From a family emergency to a “supermoon” reception, this Derby Day wedding went from one extreme to the next.
Storm clouds loomed over Maura Donnellan and Brandon Conine’s May 5th wedding day—both literally and figuratively. Forecasts threatened rain and the couple feared that their dreamy French Park garden party would be a washed out mess. Then, just two days before the wedding, a genuine emergency struck: Brandon’s father landed in the hospital, seriously ill due to delayed complications from a major surgery. The crisis shook Brandon and his family to the core, and the couple reconsidered plans for the wedding and honeymoon.
As it turned out, the sun was shining bright on the day of the wedding, and Brandon’s dad was on the mend, though he was forced to miss out on the ceremony and reception. “It was devastating for him and really hard for me,” says Brandon, who was plagued with worry for his dad while still being concerned for Maura’s own wedding day. “Every bride grows up dreaming of this day,” he says. “I didn’t want this affecting her perfect wedding.” The couple decided to go ahead with the plans, and friends documented the ceremony on their phones to share with Brandon’s dad.
Cincinnati Wedding’s first visit with Maura and Brandon was back in 2011, when they were in the midst of planning their spring wedding. We followed Maura on a trip to try on gowns at Bridal and Formal in the Reading Bridal District, and then tracked the couple as they toured French Park and met with Kristen Sekowski, owner of Yellow Canary Flowers & Event Design, to discuss a plan of attack for the wedding bouquets and reception arrangements.
Brandon and Maura ended up booking all of the vendors that we scouted that day. The rolling hills of French Park in Amberley Village provided a perfect background for the ceremony, which took place on a neat lawn trimmed with simple white folding chairs. “It was so green,” Maura says. “It didn’t feel like we were in the middle of the city.” Guests found refuge from the late afternoon sun during cocktail hour in the park’s classically appointed early-1900s-era home. Then everyone moved out to a bank of romantic white patio tents—glowing with strings of outdoor lights—for dinner and dancing.
The couple filled out their vendor list with some of Cincinnati’s finest industry professionals, turning to Katie Brooks of J’adore Events to create the wedding stationery. Brooks’s typography was inspired by hand-lettered French show posters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The suite was bound together with gray-and-white-striped kitchen twine and mailed in dark grey envelopes with black liners, hand-scripted mailing addresses, and carefully selected stamps.
“I wanted a French country theme,” Maura says. “We were going for Parisian, but because of the location it needed to be more provincial.” At this, Brandon laughs, revealing that he was unconvinced about the need for such detail—at least at the beginning. “When we first started,” he says, “I didn’t know weddings had to have all these themes. And then during the wedding I really felt it.”
As for the dinner, Maura and Brandon kept a consistency of style right down to the last haricot vert. La Petite Pierre Catering & Dining in Madeira created a menu of classic fare like tomato basil tarts, lemon rosemary chicken, and of course lots of French bread and butter, and served the dinner family-style. Guests also enjoyed a sweets table laid with bundles of lemon crisp and lemon cupcakes.
Maura showed off her considerable styling skills—she’s a personal stylist manager for the Kenwood Towne Centre Nordstrom—while planning the wedding’s details. For Maura, the French theme—Parisian or otherwise—didn’t mean predictable Eiffel Tower references or campy nods to Moulin Rouge. Rather, she incorporated nuanced background elements like French bistro-style music (think sounds from Amélie or Chocolat) during the cocktail hour, stylish but discreet table settings of white and black, and a small touch of whimsy: small, bright green pears as number card holders at each table. “That was a last-minute addition,” Maura admits. “We couldn’t find stands.” No matter. She improvised by cutting a small slot into one side of each pear and laminating the cards to keep them fresh through the night.
Green wasn’t the only color on the tables. Maura and Brandon were getting married in a garden, and a garden party they would have. Sekowski set silver footed bowls on the soft gray table runners—emblazoned at the ends with the same design from the invitations—and filled them with dark pink roses and light pink hydrangeas that spilled over the sides.
But Sekowski saved her most impressive display for Maura and Brandon’s table: a large oval-shaped arrangement with an on-trend ombré design. “I saw the idea so long ago, but I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it,” Maura says. “Kristen loved it and said ‘let’s run with that!’ ” The arrangement consisted of roses, hydrangeas, and peonies ranging from dark, medium, and light pink, and then finally to white. “It was really fun just to be able to experiment and play around,” Sekowski remembers.
Maura and Brandon relied on the kindness of good friends and family to complete their wedding vision: A friend made the cake, which looked just like a small, two-tiered version of Maura’s beaded Monique Lhuillier gown. Another friend hand-wrote the place cards. But more than anything, Maura and Brandon counted on guests to be good sports—and they did not disappoint.
The couple chose May 5th as their wedding date, which was both Cinco de Mayo and Derby Day. Rather than throw a French Park fiesta, Brandon and Maura opted to embrace their proximity to The Bluegrass State. Invitations read, “In the spirit of the Kentucky Derby, hats and fascinators are encouraged!” and friends and family ran with the request, turning out in hats of every color, shape, and size. The bride joined the fun, changing out of her birdcage veil and into a white feather fascinator.
As the sun went down, the tents glowed brighter. And when the moon began to rise, it became clear that this would be no ordinary lunar display. May 5 was a “supermoon,” which occurs when a full moon’s orbit brings it closer to Earth than usual. The result was spectacular: A larger-than-life moon lighting up the night sky and giving the evening a supernatural feel.
Even though the wedding itself suffered setbacks both minor and major, Maura and Brandon brought together two far-flung families for an unforgettable celebration.
Photos by Shelby Street Photography
Ceremony and Reception: French House, Amberley Village
Dress: Monique Lhuillier, Bridal and Formal
Flowers: Yellow Canary Flowers & Event Design
Catering: La Petite Pierre Catering & Dining
Stationery: Katie Brooks, J’adore Events