As the saying goes, love often finds us when we least expect it. That was certainly the case for Lauren Grattenthaler and Jim Willbrand, who were both in the right place at the right time—a bar in Lauren’s home town of Indianapolis, Indiana, on a January night in 2010—for a fateful encounter to occur.
“I was really tired that night, but a friend convinced me to go out for a bit,” says Lauren. “I was still feeling a little reluctant about being out instead of at home in bed when, suddenly, a woman I didn’t know walked up to me and said she had a friend who wanted to meet me. Despite feeling a little annoyed, I decided to play along, and I ended up being pleasantly surprised to find Jim on the other side of that introduction!”
That happy occurrence on a reluctant night out wasn’t the evening’s only twist, however. “It turned out that Jim had never met that woman in his life,” Lauren says. “She walked up to him and said she’d introduce him to anyone in the bar, so he looked around, and he chose me. We were introduced by a complete stranger!”
Lauren and Jim dated for three years following their chance encounter, and Jim made things official with a surprise proposal at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago in November 2014. “We were overlooking Lake Michigan, surrounded by candlelight and dozens and dozens of roses (and champagne!),” Lauren recalls. “It was the happiest, most romantic, and exciting weekend we’d ever had.”
Though the couple live in St. Louis, they opted for a destination wedding in Florida in order to spend more time celebrating with their guests. Each with family in the area, they decided on Captiva. “We both grew up going on family vacations and visiting relatives there,” Lauren says of the location. “We felt a connection to the area and it conjured up good memories from our respective childhoods.”
On September 19, 2015—Jim’s birthday—Lauren and Jim became husband and wife with a wedding at South Seas Island Resort, which the couple chose because “It was beautiful, near the ocean and beach, and had lots of lush green spaces and palm trees,” Lauren says. “Also, we could have all of our celebrations, accommodations, and relaxation in one place!”
The couple wanted a classic wedding, but with modern, cheerful, and fun details, so they worked with wedding planner Kelly McWilliams to come up with a scheme that incorporated black and white stripes, pops of fuchsia and other bright colors, and accents of gold throughout the décor and the wedding party’s attire. “It was all inspired in part by the fashion trend of mixing stripes and florals, and it was a little bit Kate Spade-inspired, too,” Lauren says. “I wanted a color and pattern palette that would pop against the blue sky, turquoise water, and the green palms, lawn, and landscape.”
Lauren and Jim were married in front of 105 friends and family in a gorgeous outdoor ceremony, after which guests were invited to a cocktail hour for drinks and island-inspired hors d’oeuvres. For the alfresco reception, guests were seated at long tables, which were set with gold flatware and chairs, breezy white tablecloths, black-and-white table runners, fuchsia napkins, and floral arrangements made with tropical-hued blooms. While the entire setting was picture-perfect, Lauren says the couple’s striped-and-gold cake, made by LadyCakes and topped with a garland by Signature Florals, was a highlight.
Another one of Lauren’s favorite decorative details—a large, striped “Cheers” sign custom-designed and made by McWilliams—was something the bride didn’t even know would be part of the party. “I designed the sign, from sketch to creation, as a surprise for Lauren and Jim,” McWilliams says. Of her handiwork, she adds, “I designed the piece, stretched the black-and-white cabana-striped fabric onto the frame, painted the wooden “cheers” gold, and then attached it to the board. Then, I worked with Sue Bain at Signature Floral to create the general look of the floral piece that she then created and attached to the three-foot-by-five-foot piece.”
The new Mr. and Mrs. Willbrand and their guests fueled up with a buffet dinner of tropical-inspired fare—jerk chicken, grouper, and grilled watermelon salad were among the dishes—which the couple chose to lend a more laid-back feel to the celebration. (If that weren’t enough of a signal that it was time to relax and have fun, an after party complete with a late-night pizza station surely did the trick.)
Lauren says that, looking back on the couple’s wedding, their favorite memories involve intimate moments stolen between events, and the participation of family and friends in their day, as well as having an entire week to share with everyone. “Many of our guests got a much-deserved (and, for us, unforgettable!) vacation out of it, and we had an absolute blast celebrating and making memories all week,” she says.
Photography: Maria Glassford Photography / Venue: South Seas Island Resort / Wedding Planning, Design, and Décor: Kelly McWilliams Celebrations, Weddings & Parties / Cake: LadyCakes / “Love” Cake Topper: BetterOffWed / Flowers: Signature Florals / Décor: Over the Top Rental Linens, Niche Event Rentals, Ten23 Designs (“Cheers” cut-out) / Bride’s Dress: Maggie Sottero / Hair and Makeup: Jamie Lyn Cintron Salon / Invitations, Menu, Signage: On Three Designs (St. Louis) / Videography: Viral Media & Films / Bridesmaids’ Dresses: David’s Bridal / Groom’s and Groomsmen’s Suits: Men’s Wearhouse / Flower Girl Dress: Etsy