This Couple Reunited with Their Loved Ones During Their Family-Focused Wedding in Florida
College sweethearts Sophia and John met during their sophomore year at Florida State University in 2013 when they were both 19 years old. Though they stayed together for the next six years, Sophia was still "100-percent surprised," she says, when John got down on one knee to propose during a walk on Ponte Vedra Beach in October of 2019. "Legitimately, had no idea!" says Sophia. "It was such a private, natural, and exciting moment between just the two of us that we will treasure forever." They were eager to share the news with their families, but John convinced Sophia to wait to call their parents until after their walk. "The next thing I see just up the beach," says Sophia, "are both of our entire immediate families, together—cheering, smiling, and joyfully celebrating our love and ever-growing familia."
Both Sophia and John are close with their loved ones, and wanted to plan a wedding that highlighted those relationships. They themed their celebration around the idea of "La Familia," says Sophia, "emphasizing the importance of family and celebrating the union of two incredible units." Though they faced planning challenges presented by COVID-19 restrictions, their chosen date—April 24, 2021—allowed them to host their guests in Tampa, Florida, without restrictions. "As a nurse, I wanted to be very conscientious and mindful of our guests' health and safety—both were of the utmost importance," says Sophia. The reception was held outdoors and serving staff wore masks while serving individually-plated meals, but the availability of vaccines let the couple's friends and family relax. "Thankfully, so many of our guests were able to get vaccinated," says the bride. "Everyone was ready for a party! There was so much to celebrate, especially being able to reunite again in such a special way!"
After scouting several venues in Tampa, the couple decided to hold their reception at Sophia's grandparents' waterfront estate. "I couldn't ignore my dreams of having an outdoor wedding reception in a picturesque setting like that of my family's home," she says. "The hard part was committing to an outdoor reception given all the uncertainty it entails re: Mother Nature, but I knew in my heart that my choice destination, rain or shine, was right at home." After the death of Sophia's beloved grandfather during their engagement, the location became even more sentimental. On the big day, they honored their powerhouse patriarch in every way they could: On the family's reception tables "were Waterford crystal hurricane vases, each lit in honor of my late Abuelo and my godmother, Tia Ana," says Sophia. "My Abuelo's favorite patio chair remained in place and was gracefully reserved in his honor with a delicate ivory silk ribbon."
Sophia and John chose a blue-and-white color palette that they carried throughout every element of the wedding. "The color blue represents both the sky and the sea and is associated with open spaces, inspiration, and sensitivity," says the bride. "Blue also represents peacefulness, faith, trust, loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, confidence, and stability."
The paper suite from Dear Elouise previewed the cohesive tones, fonts, and imagery of the big-day décor. "A lot of thought went into the process of creating our stationery elements—we wanted to be able to fully commit to the design so that it could beautifully tie in with elements at our wedding," says Sophia. A custom sketch of the reception location, dubbed "Casa Abuelos," or "grandparents' home," appeared on the save-the-date and details cards, while a personalized crest "reflected the home, [with] so much symbolism and warmth in every detail," says Sophia. Even the hand-drawn envelope liner had a second chance in the spotlight: "It was used to wrap the dance floor that covered the pool!" says Sophia.
Love in the Air
Garlands of orlaya lace, white larkspur, several varieties of white roses, and maidenhair ferns lined the entrance to the home where the couple held their reception. "We drew upon the existing beautiful architecture and overall feel of the house—it was already all there!" says the bride.
On the morning of the wedding, the bride and her attendants posed for portraits in their getting-ready attire in front of the picturesque doorway vignette. "It was so special to get ready right at home, where our reception would be held hours later!" adds Sophia.
Mother Knows Best
Sophia loved the simplicity and flawless finishing of her off-the-shoulder Sareh Nouri wedding dress, with a custom back and cathedral train. "It was exactly the style of gown I envisioned wearing on my wedding day, and similar to the gorgeous dress my mom wore when she married my father. It was elegant, timeless, and modest, with exquisite detailing!" she says. Though she knew what she wanted in a gown—"conservative, timeless, of quality fabric, and no beading or lace"—she found it difficult to find the perfect fit. "I can't tell you how many different styles of dresses bridal assistants insisted I try, thinking I'd fall in love with them. Sometimes you just know what you like," she says. But her Sareh Nouri number was an instant winner: "The looks on my mother and Abuela's faces confirmed all my feelings—it was the one!"
