Some brides-to-be find planning a wedding overwhelming, but not Jeanne Bonich. The special-events manager, who throws fundraisers—including a biannual 900-person gala—for a living, says she went into "event mode" as soon as her boyfriend, Brian Kushner, proposed on Valentine's Day 2005. Finding the dress of her dreams, a Pnina Tornai ball gown with cascading silk flowers on the train, inspired her to orchestrate an ultraromantic affair for their nearly 200 guests on January 15, 2006.
The couple chose the elegant Grove Isle Hotel & Spa in Coconut Grove, FL, where Brian's mother has a home, as their site, because it offered the waterfront space Jeanne wanted for their outdoor ceremony, plus a stately ballroom for the formal reception to follow. But the location meant that the University of Miami grads, who still live in the area, would be hosting a whopping 135 out-of-town guests. As a token of thanks to those who'd traveled, the couple prepared welcome bags stuffed with home-baked sugar cookies, weekend itineraries, maps and lists of local restaurants (with their favorite entrées at each). Next they went about securing the elements that would make the night special, including a nine-piece band that catered to both the hip-hop and bunny-hop crowds, and a four-tier vanilla-rum-and-chocolate-flavored cake.
But the pair also learned that you can't be prepared for everything. Brian's father—his best man—unexpectedly passed away in the middle of their engagement year, which shed new light on the couple's impending nuptials. "We began looking at the big picture and what really mattered to us," says Jeanne. Her mother created handmade programs that explained the traditional Jewish ceremony and paid tribute to the memory of Brian's father (the couple also lit a candle in his honor during the ceremony).
And though planning is the bride's forte, the wedding's most spectacular touch was out of her control. After setting the date, she and Brian realized that their ceremony would take place under a full moon, which rose as they exchanged vows and glowed brilliantly during their cocktail hour. "It was magical," says Jeanne, who walked down the aisle, fittingly, to an instrumental version of Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon."
Learn From Jeanne and Brian
Maximize your time with guests: For this couple, visiting with family and friends who had traveled was a priority. So they snapped photos prior to the ceremony and then shared a quick bite, in a private room, before joining the cocktail hour, so they could circulate during the reception's sit-down dinner.
Choose double-duty favors: The bride and groom used individual champagne splits with personalized labels for place cards as well as festive gifts. "By the end of the night, everyone was drinking them," Jeanne says happily.
Save a surprise for your spouse: Before their big day, Jeanne secretly had her garter decorated with green and orange ribbons (the colors of the University of Miami, the couple's alma mater) to honor her football-fan husband.