Susan Dunbar called upon 25 years of experience in events planning when organizing her at-home wedding on Dec. 29, 2002. "We didn't have money for a grand affair," explains the 48-year-old bride, who had been single for 27 years when she met Andre Desmeules, 42. He is French-Canadian and owns a custom tile company. She manages the Designing Women consignment boutique.
"We were introduced by mutual friend Marcel Gilbert and sat together at dinner," Susan reports. "I'm not shy, but I absolutely could not speak intelligently to this gorgeous man with the kindest eyes I'd ever seen. I was so flustered I got up from the table and just went home. Thank God, he called the next day."
Last November the two rented a house in an older neighborhood near downtown Sarasota. It was the former home of the Gesneriad Society, and the small yard was a rain forest of exotic tropical plants, while the vintage Spanish architecture reminded the couple of a castle. What better place to stage a fairy-tale wedding? They selected a medieval theme so that the costumed guests could provide decor. Susan found an ivory satin evening gown and cape at the Woman's Exchange, which she embellished with seed pearls. A silk scarf was similarly adorned for a veil, and she added a garland. Total cost: $65. One of the bride's sisters, Cyndy Rosell, a pastry chef in Orlando, made the elaborate "castle" wedding cake.
But the big day didn't unfold like a storybook. It was cold for an outdoor wedding. The bride had a meltdown and took to her bed crying and paralyzed with fear. Her dad, Cedric Dunbar, eventually convinced her to walk between him and her stepdad, John Hermsen, down the garden path to where retired judge Skip Corcoran was waiting to perform the ceremony. No one remembered to pick up the bridal bouquet at the florist, so Nancy Britt, another of the bride's sisters, hurriedly assembled one from yard flowers and ferns.
The groom had difficulty repeating his vows in English. The couple forgot to exchange rings, and the unity candle refused to light. When the pair finally kissed, the best man (dressed as a court jester) and the photographer collided, sending both tumbling into the courtyard fountain. But then the music started and guests dressed as friars and lords, knights, knaves and fair maids danced with strangers and feasted on roasted meats, wine and figs. True to the time period, there was no silverware; so several knights speared chicken with swords and gallantly fed morsels to court gentlewomen.
The couple is living happily ever after and will honeymoon in August, when they visit Quebec.