These Grooms Honored Their Polynesian and Buddhist Backgrounds During Their San Diego Wedding

rob franco wedding grooms leis around necks
Bonnie Sen Photography

It was a casual introduction of two good people by a mutual friend that later evolved into long-distance love. Robert Chicoine, left, had recently moved to San Diego and became close friends with a native Californian named Samantha. She always spoke of her amazing high school friend who moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue his career. So, when she had a small window of opportunity to introduce Rob to Franco Ciammachilli, right, she did.

It wasn't intended as a set-up, more so a friendly intro. Franco was traveling for work and had a long layover in San Diego so he was meeting Samantha for lunch. She insisted Rob join them—and since they were dining at his favorite spot, it didn't take much convincing to get him there. "Neither Franco nor I had that slightest idea that this 30-minute lunch would change our lives," says Rob. Franco insists it was love at first sight but Rob was the first to divulge he had a crush after a year of friendship. They did the long-distance thing until it became clear that one of them needed to make a move. Although Rob thought he'd never move to the East Coast, it was the best decision of his life.

Approaching their two-year anniversary of moving in together, Franco had planned to pop the question on Rob's birthday. But the plot was foiled with an early arrival of one very key component. Rob was returning to their home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of D.C. when he spotted an international mail delivery at their door. He called Franco, who was on a work trip back in San Diego, knowing that there was no way he could fumble through an explanation of the parcel's contents. Franco told him told him to open it. "Just outside airport security, on the other side of the country, Franco asked if I'd be his husband," Rob explains of unpacking the rings. "Who knew that even with 2,600 miles between us, those few words could make it feel like we were the only two people on the planet and that there was no space between us, only love," Rob adds. "Our proposal could not have made more sense in our story, much like the early months of our relationship, it only made sense that we'd take the next big step in our life over the phone."

But the final step—getting married—had them side by side on November 4, 2017, at The Martin Johnson House in San Diego, California. On the big day, 110 guests joined Rob and Franco for an oceanfront celebration that reflected their personal style, felt like a gathering in their home or backyard, incorporated masculine-yet-refined elements and textures, and showcased the coastal city they hold dear to their hearts.

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The Invitations

rob franco wedding invitation suite
Bonnie Sen Photography

Franco and Rob wanted their stationery to feel like a researcher's botany book. Field notes were a nod to the venue's history as a place of exploration and discovery. The invitation and response card were letterpressed on heavy paper stock by Minted. "We felt like the style was reminiscent of a title page to an antique book," says Rob.

Gray and green envelopes set the tone for the color palette that would appear at the wedding, and vintage stamps (California-themed for the main envelope, old New Hampshire postage for the responses) paid homage to the grooms' home states. To soften the overall design and tie the various pieces together, a vintage sketch of a California poppy was printed on vellum as an overlay.

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The Coastal Setting

rob franco wedding scenery
Bonnie Sen Photography

The grooms were having a hard time finding a venue that showcased San Diego in the way they love it—at least until a quick search of the University of California San Diego's campus led them to the Martin Johnson House on the Scripps Institution for Oceanography campus in La Jolla. "The location meant a lot to both of us," says Rob. "I spent a lot of time thinking and running the cliffs when I lived there and UCSD was Franco's undergrad alma mater. When we toured the venue we fell in love with the scale, the environment, and the view."

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Best Dressed

rob franco wedding grooms blue suits
Bonnie Sen Photography

Rob and Franco didn't want to wear the same exact ensemble as each wanted to show off his own personality, but they complemented one another by coordinating colors and accessories. "We feel like it's important to emphasize that we are a team and partnership and not a monolithic unit," explains Rob, at left, who wore a dark navy Hugo Boss suit in a mid-weight wool.

Franco donned a Bar III charcoal blue suit with a tan windowpane pattern. Both men wore classic white, slim-fit pinpoint cotton shirts from J.Crew. When it came to finding ties, they searched high and low before deciding on a pair of brushed cotton/wool ties—with Rob wearing a navy and maroon number from The Tie Bar, and Franco sporting a houndstooth one from J.Crew. Finding pocket squares was another challenge that the guys conquered—Rob went with one from Banana Republic and Franco found a silk twill one from They both ended up in Bruno Magli shoes by chance, though they mixed it up in style and color. Rob went with a classic lace-up and socks, and Franco slipped his bare feet into a modern, tasseled loafer.

