The drive from New Jersey to Louisiana takes approximately 23 hours to complete, and it’s a journey that Walter Gonzalez and girlfriend Kristy Schwarzmann undertook numerous times while the former attended law school in New Orleans. In fact, it was those road trips that helped convince Walter he was ready to propose to his high school sweetheart. “Traveling with someone for long distances shows you a lot about a person’s character,” he explains. “It became obvious that she was my traveling partner, not just on drives, but also in life.”

Shortly after getting engaged, Kristy set about organizing the couple’s autumn affair in their beloved home state. “Planning our wedding was a wonderful experience,” says the bride. “I had help from good friends, Wally, and my incredible mother.” In addition, an experienced planner helped bring Kristy’s vision to fruition. “She took all of our ideas and our incredible venue, and turned them into our dream wedding.”

A historic estate was selected for the wedding site as it offered a single location for both ceremony and reception. It also fulfilled the groom’s request that the couple wed outdoors. On the day of the nuptials, plush velvet chairs in hues of eggplant and gunmetal were positioned in concentric rows on either side of the ceremony aisle, providing guests a perfect view of the vow exchange as well as the beautiful scenery that surrounded them. Behind the altar, four obsidian vases set on a Lucite platform displayed an eclectic arrangement of fuchsia and magenta blossoms overflowing with chartreuse greenery. Bridesmaids, dressed in floor-length aubergine gowns, carried nosegays in tones of purple and lime, while a lone flower girl sprinkled rose petals from a ladylike “purse” fashioned of green button mums accented with orchids.

Donning a sporty black tuxedo and necktie, the groom appeared cool and confident. On the inside, however, he admits to feeling anything but. “I remember thinking, ‘Stand up straight… Don’t make an awkward smile… There’s still time… Don’t ruin it!’” he quips. However, his worries were quickly put to ease by the sight of his breathtaking bride floating down the aisle in a fairy-tale ball gown. In her hands, Kristy carried a bouquet of calla lilies collared by orchids, the stems wrapped in a swatch of lace from her grandmother’s wedding dress. “She was perfect,” reflects the groom.

In addition to writing their own vows, the couple took care to fill the ceremony with personalized moments and symbolic gestures that honored the groom’s Spanish heritage and paid respect to the bride’s relations. “We acknowledged my family by using the same brass candlestick for our lighting ceremony that my grandparents had given to my parents for their wedding,” explains Kristy. During one particularly memorable and humorous moment, the officiant read a few items from a list Walter had composed prior to the ceremony (under the assumption it would be kept private), which explained the various reasons he loved his wife. “Everyone learned that I thought she could handle herself pretty well during a zombie apocalypse!” he laughs.

Following a jovial cocktail hour held on the vast balcony of the mansion, guests ventured indoors for the second half of the evening’s festivities. Texture and color were playfully integrated against a monochromatic color scheme to produce a modern, dynamic appearance throughout the venue. The contemporary theme was inspired by one of the bride’s initial detail selections: table linens that featured a black-velvet pattern of vines. “That really set the tone for the reception,” she reveals.

Settings composed of a variety of centerpieces, linens, and candleholders delighted guests. “Each table had a different tablescape that tied into the overall theme,” explains the bride. To unify the eclectic look, every place setting featured a silver charger plate, a deep purple napkin, a dinner menu, and a single cymbidium orchid. Even the groom was wowed by the final result. “The flower arrangements were pretty amazing,” he exclaims. “It was as if we were in nature, but somehow someone came in and made nature even more vibrant.”

After dinner, violet lighting cast a celebratory atmosphere as guests danced the night away atop a black-and-white checkered dance floor. A lively band played the couple’s favorite songs, an element that was one of the groom’s primary contributions to the evening. “Music is a huge part of my life,” he says. “I spent countless hours researching bands online, listening to demos, and thinking about which ensemble best represented us.”

The couple’s crystal-topped wedding cake featured alternating layers of amethyst fondant with a white lattice pattern and ivory fondant with a filigree design. Guests were presented with hot cider and cookies as parting favors upon exiting the reception.

Delighted with every aspect of their nuptials, the couple offers a bit of conventional advice to future brides and grooms: Take time to enjoy your wedding because it goes by very quickly. “Before Wally and I entered the reception, we took a moment alone on the patio to enjoy each other’s company, the beautiful night, and our new status as husband and wife,” Kristy offers by way of example. The simple scene captured the grand significance of the couple’s flawless day, and serves as a lovely illustration of being truly in the moment.