So you’re engaged, and your wedding is starting to feel like a moving target. Maybe you know exactly what you want—or just maybe you have no idea where to begin. Either way, you and your fiancé will have to put your heads together and make some decisions—and more than a few appointments. Some days will be tough, most will be fun, and others will end up changing everything you thought you knew about weddings.
Our editors found one spunky bride who still had her work cut out for her planning a springtime wedding. We decided to follow her progress to see what we could learn as she looked for a dress, scouted her venue, and booked her florist. When Maura and Brandon started planning their wedding, they originally looked in Chicago to be closer to Maura’s big family. But when they thought about the long-distance planning—and were quoted $30,000 to feed 200 people—they brought their shell-shocked selves back to Cincinnati, where they currently make their home. “We’re just asking people to come to Cincinnati and see where we met and fell in love and to be a part of our world here,” Maura says.
Meet The Couple
Bride: Maura Donnellan
Occupation: Personal Stylist Manager at Nordstrom
Groom: Brandon Conine
Occupation: Emergency Medicine Physician at UC
When: May 5, 2012
Number of Guests: 130–150
“She’s not the type of girl who’d want to be proposed to at a Reds game,” explains Brandon. That’s exactly why he chose a spot near and dear to the couple’s hearts: their home neighborhood of Mt. Adams.
In March 2011, Brandon and Maura took their bulldog Chunk on a morning walk right before a trip to Chicago for a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with her family. As far as Maura knew, they were making their way to the Holy Cross-Immaculata church to admire the 153-year-old hilltop building and sneak a view of the city before heading out of town. But Brandon had planned the spot for his big proposal, even stashing a bottle of champagne in the bushes.
Afterward, when Maura wanted to call her parents, Brandon suggested they wait and tell everyone in person. “What she didn’t know is that they already knew,” he says. “So when we got there, her parents met us outside with a bottle of champagne.”
The venue For most couples, wedding planning starts with a rough guest list and a fuzzy idea of a venue. “We decided to do something a little bit smaller, more intimate—which, intimate for my family is 140 people,” Maura says. She and Brandon started with Cincinnati Parks—Mt. Echo to be specific—and thought its modern open-air pavilion and great view would be the perfect location for their wedding.
But soon Maura began to lose sleep over the not-so-small issue of rain. “After about a month of having Mt. Echo, I became worried about the weather,” she says. “Literally at three o’clock in the morning I was like ‘What are we going to do about this? I can’t even sleep right now.’ So we had to move it to French House.”
Situated in the 275-acre French Park, French House is one of the gems of the Cincinnati Parks system. The two-story brick house was built in the early 1900s and sits on a hill surrounded by wide fields and gardens. The ceremony will take place inside one of the property’s manicured gardens (nearby is a more wild, meadow-like patch), with the reception under a tent extended from the veranda onto the back lawn.
During a first look at French House, Kevin Bruner, co-owner of Premier Park Events, the company that manages events at all Cincinnati Parks facilities, took the couple through the house’s huge first floor area, which eased Maura’s fears about dealing with a freak storm. But her vision was still all about a tented outdoor reception. She explained to Bruner, “The pictures that I liked all tended to be outside with French bistro lighting, very understated and elegant.” He showed photos of past French House events to Maura and Brandon, including one that was just Maura’s style—a spacious tent lit from the inside with strings of classic round bulbs.
Once Maura found her caterer, La Petite Pierre, she started noticing a trend in her wedding planning. “They’re French—their father is Pierre—and I think that’s where I kind of picked up on this French outdoor thing,” Maura says. “I read their philosophy and it was exactly what I had in mind for our wedding. They just said, ‘It’s not about the most expensive thing; it’s about really good, simple food and really good company.’ So we’re going for a little bit of a French evening dinner party.”
The wedding is still to come, so Maura’s real dress is confidential (we’ll give you a hint: It’s a design from wedding gown goddess Monique Lhuillier). But we did look over her shoulder while she tested out some favorite picks from Bridal and Formal’s massive collection.
Maura may work as a personal stylist for Nordstrom department stores, but that didn’t exactly give her an edge while dress shopping. “I kind of had no idea what I wanted,” she admits. “So I started by getting my bearings a little bit and having fun.”
Like many brides before her, Maura quickly fell in love with a pricy designer gown. She explains, “I absolutely loved it, but it was double my budget.” She left the shop empty-handed, scheming about how to get the gown. Eventually Maura returned and Cynthia Tooson worked her magic in the dress racks. On a hunch, she pulled a deeply discounted sample gown that fit the profile of the budget-busting design. “I said ‘I guess I’ll try it; I’m not totally in love with it,’ ” Maura remembers. “And I put it on and it was the dress. What I love about it is that it’s really unique and it makes me feel beautiful.”
With her fresh, youthful approach to floral design, Yellow Canary owner Kristen Sekowski has fast developed a following with Cincinnati brides. We caught up with Sekowski in her Reading studio as she talked Maura and Brandon through her ideas, all the while working to incorporate and complement the bride’s “understated French bistro” vision.
“We’re not planning to have these tall, elaborate arrangements,” Maura explains. “We’re going to keep the flowers very low-key, almost like they were picked out of someone’s garden.” Sekowski
suggested that May flowers—hydrangeas, peonies, and lush, bloomy garden roses—would be perfect candidates for the clustered, low, muted arrangements that the couple favors.
For the meeting, it was important that Sekowski know as much about the day’s details as possible. For example, the earlier the florist knows the date and venue, the quicker she can brainstorm real ideas for your floral design. Sekowski happened to be very familiar with the layout of French House, and was able to incorporate her knowledge and experience into the brainstorming session.
For your own appointments, come prepared to discuss venues, color schemes, special requests (Are you allergic to roses? Do you have a thing against tulips?), and of course, your budget. Your florist can help you stay on track by using locally produced flowers that grow during your wedding’s season.
If you’re planning a wedding, you know this better than anyone: Once you set that date, the day will arrive whether you’re ready or not. But fear not—as with many daunting propositions, taking things one day at a time seems to work.
And when all else fails, take these few lessons that we learned from Maura and Brandon: know what you want, listen to your instincts, and work together. “The result I think will be what Brandon and I have always envisioned,” Maura says. “Something I learned is that our wedding day is supposed to represent us—and that we may not be able to make everyone happy,” she says. “It was really important for us to stick together as a team to end up with something that we were really proud of and really excited for.”
Photography by Stacy Newgent • View the Photo Gallery