“The moment I saw Dan, I knew he was special,” confides Ellen Africano. She was at a friend’s barbecue in Old Town Chicago one summer, when she noticed a man with “a bright red mop of hair and a laugh that is every bit as noticeable,” she describes. As soon as Ellen laid eyes on him, she told her friend that she hoped he was as fun as he looks. Knowing there was only one way to know for sure, she walked right up to him and introduced herself. Just over a year later, they were engaged. “Dan and I agree that for us, it truly was love at first sight,” muses the bride.

Before an “impromptu” trip to South Beach in Florida, Dan took his future bride’s father out to lunch – a restaurant the Africano family frequented together. There, the hopeful groom asked for, and received, the blessing of Ellen’s father. Now he just needed the perfect vacation proposal. Soon after their arrival, the couple threw on their bathing suits and went to the beach. Ellen was strolling along the shallows when a message in a bottle caught her eye. Curious, she opened the bottle to discover it was from Dan. “It was a beautiful love letter that instantly brought me to tears. After reading the letter, I looked up to see Dan, kneeling in the water, ring box in hand,” shares the bride. She of course said yes, causing their fellow beach-goers to erupt in applause.

When it came to organizing the fête, Ellen and Dan did not have to look far for help. The bride’s parents – married for nearly 40 years – and the bride’s sister and brother-in-law were happy to offer advice and assistance. “We were so blessed to have a great support system throughout the whole planning process,” gushes the bride. While she did make the final decisions with Dan, the couple definitely appreciated having outside help. “Ultimately, our wonderful wedding coordinator, Hope Weis, gave us a ton of guidance through the whole process,” Ellen shares of their wedding, which was photographed by KingenSmith.

As part of their Catholic faith, the bride and groom attended Pre-Cana and held their ceremony in a Catholic church. Ellen sparkled as she walked down the aisle in her shimmering A-line gown, with a resplendent cathedral veil – borrowed from her sister – gently trailing behind. Though the ceremony was largely traditional, instead of the “Wedding March” or “Canon in D,” the bride glided to a string arrangement of the song “Clocks” by Coldplay.

Together with Hope, the bride and groom decided on an aesthetic for their wedding. Throughout their relationship, the pair often traveled to different music festivals around the country, combining their shared love of both nature and music. “Our inspiration was from one of these festivals,” the bride notes. “We wanted an enchanted forest feel.” With lush trees accented with vibrant blossoms and peacock feathers, as well as extravagant uplighting and crystals cascading from branches, the desired vibe was certainly achieved. Although they received outside planning assistance, Ellen and Dan are confident that active planning allowed their personality to show through on their wedding day, as it should. “I think the whole event and the love that is felt is a direct reflection of the couple getting married,” the bride divulges.