“Ours is a classic boy-meets-girl story,” jokes Sam Sturm of the first time he laid eyes on Lauren Cohen. In actuality, it took quite some time before they got together. They briefly met when Lauren went to Amherst College over spring break to visit her best friend, who just so happened to be pals with Sam – nothing happened. Years later, Sam's father took advantage of celebrating Thanksgiving in the same city as old friends, and planned a family get-together, with none other than Lauren's father, who had been his college roommate, bandmate, and teammate.

“After graduating college, we both found ourselves in New York; I taught for Teach for America, Lauren recruited for them,” Sam explains. As such, they frequently ran into each other at work events – still, nothing happened. Finally, Lauren and Sam were at a mutual friend’s dinner party and went separate ways for the evening… only to end up at the same bar for separate birthday parties. It was then that they at last decided to go out together. “Our first date came seven years after we first met, and even though I showed up late, she still went on a second,” smiles Sam.

After years of being both apart and together, long distance and a brief foray into sharing a studio apartment, Sam followed Lauren across the country to San Francisco. He soon was traveling for work in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, when he was struck by the fact that he missed Lauren more than he ever had before. “And so, like most guys, I made the biggest decision of my life from a Best Western in Nairobi,” he laughs. Sam knew it was time to propose.

Trying to keep everything a secret wasn’t an easy task. On a trip back to New York for Thanksgiving, Sam made plans for the couple to get together with their friends that Tuesday, before having a 9PM dinner with her parents. After he was late to pick up Lauren, she was feeling frustrated and let him know. “‘I just want to be looped in on these things,’ I told him. ‘It’s not that I need to know every detail of every plan. In fact,’ I said, ‘I love surprises.’” That was his cue, and he asked for her to marry him. “I put the ring on, and we both started laughing uncontrollably, no doubt confusing many of the people making their way down 9th Street,” shares the bride.

Electing to hold the nuptials in their former home of New York, instead of their current residence of San Francisco, the couple relied heavily on their families when it came to organizing the big day. “Given that we were planning from 3,000 miles away, both my mother and sister did an incredible amount of work. They ensured that we stayed on track and that things were the way we envisioned them, visiting vendors after hours, on lunch breaks, and on weekends,” affirms Lauren.

In some ways, the Jewish ceremony was traditional: the kiddush cup and tallit used had been in the bride’s family for generations. However, Lauren and Sam were sure to inject their personalities into the proceedings. They wrote their own vows and included a reading of the poem “Litany” by Billy Collins. Most notably, despite the religious affiliation of the vow exchange, a gospel choir provided the music, with songs carefully chosen by the couple. “We wanted the ceremony to feel inclusive, warm, and celebratory, and what better way to get all of those things than with a gospel choir?” notes the bride.

For their winter wedding, Lauren and Sam aspired to embrace the festive spirit of the holidays without making the room feel cold. Birch branches, white orchids, silver foliage, and small LED lights were utilized to create this effect. Flocked branches, textured linens, and a creative lighting design all worked together to give the space the appearance of a snowy wonderland, while candles of varying heights helped to provide warmth.

What mattered most to the lovebirds was making sure that their 285 guests felt welcomed and loved. They both worked hard to make sure everyone would have a great time, with Sam focusing on the music played at the reception. “From the moment our guests walked in, we wanted the night to feel equal parts personal and jubilant,” he confirms. “We knew that having the right soundtrack mattered.”

Even if somehow the magical evening hadn’t been enjoyed by all, the newlyweds had the necessary perspective about what is truly important. “At the end of the day we got to marry each other and that was the best part,” Lauren reflects. Her husband adds, “When we look back on photos 30 years from now, we'll talk not just about how much skinnier and younger we looked back then, but about the smiles on our faces at that moment and the exultant, unbridled joy behind them.”