For Kate Kennedy and Greg Fodell, it all started with pizza. In January of 2010, Kate, founder of home décor company Be There in Five, was at a birthday party on New York City’s Lower East Side when she and a friend decided to head to nearby Artichoke for a pie. “My friend had an ‘in’ behind the counter—meaning we could skip the 45-minute line!—and Greg overheard us and asked to tag along,” says Kate of her now-husband. “He was a complete stranger, but we gave him a shot!” Sharing their pizza connection turned out to be worth it when, five years later on Kate’s birthday, she headed to the couple’s Chicago backyard to find Greg in a tuxedo, surrounded by candles and holding cue cards à la Love Actually. “I’d been so frustrated that he spent my whole birthday in the basement doing laundry, when he was actually sneaking baskets full of décor out our basement door to propose to me,” says Kate.
When the couple, with friends and family spread from Michigan and Virginia to New York, Chicago, and North Carolina, started planning their wedding, they knew it would be a destination ‘do no matter what. “We realized it would mean more to us to share a unique experience with the people we love than to just throw a party, so we decided to invite our guests to Varenna, Italy!” Kate says. They kicked off their wedding weekend with a pizza-filled rehearsal dinner, naturally, then had their wedding overlooking Lake Como and the Italian Alps. “We wanted people to come to our wedding, but more importantly to come away with us and spend time together in this incredible part of the world,” Kate explains—which led to their theme, “Como Away With Us.” Guests traveled to Italy on the weekend of May 13, 2017 to join in the wine-fueled festivities. The photos, by Katelyn James Photography, will have you reaching for your passport!
“The Lake Como area has the best of everything,” Kate says. “Pastel villas, tiny street-side cafés, and rustic cobblestone streets that are quintessentially Italian, plus majestic mountain and lake views that make Varenna feel so much more relaxed and inviting.” The bride and groom celebrated in one such villa, Villa Cipressi, and their softly hued celebration popped against the structures peach-toned walls.
Kate tried over 50 dresses before finally finding one that felt right. “I didn’t realize I wanted something so different until I tried this dress on,” she says of the sequined Karen Willis Holmes design. With cap sleeves, a v-neck, and a flowing silk georgette overlay, it met all of her requirements: glamorous yet ethereal, a modern silhouette with a vintage feel, form-fitting, but still comfortable. “Most importantly, it didn’t wrinkle in my carry-on!” she laughs. Greg wore a bespoke midnight blue tuxedo, sleek enough for the romantic setting but relaxed enough for an evening of fun.
The ceremony took place at Chiesa di San Giorgio, a medieval cathedral that was consecrated in 1313 and is decorated with historic frescos and marble. Says the bride: “They ring the bell at the beginning of every wedding ceremony, then again during the recessional. By the time we walked out of the church, most of the town (including waiters, bartenders, and vendors we’d been interacting with all week!) had gathered in the piazza to congratulate us!”
Following the ceremony, the newlyweds took a picturesque walk through the area for photos.
“Villa Cipressi is the farthest thing from a blank slate,” says the bride. “The views and gardens are breathtaking, and I wanted our décor to fit right in.” She opted for pinks, greens, whites, and creams, using garden roses and peonies to keep everything soft and breezy. The bride’s parents surprised the couple with their family tree, illustrating all the twists and turns life took to get the couple where they were that day.
For dinner, guests sat at tables featuring gold candelabras, where they were treated to a traditional Italian meal. The menu included lobster ravioli, lamb ragout, sea bass, and slow-cooked beef, all served with local white Chiavannesca and red Sassella wines. Says Kate: “We invited our families and best friends to give toasts between courses, and with such a feast, we didn’t get to the dance floor until 11pm!”
The bride’s toast was especially memorable, a poem with a rhyming couplet devoted to each of the 70 guests in attendance.
The brightest pop of color was in the form of wedding favors: Individual bottles of limoncello with tags that read, “When life gives you lemons, make limoncello!”
Kate created the gold “Per Sempre” (“Forever”) cake-topper herself, and tucked it into a traditional Italian wedding cake topped with rings of fresh strawberries. “We also served lemon basil sorbetto, a buffet of house-made gelato, and doppio espressos to get everyone on the dance floor!” says the bride.
The couple shared their first dance to “All My Life” by K-CI & JoJo. “We love 90s music, and apparently our guests do, too—our first dance turned into an impromptu sing-along!” Kate remembers. “It was like sharing that moment accompanied by a live chorus.”
Another favorite moment was the pair’s boat ride around the lake during cocktail hour. “We snuck off with our photographers to take some photos," says the bride. "The captain was blasting Andrea Boccelli, the weather was perfect, and we had some time to ourselves. It was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment!”
Says Kate: “If you’re planning a destination wedding, make sure you’ve been there before, and make another trip during the planning process. Planning remotely is challenging, and I don’t know where I would have started if we’d never been to Varenna before. I wish we’d gone back during our engagement, because there are details it took hundreds of emails over six months to organize that we could have figured out in just a few hours if we’d been there in person.” Sounds like a pre-honeymoon is in order!
Reception Venue & Cake: Hotel Villa Cipressi
Coordinator: Wedding Box Lake Como
Bride's Dress: Karen Willis Holmes
Veil: JJ's House
Bride's Shoes: Aldo from Amazon
Groom's Attire: Joshua Kercher
Floral Design: Priovano Mario Fiori
Wedding Bands: Lincoln Park Gems
Invitations: Holly Anne Blake on Etsy
Guest Book: Starboard Press on Etsy
Other Paper Products: Be There In Five
Photography: Katelyn James Photography