Newlyweds and their dog are photographed post-ceremony at their enchanted waterfront wedding in Chicago.

The Making of an Enchanted Waterfront Wedding for Emily and Max

Chicago, Illinois
BY SHIRA SAVADA / 04 26 23
Photo by Clary Pfeiffer Photography

Every wedding vendor team is created a little differently. In this series we explore how and why each couple selected the right wedding vendor team for their wedding day.

In February 2020, Emily and Max designed an engagement ring together. Emily felt very strongly about being involved in the look of the piece (she wanted something unique and understated), and Max was more than happy to have the help. Working with Rebecca Overmann, the couple chose a gray, rose-cut, triangular diamond with a simple setting and a thin gold band.

And then the pandemic hit. Thinking it would only last for a couple of weeks, Emily asked Max if he could wait to propose until it was over. At the time, they were quarantining with Emily’s family in Chicago (the couple lived in San Francisco at the time), and after a few months, they realized the pandemic wasn’t going anywhere and waiting wasn’t worth it.

On a lovely late-summer afternoon, complete with lunch, drinks, and a walk along Lake Michigan with their corgi, Einstein, Max popped the question. Emily was able to squeeze out a “yes!” amidst her immediate bout of happy tears. Coincidentally, the proposal was less than 100 feet from where Emily’s father had proposed to her mother in the late ’80s. Portraits with a photographer friend followed, as did a socially distanced engagement party with friends and family. 

The couple moved back to Chicago during their engagement and returned to the Windy City’s waterfront for another milestone summer day. On July 16, 2022—a refreshingly mild day—Emily and Max said “I do.”


Wedding Planner, Designer, & Floral Producer

Just as Emily had been involved with the ring design, she had also given plenty of thought to what the wedding day would be like. In fact, she had actually made her first wedding planning move before Max proposed. A friend of a friend had recommended event planner and designer Jesse Deckard at Bliss Events, and after meeting him earlier in the summer of 2020, it was clear he was going to be perfect for Emily and Max.

The Bliss Events team would handle all of the planning, design, and floral production in-house, creating the enchanted and playful celebration. Inspiration came from Emily’s love of fairies, greenery, and unexpected, thoughtful touches. A final request was that everything feel very comfortable and personal.

The bride designed all of the stationery at her enchanted waterfront wedding, including place cards and menus that read
Newlyweds applaud during a speech recited during the reception of their enchanted waterfront wedding.

The ceremony was kept simple to let the Lake Michigan and Chicago skyline views speak for themselves. A pair of oversized garden urns filled with a variety of ferns, ivy, and tall ficus Audrey trees adorned the lawn, as the focus was on greenery with minor accents of textural white flowers. Emily carried a bouquet composed of a mix of ferns and ivy too, paired with lotus and poppy pods, and white astilbe. (The ivy component was extra-special, as Emily has a tattoo of it.) The bouquet was one of Jesse’s favorite ones that he’s ever made.

A ficus Audrey tree surrounded by additional greenery was a focal point of an enchanted waterfront wedding in Chicago.
For her enchanted waterfront wedding, the bride carried a bouquet of mostly greenery with accents of white astible.

For the reception, the bride’s love of foliage, textures, and candlelight played a major role, as the dinner space was designed to feel like everyone was sharing a meal under the twinkling stars and a canopy of greenery on a warm summer day.

Pale wood wishbone chairs surround oval reception tables, set under a canopy of draping, twinkle lights, and greenery at a enchanted waterfront wedding in Chicago.
A mix of candles and small arrangements of greenery and white flowers decorated the tables at a enchanted waterfront wedding.

Wedding Venue & Officiants

In getting to know the couple and discussing what they wanted on their wedding day, Jesse considered venues that would suit Emily and Max’s needs. The couple was not interested in a stereotypical wedding. Rather, they wanted their day to feel like a beautiful, green, lakeside dinner party with all of their favorite people.

