A Beach Wedding With Colombian Flair in Captiva, Florida
Claudia Chavarro and Paul Hulsberg met, officially, on Christmas Eve 2018. But, theyâ€™d seen each other before. They were both working at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Floridaâ€”sheâ€™s a mental health therapist and heâ€™s an interventional radiologistâ€”and had admired each other from afar. But it wasnâ€™t until they matched on a dating site that Paul asked Claudia to dinner. After a job opportunity moved him to Naples, they dated long distance for a year before being reunited in southwest Florida.
In February 2020, the couple took a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, so Claudia could show Paul where sheâ€™s fromâ€”but Paul took over planning for at least one adventure: a proposal straight out of a fairytale. While the two were swimming off a private island beach, Paul said he spotted something shiny in the water and dove down to investigate. â€śWhen he resurfaced, he had the ring in his hand,â€ť Claudia remembers.
Just over a year later, on March 13, 2021, they were married at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island. The entire wedding weekend was curated to perfection, inspired by the beachy surroundings, laid-back island vibe, and personalities of the bride and groom. â€śAll of their guests would be attending from out of town, so they wanted a space that felt like vacation,â€ť says planner Felicia Gostisbehere. â€śThe water became a special place where Paul and Claudia grew to know each other and fall in love.â€ť
The tone for the wedding was set with a stunning invitation suite, featuring a custom crest by Kelsey Malie Calligraphy. Planner Felicia Gostisbehere of Avec Moi Event Planning & Design creates a brand identify for each of her couples and uses it to customize every aspect of their wedding. For Claudia and Paul, that meant a color scheme of â€śelegant neutral and pink hues to reflect Claudiaâ€™s softness and grace; and deep, rich copper and brown tones to reflect Paulâ€™s refined masculinity,â€ť she says.
As guests arrived in Captiva for the weekend, they gathered at a welcome party on the terrace at Harborside Bar & Grill, part of South Seas Island Resort. The vibe was laid-back and romantic, with bistro lights and a fire pit illuminating the space as the sun went down.
For wedding-day hair and makeup, Claudia embraced a look of enhanced, natural glam. â€śIt was important for me to still look like myself,â€ť she says. â€śI love my natural, thick, long hair, so it was important to have my hair down. The larger curls reminded me of ocean waves. I felt it looked effortless.â€ť
I loved the way I felt in the dress. Not only did I feel beautiful, but it was very comfortable.
Her dress was a floral lace masterpiece from Blue by Enzoani called Lesley. â€śI loved the way I felt in the dress,â€ť Claudia remembers. â€śNot only did I feel beautiful, but it was very comfortable. Although our wedding was a formal event, it was still on the beach. I wanted to have an overall look of relaxed, effortless beauty.â€ť
Flower girls wore pink dresses found on Etsy, with tulle skirts and dainty tulle shoulder accents. â€śWhile Claudia was getting ready, one of the flower girlsâ€”Paulâ€™s niece, Sadieâ€”scooted her way up to Claudia and proceeded to help her put on her shoes,â€ť Felicia remembers. â€śIt was one of the purest moments of the day.â€ť
From the get-go, it was important to Claudia that her bridesmaids actually like their dresses. Her mission was accomplished with varying styles from Jenny Yoo, hand-selected by Felicia. â€śI wanted the dimension of various fabrics, textures, and colors that resonated throughout the entire wedding design to carry over to the bridesmaids as well,â€ť the planner says. The gowns were made with embroidered tulle, silk, crepe, and velvet and featured tones of pink, copper, and green. Each bridesmaid carried a simple bouquet of white sweet peaâ€”a cohesive element that tied their looks together visually.
Paul was adamant against wearing a tuxedo; instead he opted for a custom suit from Jos A. Bank in a sandy tone that fit the beach setting. He paired it with a peak collar white shirt and brown shoes, and cleaned up with a haircut and beard trim the week of the wedding. Like his bride, Paul also opted for a Jo Malone scent: Wood Sage and Sea Salt, another ode to the setting.
The groomsmenâ€™s looks mirrored Paulâ€™s own, differing in shade just slightly for contrast. Each was paired with a boutonniere of dried grasses.
When I stood on the greens overlooking the ocean, I knew right away it was the perfect spot to say our vows.
Sunset Point at South Seas set the scene for the ceremony. â€śWhen I stood on the greens overlooking the ocean, I knew right away it was the perfect spot to say our vows,â€ť Claudia remembers â€śEverything felt so right.â€ť The unique ceremony setup placed the bride and groom right in the middle on an elevated riser, with wicker-back chairs laid in a circle around them. â€śThe intention was for Paul and Claudia to feel submerged in the love surrounding them as they listened to the soft hum of the harp nearby,â€ť Felicia says. Behind it all: the ocean, as far as the eye could see.
