An Intimate Beach Wedding in Costa Rica with a Fuchsia-and-Rose-Gold Color Palette
When Lillie Zeng and Riley Smith met on Tinder in June 2016, they immediately bonded over a shared love of travel; she had just returned from Peru and Ecuador, and he had recently visited Vietnam. But when Riley suggested they meet for a drink, Lillie knew he was special. "He suggested we check out a new tiki bar with a shrine to Magnum, P.I.-era Tom Selleck's moustache," she tells us. "Sold!"
Nearly two years after they met, Lillie and Riley planned a trip to Costa Rica, where she prepared for a proposal. "Trust me when I say that I picked out numerous engagement-worthy outfits," she says. "After scenic outings followed by adventurous outings followed by romantic dinners and no proposal, I figured, oh well." But on the last day of their trip, Riley surprised her by getting down on one knee at brunch and popping the question—without a ring. "Apparently, it was still in production but he just couldn't wait," says Lillie. "I said, 'No, do it again with the ring!'" When they got home and the ring arrived, Riley proposed again, and Lillie said yes. "It was sweet and intimate at home, but I still felt robbed of an epic engagement photo shoot, so on our next trip abroad—this time to Bali later that summer—he proposed to me over, and over, and over, again in scenic locations."
When the couple began planning their nuptials, with the help of Ida Rose Events, their original engagement location became an immediate frontrunner. "Costa Rica is such a special place to us and we wanted to share that with our guests," says Lillie. They chose Arenas Del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio, a spot they had visited on their previous trip, and invited 30 people to join them for a tropical-hued event on February 29, 2020. The couple honored the locale by including native flowers and fruits in their décor, offering traditional food and drinks throughout the day, and adding, says Lillie, "little touches that were entirely Costa Rican in nature, like Pura Vida signs and a traditional Costa Rican oxcart display." But the moments unique to them became the ones they remembered the most: a tearful first look, their carefully-choreographed first dance, and their groomsmen donning pool floats on the dance floor. "We wanted an intimate and fun party with our nearest and dearest that celebrated all the things we love about Costa Rica and each other," says Lillie. "Our reference point was Miami Vice and Magnum, P.I. meets The Great Gatsby on holiday."
With the help of Emily Baird Design, Lillie and Riley created a custom invitation suite that set the tone for their big day. "It was really important to us that everything was cohesive from start to finish," says Lillie. The couple opted for a primary color palette of bright pink and rose gold, with accents of red, emerald green, and sunny yellows. Their Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy, Manchego, couldn't travel to Costa Rica for the event, so they included his image throughout the event's design—beginning with the suite's watercolor painting of him on the beach, and continuing through to cookie favors at the wedding.
Love at First Sight
Though Lillie found her strapless Berta wedding dress at the first bridal boutique she visited, she didn't say yes immediately. "I gravitated towards it instantly and loved it but couldn't commit, so we went to our other appointments and I tried on approximately 50 more dresses," she says. "I do have some advice: Don't spend almost eight hours trying on dresses and refuse to eat until you're done because you will definitely faint and while there is a certain je ne sais quoi about almost fainting in a $20,000 gown, it's also embarrassing."
In the end, she couldn't find another ensemble that topped the five-layer, full tulle dress with a drop-waist skirt and sparkling floral appliqued bodice for her ceremony, but she did change into a custom modern qi pao with a mermaid silhouette from East Meets Dress come the reception—and then into a sparkling mid-calf Bronx and Banco dress for the late-night festivities.
Lillie's bouquet from Stylos y Flores included bright island blooms—like pink ginger torch, fuchsia dendrobium orchids, orange roses and alstroemeria, and yellow freesia. "Fuchsia and magenta were at the root of the color inspiration, along with fresh papaya hues, emerald greens from all the lush plants, touches of sunny yellow, and vibrant pops of red," says Lillie. "We were very inspired by the natural and tropical colors in Costa Rica."
Riley wore a bespoke Alton Lane suit in a Lillie-approved shade of blue—one she chose "to really make sure the groom's blue-gray eyes popped." His accessories included jade and turquoise bead bracelets he and Lillie bought in China on their first overseas trip, and a 1968 Rolex Explorer 1016 that his grandfather gave him as a wedding gift.
An Epic First Look Backdrop
Lillie and Riley chose one of their favorite spots at the resort—a cliff overlooking the ocean—for their first look, though the bride got a glimpse of her groom before the official moment from the bridal suite, as he walked to the cliff. "I started to cry because my heart was just bursting with excitement. I was so happy to finally see him after having to be apart all morning," says Lillie. "My bridesmaids had to start madly fanning my face so the tears wouldn't stream down and ruin my makeup."
When she finally joined him for their greeting and portraits, even the carefully-chosen landscape was forgotten. "We picked the spot because it had such a perfect view of the beach down below, but honestly we were just so giddy to see each other, I'm not sure it mattered! I was just relieved that we could hang out together now—mingle and enjoy each other's company," says Lillie. "My least favorite part of my entire wedding day was the tradition that we get ready separately." Riley agrees: "Even as I teared up, a wave of comfort came over me as I was finally back with the woman I love, my best friend, after having spent the morning apart," he says. "It felt so awkward being apart on a day like that day, even if it was only for a few hours. Now I was back with the person that I would do anything for."
A wooden structure covered in palm leaves and flowers in shades of pink framed the couple while they exchanged their vows, while smaller arrangements on the chairs added colorful accents. "We wanted this to be true to the theme, yet still timeless," says Lillie. "The beach itself was so beautiful that we wanted to be careful not to detract from the incredible view too much."
