhouette in a wedding gown and was amazed that up close it has such incredible detail work that is far from simple. I also loved the illusion back, it looked more like a traditional gown from behind and added such a special element to the overall look.
How many gowns did you try? At least 50, I probably had gone to over 10 different shops and tried on more than 5 dresses at each!
Where did you purchase your gown from? I ended up finding my gown online but originally, I tried it on at Bella Bleu Bridal in Wilmette, IL. I had been to so many dress shops and was a bit discouraged at the time so I took an Uber 40 minutes away to the shop by myself because I saw they had the dress I had seen on Pinterest. The owner was lovely and the dress was more even more beautiful in person than it was online!
What did you especially like about your gown? I would have never, ever thought I would love a fully sequined gown so much, but the hand beading, illusion back embroidery and matte sequins made it feel more vintage than New Year's Eve. However, I didn't think it was 'the one' until I paired it with the silk skirt overlay, and it suddenly met all of my requirements that I once thought were oxymorons; glamorous yet ethereal, a modern silhouette with a vintage feel, form fitting but comfortable. And most importantly, it didn't wrinkle in a carry-on suitcase! I loved that the front was more modern, but in the church where you could only see my back, it looked like a more traditional wedding gown, especially with a cathedral veil and the Genevieve overlay.
Who is your bridesmaid dress supplier? Show Me Your Mumu made the MOH dress!
Where did you get the groom and groomsmen’s suits?The Groom wore a bespoke midnight tuxedo by Chicago designer Joshua Kercher
What accessories did you choose to finish your gown and also for those in your bridal party? My favorite accessory was my earrings, which are made by Marchesa, but I got them at Nordstrom on sale because they were missing majority of the beads. I took them to a bead shop in my neighborhood and they helped me fill in the gaps until they were good as new! I also loved my gold pizza bracelet from ASOS, since pizza is why my fiancé and I met in the first place. I was undecided about wearing a veil, until the last minute when I wanted to surprise my mom (who I knew would love a dramatic cathedral veil), so I bought one a couple weeks before our wedding. The week before, I also I bought a rose gold beaded applique from Amazon Prime that I sewed to a ribbon for my reception belt. I also hadn't found the right shoes yet so at the last minute, and I used the extra beading from my belt to sew onto to a pair of plain Aldo shoes. I needed a comfortable low wedge to navigate the uneven cobblestones and steep staircases in Varenna!
What advice would you give brides organizing their wedding? For destination couples, this may seem obvious, but make sure you’ve been there before, and make another trip during the planning process. It is so hard planning remotely and I can’t imagine where I would have started if I didn’t know the basic footprint of the town and venue. We didn’t make a second trip there in the middle of planning, and I wish we would have. We figured out once we got there (we came into town a week early), we could plan something in-person in a matter of hours for what would have taken 1,000 emails over 6 months to plan remotely, so I wish we had made a planning trip for efficiency’s sake. Also, even if you have a planner, no one knows your taste or understands your vision better than you, so you have to be the organized one. Be very detailed about what you want, send pictures, ask questions, have a paper trail of every price quote, be realistic about your budget, get copied on every email. Asking a vendor for constant revisions or appearing to create extra work for them is typically when planning becomes tense and stressful. Every planner, vendor, and venue has a differing opinion on their scope of duties, and some are more organized than others, so you can’t assume people know what you want. No one is more capable or qualified to execute your taste than you, so be hands on, be reasonable, and try to have fun with it.
Note - Brides organising Varenna and Italian weddings were finding our site and using our recommendations and travel tips (intended for our wedding guests) to gather specific info about the area that they weren't finding elsewhere. I didn't want to waste it as a resource, so I recently overhauled our wedding website into a destination wedding / Lake Como wedding blog and resource, in case any KWH brides want more info about our location or the logistics of getting married in Italy! Spoiler: there's a LOT of paperwork ;) Head to Como Away With Us for more information about our wedding and vendors!
What advice would you give brides searching for their wedding gown? I actually had a very hard time wedding dress shopping; I just kept feeling like I was playing dress up as a bride and I wasn’t the bride. I found the experience to be hilarious and awkward; especially because so many places don't have mirrors in the dressing rooms! They'd make me come out in the store instead of trying it on privately, and the samples usually didn't fit well, and even though the majority of dresses were pretty unflattering, the store passersby felt like they had to tell you that you look perfect in case it's THE dress. I had fun with it, but at times I was very worried I would never find something.
If I could give anyone advice, I'd say that when people ask you to see photos of your dress throughout your engagement, you’re completely entitled to keep it to yourself. I would have photos from the seamstress in weird lighting or at a store without hair & makeup and I was overthinking people’s reactions when I’d show them a photo. I also think people don’t understand the concept of a fully sequined gown until they see one like a KWH in person, so I had trouble explaining it at times. Then I realized, why was I asking when I already knew I liked it and I was the one that would be wearing it? So after a while, I just stopped showing or sending photos and kept it my secret (besides my family of course). Once I altered it, accessorized it and had full hair and makeup, it felt like a totally different gown and looked so much better than any dressing room photo could do justice and everyone loved it. Context is important!
Reception Venue - Hotel Villa Cipressi
Coordinator or planner - Danielle at Wedding Box Lake Como
Photographer - Katelyn James Photography - I was blown away by our photographers. They were INCREDIBLE; they flew out with their 3-month-old baby from Virginia, shot for 12 hours with a smile on their face, served as basically coordinators because my mom and I were having too much fun to pay attention to the schedule.
Videographer - Riccardo Ugo, Mr. Movie
Flowers/Florist - Mario Pirovano Fiori
Cake - Villa Cipressi's Restaurant, La Contrada
Engagement Ring - Rose gold, cushion cut with pave band. Custom designed by groom, Jeweler's Row in downtown Chicago
Wedding Bands -1 plain rose gold band from Lincoln Park Gems,
Invitations - HollyAnn Blake on Etsy
Guest book - Starboard Press on Etsy
Transportation (boat) - Varenna Water Taxi
Accommodations - Guests: Hotel Villa Cipressi
House - where I got ready and the view photos are from: Varenna Villa
Other DIY details - Escort cards, acrylic swizzle sticks, calligraphy, cake topper, custom welcome bags, gold foil table numbers, getting ready robe, guestbook and hashtag signs, etc. I currently have a small custom offshoot of my business called Bride to Be There in Five and can custom make any of my details.