Theater on the Lake was pitched right away, and Emily and Max fell in love with the space (from afar) and trusted the Bliss Events team and their years of experience working with the venue. In addition to its outdoor, waterfront ceremony lawn, its indoor space—a recently refurbished prairie-style building with 1920s touches—could accommodate the couple’s 250 wedding guests. Plus, it was pet-friendly, so Einstein could be part of the ceremony, walking down the aisle with Emily’s 2-year-old cousin and heading safely home after with the help of a trusted dog sitter.

“It was my dream to get married by Lake Michigan, and surprisingly, there aren’t a ton of venues that can accommodate everything we wanted by the lake. We didn’t really consider other venues and actually didn’t visit Theater on the Lake before booking it! Jesse listened closely to my vision, and given that he had worked on weddings at the venue several times before, we trusted his guidance. He was so helpful in managing negotiations with the venue. For example, because he had experience there previously, he knew to ensure several things were in the contract that saved us later on.” —Emily, bride

An aerial view of an enchanted waterfront wedding on Lake Michigan, with the skyline of Chicago in the distance behind the bride and groom.
A groom and bride, and their corgi, smile after getting married in an enchanted waterfront wedding ceremony.

The venue also allowed for movement and grand reveals as the celebration unfolded. It all began with the relaxed, non-religious, and highly personalized ceremony on the lawn. Emily and Max’s siblings officiated, each talking about the first time they met their sibling’s future spouse and how the duo had grown. Emily’s mom, Max’s mom, and Max’s godmother each gave readings: “Romance” by Jamie Varon, “I Have Just Said” by Mary Oliver, and “To The Man I Married” by famous Filipina poet Angela Manalang Gloria, the last of which was recited to honor the groom’s heritage and love for the culture.

Emily’s maids of honor and Max’s best men stood on opposite sides of whom they would typically stand behind; that way, the bride and groom could see their faces throughout, respectively. The final special touch was the exchanging of simple-yet-personal vows the couple wrote themselves.

The couple's siblings officiated their enchanted waterfront wedding ceremony in front of Lake Michigan.

After a post-ceremony cocktail hour on the patio, guests ventured inside for dinner, where tables were adorned with an eclectic mix of colored vases holding textural foliage and fresh, aromatic herbs, as well as white and green blooms like reflexed tulips, butterfly ranunculus, Queen Anne’s lace, petite pearl hydrangea, viburnum, and scabiosa pods. Also in the mix? Terrariums filled with mosses and ferns, gray taper candles in amber glass vessels, and rattan-wrapped tea lights. Following dinner, it was on to one more space to let loose on the dance floor.

“The reception was a progression through the venue, going through drapes in part of the reception. This not only works perfectly with the layout of the space, it also creates separation so we can create different looks for each. It’s fun for guests to experience a new area.” —Jesse Deckard, planner/designer

Greenery and herbs took center stage on each of the oval tables at this enchanted waterfront wedding.
Drapery softened the event space where dinner took place at an enchanted waterfront wedding, and later was pulled back to reveal an after-party room.

Wedding Entertainment

A string quartet played during the ceremony, cocktail hour, and into dinner. BKO from BeatMix Music (who handled all entertainment for the event) took the stage when it was time to let loose. The couple opted out of a first dance and instead stood up to welcome their guests to the dance floor following all the speeches. They thanked everyone and curtains opened up to reveal the dance floor just as the band started their set—an iconic way to kick off the latter portion of the celebration. 

To reconnect at the end of the set, the newlyweds shared a last dance to “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads, which is Max’s favorite song and one he sent to Emily early on in their relationship. As the night continued, so did the musical progression—a DJ spun some of the couple’s frequently listened-to artists.

“The dance floor was—to use a friend’s word—unhinged. Our friends and family love to dance (even Jesse and our band said it was the most dancing they had seen at a wedding), so we wanted to make sure it was decorated well. We had a ton of disco balls reflecting light across the room, and Jesse created the most stunning bar I have ever seen. He lit a bunch of candles to shine through the transparent bar, making it moody and gorgeous.” —Emily, bride

The bride and her guests danced the night away at her enchanted waterfront wedding.
The bride changed into a short dress for the end of the night at her enchanted waterfront wedding.
Under an installation of disco balls, guests packed the dance floor at an enchanted waterfront wedding.