All in the Details
She added a custom 120-inch Madrid-Rosaline veil with a blusher ("Though blushers aren't used often these days, I always imagined my father lifting it back as he presented me to my husband! I appreciate this traditional element," she says), a petite lily of the valley bouquet, and heirloom earrings. "It was such an honor to wear the most exquisite diamond solitaire earrings that belonged to my late Abuelita, my great-grandmother from Cuba."
Simple and Elegant
Sophia chose pale blue, strapless Amsale gowns for her bridesmaids. "They were so fresh and crisp! I particularly loved how the ruching on the bodice perfectly complemented my gown," she says.
Black Tie Requested
John and his groomsmen wore black peak lapel tuxedos from The Black Tux. "His silk hand-tied bow tie gave him the masculine and timeless look that I love," says Sophia. Heirloom cuff links from his grandfather came with a romantic history: John's grandfather, also named John, proposed to John's grandmother—also named Sophia—exactly 60 years before their grandson presented his bride with her engagement ring.
A Priceless Moment
Sophia and John reserved their first look for her walk down the aisle, but the bride shared a first look with her father, Javier, before they rode together to the chapel. "My dad did not know any details about my wedding dress—at his insistence—specifically because he wanted us to share this very moment," says Sophia. "His first words, 'You look stunning,' melt my heart just as much today. I cherish the sweet memory of us driving to the chapel, before the greatest man in my life would present me to the man of my dreams."
Steeped in Tradition
For their Catholic ceremony, Sophia and John selected the Chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School—the alma mater of the bride's father, uncle, and cousins. "This was the easiest decision we had to make—we are both Roman Catholic and our entire families are all devout Catholics, too!" says Sophia. A string quartet performed as guests arrived and during the processional, which marked the first time the bride and groom saw each other on the big day. "Thank goodness for the blusher, because I was so emotional!" says Sophia.
Florist velvet&twine created "refined, elegant accents to go with the overall aesthetic of the church," including garden urns overflowing with white roses, stock, and Canterbury bells that flanked the couple as they said their vows. "We had a beautiful, traditional ceremony in the presence of family and friends we love most, and feel truly blessed to begin our marriage on such a strong, sacred foundation," says Sophia. "Our mothers draped a lace mantilla around John and I at the altar, symbolizing the unity of our families. The mantilla was first used originally as my Abuela's wedding veil. It then became a tradition in our family, and was used at my parents' ceremony."
Raising the Bar
Back in Sophia's grandparents' backyard, tables were set up along the water's edge. Guests sipped the couple's signature drink—a Cuban mint mojito—served from the custom bar. "The incredible cane-wrapped, four-sided bar, positioned around the grand oak and illuminated by chandeliers woven into the greenery, had a truly magical, ethereal feel," says Sophia. "It was the original inspiration for our reception vision and was truly my favorite design element!"
The cane detailing reappeared via the servers' trays, which held an assortment of light bites.
No Place Like Home
Sophia and John chose the reception area as the backdrop for their portraits, getting a sneak peek of the home before guests arrived. "It was absolutely magical and such a special, defining moment we shared to take it all in," says Sophia. "It was just as the sun was beginning to set."
For the bride, seeing the details come together at a location that already meant so much to her and her family was an added bonus. "I have an emotional, purposeful connection to my reception venue," she says. "It's a special place where I have made so many unforgettable memories while growing up—it is home to numerous celebrations and family gatherings, high school proms, graduations, and anniversaries."
The couple's planner designed a trellis-inspired escort wall that tied into the house's exterior elements, calling back to the transom window over the front door. A collection of glass and chinoiserie bud vases held white blooms—pure perfume garden roses, orlaya lace, larkspur, ranunculus, stock, majolik spray roses—and displayed each attendee's table and assigned seat. "My mom had the idea of using flower arrangements in vases for the escort card display, adding to the garden feel," says Sophia. "It also served as a beautiful backdrop for pictures. This really was a special element."
They served dinner from Puff 'n Stuff Catering at long and round tables with views of the sunset. "I loved the idea of an al fresco dinner surrounded by the warmth of the grand oaks, the fresh breeze off the water, and with endless views of Tampa Bay," says Sophia.
