John Steitz's sisters played a major role in helping him find "The One." When they were students at Washington & Lee University, he joined his parents for visiting weekend and was introduced to their friend, Brooks Simmons. A few years later, his sister Laura's friend was hosting a St. Patrick's Day party in Washington, D.C. and invited both John and Brooks to join in the festivities. "As Laura tells it, he reintroduced himself to me, and we spent hours talking," Brooks says. "She even says that, later in the evening, I told both John and Laura that he and I should get married because their parents love me so much!" Brooks may have been onto something: After four years together, John proposed at her apartment, on their way to their favorite neighborhood bar in D.C. "He wanted to wait until we'd gotten to Bayou, but the ring was burning a hole in his pocket so we headed to the bar after I said 'yes!' to celebrate!" Brooks recalls.
The couple and their families have both been visiting South Walton in the Florida Panhandle for years, and wanted to share the area's beauty and charm with their loved ones. "We planned a weekend full of events so guests could really get a feel for the area," says the bride. But the main event was their Florida wedding on April 28, 2018, when 325 guests gathered at St. Rita Catholic Church for the couple's ceremony and Kelly Green at Alys Beach for their tented reception. "Alys Beach has an almost Mediterranean vibe, so we enhanced that with furniture and linens, then dressed it up with lots of colorful flowers," says the bride of their vibrant vision.
With Mariée Ami on hand to make Brooks and John's wildest ideas a reality and Paul Johnson behind the camera, this festive spring wedding in Florida is one you won't want to miss. Keep reading for more!
Rosemary Beach Town Hall was the perfect backdrop for the couple's rehearsal dinner, which kicked off the weekend's Mediterranean theme.
Given the venue's name, it was only fitting to use potted rosemary plants to hold the evening's escort cards.
"I loved my rehearsal dinner dress," says Brooks, who wore the Cartagena dress by Naeem Khan. "I almost changed into it for the second half of our wedding reception!"
A palette of warm neutral linens was the perfect fit for the towering white walls and wood plank ceiling of Rosemary Beach Town Hall. To continue the southern Italian feeling, arrangements of white ranunculus, roses, sweet peas, and rosemary were tucked into terra cotta pots.
Brooks' bridesmaids wore colorful coordinating pajamas as they got ready for their bestie's big day.
The bride first spotted her Oscar de la Renta gown on the runway and was immediately smitten. "I loved the simplicity of the V-neck paired with the unexpected ruffled train," she says. "It really fit my personality—business in the front, party in the back!" She accessorized with her mother's pearl earrings and her favorite Stuart Weitzman sandals. The finishing touch? A fuchsia bouquet of bougainvillea, coral charm peonies, Juliet roses, Yves Piaget roses, poppies, anemones, ranunculus, and phalaenopsis orchids.
The bridesmaids wore high-low Alfred Sung dresses in a playful coral hue. "I'd worn the same dress in another color for a friend's wedding, and it really flattered everyone," says the bride. "It was also a lot less expensive than some of the other bridesmaid dresses I've purchased!"
A beaded and embroidered veil added a touch of detail to the simplicity of Brooks' gown. She and John—who wore a Hickey Freeman tuxedo with an ivory jacket—exchanged vows in front of an altar decorated with lush pink and coral flowers. "We donated them to the church in honor of our grandparents," says the bride.
"Our dog, Chili, joined us to take photos after the ceremony, wearing a collar that matched my bouquet," says the bride. "They might be some of my favorite photos from the entire day!"
The reception space was made up of four tents, each decorated with a different palette and motif to create unique spaces for guests to explore. Cocktail hour was held in a tent lit with Monrovian star lanterns, which created a light and airy feel against white eyelet linens. On the other side of the dance floor, the band was set up in front of a vibrant backdrop that featured a colorful Mexican Otomi pattern. "We used that pattern on pillows in the lounge area, and kept the florals really bright to match," Brooks says.
Guests entered the tent through a rainbow entryway draped with jewel-toned fabrics. Inside, a white dance floor was lit with modern drum lights that changed colors throughout the evening. "Our band, Big Bling and the Funk Machine, was amazing!" Brooks raves. "We even had them play an extra set at the end of the night. We broke curfew and our photographers had to leave so we didn't get any photos of our exit, but the epic dance party was worth it!"
With such a large guest list, Brooks and John opted for a buffet catered by their favorite local restaurant, Café Thirty-A. They served a menu of Florida comfort food such as fried oysters, lump crab cakes, and the bride's favorite: mac & cheese with lobster, crawfish, and black truffle. "I order that mac & cheese every time we go to the restaurant ," she says. "It's that good!" The icing on the cake (literally!) was a white wedding cake covered in a cascade of bougainvillea and garden roses, with alternating layers of traditional wedding cake and cream of coconut cake inside.
Looking back on her destination wedding in Florida, Brooks has this advice to share: "John and I were shocked by how many vendors, especially bands, were booked eleven months before our wedding date," she says. "We were so lucky to have a date where Big Bling and the Funk Machine was available, but if you have your heart set on a specific vendor, book them first and then reserve everything else around their schedule!"
Wedding Planner: Mariée Ami
Ceremony Venue: St. Rita Catholic Church
Officiant: Father Thomas J. Guido
Reception Venue: Alys Beach
Rehearsal Dinner Venue: Rosemary Beach Town Hall
Bride's Rehearsal Dinner Dress: Naeem Khan
Bride's Shoes: Stuart Weitzman
Bridesmaids' Dresses: Alfred Sung
Groom's Attire: Hickey Freeman
Floral Design: Myrtie Blue
Catering: Café Thirty-A
Cake: Sweet for Sirten
Transportation: Sunshine Shuttle
Videography: Josh Kidd Films
Photography: Paul Johnson