â€śI was very anxious right before walking down the aisle,â€ť Claudia remembers. â€śMy mind went blank, but I could hear the voices of Felicia and Kaity, my photographer. I sensed so much love and care from these two women that I could barely hold onto my emotions. While Felicia was running across the field like a marathon runner to ensure everything was perfect, Kaity secured my veil. It was in that moment that I knew all of the small details were already handled perfectly.â€ť She proceeded down the aisle toward Paul to the tune of Elvisâ€™ â€śCanâ€™t Help Falling In Love.â€ť
After being pronounced husband and wife, the newlyweds recessed down the aisle to a ukulele rendition of â€śSomewhere Over the Rainbow.â€ť
After the ceremony, guest hopped aboard a sky blue trolley and were shuttled to cocktail hour on the lawn. They entered to see Claudia and Paul pouring Champagne down a tower of coupe glasses.
I wanted it to feel as if the day were created specifically for Paul and I.
â€śWhen I thought about my wedding day, there were certain things that were very important to me,â€ť Claudia says of the planning process. â€śI wanted it to feel as if the day were created specifically for Paul and I.â€ť
The lawn was set with white-washed Bentwood chairs from Elements & Accents around tables covered in textured lace. Waiters served hors dâ€™oeuvres native to the region like ahi tuna and crab cakes with mango salsa. Draped over each waiterâ€™s arm was a custom tea towel displaying the menu and the coupleâ€™s monogram.
â€śIt was important their wedding design felt like the perfect balance between the two of them,â€ť Felicia says. â€śHer, a soft, warm-hearted, feminine beauty; and him, a masculine, sensitive, and highly emotive soul.â€ť Felicia incorporated rich, masculine tones in details like custom leather place cards set in dark wooden racks.
â€śSetup began five days prior to the wedding day, with carpenters laying a custom wood floor that would display Claudia and Paulâ€™s crest,â€ť Felicia says of the tented reception space. Champagne and cameo-colored crepe fabric draped the ceiling, and flame-hued uplighting illuminated the room. Five crystal chandeliers hung delicately from the highest point and a lit leaf pattern adorned the ceiling on either side.
Tables were set with taper candle holders stained deep espresso brown, and paper menus featured the same floral paper from the invitationâ€™s envelope liner, tying the design together. Centerpiece florals mirrored the loose, organic look of seaside flora with textured grasses, neutral blooms, and dried foliage. Place settings were finished with earth-tone linens, natural bone flatware, and vintage Champagne coupes.
Signature drinks paid homage to Claudia and Paul: a fruity Mango Bellini for the bride and a classic Old Fashioned for the groom. Even the bartendersâ€™ attire was tied into the decor scheme. Each donned an apron and leather bowtie from Etsy.
Felicia collaborated with the team at The Artistic Whisk to create a cake influenced by classic sculpture that featured Claudia and Paulâ€™s crest. Inside? Layers of vanilla bean cake with strawberries, and chocolate with chocolate.
For months leading up to the wedding, Claudia and Paul practiced a choreographed routine for their first dance, to â€śJackie Wilson Saidâ€ť by Van Morrison. Later, when the party got going, the playlist featured American and Latin music. â€śI wanted a band that could play a combination of both,â€ť Claudia said. â€śIt was important their Latin performances sounded authentic.â€ť She found just what she was looking for in Bay Kings Band.
Dinner, catered by the venue, was a colorful surf and turf of filet mignon and lobster tail with root vegetable gratin, asparagus, and carrots.
A native of Colombia, the bride wanted her guests to experience an authentic Hora Loca, a South American wedding tradition. Drummers beat their instruments while costumed men on stilts and women in headdresses entered the room in a lively procession. â€śWithin seconds, all guests were on their feet dancing as Claudia led the way,â€ť Felicia says.
But the most special dance was still to come: a redo of their first dance. Having practiced for months, Claudia wasnâ€™t satisfied with how their first dance as newlyweds went. So after dinner, she requested Paul dance with her again. The groom grabbed the microphone and told the crowd, â€śWhat baby wants, baby gets.â€ť â€śAs guests erupted with laughter, Paul and Claudia danced their dance again, but this time without a care in the world,â€ť Felicia remembers. â€śIt was so fun to see Paul swing Claudia in and out of his arms, and their huge smiles never left their faces.â€ť Finally, all nerves swept away, the newlyweds had the night of their lives.