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Special Pins

rob franco wedding pin pocket square
Bonnie Sen Photography

Instead of wearing boutonnieres, Rob and Franco sported small, gold-plated fox-shaped lapel pins that represented their dog Aki, a Shiba Inu. Just before heading to their venue, they met with their 10 closest friends and gifted them the same pins to wear as a way of signifying that they were in the grooms' pack.

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Off the Cuff

rob franco wedding cuff
Bonnie Sen Photography

Rob and Franco's J.Crew shirts were embroidered at the cuff with a diamond-shaped monogram so their last initials (both start with C) were bold and centered.

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Please Be Seated

rob franco wedding ceremony seating
Bonnie Sen Photography

A mix of chairs were set out on the lawn overlooking the ocean, and wool military blankets were set out for any guests who felt chilly. The DJ played a set of light Polynesian instrumentals and modern acoustic music.

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Cozy and Customized

rob franco wedding blue blankets with red stitching
Bonnie Sen Photography

The gray wool military blankets were customized with leather patches depicting the couple's logo.

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The Ceremony

rob franco wedding ceremony
Bonnie Sen Photography

A natural backdrop of blooming aloe and greenery framed the ceremony space, and two floral arrangements dressed up the table the grooms stood by during the late-afternoon ceremony. Franco practices Nichiren Buddhism—a sect that originates in Japan—so a Buddhist sake ceremony (a.k.a. a san san kudu) was a key part of the nuptials, which were officiated by Tia, a senior practitioner who is also a close friend.

The couple walked down the aisle together to the sounds of Andra Day's "Rise Up"—a song chosen to represent that against all odds, Rob and Franco will be there for one another.

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A Sake Ceremony

rob franco wedding sake
Bonnie Sen Photography

During the sake ceremony, the couples don't exchange vows verbally, but share them symbolically by drinking sake. Traditionally, an unmarried woman conducts the ritual, and the grooms asked their friend Selen to do the honor. "It was important for us to have our own unique vessel because we didn't want a traditional-looking Japanese set," says Franco of the set that was made by Eastern Market Pottery, which was inspired by a sake drinking set rather than a ceremonial one. "We also wanted something to fit into the style of our wedding and therefore opted for something more modern and streamlined."

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Island Style

rob franco wedding grooms leis
Bonnie Sen Photography

During the ceremony, Hawaiian Maile leis were placed around the grooms' necks. "They are in the traditional style of Hawaiian grooms and groomsmen and Maile has a soft fragrance of cedar and vanilla," explains Franco. "We had these made and sent to us from the Big Island to incorporate some of my Polynesian heritage."

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Opening the Bubbly

rob franco wedding saber champagne
Bonnie Sen Photography

In Rob and Franco's house, it's a tradition that they start every dinner party or special gathering with Rob sabering of a bottle or two of sparkling wine. Their wedding was no exception. Franco gifted him a saber for the occasion engraved in French with "Boire les étoiles," which translates to "drink the stars."

Champagne was passed, a toast welcomed guests, and cocktail hour began with passed appetizers such as artichoke beignets, lamb lollipops with shishito chimichurri, and purple potato croquettes with whipped goat cheese. The soundtrack for this portion of the celebration included tunes by Disclosure, SBTRKT, Flume, and Duke Dumont.

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A Botanical Bar

rob franco wedding bar
Bonnie Sen Photography

"We wanted our guests to have fun options, but not long waits at the bar," says Rob. So they streamlined the offerings with three wines (red, white, and rosé), three local beers, champagne, and a trio of craft cocktails designed by Rob. The specialty drinks were a rye Manhattan, a cranberry-infused vodka topped with soda and lime, and a combo of tequila, sweet vermouth, and blood orange liquer. The dark-wood and glass bar that showcased a selection of Mexican clay pots that were a wedding gift from friends who live there. Though the vessels are traditionally used for rice to toss in celebration, they were repurposed to hold plants and greenery instead.

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Colorful Centerpieces

rob franco wedding cocktailhour centerpiece
Bonnie Sen Photography

Vibrant, Ikebana-inspired arrangements by Layered Vintage adorned the oversized cocktail tables set out on the decks and yard of the Martin Johnson House.

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Lounging Around

rob franco wedding lounge
Bonnie Sen Photography

The lounge area was decorated with a rug and pillows, giving guests a comfy spot to relax that almost felt as if was in the grooms' home.

