An Italian-Inspired Wedding at an Art Museum Wedding in Sarasota, Florida
In November 2013, Emma-Lee and Griffin were both studying abroad in Rome—she from Florida, he from Maryland—when a mutual friend introduced them after a chance meeting on the city's express bus line. At Emma-Lee's stop, she turned to exit the bus—and heard "a thick New York (but wanna-be Italian) accent" asking the driver to wait. "By the stroke of fate, it turned out Griffin and I were neighbors—our Italian apartment buildings were next door and our individual units on the same floor had balconies facing each other," she says. After talking during the entire walk home, they ran into each other again at karaoke night at their favorite bar that week. "Griffin signed me up to duet Mariah Carey's 'All I Want for Christmas Is You,' and the rest is history," says Emma-Lee. "Our first date was a stroll to the Trevi Fountain at midnight—the perfect time to see the landmark all lit up with no tourists (other than us) in sight!"
In March 2020, after several years of long-distance dating, Griffin had all the plans for a surprise proposal in place: dinner at a beloved restaurant in the couple's current home, New York City, a group of string players waiting to serenade the couple as he got to one knee outside Lincoln Center, and Emma-Lee's family flying in for the weekend. But when stay-at-home orders forced the couple to temporarily relocate to Emma-Lee's parents' home in Florida, Griffin needed a new idea. "Despite only packing for two weeks, we stayed in Florida for three months," says Emma-Lee. Instead of the original city setting, Griffin proposed during a sunset walk along the water, with Emma-Lee's family watching from their backyard and his family waiting to congratulate the couple via Zoom.
The couple chose a wedding date of March 5, 2022, allowing them to plan without rescheduling due to public safety guidelines, and used their shared love of Italy as inspiration for a 120-guest cocktail-style wedding at The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida. "We would have loved to have returned to Italy for our wedding," says Emma-Lee. "With the uncertainty of COVID-19 and wanting to include family and friends in our special day, Italy was not possible. We knew we wanted a venue that felt like we were back where we met and The Ringling had the complete package: the architecture of the buildings, the grounds, gardens, and galleries all embody exactly what we were hoping for. We wanted our guests to feel transported to another time and place and without a doubt, our experience was perfect."
Bright and Bold
Emma-Lee and Griffin worked with Emily Baird Design to choose an Italian tile image, inspired by similar tiles found along the Amalfi Coast, which they included on their paper suite and in other elements throughout the wedding day. Bright pops of orange on the edge of the invitation; marigold, on the welcome and brunch cards; and warmer blush-and-wine envelopes complemented the lemon-and-floral artwork on the envelope liner.
The couple DIY-ed their welcome bags, filling them with their favorite Italian-themed goodies. "One of the most fun projects was creating the homemade limoncello with my mom," says Emma-Lee. "Her recipe includes a multi-month production that we began while I was home for Thanksgiving." Dozens of lemons were steeped in Everclear for four weeks. "When I returned to Florida for Christmas and New Year's Eve, we combined the liquid with simple syrup, returned it to mason jars, and allowed them to marinate in freezers until the wedding," says Emma-Lee.
Sparkle and Shimmer
Emma-Lee's Martina Liana wedding dress included a floral-patterned lace over a sheer bodice, a layer of sequined fabric for a subtle twinkle, and a square neckline with a scooped back. "My family and friends' reaction really solidified this dress as the one," she says. "This was the first dress that everyone thought really fit my personal style and the design of the wedding. It was romantic while still being glamorous." She added an array of family jewels: her grandmother's earrings, on loan from her sister; a necklace made from heirloom diamonds; and a tennis bracelet that had been a gift from her parents.
All in the Details
Griffin created his own bespoke tuxedo alongside clothier Broduer Carvell. "Some cool elements of his tuxedo include the Italian tile-inspired design on the inner lining and on the satin of his bow tie," says Emma-Lee. "Inside, he incorporated the colors blue and orange as a nod to our favorite sports team, the New York Mets. Griffin is one of the Mets' biggest fans and attending games at Citi Field has become one of our favorite pastimes."
