This content originally appeared as "Love is Grand" in Brides magazine.
On October 27, 2012, Ashley Yao and John Chao were married at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco—an art museum housed in a neoclassical palace.
"We wanted an outdoor ceremony. As soon as we found out we could do it on the Balustrade Lawn with the San Francisco Bay as our backdrop, we booked it," Ashley remembers.
Ashley wore diamond-and-emerald earrings "for a little color."
"John asked my bridesmaid Caroline Barton, a London-based jeweler, to help design my engagement ring. He didn't want to ship it, so he secretly flew from New York, where we live, to Heathrow on Christmas Eve, picked it up at the airport, and flew back to propose the next day."
The bride had her nails painted red, which symbolizes good luck in Chinese culture.
"I have skinny ankles, so I have a hard time finding pumps that fit properly," says Ashley. "That's why I chose my sling-back Jimmy Choos. They were so comfortable. They stayed on all night!"
"One of my bridesmaids, Ethel Park, is a stylist. I asked her to dress the girls in black gowns and fur cover-ups. Instead of bouquets, they carried clutches."
An orchid and feathery foliage from Ashley's bouquet embellished a bridesmaid's tousled chignon.
"I went dress shopping with my sister, who is a textile designer. She raved about how difficult it is to find a gown made entirely out of silk. That sold me on my Elie Saab!" says Ashley
The bride put equal thought into her bridesmaids' ensembles. "San Francisco can get chilly at night, so we wore furs [on loan from Adrienne Landau]."
Ashley's attendants carried chic minaudières, which were also on loan. (It helps to be in the biz!)
"I wanted our wedding to be unconventional. My approach was similar to that of a director making a film," says Ashley.
"I bought my dress before I knew where we were getting married," says the bride. "I showed it to my mom on Skype, and at first she didn't like it because it didn't look like a traditional bridal gown. But that's the reason I bought it. It's simpler and yet has so many intricate details if you look at it closely."
Ashley's family friend Huda Zoghbi officiated the ceremony.
"The pops of red were a nod to our Chinese culture—from my bouquet of red orchids, roses, dahlias, and fountain grass to my lipstick and nails, to our favors—red paper boxes filled with double-happiness soap, tea, candies, and charms," Ashley notes.
Green cucumber-and-St-Germain cocktails were served during the cocktail hour.
At cocktail hour, the couple served their favorite snack: pork belly in a sweet bun.
"John and I are big foodies," Ashley says. "The menu included quail-egg croque madames, duck sliders, glazed pork belly, vegetable flan, a made-to-order Taiwanese bao station, and, in addition to our wedding cake, seasonal petits fours."
Chandeliers and candles gave the tent a warm glow.
Half of the tables had floral centerpieces, and the other half had crystal candelabras.
Dahlias, mini calla lilies, and roses in silver bowls reflected the candlelight.
Elegant menu cards with black script were paired with gold flatware.
Ashley and John toasted guests' speeches with champagne.
Their cake had two creative flavors: Earl Grey tea with lemon buttercream and almond with caramelized pears and cream-cheese buttercream.
The couple handed out bags of popcorn as a savory wedding favor.
Their first dance was to "God Only Knows," by the Beach Boys. "It was in the movie Love Actually—one of our favorites," Ashley says.
"Our priorities were to have delicious food and a Motown band that would get my father on the dance floor," Ashley fondly recalls.