Oh how I love a love story. Mostly one that takes place in Italy and ends up with a gorgeous Auberge Du Soleil wedding so pretty I could cry. Every moment of this couples’ gorgeous day was filled with emotion and meaning (they even said their vows in Italian as a tribute to where their story began – so good, right!?) – this wedding, beautifully captured by Clane Gessel Photography, is truly one for the books.
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From Clane Gessel Photography…How and when did the couple meet?
Don and Katie first met during a study abroad program in Siena, Italy during the winter quarter of 2004. Although they both attended UC Irvine, it took this specific time and place for them to finally meet. Don would admire Katie from afar, but eventually worked up the courage to talk to her one day. During a trip to Rome, Don overheard Katie talking to one of his flatmates about her interests in art, travel and music. He recognized commonalities they shared, and this piqued his interest even more. They were traveling wanderers starting to find their place in life and were drawing inspiration from everything around them. He learned she liked to sketch but hadn’t done so in awhile. With all their shared interests, Don just knew he had to get to know her better.
He made his first move after class one day when he handed her a sketchbook he had purchased especially for her. She opened the book to reveal his hand drawn rendering of the hands from the Sistine Chapel and an inscription that read, “Always treat your interests as divine”. Later that week, Katie went to visit Don to bring him some soup after he got sick on a weekend trip in Milan. She brought him a Venetian glass pen to thank him for the sketchbook, and showed him a drawing she made of the Piazza Del Campo in Siena, Italy. They were not only inspired by their surroundings, but also by what they would learn about each other. Don would later explain that his sketch to Katie was intended to symbolize the act of making a true connection. Sometimes in finding out who you are, you open yourself up to someone finding you. He felt lucky to have had this chance encounter at discovering true love. Katie and Don backpacked through Europe once the program ended and it was during those travels that they both realized their true connection, and could envision spending their futures with each other. Destiny brought them together and the rest became history.
How did the proposal take place?
During a spontaneous trip to Chicago in 2011, Don popped the question at the top of the John Hancock building while they dined at The Signature Room. He had been hiding the ring in his camera bag and was patiently waiting for the perfect moment to surprise Katie. While she was aware of an impending proposal, Katie never anticipated Don could obtain the ring in time for their trip. Unbeknownst to Katie, an elaborate plan had been in the works involving his brother’s friend delivering the ring from SoCal to SF, and Don sneaking away to pick him up from the airport, get the ring, and hide it while she was packing. Katie was so preoccupied with travel preparations that she didn’t even notice Don had left the apartment, let alone that he was collecting such a significant piece of jewelry…
Flash forward to the day of the proposal- Don wakes up early to call Katie’s mom, her brother and Aunt Suzanne to ask for permission. He doesn’t get a hold of Katie’s mom, but her brother and aunt enthusiastically give their blessing, and Katie’s mom texts hers by the end of the afternoon. Meanwhile, they enjoy a glorious day of sightseeing outside in the frigid November air. Don insists on treating Katie to a manicure after she notices her nail is chipped. Then they take an architectural boat tour over Lake Michigan where they catch a sunset against Chicago’s bold skyline. By the evening, Don casually mentions he has made a last minute reservation at the Signature Room for dinner.
Katie felt content to have found her soulmate, and remembered how Don had always wanted to bring her to Chicago, to the city where he was born. She also recalls how he had mentioned he would want to propose to her there and Katie felt a slight pang of disappointment that it wouldn’t happen. She casually wondered how he hypothetically would have proposed had he gotten the ring in time. When Katie asked him, Don paused with an amused look on his face. Then indulged her curiosity by explaining that if he had the ring, he would have proposed right here, and that he would have told Katie how happy he is to be here with her to show her a piece of his childhood. He tells Katie that as his life began here, in the symmetry of it all, he would want his life with her to start here as well and that this day would be the day where we would begin spending the rest of our lives together. Before Katie had a chance to fully process the beautifully romantic proposal that she hypothetically missed out on, something suddenly distracted her. At that moment, Don slowly reaches down into his camera bag and pulls out a small, blue velvet box. He proceeded to tell her, “The thing is, I do have the ring…” And that is literally all Katie could remember hearing him say. He slips the ring onto her finger and she choked out the word, “Yes!”. Then their charming waiter came by and asked them if they’ve just gotten engaged, and enthusiastically makes Don reenact the proposal for him while he took a picture of Don and Katie. Albeit, the second time around, he made Don properly get down on one knee and make a spectacle in front of the onlooking diners.
What was your fondest wedding moment?
That’s a hard question. Everything about our wedding was just unbelievably amazing, emotional, and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a toss up between exchanging our personal vows to each other in Italian, and seeing each other for the first time during the “First Look” photo session before the ceremony. During both moments, Katie could see Don’s eyes beginning to well up with tears, and she had to consciously stop herself from crying and ruining her expertly applied makeup. There would not have been enough time to redo it. That said, she was crying happy tears on the inside! Interesting facts about you and your spouse that you would like to share.