Wedding Photographer

Clary Pfeiffer was recommended to photograph the event, as her ethereal aesthetic and easy-going personality were a good fit for the couple. During the couple’s initial conversations with Clary, Emily and Max shared that they were excited about their ceremony and having the city captured while they exchanged their vows. Come wedding day, Clary created those skyline pics (thanks to the use of a drone), as well as equally gorgeous images taken inside during the reception.

“I’ve photographed weddings at the venue a few times previously, but the way the Bliss Events team incorporated all the elements of the space for Emily and Max made it a joy to photograph. The terracotta pots matching the floor and the draping made the dining space feel like a greenhouse, plus Emily and Max are so warm and kind. They gave greenery bracelets at the start of their celebration, and a couple was holding hands during speeches, with hers still on at that point in the night. That black and white image is a favorite I created.” —Clary, photographer

A groom and bride (who holds a bouquet of mostly greenery) smile for a portrait during their enchanted waterfront wedding, with views of Lake Michigan throughout the ceremony.
A man holds a woman's hand, while she wears a bracelet made of fresh greenery given to her during the ceremony of an enchanted waterfront wedding.

Wedding Caterer & Cake Maker

After a cocktail hour during which guests enjoyed passed appetizers including assorted maki and sushi, lumpia prito (a Filipino pork spring roll that was Max’s favorite), bacon-wrapped dates, and chicken adobo tacos (Emily’s favorite), it was time to sit down for dinner. Family-style meal service was important to the bride and groom, and Jesse suggested Food For Thought, as their presentation is inspired, their food is delicious, and their service is top-notch.

The meal began with a salad of field greens with watermelon and feta. Slow-roasted beef tenderloin, grilled Chilean sea bass, and hand-rolled ricotta gnocchi came next, accompanied by three sides: elote, broccolini and cipollini onions, and old-fashioned macaroni and cheese.

At an enchanted waterfront wedding, passed appetizers included a mix of cuisines, from Filipino spring rolls to bacon-wrapped dates.
Dinner at an enchanted waterfront wedding began with a watermelon and feta salad.

Emily likes cake, but Max doesn’t, and neither felt a strong preference for which type to pick. On the other hand, Emily’s mom loves cake and was delighted to step in as the decision maker on that front. A simple, three-layer confection from Sweet Mandy B’s with a trio of cake flavors (white, lemon, and devil’s food) was enrobed in buttercream frosting and decorated with fresh blooms and greenery. Emily’s mom and her friend also cut the cake at the wedding, which made for hilarious photos.

As for the other dessert options, the couple went big (but in mini-form), with both passed and plated bite-size desserts. Churros, blueberry snickerdoodle ice cream sandwiches, key lime pie tartlets, petite cheesecakes, and boozy milkshakes were served, leaving no sweet tooth unsatisfied. Savory (and small) late-night fare also made the rounds in the form of pretzel bites, chicken sliders, and Chicago-style hot dogs.

A three-tier cake was covered with buttercream and fresh flowers and ferns at an enchanted waterfront wedding.
Since the bride and groom aren't big fans of cake, the bride's mom and her friend cut into the cake at their enchanted waterfront wedding.

Wedding Hair & Makeup Artists

Emily was inspired by the 1920s elements at Theater on the Lake and opted, fittingly, for an “Old Hollywood glamor” look but with her own twist. She wanted to look back at photos and have them feel classic, and since her hair was platinum blonde at the time, she channeled Marilyn Monroe (and Lady Gaga’s look at the 2016 Oscars) with her soft waves. Stylist Ashley Santoro of Ash Beach Waves nailed the hair, and RC Beauty aced the light pink makeup application. Both stylists also provided glam for Emily’s mom, two maids of honor, and her two friends.

A bride and her two maids of honor all had their hair and makeup done for the enchanted waterfront wedding.
A bride walks down the aisle with her father and mother during her enchanted waterfront wedding.

