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Unforgettable In Every Way

With their own unique style, four Bay Area couples create magic on their wedding day.

Julie Hoffman & Billy Bremer
  I  Olowalu Plantation House, Maui, Hawaii

Julie Hoffman and Billy Bremer wanted a destination wedding that reflected their relaxed approach to life. So they decided to go straight to the epicenter of all things mellow: the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the slower pace of life is perfectly in sync with their laid-back outlook. The fact that they had never been there—nor would they even visit their wedding spot until the weekend of the event—didn’t faze this couple, who trusted not only fate but also the judgment of their wedding planner. The Mill Valley couple—she’s a schoolteacher originally from Texas; he’s a commercial real estate banker who grew up in Marin—left the job of finding the venue to Marin-based Barbara Gerraty of A White Orchid Wedding, who led them to Olowalu Plantation House, a private estate overlooking a rocky beach with island views.

The whole celebration took on the feeling of “island style.” Traveling guests arriving on Maui were welcomed with a luau-style dinner and spent the next day hanging around the pool. “It was just fun,” says Julie. “We got to see everybody and it took the pressure off the wedding.”

On the wedding day, 65 guests gathered on a grassy area near the estate to watch the couple walk down the aisle—Julie in bare feet and Billy in khakis—to a guitar-plucking Hawaiian version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. “We love the beach. We’re hikers and swimmers, and it was really important for us to get married outside,” says Julie. After the ceremony, guests lounged on outdoor couches as the sun set. A few traditional rituals found their way into the reception: a cake-cutting ceremony and a bridal father-daughter dance.

Even though they had never been to Maui, says the bride, it turned out to be the setting for a dream come true. “I remember looking out at my friends and family and thinking that everybody I loved and wanted to be here came.”

LOCATION: Olowalu Plantation House in Olowalu, Maui, Hawaii
PHOTOGRAPHER: Tad Craig Photography, 808.579.9571, tadcraigphotography.com
CATERER: Cafe O’Lei Catering Company, 808.877.0073
BEVERAGE SERVICE: Maui Bars R Us, 808.874.7083
CAKE: Maui Wedding Cakes, mauiweddingcakes.com
FLOWERS: Teresa Sena Designs, 888.240.9336
MUSIC: Ernest Puaa, dabarefootwarrior.com
WEDDING PLANNER: Barbara Gerraty,
A White Orchid Wedding, 888.240.9336, whiteorchidwedding.com

Laika Huang & Colin Chow
  I   St. Regis, San Francisco

Corte Madera residents Laika Huang and Colin Chow envisioned a destination wedding that was modern and sophisticated—but definitely not stuffy. After getting engaged on Maui, they thought the Four Seasons on Maui would be the perfect place—but rethought that plan when the hotel began some construction. They wound up in the Bay Area, at San Francisco’s St. Regis—and they still got their vacation wedding: “Both of our families don’t live in this area, so it turns out that the Bay Area is a destination for most of our family,” says Laika, a merchandise manager at Restoration Hardware.

So friends and family from Asia, Los Angeles and New York gathered at the grand hotel, where the couple achieved their modern minimalist dream in a dramatic setting with ballroom and outdoor terrace. The atmosphere, which they describe as “Zen,” included details like invitations that came inside a box (made by the bride’s best friend and maid of honor) and an aisle flanked by rectangular metal structures alternating with horsetail reeds, river rocks and wheatgrass.

The couple incorporated customs to honor their Asian heritage. During the ceremony, they bowed to their parents in gratitude. “It’s a very Asian traditional thing,” says Laika. “It symbolizes thanks for all they’ve done for us and says now we will start our new life.” Later, she changed into a vintage orange and green kimono passed down from her grandmother. They wrote their own vows, and Laika’s brother sang at both the ceremony and the reception. A rumba-inspired first dance kicked off the celebration, followed by a father-daughter dance to “Twist and Shout,” a conga line and five hours of dancing. “Everyone had a blast. That’s what we wanted the wedding to be about,” Laika says.

LOCATION: St. Regis San Francisco, stregis.com/sanfrancisco
PHOTOGRAPHER: Traci Griffin, tracigriffinphotography.com
CATERER: St. Regis
CAKE: St. Regis (design by the bride)
FLOWERS: Wiggy Flowers, wiggyflowers.com
MUSIC: Chris Debol, christherebel.com
INVITATIONS: Mimi Yoo and Laika Huang
DRESS: Monique Lhuillier, from Bridal Galleria
HAIR / MAKEUP: Taylor Pham, facesbytaylor.com
VIDEO: Slava Basovich, guerilla-films.net

Serene Moussa & Conor Buckley
  I  St. Vincent’s School for Boys, San Rafael

As high school sweethearts in Marin, both Serene Moussa and Conor Buckley knew they wanted to get married at a beautiful place in the area. The other criteria? Someplace big to accommodate Conor’s big Irish family, Serene’s family traveling here from Egypt, and the large network of friends they’ve accrued over a lifetime in Marin.

