Neither Lauren Sommers Smyth, an attorney, nor Dr. Om James “OJ” Neely, a neurosurgery resident, had never been on a blind date when a mutual friend set them up. Neither of them had seen the mutual friend in a few years either.
“She felt strongly that we should meet,” Lauren says of the friend. “We went to a local Thai restaurant, and the connection was obvious. Our relationship grew from there.”
Four years later, the Dallas-based couple invited 54 close friends and family to Lake Como, Italy, for two days of wedding celebrations at stunning (and famous) villas in the area. On the first day, they were married in a Hindu ceremony at Villa Giuseppina, where a dhol player and a decadent Indian buffet added to the festivities. The second day, the couple said “I do” in a traditional Western ceremony, framed by the famed arches of Villa Balbianello. This was followed by a formal reception, where signature cocktails flowed and three opera singers performed during dinner. It was one of their favorite memories, says Lauren, “watching our guests’ reactions when the three tenors began their performance.”
In fact, surprising and delighting their guests was one of the top priorities for the wedding. “We kept the guest list small, making it easier to spend time with each invitee,” the bride adds. “Since our guests spent time and resources making the journey to Lake Como, we focused on their experience and comfort.”
Lauren and OJ legally married at the Federal Courthouse in Dallas a few weeks before their celebration in Italy. It allowed them to invite family, such as Lauren’s grandmother, who would not be traveling to Europe.
For the Hindu ceremony, Lauren donned a maroon lehenga and choli from Ushnak Mal Madan Lall, a bridal shop in New Delhi, India. Her jewelry had special meaning: The necklace was a 150-year-old family heirloom that OJ’s grandmother wore for her wedding.
The Indian ceremony was an explosion of color, with the focal point being the massive Mandap covered in red, yellow, and orange flowers.
“The Indian ceremony was an explosion of color, with the focal point being the massive Mandap covered in red, yellow, and orange flowers, created by the ever-so-talented Tulipina,” Lauren says of their floral design.
The couple’s intimate guest list of 54 people wasn’t an easy task. “Destination weddings are a toss-up: You may end up with more people than you planned or far less,” the bride adds.
The couple’s close family friend, Dr. Ramakrishna Rao, officiated the ceremony. He adapted parts to highlight OJ’s Indian upbringing and translated Sanskrit into English for the guests.
Lauren and OJ exchanged garlands, a tradition which signifies that they both accept each other into marriage.
The Hindu ceremony included many traditional parts, like tossing rice into the sacred fire and taking the seven steps.
“The ceremony paid homage to OJ’s grandmother, who played an integral role in his childhood,” Lauren says.
Guests mixed and mingled during an alfresco cocktail hour set in a cozy lounge of rattan furniture. The couple had two signature cocktails, a Moscow mule with lychee, guava, and mint, as well as a margarita with coffee and chocolate.
An Indian feast took place under a sailcloth tent, where guests sat at two long tables flanked by folding garden chairs.
Gold vases overflowed with orange, yellow, and pink flowers that coordinated with those on the mandap.
The Indian buffet included vegetable biryani, spiced chicken, Hyderabadi lamb shank, and, of course, dal.
Lauren’s mother, wearing a blue Coutures by Laura dress, helped her get ready.
Tulipina also designed the boutonnieres, which coordinated with the rest of the day's more muted florals.
We thought transporting our guests via Italian water taxi would provide a lasting impression of the weekend.
One of the details that Lauren and OJ loved about Villa Balbianello is that you must arrive by boat. Not only did it make for a great entrance for the bride, but also all the guests got a memorable experience. “We thought transporting our guests via Italian water taxi would provide a lasting impression of the weekend,” Lauren says.
Villa Balbianello is well known for its appearance in movies, including Casino Royale, as well as the wedding site for Bollywood superstars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
As a string quartet played, OJ awaited Lauren’s grand entrance under the villa’s loggia.
Lauren’s father escorted her down the aisle to an instrumental cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” She carried a bouquet of lilies.
The couple wanted to make the most of the impressive loggia and stunning lake views, so they kept décor to a minimum.
“He customized the ceremony to make it simple and elegant with a theme of thanks for everyone’s efforts to celebrate the occasion with us,” Lauren says of their officiant, Fabio Albonico.
The couple also lit a unity candle to symbolize their families coming together. Since family is so important to them, they found sweet ways to honor them in the two days, like including Lauren’s brother as a bridesman instead of having bridesmaids.
“On the special day, take five minutes to yourselves to look around and just take it all in,” Lauren advises.
They were also greeted with a second set of signature cocktails: a guava margarita with pink grapefruit and a French 75 with Seedlip garden and green tea. Milan-based mixology company Drinkable designed all the couple’s signature cocktails.
Lauren wanted to make a statement with the reception, so her planning team at The Lake Como Wedding Planner hung floral chandeliers from the tent’s ceiling above the dance floor. The tables had mirrored tops to reflect the flowers and each place setting including black-and-gold flatware and black chargers.
Dinner included Italian favorites like risotto with basil and a parmesan souffle.
“We wanted a venue that was intimate and allowed our family and friends to use the wedding and venue to create trips of their own,” Lauren says of hosting a destination celebration in Europe.
Another favorite memory was when musician David Dam took to the stage for a surprise performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
The reception included a massive dessert bar filled with petite treats like macarons, cream puffs, custard tarts, and two small cakes.
The couple took their first spin on the dance floor to “Tennessee Whiskey” by Chris Stapleton. Lauren also danced with her father to Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Lauren and OJ cut into a chocolate cream and coffee cream wedding cake. “The wedding itself goes by so fast,” Lauren says. “Take a mental snapshot of your friends and family enjoying their time together.”
Planner The Lake Como Wedding Planner
Officiants Dr. Ramakrishna Rao; Fabio Albonico
Bride's Indian Wedding Attire Ushnak Mal Madan Lall
Shoes Jimmy Choo
Hair Victoria Ralph
Makeup Kelly Dawn Mitchell
Mother of the Bride's Dress Coutures by Laura
Mother of the Groom's Dress Naeem Khan
Groom’s Attire Ermenegildo Zegna
Engagement Ring & Wedding Bands Cook Diamonds
Floral Design Tulipina
Stationery Momental Designs
Paper Goods Avenue Litho
Music Inspiration Band
Catering Class Eventi
Cake Marco Failla
Transportation The Lake Como Wedding Planner
Accommodations Villa Giuseppina
Videography Marco Caputo Films
Photography Ross Harvey