Wedding Stationer

It was important to Emily that she handled all printed items herself. Throughout her marketing career, she’s used design tools to create various materials, and the enchanted waterfront wedding was no different. Her vision was to draw on the 1920s era of the venue and add neutral, nature-inspired colors for a playful style. Save-the-dates and invitations were made from templates on Minted that Emily customized. She then worked with a few other online vendors, uploading her designs and approving proofs in just a few clicks.

Welcome bags were given to guests at an enchanted waterfront wedding in Chicago and included a local staple: Garrett popcorn.
The bride designed the signage at her enchanted waterfront wedding using artwork created by a graphic designer friend.

Her friend Julia Mangeri of Iron Leaf Creative drew line art to use on signage and some of the cocktail napkins Emily ordered. Other napkins featured a screenshot of a text exchange from early in the couple’s courtship. Having met on a dating app, Max’s bio read “So are we thinking sushi or tacos?” as a prompt for what to get on a first date. Delighted because those are two of her favorite foods, Emily messaged him back with, “How about we get sushi and tacos so we don’t have to choose between the two?” The rest is history.

At the bar of an enchanted waterfront wedding, simple signage outlined the options while simple illustrations on cocktail napkins added a bit of personality.
Cocktail napkins at an enchanted waterfront wedding showcased the couple's initial conversation about getting tacos or sushi.

Wedding Lighting Designer, Draping, Decor, & Rentals

The ceiling decor, ethereal draping, and lighting were the stars of the show at the reception thanks to FROST Chicago. The dining room space was draped with flowing swags of chiffon, winding vines of wild green smilax, and mini twinkle lights. Uplighting washed the perimeter of the room, adding to the cozy ambiance.

Bliss Events often uses many rental companies to piece together the perfect scenes for their clients, from tabletop to bars to lounge furniture. Emily and Max’s wedding was no exception. An early focus of Emily’s was the reception chairs. She wanted a great chair to be used for the reception, and after reviewing the options from all the local options, Bliss Events discovered Nüage Designs, Inc. had recently purchased wishbone chairs that would blow Emily away. They would surround the oval-shaped dinner tables, which were dressed with a textured raw linen tablecloth custom-made by Tailored Elements. Those elements created a neutral foundation for the place settings.

An enchanted waterfront wedding included an indoor reception set with oval tables and wishbone chairs.
Modern plates and flatware were used at each place setting of this enchanted waterfront wedding.

“We and our clients are really loving oval tables these days as it really makes conversation much easier than a big round table because the distance across the table is much less and you have people on each side of you. It feels much more cozy and intimate, which was a huge priority for Emily and Max.” —Jesse Deckard, planner/designer

Additional pieces from Halls Rental, Northern Decor, and Bowery & Bash included gold-rimmed plates, modern gray-and-gold flatware, classic glassware, handsome leather-and-wood seating areas at dinner, and velvet sofas and chairs for lounging in the dance room.

Leather and wood rental furniture composed the lounge areas of an enchanted waterfront wedding.
A bride and groom gave a speech at the end of dinner at their enchanted waterfront wedding.
Candles illuminated a translucent bar from within at an enchanted waterfront wedding reception in Chicago.
For the dancing portion of an enchanted waterfront wedding, disco balls were hung and chic, velvet furniture was arranged for those needing a break.

Wedding Audio Guest Book & Photo Booth

FêteFone was a fun touch the couple added as a way for guests to have fun and create a special memory. In addition to people writing well wishes to the couple in a traditional guest book, loved ones left audio messages on an old-school dial-up phone, which were delivered to the newlyweds exactly a month after the big day. Guests also left their mark by posing for pics in the Snapbooth photo booth.

At an enchanted waterfront wedding, guests wrote in a traditional guest book and also left audio messages on a retrofitted phone.
The couple's siblings officiated their enchanted waterfront wedding ceremony in front of Lake Michigan.
A Waterfront Wedding for Emily and Max
Clary Pfeiffer Photography