After getting engaged on their ten-year dating anniversary, they knew where to look for the big day: Last year, Conor had volunteered at St. Vincent’s, a school for troubled boys in San Rafael. “It’s a place that not many people are aware of, unless they are a part of the community,” says Serene.

The couple also loved the old-world romantic feeling of the St. Vincent’s church. They added a few simple touches to accentuate the feeling: huge dahlias floated in the fountain, and they lined the aisle with freestanding wrought-iron candelabras, packed with white loose flowers and entwined with ivy trailing to the floor. After the ceremony the candelabras lit the courtyard for the reception.

“You get transported to another time when you are there,” says Serene. “All of the vendors did such a great job in transforming that space into something magical. Seeing everything come together, I just thought, ‘Wow!’”

The ceremony, conducted inside the chapel, included the Loving Cup ceremony, an ancient Celtic tradition that recognizes the anam cara, or soul friend, in one another. At the reception, each guest was greeted at the table with a peacock feather (the color palette of the party), favors that were soon tucked behind ears or into lapels as people moved to the music. At one point a belly dancer appeared, paying homage to Serene’s Palestinian roots. “It was a great eclectic mix of younger people and older people,” says Serene. “I have aerial shots of the crowd. There isn’t one person not on the dance floor!”

Underscoring their celebration of integrated themes from around the world, the couple danced their first dance to an upbeat song by the Spanish singer Manu Chao called “Trapped by Love,” which is partly in Spanish and partly in French. “It reflected the whole melding of cultures,” says Serene.

LOCATION: St. Vincent’s School for Boys, San Rafael
PHOTOGRAPHER: Rosemarie Lion, 707.766.6955, lionphotography.com
CATERER: altacuisine, 415.898.3230, altacuisine.com 
CAKE: Branching Out, Jill Branch, Corte Madera, 415.924.0198, branchingoutcakes.com
FLOWERS: Waterlily Pond, San Francisco, 415.377.4435, waterlilypond.com
WINE VENDOR: Rick’s Wine Cellar, rickswinecellar.com
DAY-OF COORDINATOR: Jill Guiomar, Eventful Days, Castro Valley, 510.537.4978, eventfuldays.net
DRESS: Amsale, 800.765.0170, amsale.com

Emily Morris & Javier Soltero
  I  St. Patrick’s Catholic Church/Lodge at the Regency Center

Emily Morris and Javier Soltero’s romance has always been rich with surprises. When they met in San Francisco, they were shocked to discover they had attended the same college—but had never met. Eleven years later, they wanted a wedding with the same sense of  drama.

The couple—she is a director of product marketing, he is CEO of a technology software company—are both Catholic, so a church wedding was important. They chose San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s church, a historical landmark downtown. In the ceremony, Javier’s brother accompanied the organist on the violin as the couple walked down the aisle. “As in any good wedding, there were some tearjerker moments,” says Javier.

After the traditional Catholic ceremony, the 85 guests were shuttled to the Lodge at the Regency Center on Sutter near Van Ness Avenue, a relatively obscure venue that few of their guests had ever seen, for a reception in an ornate room replete with dark wood. During cocktails the guests were kept sequestered outside the ballroom; then, at the appointed hour, they were ushered into the majestic space filled with dramatic greens, reds and purples. “We wanted to blow people’s minds and have them very captivated by the venue,” says Javier.

Another centerpiece of the celebration was the music—a closely guarded secret. As guests dined, an 11-piece salsa band quietly set up behind a curtain. Suddenly, the bandleader introduced himself and the curtain rose. “Everybody fell off their chair when they saw it!” says Javier. Next came “comedic attempts by people who have never done it to salsa-dance.”

They surprised guests by forgoing the traditional wedding cake for a huge array of handpicked desserts. The couple’s mission to dazzle guests with the unexpected was clearly a success. Does that foretell a big surprise for, say, the first anniversary? “We don’t like surprises for each other—we like giving them to other people,” Javier says.

CEREMONY: St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, San Francisco, 415.421.3730, stpatricksf.org
RECEPTION: The Lodge at the Regency Center, San Francisco, 415.673.5716, regencycentersf.com/lodge.html
PHOTOGRAPHER: Tu Photography, 415.455.9219, tuphotography.com
CATERER: Paula LeDuc, 888.443.4498, paulaleduc.com
FLOWERS: Asiel Design, 888.506.7673, asieldesign.com
MUSIC: Orquesta Borinquen, 510.508.8210, borinquensalsa.com
INVITATIONS: Kris Nations, 415.505.3866, krisnations.com
WEDDING PLANNER: MB Wedding Designs, 415.706.1677, mbweddingdesigns.com
DRESS: Vera Wang
BRIDAL ACCESSORIES (jewelry, hair adornment): Kris Nations, 415.505.3866, krisnations.com
HAIR: Lizzy McNeill from Louie Hair Salon, 415.864.3012, louiehairsalon.com
MAKEUP: Stacy McClure from Makeup by Stacy, 415.377.0855, makeupbystacy.com


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