Jute and woven lanterns made a statement overhead. "The lighting was perfect! It helped provide a magical and ethereal feel throughout the front and back lawn areas," adds Sophia.
The couple incorporated natural textures into their place settings with woven chargers, wood-handled flatware, and lace-edged napkins. "We love the cane elements that tied in throughout the day," says Sophia. "The cane votives that we selected were no longer available, so approximately 100 cane-wrapped votives were hand assembled."
The bride's parents shared several warm words at the start of the party. Sophia's mother, in particular, was deeply involved in the event itself; she was an essential part of the planning process—screening vendors, deciding on details, and relieving some of the stress of planning during a pandemic. "My mom did everything possible to help me truly enjoy my time as a bride-to-be, jumping through hoops to make sure I experienced and savored every bridal opportunity possible," says Sophia. "Even in the toughest of times, my mom reminded me that our marriage was worth celebrating! In turn our relationship absolutely flourished, and I'm forever grateful for everything she and my father did to make my dreams come true!"
Their four-tier cake from Hands on Sweets sat on a natural cane and marble stand placed over a hand-stitched Spanish linen—"a familial treasure my great-grandmother brought to America from Cuba," says Sophia. Gentle ruching on the cream cheese icing was accented by sugar flowers that matched the lily of the valley in Sophia's bouquet. Along with their two cake flavors—vanilla chiffon with cream cheese and lemon poppy with blueberry coulis—the couple served their favorite ice cream: macadamia nut sundaes from Bern's Steakhouse and vanilla bean ice cream from Chill Bros. Scoop Shop.
On the Water
The property's pool area became a striking dance floor; the stage and lattice backdrop built around the existing cabana was secured over the water. "I bet most of the guests never knew they were dancing over a pool!" says Sophia. The pair shared their first dance to "You're in My Heart" by Rod Stewart. "We are old souls at heart and always felt a special connection to this song and our love," says the couple.
The couple christened the home's upper lanai area "La Ventanita," or "little window," says Sophia: "It was a nod to the nostalgia of the go-to-hub for conversation within the Cuban community. It was fun to highlight a little bit of tradition of evenings when Cuban friends would gather around with great conversation and authentic Cuban food." Guests grabbed fedora hats, boas, glow sticks, and flashing tambourines as the band switched to Latin music after 10:30 p.m.—and the catering staff served up late-night treats from under a custom blue light-up sign. "The dance floor was filled the entire night and our guest loved dancing to the Latin vibes!" says Sophia.
At the end of the night, Sophia and John ran through sparkler-lit path to the dock, where their family and friends had one last surprise: "My dream exit as newlyweds!" says Sophia. "One of our neighbors was reminiscing with my mother about when she and her husband were married at the United States Naval Academy and that they departed their reception on a vintage boat. They surprised us as the captain and first mate, welcoming us on their boat covered with twinkle lights. They had Champagne for us to pop during our departure and bon voyage! What a final look we had at Casa Abuelos."
Photography, Hunter Ryan Photo
Ceremony Venue, The Chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Anna Lucia Events
Catering, Puff 'n Stuff
Videography, Viola Cinematic
Officiant, Reverend Richard C. Hermes, SJ
Stationery, Dear Elouise
Calligraphy, Laura Lines Calligraphy
Cake, Hands on Sweets
Music, Bella Music (ceremony); Blonde Ambition (reception)
Rentals, A Chair Affair; Event Effects; Events on the Loose; Fiesta Solutions Party Rental; Nuage; Pialisa; Regency Party Rental and Productions; Spark Wedding Events; Stradley Davidson; Treasury Rentals; Vivant Rentals
Bride's Gown, Sareh Nouri
Bride's Accessories, The Bridal Finery veil; Badgley Mischka shoes
Hair and Makeup, Femme Akoi
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Amsale
Groom's Attire and Menswear, The Black Tux
Transportation, 717 Parking Enterprises; Ambassador Limousine; Olympus Limo Inc.
Desserts, Bern's Steakhouse; Chill Bros. Scoop Shop
Engagement Ring, Hope Jewelers
Favors, The Candle Pour
Guest Book, Oscar de la Renta
Wedding Rings, Mavilo Jewelers
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