This Joyful California Wedding Featured So Many of the Couple's Favorite Things
During their 12 years as a couple, Geáda Ford and Bryan O'Connell have traveled all over the world together and individually—but they always agreed to go to Italy together. What Geáda didn't know at the time of their trip was that Bryan planned to propose during their stay in Venice—throwing off the plans they'd made to elope in the future. "What began as an elopement in Italy (10 people, max!) turned into a private island Caribbean wedding, turned into a Natural History Museum wedding, into a San Miguel de Allende Mexican wedding—into a Santa Barbara four-day extravaganza (300 invites, max!)," says Geáda. "Because that's how our life rolls. We don't play small."
The couple finally settled on a wedding for 151 guests on June 2, 2018, at Sunstone Villa in Santa Ynez, California, which they loved for its Tuscan feel—without the related travel for their guests. "Location and style were always changing, but the more we thought about it, our people were our constant," says Geáda. "They told the story of where we came from, where we've been, and where we plan to go with endless love and enthusiasm. We wouldn't be here without them."
Alongside planners from RMBO Collective, Geáda, creative director for Marie Forleo, and Bryan, a senior production coordinator for Walt Disney Animation Studios, worked to create an event with a "sense of presence," where "guests could lose themselves in celebration." They opted for a color palette of black and white with accents of pink and peach, and made every decision based on the idea of throwing a "Hell Yes" wedding—one where they included only details and elements that they absolutely loved and could say "hell, yes!" to.
This included boozy popsicles served as guests arrived for the service, a Love Actually-inspired musical performance during the ceremony, and a wild after-party at a nearby hotel. But after incorporating countless details to make the day uniquely them, a few stand out to the couple: "The people who traveled far and wide to join us," says Geáda, and "getting lost in moments of togetherness, dancing, and celebrating a moment 12 years in the making."
Creativity in Bloom
Geáda tackled the invitation suite design herself—a project that extended to include the rest of the day's paper details, from programs to drink stirrers. After sending guests a save-the-date formatted to look like a custom newspaper page—including a crossword puzzle—she put together a black-and-white suite with several elements, including a printed itinerary for the four-day event which, on the back, displayed a floral image with a quote from Maya Angelou: "My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return."
A vellum invitation was placed on top of the itinerary card, and a floral envelope liner tied the elements together.
A Minor Miracle
Geáda felt so strongly about having a welcome party at Mattei's Tavern, a circa-1880 restaurant in Santa Ynez, that she listed it on the save-the-date. "One problem," she says. "It was shut down—as in, there was currently no operator at the property and there wouldn't be one for the foreseeable future." But with months to go before the wedding, a local chef announced she would be reopening the venue in time for the couple's big day.
The couple wanted the event to serve as an "elevated backyard party," so they opted for paper cups, bare picnic tables, and plates with a modern check design. Local musician Connor Cherland performed while guests played lawn games and paper lanterns glowed overhead. The menu focused on barbecue classics and s'mores—with plenty of on-the-ground seating—"because marriage is messy," says Geáda.
The Happy Couple
Bryan and Geáda remember the welcome party as one of the most emotional points of the entire weekend. "Our people!" says the bride. "They flew in from all around the world with suitcases of love, somehow very relaxed, and were ready to celebrate. I was in my feelings and cried more this day than I did the wedding day. The love, the magic, the joy was everywhere."
Father Knows Best
When Geáda and Bryan began researching venues, they started in California wine country—but almost immediately decided it was out of their budget. "The sticker shock of your own wedding with your own money is something you can't prepare for," says the bride. But as an increasing number of locations didn't work out, Geáda's father continued pushing for her to look at a villa he'd seen during one of their winery tours. When she found a Pinterest image of her dream location, her father insisted it was Sunstone Villa, the same one he'd been suggesting. "Believing that fathers don't know details, I brushed it off," she says. But when the image name popped up, she had to admit: "My dad found our wedding venue."
Her Beautiful Journey
After years of watching friends and relatives try on wedding dresses in bridal salons, Geáda expected that she'd need a custom dress for her own big day. "'If the bridal world refuses to make dresses in my size, I'll go straight to the haute couture,' I screamed into the void of my wallet," she says. After trying on gowns from designers who "celebrate women with curves," she says, like Mark Zunino, Leah Da Gloria, and Esé Azénabor, and hesitating on a custom design because of the cost, she tried a few other bridal salons—but had one bad experience after the next. With just five months to go until the wedding—and finally prepared to place a late order for a custom gown—she returned to plus-size atelier Della Curva with her wedding planner. "One pass at the rack and the first dress Robin picked up looked extremely close to a dress we had a sketch of and were about to drop a child-sized education on," says Geáda.
And though the off-the-shoulder lace gown matched her vision, it was only the beginning. "More important than the physical dress was the transformation it took in order for me to wear the dress," she says. "Daily meditation, taking a photo of myself every day to get comfortable with what I looked like in the mirror, moving my body regularly, feeding her right so she wouldn't be hangry, therapy, therapy, therapy, telling her I loved her letting go of the crappy dream of being 120 pounds on my wedding day, and opting for feeling the best I've ever felt. It was more beautiful than I could ever imagine."
Their First Look
Though the couple chose to see each other before the ceremony to help the day flow more smoothly, it wasn't their first interaction of the day: They had each left several gifts for the other to open in the morning, including a production cell from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Mickey Mouse cuff links from Geáda to Bryan, a personalized book, and a custom-etched bottle of tequila. "For non-believers in gifts for each other, we sure went overboard with this," says Geáda. "I just wanted to see Bryan. Then it happened and the phrase, 'Get you a man who looks at you the way Bry looks at Geáda' was coined."
