A stressful planning experience paid off for this couple, giving them a day filled with family, friends, and thoughtful details.
1 of 19
Toronto wedding photographer and stylist April was taking her friend's dog out for quick walk around the park—during a blizzard—when she bumped into Soul and his pup, braving the weather in the same spot. "We were both freezing cold and about to leave, but our dogs started playing together," says April. "What was ironic was that both of our dog's personalities are very antisocial, but on this night they wrestled like never before!" After a brief chat, Soul volunteered to memorize her number; he texted her two hours later. As April says, "The rest is history!"
Soul surprised April with a proposal on a trip to Nicargua—where she owns land that she hopes to turn into a destination wedding location for her company Olive Studio—so the country became an obvious choice for their own destination nuptials. "We planned an entire wedding in Nicaragua, but sadly had to cancel it due to civil unrest that was not improving," says April. She went back to square one, trying to find another spot. "I felt defeated and tired—I didn't want to pick a destination that didn't have meaning to us." Finally, they settled on Costa Rica, Nicaragua's neighbor, which offered a similar climate, affordable flights from Canada, and easy access from France and Mali, where Soul's family lives.
But planning a destination wedding in Costa Rica presented obstacles April hadn't accounted for, from slower response times to increased costs—which forced her to repeatedly adjust her vision, schedule, timeline, and budget. "I chose everything à la carte so that I could have what I wanted, but in the end it created 100 times more work for me and was not what I originally desired," says April. "I tried to let things go as much as possible, and days before we arrived, I decided that what will be, will be." All the work paid off. The intimate January 26, 2019, ceremony and reception at Finca Austria was all about the couple's 69 guests, thanks to April's attention to detail (fresh coconut water on each attendee's ceremony seat was just the beginning!). With dried palm leaves accenting the rich natural surroundings, emotional speeches from friends and family, and a reception that went until almost sunrise, April and Soul's wedding day was the definition of a success. "In the end, a wedding is about the people," says April, "so when it comes time to celebrate…just be."
2 of 19
April designed the couple's invitation suite using a palm leaf print for the background of the invite, a geometric border that inspired the ceremony décor, and beachy pink envelopes that contrasted with the blues and greens of the floral motifs. But she printed just one copy—so she'd have something to photograph—and went digital for the guests. "The invites themselves were online only," she says, "but I still felt it important to have a well-designed invite and not just an email."
3 of 19
April worked the palm leaf print on the stationery onto the welcome bags, which included "Do Not Disturb" door hangers in custom totes.
4 of 19
Love at Last
For April, finding the perfect wedding dress presented more of a challenge than she anticipated: She had visited 15 stores in a single month, with salespeople pressuring her to place an order immediately, and still hadn't found the gown of her dreams. "Looking for a dress was one of my least favorite things to do," she says. "It was exhausting and disappointing because Toronto and Canada do not carry any—or very few—of the designers I love." Eventually she found her spaghetti strap sheath Allure gown, which charmed her with its low back and intricate Aztec lace detailing. "It wasn't what I had envisioned, but I was tired and realized it was the best dress I had seen," she says. "I threw away yet another 'vision' and made a new one."
She customized the gown with a few small tweaks and ended up thrilled with the final result. "I was happy with my choice," she says. "It made me feel beautiful and Soul loved it, too."
5 of 19
April and Soul chose to forgo a traditional bridal party, but they did ask their mothers and a few of their closest friends to walk down the aisle and participate in the ceremony. The women each chose their own white dress, creating a cohesive look without the stress of coordinating matching outfits.
Swipe here for next slide
6 of 19
Her DIY Bouquet
After researching local florists, April realized she couldn't find someone to construct the look she wanted at her ideal price—so she made her own bouquet, and smaller ones for her friends walking down the aisle, with plants that included mini pineapple, fan palms, mini roses, calathea, orchids, and pampas grass. "I ended up ordering the flowers I wanted from a wholesaler in San Jose and paying a crazy price for them to be delivered," she says. "It still ended up being half the price of what florists in the area were charging."
7 of 19
Sticking to Tradition
Soul chose a traditional outfit, sourced from Etsy, for the ceremony. "I wanted to keep with my Malian heritage for the wedding," he says, "so I selected a white African Dashiki shirt for the main part of the wedding and a burgundy one for later in the night." His black Stacy Adams loafers and hat complemented both looks.