Griffin also donned several personal accessories: his father's 1980s Rado watch and a custom kippot made from fabric incorporated at the reception. "I wanted his kippot to reflect the individuality of his tuxedo and allow him to stand out from the rest of the men," says Emma-Lee.
Emma-Lee's engagement ring and the couple's wedding rings were sourced from Ellie M Jewelry—but almost didn't make it to the ceremony. "Our wedding rings went missing right before the wedding weekend," says Emma-Lee. The couple had their original rings sent to the bride's mother for safekeeping, but they were misplaced after their arrival. "My parents searched high and low and even called the local sanitation department, but they were gone," says Emma-Lee. "Luckily, the jeweler who designed and produced our rings was a family friend of Griffin's. We immediately texted her, letting her know what happened, and she miraculously created two new rings for us that were shipped and arrived the day before the wedding!"
After a morning full of anxiety and nerves, Emma-Lee and Griffin savored the feeling of peace that resulted from their first look. "We both had been sweating all morning, hadn't eaten our lunches or drank any alcohol with our bridal party, and had anxious stomach aches," says Emma-Lee. "Seeing each other was incredibly emotional. We both were overcome with love, comfort, and a wave of relief. We both felt immense calm once we were able to be together, chat together, and hold hands—as well as get most of the crying out of the way."
Full of Symbolism
The couple's wooden chuppah framed an oversized statue, and was adorned with floral arrangements inspired by the wild, overgrown entrances in Italy. The couple wanted to design a romantic ceremony that honored both Emma-Lee's Roman Catholic background and Griffin's Jewish heritage. "The chuppah symbolizes the home that we will create together in our married life," says Emma-Lee. "Its open walls signify that family and friends, old and new, will always be welcome."
A trio of instrumentalists from Sunset Strings performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as Emma-Lee and her father walked down the aisle. "This is a deeply personal song choice for me: It was a song I frequently sang to my grandmother and one that encompassed hope and a bright future when I was a young girl," says Emma-Lee. "This seemed to be a perfect song to walk down the aisle to start my hope-filled life with Griffin." Some lighthearted moments snuck in, too: "My dad stopped for a selfie of us with all of the guests right before we reached the center stairs," says the bride.
Emma-Lee chose one-shoulder bridesmaids' gowns from Jenny Yoo in a dusty pink shade called cinnamon rose. "Cinnamon rose perfectly complemented the light pink coloring of the courtyard and the palette incorporated in the design of the wedding," says the bride. Petite bouquets exploded with vivid pinks against muted peach tones; blooms included ranunculus, garden roses, sweet pea, tulips, bougainvillea, jasmine, spray roses, and cosmos.
Making It Personal
Emma-Lee's brother-in-law officiated the couple's ceremony, which included vows they wrote themselves. "We both spoke about our young love in Italy, our four-year, long-distance relationship between that time and us both living in New York City, and our sharing of interfaith traditions," says Emma-Lee. The couple also incorporated several elements from each of their religious backgrounds: Griffin's mother blessed a cup of wine during the Kiddush, Emma-Lee's mother read from the New Testament, the bride and groom lit a unity candle, and Griffin stomped on the glass at the end of the ceremony.
So in Love
After the care they took creating their custom ceremony, Emma-Lee and Griffin remember it as one of their favorite parts of the day. "We tried to be so intentional about centering our love, family, and values," they say. "We have been together for so long and been through so much as a couple, that finally standing in front of our dearest friends and family, who supported us up until this point, to profess our love and commitment to each other was surreal. We both felt like time stood still in that moment. It was like an out of body experience."
A Dream Come True
Emma-Lee and Griffin opted for a cocktail-style reception, but included one long table for their immediate family members and closest friends. "Seeing all of the design elements come together took my breath away," says Emma-Lee. "I struggled throughout the planning process to form my vision into words and descriptions and it was like our planner had seen inside my head and made my design dreams a reality, from the decadent florals down the aisle and adorning the chuppah, to the gorgeous head table, lined with beautiful linens, glassware, and such special menus."
