When Ari Gray and Suzanne Giovangelo began to search for a Cape Cod wedding venue, they had a clear vision for their day. "We wanted a rustic beach wedding with gardens," says the bride, now Suzanne Gray, who has always spent summer weekends in Wellfleet and loves gardening at the couple's South Boston home. After touring several waterfront venues that didn't feel right, Suzanne's father, Joe Giovangelo, suggested they update the family's Wellfleet cottage, add a garden, and host a wedding in the backyard.
"We were intimidated," says Suzanne, "but excited to make the project our own."
Ari and Suzanne met through mutual friends as sophomores at Babson College in Wellesley. When they began dating the following year, Ari often joined Suzanne and her family for weekends on the Cape; he fell in love with it, too. Seven years later, Ari proposed to a shocked Suzanne on a winter getaway weekend in Portland, Maine. It would take them 18 months to prepare for their September 2014 wedding.
Improvements on the four-bedroom cottage included a long-overdue makeover that involved painting and repairing the deck and driveway, among other tasks. "It created a perfect opportunity to get the entire family working together on selected wedding preparation projects," Joe says. Joe, his son, Steven (who would be Ari's best man), and Ari did the bulk of the heavy rehab work, with friends and other family members helping out when needed.
Suzanne's favorite part was designing and planting 800 square feet of gardens abundant with shrubs, roses, grasses, and wildflowers, some of which were used in the centerpieces. The gardens reflected the breezy feel of the beach across the street, where they would exchange vows in a "very informal Jewish wedding," as Ari describes it.
"We wanted the wedding to be quaint and personal, not formal," says Ari, who works in sales for Tom James Company, a custom design clothing firm that made the men's suits for the wedding party. "It was always in my head that if we're inviting 130 guests to a beach wedding, we want to show them a good time."
"We wanted our guests to understand why we love Wellfleet so much," says Suzanne, on drawing inspiration from the landscape.
During afternoons spent clamming and oystering, they would save the shells to make salt and pepper cellars for the tables and weights for seating cards. Suzanne and her maid of honor found vintage oyster cans in an antiques store in Vermont and bought them all to use as vases. One of Ari's colleagues created signs out of old clapboard and driftwood found on the beach. "Our friends and family were so supportive. They helped from start to finish and even got down in the dirt with us to garden," says Suzanne.
On the wedding day itself, the weather was practically custom-ordered: mid-70s and sunny. While Suzanne was getting ready nearby — she wore an Oscar de la Renta gown purchased at Vows in Watertown — Ari hit the water with their friends, many of whom had been his teammates on the Babson College swim team.
In the shoe-optional ceremony on Mayo Beach, the couple walked down the aisle to steel-drum music provided by Michael Gabriel. Their Boston terrier Pippy served as the ring bearer, gamely sporting a pillow their tailor had made from leftover wedding dress material. The couple exchanged vows under a chuppah fashioned from old fence posts. Afterward, Suzanne and Ari stole away to a favorite spot known as Uncle Tim's Bridge for photos and a few minutes of calm.
"It was beautiful," says Suzanne, "but my favorite moment was coming back and seeing how everything had come together. Everyone was having fun, eating, drinking, and laughing."
To create even more laughs and capture the day in a nontraditional way, Ari built a DIY iPad photo booth in the outdoor shower. The couple added a few accoutrements for dressing up. The clapboard sign read: Grab a prop. Strike a pose. Make a memory.
Guests enjoyed food prepared by Treats Catering at the Dennis Inn. The cocktail hour featured clam chowder shooters, mini lobster rolls, and a raw bar starring those famous Wellfleet oysters. Two theme cocktails were served: Moscow Mules in copper mugs and Goombay Smash, a tropical rum punch popular at the Beachcomber, a favorite Wellfleet bar of the couple's. Dinner was swordfish and tenderloin served sit-down style in a tent. (Keeping things like lighting and linens simple allowed for the seafood splurge.)
The day-of wedding planner was also worth the expense, according to Suzanne, who is a project manager at Iora Health but has done volunteer work as an event planner. "It goes by so fast," she says, "you do not want to be stressed with last-minute issues."
"The day couldn't have been more perfect," says dad Joe. "It reinforced in my mind what a special place Wellfleet is to have a wedding or to simply relax with family. It was truly one of the best days of my life."
More from the Globe Magazine's Weddings Issue
Sandra A. Miller is a local writer and teacher. Send comments to email@example.com.