The Great Outdoors
At the ceremony site, two floral arrangements on pillars marked the entrance to the aisle, while a gauzy piece of fabric draped over tree branches created a focal point that incorporated the natural surroundings.
Ice to Meet You
With temperatures climbing before the ceremony, Geáda and Bryan offered guests boozy popsicles as they arrived. Flavors included sauvignon blanc-peach; pinot noir-blackberry; and raspberry-peach bellini (plus non-alcoholic versions for the flower girls and ring bearers).
The couple hired classic school buses from Jump on the School Bus to transport guests to the wedding and the after-party, customizing the vehicles with the phrase "Welcome to Our Hell Yes Wedding" on the side.
Make Some Noise
Geáda also designed the ceremony programs, choosing a triangle pennant shape for the final layout. The couple then turned the programs into wands—adding ribbons and bells that guests waved and jingled after the couple were pronounced husband and wife.
So in Love
The bride's father escorted her down the aisle as Gemini Strings played "Make You Feel My Love." She and Bryan sat together on a love seat during the ceremony as they listened to their two readings: a passage from The Alchemist and Robert Fulghum's "Union." "There were a lot of emotions. "Some audible crying," says Geáda. "But mostly there was peace. Peace that I chose this man so long ago and kept choosing him and he kept choosing me. Through it all, we managed to stay together in our 20s and into our 30s— quite frankly, I think we should have gotten two gold medals instead of rings."
Saying "I Do"
Geáda and Bryan wrote their own vows, which they exchanged during a ceremony officiated by Dr. John Ireland of Ocean Hills Church. "Even though it had been 12 years, it felt like we were starting something new," says the bride. "I take vows very seriously, and Bryan had been working on his for months. He crushed it. I blacked out about what I said, but it had a line in it about chicken nuggets. Really serious stuff."
Love Is All Around
Bryan's last gift for Geáda referenced her disbelief of the wedding scene in Love Actually, when a band stands up from the church pews to surprise the bride and groom. "I always hated that scene and would scream at the television, 'How would they not notice new people at their wedding? With instruments?!" says Geáda. "Imagine my surprise when the Love Actually moment happens to me! Uncontrollable joy started rising inside me. And no, I didn't notice a single musician in the crowd." The band—along with the bride and groom—then led guests to the cocktail hour in a second line-style parade.
Custom touches at the cocktail hour included escort cards displayed with a sign reading "Welcome to a Moment 12 Years in the Making"—plus a drink menu presented on a vintage ViewFinder and an audio guest book from Fete Fone, where guests recorded messages instead of writing them.
Modern and Elegant
The outdoor space accommodated guests for dinner at long "feasting tables" covered in white cloths with high-contrast black chairs. Bright pink touches—including floral hoops suspended above the dance floor and low centerpieces in eye-catching tones—created the "playful but elevated" atmosphere the couple hoped for.
Pretty in Pink
Geáda custom-designed the menus to coordinate with the rest of the paper goods, adding a thoughtful personal touch: an inside joke specific to each guest. Black flatware contrasted with white linens and plates, while mismatched napkins in shades of black, pink, and peach added a playful element.
The Happy Couple
Though their vendors hesitated at the idea of putting a dance set before the first course, Geáda and Bryan insisted. "We told them our people would revolt," says the bride. "They were coming for two reasons and one of them involved complicated footwork."
The newlyweds chose Alicia Keys' version of "That Would be Enough" for their first dance. "The dance floor was packed from the beginning of the reception to the end," says Geáda. "It was all a fantastic blur that ended far too early."
Fireworks and Festivities
In place of a traditional cake, Geáda and Bryan ordered an iconic French croquembouche—accented with fireworks—from Emil's Bake Shop. After serving the dessert, they led guests back onto the school buses for an after-party at Hotel Corque. "We wanted it to feel like a junior high dance with all of our musical favorites of the time, from Nelly to Jadakiss," says Geáda. "This was very important and we were VERY specific. DJ Kreiger killed it. "There were all the fried foods to keep us alive and respectful of our soon-to-be-30-year-old-plus hangovers. Babysitters were hired. It was us, the dance floor, and TRL hits." The party continued past 2 a.m.: "Bryan and I fell asleep holding a phone between us with our faces smooshed against the other," says Geáda. "It was the greatest night."
Photography, Bruno Rezza
Venue, Mattei's Tavern (welcome party); Sunstone Villa (wedding); Hotel Corque (after-party)
Event Planning, RMBO Collectiv
Catering, Feast & Fest
Flowers, Of the Flowers
Videography, Creighton DeSimone
Officiant, Dr. John Ireland, Ocean Hills Church
Stationery, Czar Press (printing)
Cake, Emil's Bake House
Music, Connor Cherland (welcome party); Gemini Strings (ceremony); DJ Krieger (reception)
Rentals, Amigo Party Rentals; Platinum Pro Portables; Town and Country Event Rentals
Bride's Gown, Della Curva
Hair and Makeup, TEAM
Groom's Attire, The Black Tux
Lighting, Ambient Event Design
Transportation, Jump on the School Bus
Guest Book, Fete Fone
Neon Sign, Echo Neon
Security, D.A.D. Protection Services