Natural and Beautiful
Floral arrangements in stone vessels provided a natural contrast to the loosely gathered, blush-colored runner.
Gold-edged glass chargers, blush-toned flatware, and terra-cotta stone plates sat at each place setting, while custom wooden menus showed off the tile design from the invitation.
A favorite seating area, dubbed the "lemon lounge," included a wooden pergola draped with lemon leaf greenery and fresh citrus. "We knew from the beginning that we wanted lounges with comfortable furniture, more eclectic design, and spaces for people to engage with others as little or as much as they'd like—kind of like they were in a home at a cocktail party," says Emma-Lee. Sunny Limoncello margaritas and rich espresso martinis—the couple's signature drinks—were a nod to classic Italian flavors.
Blue-and-white floral linens topped cozy bistro tables, where guests dined on a menu that included stations for tapas, southern barbecue, and—of course—Italian food. "I knew our food had to be fun, approachable, and good," says Emma-Lee. "Our guests enjoyed everything from an interactive cheese wheel with pasta, barbecue, paella, and even Zaxby's chicken sandwiches—my mom is a Zaxby's owner, so it is a family-owned restaurant—and truffle fries for late night food. We both come from families and cultures where food is central to celebrations and bringing people together. I wanted to incorporate the foods we actually liked and would choose to eat at our home or when we go out for date night."
Small and Sweet
Emma-Lee and Griffin offered a dessert buffet, which included macarons, cookies, bite-sized cakes, and mini cannoli, and a gelato cart instead of a formal wedding cake. "Similar to the more casual assortment of food, this felt authentic for us," she says. "People are still talking about how delicious our food was, and that is a complete success!"
The couple's first dance song—"Beyond" by Leon Bridges—was "a no-brainer," says Emma-Lee. "This has been our song together since it came out," she says. "We love Leon and feel like the lyrics of the song could not be more perfect for our love story." For dancing, the couple and their guests moved into a separate space, furnished with navy couches, leopard-print pillows, fuchsia sofa chairs, and a custom dance floor that include the couple's initials and the lemon print from their invitation. "The dance floor was one of my favorite design elements from the whole event!" says Emma-Lee.
After the formal dances, Emma-Lee changed into a white party dress from Needle and Thread and Kate Spade x Keds platform sneakers. "It felt like I had been transformed!" she says. "I came running out of the bathroom, skipped down the stairs to the personalized dance floor with Griffin in hand, and pulled everyone I could see onto the floor to begin dancing." During their reception, the couple also poured a Champagne tower—in between stints on the dance floor as the Jordan Kahn Orchestra created high-energy party atmosphere. "One of Griffin's main priorities of our wedding was for everyone to have a blast and dance the night away," says Emma-Lee. "So many of my visions and wishes had come true that night, I wanted to ensure his one request was fulfilled."
Photography, The Ganeys
Venue, The Ringling
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Bourbon and Blush Events
Catering, Michael's on East Catering
Flowers, Kaleidoscope Floral
Videography, iHeart Films
Stationery, Emily Baird Design
Desserts, Sucré Table Bakery and Café
Music, Jordan Kahn Orchestra (cocktail hour and reception); Sunset Strings (ceremony)
Rentals, BBJ La Tavola; Treasury Rentals; Vivant Rentals
Bride's Gown, Martina Liana
Bride's Accessories, Loeffler Randall shoes; Mark Loren Designs jewelry
Hair, Hair by Amelia Renee
Makeup, Kiss & Makeup By Steph
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Jenny Yoo
Groom's Attire, Brodeur Carvell Fine Apparel
Menswear, The Black Tux
Groom's Accessories, Paul Stuart shoes; Rado watch
Lighting, Bay Stage Live
Transportation, Ambassador Limo Tampa
Dance Floor, Letz Dance On It
Gelato, The Gelato Carte
Rings, Ellie M Jewelry
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