The Sky's the Limit at This Outdoor Wedding on New York City's Roosevelt Island

One couple transformed Four Freedoms Park into the ultimate party hotspot with two unique reception tents

Updated 12/07/16

Photo by Donna Newman

The next time your friends try to set you up on a blind date, you should let them. Take it from Emily Tisch Sussman and Kevin Craw, who have their pals to thank for their first date back in 2011. Three years (and an engagement in the Washington, D.C., Botanical Gardens!) later, the two were on the hunt for a non-traditional wedding venue that could fit 420 guests. They soon found themselves at Four Freedoms Park on New York City's Roosevelt Island. "We loved the outdoor venue and incredible city views," Emily says. "We also loved the values of the four freedoms and having them represented in our wedding."

Designed by Louis Khan, the geometric park features lush greens and, coincidentally enough, a tree-lined aisle at the tip of the island. Plus, with it's official opening taking place shortly before the couple's dream wedding date, Emily and Kevin's nuptials would be the inaugural celebration at the park. But one questioned remained: How would they decide on a theme? And then, a better question: Why decide on one at all? "We like to eat a lot and we like to dance a lot, so it was important to us that we separate our dinner and dancing leading to two distinct tents and two distinct schemes to create different looks" says the bride.

So, with plenty of help and inspiration from planner Kari Bien from Van Wyck & Van Wyck, this twosome created the wedding of their dreams and invited their loved ones to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime party on May 30, 2015. With unique details and unexpected surprises, Emily and Kevin's spectacular day took guests (and us, thanks to Donna Newman Photography!) on a perfectly curated journey — and a fun one, at that.

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

When it came to finding her wedding dress, Emily knew what she wanted from the start. "I created a Pinterest page for inspiration, which included any design, not just wedding dresses," she says of her process. "I had pinned this exact dress three times." So finding the one would be easy, right? Wrong. "I think i tried on every dress in America!" Knowing she'd need a little guidance, the bride turned to stylist Julie Sabatino of Stylish Bride, who helped Emily stay true to her vision and hone in on her perfect match.

The dress Emily never knew she always wanted was a Zac Posen cocktail dress, complete with a strapless V-neckline, fitted waist, and a full high-low skirt — the perfect combination of modern edge and classic charm. To keep her ceremony look conservative, the bride added a custom-made sheer topper. Although there's certainly lots to love about Emily's wedding day look, our favorite detail was her textured skirt and how it helped draw the eye to a pair of seriously exciting emerald Jimmy Choo pumps.

For the bride who's a stickler for detail, there's only one way to do her bridesmaids' dresses: Custom. "I designed column dresses for my bridesmaids each in a different shade of green," Emily says. Ever the gracious bride, she also made sure to adjust each one to her attendants' personal style, ensuring all of her 'maids felt beautiful and comfortable, especially her pregnant sister! The ladies carried bouquets of white ranunculus and peonies, which perfectly complemented the bride's petite Lily of the Valley arrangement. The groomsmen's suits were also custom-made to match the groom. Wearing dark gray jackets with green Hermes ties, the men looked perfectly put together for the big day.

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

With the cityscape providing the ultimate backdrop, the bride and groom knew their décor should only enhance the park's existing grandeur. A white chuppah built at the tip of Roosevelt Island was wrapped with ferns and guests watched the two exchange vows as they sat between those two perfect rows of trees. Emily walked down the aisle with her father as musicians performed "Seasons of Love" from the Broadway musical Rent.

The bride and groom chose to have a civil ceremony with both Catholic and Jewish influences — and their officiant proved to be a very special guest: Senator Cory Booker! Emily and Kevin wrote their own vows, and while it's a decision that may seem intimidating to some, the bride characterizes it as both the simplest and most meaningful part of the process. "Through all of the actual wedding planning, his support solidified for me that I was marrying the right partner which made the vows easy," Emily says. "The public declaration of our love for each other in a way we never had before was so special."

During cocktail hour, guests mingled on the park's lush green lawn and made themselves comfortable on assorted wicker chairs and futons. After the sun set, hurricane candles on the stairs became an eye-catching display as guests moved towards the reception tent.

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

We have just three words for this reception: Big, bright, and bold. For tablecloths, the couple opted to mix things up with different jewel-toned linens covering a mix of long and round tables. Low glass vases were filled with dahlias, scabiosa, peonies, hyacinth, and lisianthus, and arranged on long tables, mimicking the feel of a runner. Their different shades of purple created a bold color scheme that was then carried throughout the space. As a finishing touch, metallic candelabras with taper candles cast a warm glow over each place setting. For even more lighting, hanging bulbs were strung from the ceiling adding a cool, modern vibe that highlighted the tent's floor to ceiling windows.

But the most unique décor element wasn't something this couple or their planner chose. Instead of seeing the four Copper Beech trees that grew naturally in the park as an obstacle, Emily and Kevin saw them as a chance to add an unforgettable living detail to their party. "We tented around the trees because we loved the warmth and texture they brought to the reception," Emily says. To take things a step further, they hung hundreds of glittering candles from the branches, producing an awe-inspiring glow that couldn't be beat.

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

When it comes to describing the after-dinner tent, the bride says it best. "It was such a transformation from the dining room," she says of the second celebratory space. "It was time for a dance party!" To give the second space a night club feel, the team at Van Wyck draped thick colored fabrics inside the tent, then painted those pieces with luminescent paint in varying patterns giving. Throughout the night, the lighting changed to reveal hidden surprises like glow in the dark murals and a radiant disco ball. This second tent featured an ultra-funky lighting option: Chandeliers made entirely of wine bottles!

There, guests got a taste of the couple's delicious dessert, a vanilla and sour cream cake with toffee, espresso, and butterscotch cream layered between chocolate cake. Cake and coffee all in one? This couple is after our own hearts.

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Photo by Donna Newman

Within the tent, Emily and Kevin set up various lounge areas (with satin-draped furniture and glass end tables!) where guests could rest up between dancing sprees. From the looks of things, guests let their wild side out, and so did the bride, who switched to high top Converse sneakers so she could "really get down" to the sounds of the Jimmy Vali band.

Photo by Donna Newman

In looking back on their wedding day, Emily has some sage advice to offer future brides. "Nothing in the wedding is worth a major fight with each other," she says.

Ceremony & Reception Venue: Four Freedoms Park || Wedding Design, Production, and Coordination: Van Wyck & Van Wyck || Bride's Wedding Dress: Zac Posen || Jewelry: Jack Vartanian || Shoes: Jimmy Choo || Hair: Rebecca Deamer || Invitations: Regas Studio || Music: Vali Entertainment; Jimmy Vali Orchestra; DJ Sam French || Catering: Olivier Cheng Catering || Cake: Maggie Austin Cake || Rentals: Party Rental Ltd. || Videographer: Films by Francesco || Photographer: Donna Newman Photography

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