Jeffrey Raphael had seamlessly planned a trip to Italy for his unsuspecting girlfriend Portia Wills. “We enjoy traveling and Jeff loves to surprise me, so I thought it was just an unexpected vacation,” Portia shares. “Two days into our excursion, he popped the question while overlooking the canals.” Jeffrey had also prepared a video featuring family and friends sending them congratulatory messages. “I was shocked that everyone was in on the secret, and it was the perfect way to feel connected to them on such a special day,” says the bride-to-be. 

Over the next 12 months, the couple arranged for their dream wedding. Jeffrey was happy to help, as were both of their mothers, each working on the areas that best fit their skill set. “It was certainly a family effort, and I’m so grateful!” reveals the bride. “Planning your wedding provides an excellent opportunity for you and your partner to work together towards a common goal. It’s also a great chance to get clear on money, expectations, family involvement, etc.” 

Portia and Jeffrey easily settled on hosting their nuptials in Washington, DC, since it’s where they met and fell in love. “It’s where we laid the foundation for our relationship, and it’s also super close to Maryland where we’re both from,” notes Portia. The couple searched for an impressive venue that would mesmerize guests the moment they entered. “Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium certainly does that with its ornate gold ceilings and classic style,” describes Portia. 

Wanting the event to feel timeless and elegant, yet still unique and memorable, Portia looked to her wedding designer and planner for guidance on the perfect décor scheme. “She hit it out of the park!” the bride declares. “Everyone that came to our ceremony and reception were blown away by the color palette.” 

A vibrant custom floral aisle runner created by The Original Runner Company made an impactful impression. On either side were glass candelabra with tapered white candles situated on mirrored podiums. Above the stage where the vow exchange would take place, amber lighting highlighted the bride and groom’s motif. Large multi-colored floral arrangements decorated the area, along with collections of votive candles. 

Bridesmaids in raspberry-colored gowns processed to melodies from live singers and musicians. “Jeff’s stepfather performed an awesome saxophone solo,” remembers Portia. The bride selected a classic A-line bridal gown featuring a bateau neckline from Wedding Atelier; she carried a lush bouquet of roses in lavender and scarlet shades blended with fresh greenery. Her groom looked dapper in a velvet ebony tuxedo. 

“I looked all around the room and took note of everyone there to support us on our day. It was an overwhelming moment and something I’ll never forget.”

As Portia and her father reached the stage, her dad decided to share a few words with guests. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after his speech. I’ve always been close to my dad, and hearing him talk about me and Jeff with such emotion was so moving,” the bride reveals. The newlyweds concluded the service with the tradition of jumping the broom, and then led their attendees to a cocktail hour where a jazz band waited. 

Wanting to pay tribute to couples who have inspired them, Portia and Jeffrey arranged for the creation of a “centerpiece wall” – the area showcased a large lighted sign that read: Black Love Matters. “We featured wedding photos of more than 20 couples who greatly influenced our lives in some way,” illustrates the groom. “Portia and I realize that the success of our relationship was in large part due to all of the positive examples we had of strong, successful, black marriages that we wanted to emulate.”

Tablescapes were arranged beautifully, with eye-catching gemstone-hued florals in either tall crystal vases or shorter centerpieces going the length of longer tables. Both styles were surrounded by compilations of romantic candlelight, while the violet uplighting of the room provided a lovely contrast. 

After the seated supper, slices of the four-tiered wedding cake were passed. The confection was bedecked with fresh blooms, the couple’s monogram, and their favorite layer: a map to symbolize their love of travel. “Haiti was highlighted in red as a nod to Jeff’s heritage,” points out the bride. 

The whirlwind of fun continued into the night where revelers enjoyed soul music, Afro-Caribbean tunes, and top hits that kept everyone on the dance floor. “Then we kept it going at our after-party in a Georgetown loft!” laughs Jeffrey. 

Though his favorite moment was watching Portia walk down the aisle, he admits that the reception was just as exceptional. “The ceremony was done, so the pressure was off,” he describes. “I looked all around the room and took note of everyone there to support us on our day. It was an overwhelming moment and something I’ll never forget.” The new Mrs. agrees, “Relish in this special time. It was more than I ever hoped it could be.”