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A Sophisticated Rustic Wedding at Chez in Chicago, Illinois

High school sweethearts Mary Willoughby (33 and an AVP of business applications) and Javier Berlanga (32 and a social studies teacher) could have pani

High school sweethearts Mary Willoughby (33 and an AVP of business applications) and Javier Berlanga (32 and a social studies teacher) could have panicked when the catering company that owned their reception venue called a month before their wedding to let them know the facility would not be ready by their wedding date because of city permit issues. Instead, they relied on their caterer to help them find a new venue—one that felt, according to Mary, fancy enough for guests to get “dressed to the nines” yet comfortable enough to “kick off their shoes and dance up a storm.” The caterer helped them secure Chez in Chicago, Illinois, covered the cost of the notification postcard to guests and picked up any price difference between the two spaces. “The new space, while still a loft, had a very different feel,” Mary says of the white-painted brick walls, white columns, white drapery and contemporary glass staircase. They were able to stay with the original navy blue, silver and green color scheme but changed the floral arrangements and linens to create a city vibe with a rustic yet sophisticated feel. Personal elements included exchanging vows in the same church Mary’s parents were married, incorporating a Spanish reading during the ceremony and hiring a mariachi band to play during cocktail hour to honor to Jav’s Mexican heritage, and creating a memory wall and special song in honor of the Jav's late mother. The reception focused heavily on great food (with vegetarian and vegan choices) and music that appealed to all ages. What could have been a planning disaster was kept under control, thanks to the Mary and Jav's easygoing personalities, the assistance of their pros and never losing sight of what was important—their commitment to each other. Plus, Mary says, it helped that they were pretty good at making fast decisions without driving themselves crazy second-guessing. In the end, “Our wedding turned out beautifully, so we can’t complain.” —Chrissy Sorenson

Mary and Jav worked with a graphic designer friend to create an invitation with the Chicago skyline silhouette and a black-and-white grain wood pattern, tied with a silver ribbon. The envelopes were bright navy blue with a silver lining. The couple printed the envelopes, invitations, programs, escort cards and menu poster board at home and assembled the invitation themselves.
Mary added some sparkle to her look with simple Mia Clarissa ballet flats in pewter.
Mary wasn’t wasn't seeking a specific type of wedding gown but wanted more than a traditional white dress. She saw a strapless organza blush trumpet-style Vera Wang when it initially debuted, and it left an impression. After she tried it on, “the color and feel were perfect,” she says, adding that no other dress compared. She bought the matching blush veil and used a portion of the material to create small cap sleeves, then added a navy belt to match the bridesmaid dresses.
Mary, who admitted she was totally ignorant about flowers, met with the florist and pointed out what she liked from the florist’s portfolio.
The bridesmaids chose any dress style they liked in the Marine color (a bright navy) from David’s Bridal. Length, fabric and style were up to them. They selected any silver shoe style they liked and accessorized however they chose. “The goal was to help each woman look fabulous and feel comfortable the day of the wedding,” Mary says.
The one thing Mary had her heart set on was getting married at the same church where her parents were married. Because a number of attendees were not Catholic, the couple opted for a wedding ceremony instead of Mass. To celebrate Jav’s heritage, the second reading was done in Spanish (with an English translation in the program).
During the cocktail hour, guests were serenaded by a mariachi trio, a Mexican wedding tradition.
A photo display of family members who had died—including Jav's mother and godmother—was set up near the gift area. In addition to framed photos, tealights and floral arrangements, this quote was also on the shelf: "To live in hearts we left behind is not to die."
The couple offered signature cocktails: a Tequila Mojito (for Jav) and Southern Cucumber (for Mary), served in mason jar drink dispensers.
To surprise Jav, Mary (a cantor and member of her church choir) and her mom and siblings performed a four-part a cappella arrangement of the Beatles' “In My Life,” a tribute to his mother. Jav was touched by the sweet and thoughtful gesture.
Wooden tables, taupe runners (rather than linens), candles and local and naturally sourced floral arrangements created a sophisticated yet rustic vibe at Chez in Chicago, Illinois. Three types of centerpieces provided some variety: a single large arrangement in a wooden box flanked by pillar candles, a branch surrounded by flower clusters in small vases and three smaller arrangements in glass mason jars with flower clusters in small vases. The tablescapes were further accented with tealights.
Silver table numbers were attached to small wooden squares, adding to the rustic ambiance.
Mary and Jav sat at their own small table during the reception at Chez in Chicago, Illinois.
Mary and Jav’s first dance was to “3 Rounds and a Sound” by Blind Pilot, a band they have seen in concert many times. “This song resonates because it speaks to finding someone who really knows you, sees your flaws but still accepts you for who you are, and challenges you to become who you can be,” Mary says.
Because the couple served other desserts, the chocolate, raspberry and hazelnut two-tier cake was deliberately kept small and simple. Mary made the cake topper using the couple’s initials.
Dulce de Leche eclairs, chocolate mousse-filled strawberries dipped in ganache, and key lime meringue tarts were displayed on wooden wine crates.