Autumnal Alfresco Celebration at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Jennifer and Stephen
Photographed by: KingenSmithLocation: Northbrook, Illinois, United States

Jen Kless’ brother set her up with his co-worker Steve Zehr because he thought the two had a lot in common. But when they showed up for their date, Jen and Steve’s styles could not have seemed more different: She was wearing fourinch red heels while he was wearing Birkenstocks. But thanks to a number of shared interests, Jen and Steve realized rather quickly that, despite their different takes on fashion, they were made for one another. In a manner befitting their lowkey personalities, Steve eventually proposed to Jen in a very relaxed setting – his kitchen – after they enjoyed dinner at one of their favorite neighborhood restaurants. As Jen likes to point out, in a less-than-romantic-but-funny turn of events, that restaurant “was subsequently closed due to health code violations.”

When it came time to choose a venue for their wedding, Jen and Steve settled on the Chicago Botanic Gardens because the natural beauty of the setting expressed their love of the great outdoors. With the vibrant colors of autumn as their guide, the couple’s talented design team––coordinator Lisa Gia Bascomb and floral designers from Heffernan Morgan, along with Calihan Catering––went to work planning a tented celebration in which every detail was elegantly harmonized. From the rich tones of the décor to the inspired menu, Jen and Steve’s wedding was a celebration of their clean and simple tastes brought to life with autumnal splendor.

As the a cappella sounds of the Chicago Children’s Choir emanated from the rafters, Jen and Steve were married in a highly personalized ceremony at a chapel on the campus of Northwestern University (where the bride attended law school). “We devoted an equal amount of time to planning the ceremony as we did the reception,” asserts Jen. They also paid careful attention to the music they chose for the entire event, opting to provide contrast to the ethereal children’s choir with a fiddle and banjo trio during the open-air cocktail hour that followed. The sound was Oktoberfestmeets- county fair, and added a touch of Steve’s rural roots (he is from a small town in central Illinois) to the urban atmosphere of Jen’s hometown.

The design of the draped reception tent was a modern interpretation of the season, with guests seated at square tables dressed in muted orange linens and framed by Asian-styled dark wood chairs. The architectural centerpieces incorporated flowers – eggplant and mangocolored calla lilies, red and green orchids, and black magic roses, to name a few – as well as candles displayed in glass cylinders and cubes. Even the first course of butternut squash bisque was artfully coordinated to complement the mood. Later, when the wedding cake – which was surrounded by bowls of fresh berries – was served, two additional types of dessert plates were placed in an alternating pattern in front of the guests, accompanied by the father of the bride’s favorite German dessert wine.

Just after Jen’s father gave his toast, the couple participated in a wedding tradition from the bride’s Southern German heritage. Jen and Steve each grabbed an end of a long saw and, together, sawed through a log to symbolize the first difficult task of married life. After they successfully cut through the wood, their guests signed the saw with well wishes for the bride and groom, turning it into an unconventional guest book.

With this task complete, dancing was all that was on Jen and Steve’s minds. They joined their guests on the dance floor, which faced a large, projected image of a high-heeled shoe paired with a Birkenstock sandal. The newlyweds also visited with guests who chose to relax in the nearby lounge area featuring cushioned benches, ottomans, and sleek couches accented by candlelight and tree branches. But their absence from the dance floor was not felt for long: “As the end of the evening was approaching, I grabbed Steve, and we spent the last hour dancing with one another, watching the crowd, and reflecting upon the day and the beginning of our life together,” remembers Jen.

According to Steve, one of the most compelling memories of the evening is of their final departure from the party, when he and his new wife walked through the gardens along a pathway that was lit by 1,500 luminaries. The small glowing lights were almost a preview of Jen and Steve’s honeymoon, one that was spent camping together in Wyoming beneath a brilliant star-filled sky.

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