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The Guestbook

rob franco wedding blankets
Bonnie Sen Photography

A handmade leather book was embossed with the couple's names and wedding date and set out for friends and family to sign. Extra blankets first seen at the ceremony were also on hand as the temperatures dropped.

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All in the Family

rob franco wedding kids
Bonnie Sen Photography

The newlyweds were all smiles as they were joined by Franco's nephews, Dominic, Sebastian, and Amari. The boys were the unofficial dance floor hype boys—warming it up with their moves.

The 100 other loved ones in attendance made the night extra special. "I remember pausing for a moment during the cocktail hour and looking across the crowd of guests and just feeling overwhelmingly blessed to have such amazing people in our lives," notes Rob. "The love was palpable."

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Set for Dinner

rob franco wedding table
Bonnie Sen Photography

For dinner, food stations were arranged around the grounds to facilitate mingling. Guests chose their own seats at hairpin-legged farm tables topped with lush garlands and amber votives. Skipping assigned seating and keeping the timeline loose allowed guests to eat as long as they wanted to with whomever they desired before hitting the dance floor as they wished. During the meal, the sun set over the Pacific Ocean providing quite the view for the group.

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The Place Settings

rob franco wedding placesetting
Bonnie Sen Photography

A mix of glassware, modern gold flatware, matte black plates, and hunter green napkins tied in knots came together at each place setting.

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Time for Cakes

rob franco wedding cakes
Bonnie Sen Photography

"When we mentioned to our baker that we wanted to incorporate geometric bundts to our cake design she was ecstatic," Franco says of working with Hey There Cupcake! on their dessert spread. Marble and gold cake stands of different heights added dimension to the display, which also included a two-tier cinnamon apple cake with salted-caramel buttercream decorated with gold leaf in a linear design. Greenery and pomegranates tied the set of four confections together.

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The First Dance

rob franco wedding first dance
Bonnie Sen Photography

For their first dance, the newlyweds chose "Latch" by Sam Smith—which transitioned into the remix by Disclosure to get everyone on the dance floor.

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Dancing the Night Away

rob franco wedding samoan dance
Bonnie Sen Photography

In Samoan culture, it is customary for the groom or bride to both dance a Siva Samoa. "Friends and family usually take the opportunity to throw money in jubilation and support for the couple," Rob explains. Franco wore traditional Samoan items including a faux whale tooth necklace (which is regarded as the most valuable symbol in the culture), a boar tusk on his arm (representing status and bravery), and a wrap called an 'ie lavalava. "During his dance he twirled a traditional machete called a nifo-oti which is often used by people of status to show their fearlessness and authority," adds Rob.

At the end of the night there were two last dance songs: Donna Summer's "Last Dance" came first, with "Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus officially ending the reception. "It created a special moment for all our guests," says Rob. "We wanted two last songs—one dance and an anthem of sorts to send people off," Franco elaborates. "I'll never forget finishing our special day with, 'It's our party we can do what we want. It's our party we can say what we want. It's our party we can love who we want. We can kiss who we want. We can see who we want.' It was the best!"

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Sweets for the Morning

rob franco wedding donuts
Bonnie Sen Photography

"If you know one thing about Franco it's his love of donuts," says Rob. So, they sent guests home with the breakfast staple as a favor. "We were later told that they saved a lot of lives the next morning with some coffee," he adds of the Girl Scout's Samoa cookie inspired donut (a nod to Franco's Samoan roots) and maple bourbon glazed donut (in honor Rob's New Hampshire upbringing) from Donut Bar in San Diego.

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rob franco wedding grooms kissing on stairs
Bonnie Sen Photography

Photography, Bonnie Sen

Location, The Martin Johnson House

Day-of event coordination, Adore Wedding Design

Catering, Culinary Concepts

Flowers, Layered Vintage

Leis, Puna Kamali'I Flowers

Stationery, Minted

Cake, Hey There Cupcake!

Music, Tim Anderson

Rentals, Folklore Rentals

Grooms' suits, Hugo Boss (Robert)

Grooms' accessories, J.Crew (shirts and Franco's tie); The Tie Bar (Robert's tie); Hava Lazar (wedding rings); Bruno Magli (shoes)

Lighting, Farm Tables and More

Sake set, Eastern Market Pottery

Donuts, Donut Bar

Guestbook, Undercover

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