FUN FACTS ABOUT KATHERINE JOE (KATIE)
Katie is the youngest child of Jeanie and the late Alvin Joe, Jr. She has one older brother, Steven. She grew up in San Francisco, and has lived there most of her life. Since a young age, she was determined by her family to be strong willed, artistically gifted, and very bright. She enjoyed trying to outwit her older brother Steven to keep him on his toes. She loves to spend her time getting lost in a good book, engineering solutions to common household problems, occasionally joining an indoor cycling cult, challenging herself with learning new skills, and cuddling on the sofa at night with Don and their canine compadre, Finn. She takes after her father in her passion for great food, and Don has observed that the way to her heart is usually through her stomach. Her proudest and most recent accomplishment has been competing in a half marathon with Don over this past summer, having trained for less than 5 weeks (not recommended). Katie has finally found her perfect match in Don; his unwavering belief in her inspires Katie to challenge herself beyond her own expectations. She loves and admires Don most for his kind-hearted, genuine and selfless nature. He is truly the most thoughtful person she has ever met.
FUN FACTS ABOUT DONALD BANAYO (DON)
Don is the youngest son of Manolo and Aniceta Banayo. He has two older brothers, Emmanuel and Patrick. Don was born in Chicago, but moved to San Diego at a young age after getting Pneumonia due to his susceptibility to the cold and harshness of Illinois winters. Although difficult for his loving parents, they made sacrifices and took risks for their family and started their new life in California. As a young boy, Don has always been a gifted artist skilled at painting and sketching. He has an affinity for music and would later collect a large number of vintage vinyl records including some of Katie’s late father’s. Although Don has a severe food allergy to tree nuts and fish, it does not hinder his appreciation for great food that he learned from Katie and the Joe Family. He loves all things with a story, a good glass of scotch or a refreshing IPA, enjoys getting lost in a good film, and gets a kick out of muggle technology and all things tech. Don is a man of many interests, is a constant tinkerer, a geek, a dreamer, and a kindhearted old soul. He is often rendered powerless to the smile of his beloved Katie and her fearsome sidekick Finny the dog. Yet even in certain defeat, Don has an everlasting love for the two who serve as his constant inspiration.
Where do you reside and what are your occupations?
We reside in San Francisco’s Pac Heights neighborhood. Don is in mortgage lending operations, and Katie is a property manager.
Who were your favorite wedding vendors?
This is an impossible question! It’s like asking who your favorite child is! All of our vendors were phenomenal and made our wedding go off without a hitch. If you twisted my arm, Amber McKenney of Sweet on Cake was so much fun to work with. Jin Wang of Jin Wang Bridal in San Francisco was instrumental in helping me find the perfect gown. Her attention to detail and honest critique is what makes her a true bridal gown expert. Emily Coyne of Auberge du Soleil was amazing to work with too and went above and beyond in helping us create our dream wedding. She gave us many of the referrals for our other vendors. Paul Stokey of Tesoro Flowers is a magician with floral artistry. He took my vision to another level. Bellarosa String Quartet and DJ Josh Dukes were the best! Sherrie Long, my hair and makeup artist, made me look and feel like a beautiful bride. Her specialty is creating glowing, 3 dimensional bridal makeup looks that photograph extremely well. Kim Remulla, my day-of coordinator worked tirelessly behind the scenes to carry out the little details I planned like filling organza bags with fresh rose petals for tossing. Alex and Ysabel from Say Ya Photo Booth really engaged all our guests and provided such a fun experience with all of their awesome props. And last but certainly not least, our photographer Clane Gessel is such an extraordinary talent. We were blown away by his work from the beginning and never looked back. He knows how to position you to capture incredible shots and spectacular lighting. He made us look like a dream.
What advice do you have for future brides?
Enjoy every moment of your wedding! Don’t stress out on the little details. The day goes by so fast, that you need to remember to take moments for yourself and enjoy everything you’ve created. It’s a beautiful milestone in your life that deserves to be remembered. Having a day-of coordinator is indispensable for allowing you to focus your time on enjoying your big day. Yes, the wedding is a big expense, but for us it was all worth it. Looking back at the photos and videos brings us back to that day and all the love and happy emotions return and remind us of what life is all about.
Photography: Clane Gessel Photography | Event Planning: Emily Coyne At Auberge Du Soleil | Floral Design: Tesoro Flowers | Wedding Dress: Jin Wang Bridal | Cake: Sweet On Cake | Hair + Makeup: Sherrie Long | DJ: Josh Dukes | Favors: XOX Truffles | String Quartet: Bellarosa String Quartet | Venue: Auberge Du Soleil | Photo Booth: Say Ya Photobooth