Abby and José’s Colorful Destination Wedding in Old San Juan
Abby was just about to delete her profile on an online dating site—convinced it wasn’t for her—when a message from José appeared. It was a lovely, instant connection between them. Though he was living in Miami at the time, they spoke on the phone and over Skype, and after a month he flew to visit her in Birmingham, Alabama. The in-person meeting was just as intense as the online one, and nine months later, José moved out there permanently.
Four months after that, José, a mechanical engineer, mentioned he wanted to go out for a nice dinner. As that’s not a common request for him, Abby, a grad-school student and freelance florist, was a bit suspicious. Nonetheless, the duo got dressed up, shared a great meal at Bottega, and ventured to Vulcan Park—a lookout point high above the city and the location of their first official date. They rode to the top, took in the views, and started to head home. “I think I seemed a little disappointed because José asked me if I was okay,” Abby says. “I said I was fine but did actually feel a little foolish for expecting a proposal. When we got home, he made it upstairs before I did, and when I got to our bedroom there was a ring box on the corner of the bed. I turned around with a huge smile on my face to see him in the doorway, doubled over with laughter.” José said he hadn’t planned on proposing since the ring had only arrived that day, but he picked up on Abby’s anticipation and enjoyed the moments leading up to when he finally asked the question. He opened the ring box, asked her to marry him, and she gave a resounding yes.
That fall, on November 15, 2014, the couple and 30 of their loved ones traveled to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where José grew up, for an intimate destination wedding and an opportunity for everyone to experience the groom’s culture and hometown.
The Stationery Suite
The couple worked with Please Reply in Mountain Book, Alabama, to customize their suite, which was by Designers’ Fine Press. The invitation was a square white letterpress card backed with pale-pink card stock, chosen for the tropical flowers depicted in the design. The green ink hinted at the exterior of the church, and the magenta nodded to the bride’s dress. Fern postage stamps were a perfect match to the florals on the invitation and the greenery used throughout the wedding.
Exactly one year prior to the wedding, the bride and groom took their first trip together—to Old San Juan. Abby met José’s family and the pair had drinks at El Convento hotel as soon as they got to town. When they decided to get married in Puerto Rico, Abby knew that was where they’d stay because it’s central to the sites and has a wonderful old-world feel.
Once they found the green church (Iglesia Metodista Santísima Trinidad), the color palette started coming together. Pink was a no-brainer, as it’s such a common flower color—plus a favorite of the bride’s. Images of Dutch Master floral paintings and information on tropical plants indigenous to the area came together for the inspiration. “Flowers were really the only décor I wanted to add,” Abby notes. “I felt like the city provided all of the atmosphere we needed, so the flowers got to steal the show.”
The bride prepped for the big day in the Gloria Vanderbilt Suite at El Convento, with friends getting ready in neighboring rooms. “My dad even came up to put on his tie and get his boutonniere,” Abby says. “He was very sweet and told me I looked beautiful. He says that all the time, though. He’s such a loving dad. I think he was really excited.”
José got in on the action remotely, sending a letter to his bride via one of her gal pals. She was supposed to read it while listening to a song he had queued up on her phone. “It was all too much for me,” she remembers. “I almost started crying and had to ask everyone to leave to let me collect myself. I read it after everything had calmed down and I had a little privacy. It was so sweet and comforting and was just another reminder—not that I needed one—that I was marrying the right man.”
Abby scored her wedding dress from a store in Old San Juan while in town with her mom and sister to plan the wedding. “The color seemed so happy and festive,” she recalls. “It was also really comfortable and flattered my figure, which were the two biggest things I was looking for in a dress. I made a few alterations that felt special and custom, adding a pink suede wrap belt borrowed from my mother and changing out the buttons on the cuffs for enamel ones with crystal accents. It really just felt like ‘me’ and because it had a tiny bit of blue in the pattern, I automatically had my something blue—an incidental but fun detail.”
The bride accessorized with Mystique jeweled sandals, lilac resin and crystal chandelier clip-on earrings by Oscar de la Renta, her rose-gold and white-gold midcentury Russian setting engagement ring from Lang Antiques, and a Victorian amethyst and seed pearl ring.
The Bride’s Style
Abby topped her look with a hot-pink peony, a red garden rose, and a bit of fern, in addition to her showstopper earrings.
The Bridal Bouquet
Holly Carlisle of Rosegolden Flowers created the bride’s bouquet of peonies, garden roses, anthurium, orchids, ferns, hyacinths, and tropical greenery (much of which the groom’s family sourced from their farm in the mountains).
The First Look
The couple did their first look in the lobby of their hotel and then ventured out to the square for additional portraits before their 5 p.m. ceremony. For Abby, seeing José before the service was the most memorable moment. As soon as she saw him, all of her stresses and worries disappeared, and she remembered that the day was about them and not all the little details.
The doors to the church were adorned with parrot tulips, peonies, garden roses, and flowers and greenery native to the island.
Colorful wooden Spanish fans were set out for the ladies in attendance to use, while jute fans were on hand for the guys.
The Ceremony Décor
The altar of the church was set with an arrangement of birds of paradise, parrot tulips, roses, anthurium, and tropical greenery.
The traditional wedding march was played on guitar as the bride and her father walked down the aisle.
The bilingual ceremony—the groom recited his vows in Spanish, the bride, in English—also included a reading of the Blessing of the Hands, and an excerpt from Ephesians. After the couple kissed and were pronounced husband and wife, they walked up the aisle to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.”
All Together Now
All in the Family
José’s sister, Maritza, and her husband, Francis, brought their five kids to the celebration.
Walking Through Town
The group took to foot to get to the reception venue, Marmalade Restaurant, about 10 minutes away from the church, accompanied by a guitarist playing some traditional Puerto Rican songs—José’s parents sang along to a few. It was another way for everyone to see and enjoy the surroundings. “We chose Old San Juan because of the history, the architecture, and the walkability,” Abby notes. With most guests only there for the weekend, the couple tried to pack in as much culture and sites as they could.
The Reception Venue
Three long tables were arranged in the semiprivate dining room of the restaurant, with intricate place mats and hot-pink candles setting the scene.
The Wedding Cake
A white ruffled-fondant coconut cake with coconut rum filling was the main centerpiece of the event—sitting on the table the bride and groom were seated at.
Dinner kicked off with a variety of tapas, and followed with entrées of homemade gnocchi, Pacific yellowtail poke, grass-fed organic lamb tagine, wild Alaskan halibut cheeks, organic baby kale salad, and white bean soup. Guests sipped on wines that were paired with each course, and ended their night on a sweet note thanks to warm banana and butterscotch bread pudding, in addition to cake.
Once the dinner wrapped, Abby and José and their friends hit the bars. “We were running through the streets of town in the rain, our wedding clothes completely soaked through, having drinks in crowded bars,” he says. “We met friendly locals, all of the stress of the day was gone, and we were married!”
Photography and Videography: A Bryan Photo
Ceremony Location: Iglesia Metodista Santísima Trinidad (787-725-8728)
Reception Location and Catering: Marmalade Restaurant
Flowers: Holly Carlisle of Rosegolden Flowers
Stationery: Please Reply
Calligraphy: Steve Logan
Cake: C+M Cake Designers
Music: Pancho Irizarry