For bride Danielle Zwirn, one of the most difficult decisions she faced when organizing her nuptials to groom Charlie Friend was whether to host the event in her beloved hometown of New York, or his native city Chicago, where the couple resides. Rediscovering a meaningful venue that had housed numerous events for the groom’s family over the years—including his own bar mitzvah—helped her resolve the dilemma, and once the location was established planning quickly became a family affair.

“Everyone in both our immediate families really chipped in to help us create the perfect wedding weekend,” effuses the bride. The mother of the groom contributed her knowledge of interior design and was instrumental in crafting the overall look and feel of the weekend, while his sister served as the matron of honor, providing invaluable advice and support. “I have adored Charlie’s family for years,” states the bride. “But the wedding planning process brought us even closer.” Her own mother, an artist, hand-painted the couple’s kettubah. In addition, Danielle made one special trip home so that her grandmother, Pearl, could help her make a final decision on her wedding dress. “I couldn’t pick it without her approval,” the bride admits.

As for the groom, he readily contributed to the musical and culinary aspects of the evening by selecting both the playlist for the band as well as the cocktail hour and dinner menus. However, his primary goal was to make sure his bride received the day of her dreams. “It was important to me, first and foremost, that Danni was happy with all aspects of the wedding,” he affirms.

Though she had originally contemplated an open-air ceremony, the bride chose instead to avoid the possible weather hazards of an alfresco event and transform the Grand Ballroom with dramatic floor-to-ceiling drapery so as to create the impression of an elegant backyard tent. A custom-made bronze sculpture of four trees was covered in vanilla-hued azaleas and served as the couple’s chuppah, further conjuring the sense of the outdoors, while glistening chandeliers were suspended above for glamorous effect.

The sizable wedding party consisted of 24 of the couple’s dearest friends and family members. Bridesmaids wore black floor-length dresses of their choosing, while groomsmen were clad in dapper tuxedos. The bride dazzled in an ivory gown that featured a sweetheart neckline and stunning embroidery. She carried an equally breathtaking bouquet of stephanotis flowers, each bud boasting a single pearl in its center to honor her grandmother. The duo continued to pay homage to their relations by incorporating significant items into the service, such as a family heirloom bible and the wedding bands of the groom’s maternal grandparents. Vows written and exchanged by the couple offered a final personalized element to the heartfelt ceremony.

As the newlyweds shared their first kiss as husband and wife, the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus emerged from behind the designated altar to perform a celebratory song, a joyful surprise planned by the couple themselves. “The audience was in complete shock!” exclaims the groom. “It was an unbelievable moment executed to perfection.”

Cocktail hour was held in the venue’s living room and offered an array of decadent hors d’oeuvres and frosty beverages. Guests then located place cards in a grassy boxwood hedge display and proceeded through an entryway framed by an impressive wall of greenery and azaleas. Inside the dining area, flowing fabric cascading from the walls and ceiling once again disguised the space of the ballroom. Customized tables covered in a creamy lacquer showcased metallic-rimmed charger plates, lucid candleholders, and arrangements of coral peonies in mirrored vessels. “We wanted the look to be modern, sleek, and clean,” explains the bride. “Using a monochromatic single flower kept the design simple but striking.”

Their classic snowy-white wedding confectionary was adorned with intricate piping, as well as a few scattered peonies, and featured alternating layers of banana cake with peanut butter frosting and coconut cake with coconut cream filling. “I had a slice of each,” admits the bride. Following warm speeches and a memorable first dance encircled by family and friends, the party continued well into the evening.  

Chicago turned out to be the perfect host city for the duo’s once-in-a-lifetime weekend, and every aspect of their day surpassed their expectations: from the flowers and the food to the décor and the dancing. However, there was one moment in particular that both bride and groom designated as the highlight of the evening. “One of the best memories I have was right after the ceremony when Charlie and I had a glass of Champagne, just the two of us,” recalls the bride of their first time alone as husband and wife. The groom couldn’t agree more. “We discussed how much we meant to one another,” he remembers. “It was truly special and something I will never forget.”