When Dean Riskas and Joanna Merrill first started dating, they often met in the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City for a cup of coffee. “It’s right next to where Dean used to work, which meant we could make the most of the little time he got away from the office,” says Joanna. Eight years later, after a move cross country to San Francisco, the couple went back to where it all started. During a trip to NYC to see Joanna’s family for Christmas, Dean brought his now-wife to the hotel’s Peacock Bar for a drink.
“I couldn’t believe the pianist was playing so many of my favorite songs,” says Joanna. The next thing she knew, Dean stood up and the piano player started to play “I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles. “Two good friends of mine co-wrote the song, and there was Dean, singing every word,” Joanna remembers. From there, Dean got down on one knee, Joanna jumped into his lap and accepted his proposal, and a bar full of strangers cheered!
Joanna grew up spending summer weekends on Long Island, so she and Dean started their search there for the perfect late spring venue. They loved the warm welcome they received at Southampton's Basilica Parish of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and found the perfect indoor-outdoor venue at the Quogue Field Club. “The club had just gone through renovations, and the whitewashed walls, exposed beams, and iron lanterns of the barn sealed the deal!” says Joanna. With planner JoAnn Gregoli, designer and florist Bob Conti, and photographer Liz Banfield on their team, Dean and Joanna knew their May 14, 2016, wedding would be a success.
Keep reading to see what they created!
With a champagne and silver palette, Joanna knew she wanted her bridesmaids in a warm, neutral color. “I loved the Jenny Yoo dresses (in Wisteria) because they could each choose a style that made them feel comfortable,” says the bride. Her ‘maids carried white and green bouquets of roses and dusty miller.
The limestone façade of the Basilica was a stately backdrop for the pair’s Catholic ceremony. “We didn’t have a full mass, which gave us the opportunity to incorporate more music,” says Joanna. “Dean’s sisters and our friend Ryan sang ‘Yours and Mine’ by Dawn and Hawkes—they are all incredibly talented!”
The bride walked down the aisle with her father and could barely wait to see her groom. “A few guests gestured to me to slow down,” Joanna says, laughing. “It reminded me to savor the moment and not rush it too much.” Dean agrees: “I wanted to enjoy the moment, but I also wanted Joanna to sprint down the aisle so we could start our lives together,” he says.
The bride topped her gathered Anne Barge gown with a beaded overlay and belt. “I went to Mark Ingram Atelier thinking that I didn’t want a strapless gown or any chiffon, but that’s exactly what I walked out with!” she says. In fact, Joanna customized her gown to remove the off-the-shoulder straps!
In nearby Quogue, guests dined at long farm tables beneath iron chandeliers draped in fresh flowers. The centerpieces combined white roses and hydrangeas with ferns and dusty miller, which coordinated perfectly with the vintage-inspired floral chargers. Moss-green napkins and water glasses added an additional pop of color to each place setting.
“I cannot say enough about the incredible food,” says Joanna, who selected a salad of roasted artichokes and heirloom tomatoes, followed by a duet of roasted sea bass and short ribs with chimichurri. “We were so pleased with everything, from the passed hors d’oeuvres to the late night snacks!”
The couple loves to dance, so the right band was crucial. “Project M from Élan Artists brought the house down,” says Joanna. At one point, friends propped Dean on their shoulders and lifted Joanna into the air. “We crowd-surfed over the dance floor,” she says. When their feet returned to the ground, the bride surprised everyone (including her groom!) with Rolling in Dough pizza. “The look on Dean’s face when the pizza truck rolled up was one of pure joy,” she says.
Looking back on the planning process, Joanna has this pro tip: “Don’t let the seating charts stress you too much. We managed to find the right arrangement, though it was a little snug. But that didn’t matter once the dancing started—we just moved the tables out of the way to make more room!”