A gal never knows whom she might be sitting next to on the airplane. For Debra Alexis, it happened to be her future husband, Peter Drake. It was during a flight from Orange County to Chicago that the couple met and formed a friendship. Over the course of several years, it developed into a full-blown romance. While their future together may not have been immediately clear to Debra during that first trip, the lucky man seated next to her never had doubt. “He always knew that we would end up together, happy and in love,” says Debra.

And happy in love they were, especially during another jaunt they took together, while sailing their yacht from Bay Harbor, Mich. to Chicago. “We went into town to have a walk. We had been sitting on this white bench, looking at the fish in the water, when Peter got down on one knee and asked me to spend the rest of my life together with him,” recalls Debra. “I did not hesitate in saying yes!”

Nor did the couple waste any time in finding the ultimate location for the wedding. After considering Caribbean locales like Great Exuma in the Bahamas and Necker Island in Virgin Gorda (Sir Richard Branson’s private island), Debra and Peter chose a jewel closer to home: the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach. As soon as they entered the property, with its updated Craftsman style and expansive oceanfront balcony, the couple was sold. “We decided at that moment we would be getting married at Montage.”

Fortunate to be retired (Debra sold her aerospace manufacturing company; Peter is a former investment banker), the couple enjoys traveling together extensively. A trip to Europe inspired them to design the look of their wedding around the lushness and fragrant beauty of a formal French garden. Manicured hedges, topiaries and archways, and lilies of the valley, roses, and tulips transported guests to a romantic, fantasy world ideal for their black tie affair. Originally, the couple had planned an outdoor ceremony, but due to rain that threatened to ruin their plans, Debra and Peter decided the week of the event to bring the outdoors in. For the bride and groom, the ceremony re-design was “amazingly, stunningly beautiful.” In fact, they felt it achieved an even cozier level of intimacy than would have existed otherwise.

For ten precious minutes, the couple enjoyed some alone time together before joining 104 guests for the ceremony. The bride was radiant in a custom-designed beaded sheath dress and a one-of-a-kind platinum, diamond and pearl necklace and matching earrings that Peter designed for her as a wedding gift. Once they were married, Peter changed into a white dinner jacket to escort his new wife into a most luxurious reception. Guests were seated at large square tables for the decadent wedding feast, which began with a roasted butternut squash soup, followed with a stacked salad of avocado, pecans and goat cheese, and continued with a choice of poached Maine lobster, roasted game hen or filet mignon for the main course. Because Peter does not eat dessert, the couple did not want to participate in the traditional cake cutting; instead, Debra and Peter served each guest his or her own two-tiered wedding cake, an idea suggested by their florist.

With a lively band giving off a retro, East Coast vibe, Debra and Peter’s guests were able to work up a whole new appetite for the farewell surprise that awaited them. A “sweet dreams table” was set up right outside the ballroom, offering a variety of white colored treats. It was another lovely example of what Debra and Peter’s wedding was all about—the art of giving—whether it was to their guests, to each other, or to those in need. In lieu of a gift registry, the couple requested that their loved ones consider making a donation to a chosen charity.

And in addition to their spectacular affair, the newlyweds gave themselves another memorable trip. Debra and Peter spent their enviable honeymoon enjoying the sights of Milan and relaxing lakeside in Como, Italy.