After a very close friendship over a number of years, Illana and Vanessa found love in an unexpected place, together. They wed in a Jewish ceremony, beachside.

They met ten years ago when they joined the gymnastics team at college and quickly became close friends. It stayed that way, for a few years. They both dated men over the years, neither ever having a serious relationship.

Together, Illana and Vanessa spent most nights in each other’s dorms, talked on the phone every day over college breaks, planned long road trips together and sometimes held hands – never really thinking anything of it.

After college, Illana moved to India while Vanessa finished senior year and they spent the year in a platonic long-distance relationship.

Upon return to the USA, Illona convinced Vanessa to come to her high school union with her. Not shockingly, the event left much to be desired, and they slipped off to a bar with some friends. That night, as they laid down to go to sleep next to one another like they had done hundreds of times before, they locked eyes in a way they never had before, and Illana lent in and kissed Vanessa.

It took hours of processing what had happened in the weeks to come, but that night ended up being the last night in a ‘platonic’ relationship. They each came out to their respective families over the next year and moved in together two years later.

Illana planned a surprise proposal at their old college campus. On their favourite grassy knoll where they used to meet between classes, Illana proposed with a ring and a photo book of the last 10 years of friendship and love.

It was important to the couple that the wedding felt intimate and gave an opportunity to their family and friends from around the world to spend quality time together. To accomplish this, they knew that a traditional 1-2 day wedding weekend at a hotel and venue wouldn’t work – instead, they began looking for other options.

Eventually, thanks to Airbnb, they found a perfect beachfront home in North Carolina that slept 60 people and a large covered pool deck large enough for 100-150 people – they were sold, booking it before they even saw it!

For Vanessa, finding the perfect dress came easy. She found the perfect dress on a whim when she popped into a bridal store one afternoon by herself.

Illana, however, searched for 6 months and couldn’t find anything she loved. It wasn’t until she needed to buy a specific bridesmaid dress for her Brother’s wedding that she found ‘the one’. Since she was already spending money on that dress, why not reuse it! She took it to a wedding dress designer in Oklahoma who added some lace and changed the belt – boom, a new wedding dress!

Much of the wedding was DIY and family played a big role during the day. They put together floral arrangements and décor. Instead of having people write messages to them in a guest book, Illana and Vanessa made postcards for people to write to their members of Congress about the importance of LBGT rights and marriage equality.

Religion also played a big part in the day. Illana is Jewish and loves many of the traditional Jewish wedding traditions. Vanessa is not Jewish however wanted to feel connected to each piece of the ceremony and day, so the newlyweds chose to adapt a lot of Jewish wedding traditions to make them both secular and gay-friendly.

They had a Ketubah and signing ceremony that they wrote themselves and their Mothers wrapped us in a cloth and recited a blessing they wrote instead of the traditional blessing recited when traditionally the parents of the bride do the wrapping. Instead of the traditional seven blessings, Illana and Vanessa asked seven of their family and friends to write a blessing for us and recite them during the ceremony. They wrote their own vows in addition to the Jewish vows and stomped on two glasses, together, in cowboy boots.

As so many guests were travelling from around the world, the beachside home was rented for the entire week. And that week, was perfect. Favourite memories were the little things that were unplanned or left a surprise. Illana’s Dad, who officiated the ceremony, had planned some little extra bits and an open call for speeches meant some heartfelt words from important friends.

Instead of a father/daughter dance, Illana and Vanessa asked their Dad’s to do the first dance together and their choreographed dance was amazing. The night was ended with everyone, including the newlyweds, in the pool.

Their advice to other couples when planning their own big day? Be you! “Right after we got engaged, before we panned a single thing, we sat together and mapped out what core values we held as sacred to our relationship and what core values we wanted to hold as sacred to our wedding celebration, and by extension our marriage. With each decision we made, we referenced those values and made sure we were being true to them”

Photography by Blink of an Eye Photography

Event Planner Melissa Burton at Knot Too Shabby Events | Florist Kate Fowler at The Bloom Room | Stationery | Ceremony Venue Southern Grace House | Reception Venue Southern Grace House | Catering Eaton at Home | Desserts One Belle Bakery | Lighting Wilmington Uplighting | Entertainment Joel Buff | CelebrantLarry Shushansky | Engagement Rings Moody’s Jewellery, Helzbery Diamonds | Hair Adrianne Lugo | Makeup Adrianne Lugo