8 of 19
April and Soul shared their first look before the ceremony, meeting each other next to the pool for a private moment before the service. "I was excited to see Soul," says the bride. "I had no anxiety—I was just excited to get it all going!"
9 of 19
As guests arrived for the afternoon ceremony in the mangrove, they were met with fresh chilled coconut water on each chair. "It was piping hot and sunny!" says April—who, when she changed her outfit before the reception, snuck in a quick moment to freshen up: "I took a shower halfway through!"
10 of 19
April's father escorted her down the aisle to "Heartbeats" by Jose Gonzalez, chosen, she says, "because the lyrics are beautiful and it set a calming and romantic mood." But she wasn't expecting the effect that the experience would have on her dad: "My dad was very emotional, which is not often seen!" she says. "It was quite special."
Swipe here for next slide
11 of 19
It's All Relative
April and Soul asked several friends and family members to give speeches during the ceremony in place of readings, poems, or quotes that were less personal. "Our ceremony took so much time to plan and a lot of favors to ask of friends but it was exactly our vision—it came together seamlessly," April says. They included translations between French and English so every guest could follow the ceremony, and introduced their participants with a unique twist. "Instead of having music invite the bridal party down the aisle, we had personalized anecdotes said aloud about each friend as they walked down."
12 of 19
The couple exchanged vows after the speeches, trading rings in front of a custom septagon-shaped altar flanked by dried palms, pampas grass, and bright tropical flowers.
13 of 19
Soul and April both name the ceremony as the most memorable part of the whole day. "Listening to Soul's vows and hearing what he promised and shared made my heart melt all over again," says April. Soul agrees: "The vows—with all of the guests watching, the atmosphere, and energy—are the moments that I will never forget."
14 of 19
April's background as a wedding photographer makes her "obsessed with shooting at sunset," she says—so to capture her ideal shots without missing any of the reception, she and Soul put their wedding outfits back on a few days after the ceremony for a second photo shoot that was relaxed and unhurried. "I made a fun headpiece and wore my handmade earrings to change it up," she says.
15 of 19
The couple took full advantage of the property at Finca Austria and rentals from Costa Mesa and set up their reception outside among the palm trees, with sweeping views of the ocean and the sunset. "There was no assigned seating, and the focus was on dancing and connecting two families that speak two different languages," says April.
Swipe here for next slide
16 of 19
Florist Phyllis Kramer put together centerpieces for the long harvest tables using natural elements with a tropical vibe. "Broken coconuts with white florals and terra-cotta pots were added to ground the installation and add to the organic feeling of the design," the bride says. Kramer decorated the other tables with hurricane candles and palm leaves.
17 of 19
Instead of a seated dinner, April and Soul opted for a reception of barbecue stations from Finca Austria that included beef, chicken, and fish—and a bar that offered his and hers signature drinks. April made menus using paint pens on thin sheets of acrylic, which solved several potential problems: "These were simple to make, inexpensive, and light to carry in luggage," she says. "My brother made wooden holders to display them."
18 of 19
April and Soul changed into more comfortable, dance floor-ready attire before sharing their first dance to John Legend's "Stay with You"—and then kept the celebration going with their friend DJ Kaynix, who provided music for an all-night party that lasted until 5 a.m. The proximity to the infinity pool led to one of April's favorite moments: "Everyone jumped into the pool with their clothes on later in the night—even my dad, which surprised me!" she says. "Pure joy!"
19 of 19
Photography, Lelania Little of Olive Studio
Location, Catering, and Lighting, Finca Austria
Event Concept and Design, Olive Studio
Day-of Coordination, Wedding Nosara
Flowers, Phyllis Kramer (reception and ceremony)
Stationery, Olive Studio (design); TPH (printing)
Music, DJ Kaynix
Rentals, Costa Mesa Event Rentals
Bride's gown, Allure (ceremony); Nagat Bahumaid (reception)
Bride's accessories, Coal Miner's Daughter earrings; Forever Soles shoes
Groom's suit, Etsy
Groom's accessories, Stacy Adams shoes