Before the ceremony, guests sipped fresh coconuts displayed in a traditional colorful oxcart—one of the many local touches Lillie and Riley incorporated into their event décor.
Custom fans from La Casa Sunshine, which included a corgi illustration, guaranteed that the couple's dog, Manchego, joined the ceremony in spirit.
An acrylic sign on a natural wooden easel directed guests toward the festivities; the rose gold printing and bold floral display called back to the aesthetic of the invitation suite.
Hand in Hand
Lillie's father escorted her down the aisle to meet Riley at the altar as musicians played "Lava You." "I got through every difficult part [of the planning process], every indecision, every 'Aw man, I wish we could afford that' moment, by reminding myself that what really mattered, at the end of all of this, was that I was marrying my best friend, life partner, and the most wonderful generous and kind man—in our favorite location and in front of our loved ones," says Lillie.
He Said, She Said
Lillie dabbed at her eyes as she and Riley exchanged vows they wrote themselves, which included quotes from some of their favorite shows—including "I love you and I like you," from Parks and Recreation, and "Jeremy Bearimy, baby. We'll just get through this, and then you and I can chill out in the dot of the i forever," from The Good Place.
The New Mr. and Mrs.
Guests showered the newlyweds with tropical petals in eye-popping shades of yellow and pink as they exited the ceremony area as husband and wife.
Wedding Party Time
Lillie asked her bridesmaids to wear any fuchsia gown that was "long and reasonably covered," while Riley's groomsmen wore navy suits "because they were most likely in their closets already," says the bride.
The couple combined their escort wall with their signature cocktails, offering pre-mixed drinks on an interactive display that exceeded their expectations. "My jaw dropped to the floor," says Lillie. A custom neon sign reading "Pura Vida" was suspended on a wall of greenery behind the drinks.
Sip and Stir
Personalized pink drink stirrers—shaped like a corgi—included guests' names in a script that matched the font on the invitations. Guests chose from three signature cocktails: "Livin' La Vida Lillie," made with Megaux Vida mezcal, strawberry, lime, simple syrup, and Champagne; "Mr. Smith Goes to Costa Rica," with Zacapa 15 Year rum, ginger, soda, lime, red wine float, basil syrup; and "The Man, the Myth, the Manchego," a blend of Cacique, tamarind and jalapeño soft syrup, and orange peel. "We are both big boozehounds and have many favorite bars and cocktails, but we are especially enamored with the cocktail creations specially made for us," says Lillie.
Guests enjoyed their specialty sips—and each other's company—during the cocktail hour, which took place on a separate part of the beach, where furniture vignettes were set up for lounging.
Light the Night
All of the couple's 30 loved ones sat at one long wooden table on the beach for dinner. "One of the show-stopping elements of the reception was the gorgeous light tunnel that consisted of over 40 feet of draped twinkle lights, constructed around the dinner table," says Lillie.
A garland of flowers and greenery ran down the center of the table, and included palms, monstera leaves, and "vibrant and whimsical florals." Fresh fruit from a local farmer's market, sourced that morning, included pineapple, mango, and papaya. "It was so good and enticingly well set up, that my mother—my very picky mother—actually ate the papaya on the table in front of her!" says Lillie. "She's a food researcher and called it the freshest, best papaya she's ever had."
White base plates topped with monstera leaves held fuchsia watercolor menus and a scripted memento: "The final touch was a laser cut 'Pura Vida'—meaning 'pure life,' which is essentially Costa Rica's 'hakuna matata'—sign for each guest's setting, a motto that we've adopted ourselves and wanted to share with all of our guests," says Lillie.
The resort provided a three-course meal that included a choice of black bean soup, tuna sashimi, beef carpaccio, or salad; sea bass, coconut curry chicken, or pork loin; and mini desserts—tamarind cheesecake, dulce de leche empanadas, hazelnut crème churros—plus a three-layer passionfruit wedding cake.
Getting the Party Started
Lillie and Riley knew they wanted to perform a choreographed dance that included bachata, merengue, and salsa influences, but their love of '80s music made it hard to find the right tune. "We had gone through a few different songs—'Any Way You Want It' by Journey, 'You Might Think' by The Cars, 'Come and Get Your Love' by Redbone—but none of them were right for the type of dancing that we wanted to do," explains Riley. One of their dance teachers suggested Prince Royce's cover of "Stand by Me," which the couple agreed to immediately. Despite moving the location of their first dance from the floor to the sand, having trouble finding a spot where no trees interfered with their moves, and Riley breaking his toe the day before the wedding, the routine went off without a hitch. "It was so much fun to be able to do a little performance for our guests, who were not afraid to voice their enthusiasm," says Riley. "In those two-and-a-half minutes, we killed it and got the party started off right."
Photography, Meg Lucks of Abby Jiu Photography
Venue, Catering, Officiant, and Cake, Arenas Del Mar
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Ida Rose Events
Flowers, Stylos y Flores
Videography, Destination Wedding
Stationery, Emily Baird Design
Calligraphy, Jessica McSweeney
Music, Wil Acuña (ceremony); Alvaro Vega, A Class (ceremony and reception)
Rentals, Costa Mesa; Select Event Rentals
Bride's Gowns, Berta (ceremony); East Meets Dress (reception); Bronx and Banco (party)
Bride's Shoes, Jimmy Choo
Hair and Makeup, Mademoiselle
Groom's Attire, Alton Lane
Lighting, Event Luxe
Fans, La Casa Sunshine
Custom Cookies, Sugar Rex
Photo Booth, A&C Photobooth