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This Couple Planned a Backyard Micro-Wedding in Southern California 3 Months After Their Engagement

By Lauren Armstrong | Photography by 

Yvette Roman

|Planning by 

Stefanie Cove and Co.

Jo Hill and television writer Brandon Cohen met on the dating app Raya in the fall of 2018. After originally swiping left on Brandon’s profile, Jo extended the invitation to chat when his account appeared in her feed a second time. “I guess she was in a particularly generous mood,” Brandon jokes. Jo chimes in teasingly saying that as an English major she’s “always had a soft spot for writers!”

Many moons later, the couple set off together on a hike in Malibu—one that Jo reluctantly went on as she had just freshened up for the day—and visited Point Dume, a cliff atop the Pacific Ocean. “Jo had mentioned at the beginning of the summer how that overlook was one of the most beautiful places in Malibu and how it was somewhere she frequently visited growing up, so I made sure to file that away,” Brandon shares. Looking back, Jo adds, “I should’ve known something was coming when Brandon insisted we go on a hike even though I had just showered!

After their private proposal, the couple spent the night celebrating with their family, sipping champagne, and toasting to the future. The next morning, they escaped north for an “engagement-moon” at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, giving them plenty of time to dream up their ideal wedding.

Planning a milestone celebration during a global pandemic is a feat of its own but doing so in a way that keeps your friends and relatives safe takes matters to a whole new level. Brandon notes, “We came to the realization that as much as we would love to get married with our extended family and friends present, a big, traditional wedding didn’t really feel like us anyway—even in normal times.”

The bride and groom decided to host an intimate fall ceremony in Jo’s parents’ Italianate backyard on October 31st, giving them only three months to organize the event of their dreams after their summer engagement. “After facing the difficulties that 2020 brought with it, starting our life as a married couple was important to us,” Jo says. “Our resoluteness to begin married life paved the way for most of the difficult decisions we were faced with.”

The two looked to celebrity event planner Stefanie Cove of Stefanie Cove and Co. to handle all of the creative and logistics. “At first we assumed the planning process would be something we would be able to tackle ourselves,” Jo shares. “But once we started, we realized we didn’t know how to plan a pandemic wedding in a way that would feel both safe and special.”

By foregoing some of the more customary wedding aspects like a rehearsal dinner or honeymoon, Jo and Brandon were able to focus on what truly mattered—celebrating their commitment to one another among those they love most.

“We knew that in order to be as safe as possible, our wedding was going to have to be as small as possible,” Jo notes. In fact, they were able to keep the guest-list for the ceremony to the CDC-recommended 10 people, including the bride and groom. Afterward, their planner, Stefanie, organized a way to allow Jo and Brandon to have cake and drinks with a small number of close friends after the ceremony and dinner.

To complement the natural, outdoor affair Jo donned a dramatic Monique Lhuillier gown in a floral fabrication. “Once we figured out that we would be live-streaming the ceremony, I decided that I’d like to have a dress that really popped on camera,” Jo says. And pop it did, adorned with an embroidered veil that added an additional layer of color, detail, and dimension to her look.

The bride stunned with effortlessly styled hair and makeup, done by Karina Vega of Karina Vega Hair and Michal Cohen of Michal Makeup that perfectly suited the backyard nuptials. Jo remembers, “I wanted to keep the rest of the look as casual as possible with natural, easy hair and makeup that wasn’t far off from my everyday look.”

As for the groom, he had a little help from his bride-to-be, when it came to his wedding day attire. “I chose what to wear by asking Jo, ‘What should I wear?’ and she picked it out for me,” Brandon quipped. “It was pretty painless!”

A series of first looks occurred before the ceremony began, starting with Jo and her father. “My dad was the first to see me after I put my dress on and having that moment with him in my childhood bedroom is something I’ll never forget,” she remembers. Later, Jo and Brandon shared a special moment during their first look, in which they paused together before their separate walks down the aisle.

Beneath the twilight of the October California sky, the bride and groom joined together with their closest family and friends present. “Having a traditional Jewish wedding was important to us, so our ceremony started with the lighting of the havdalah candle and ketubah signing,” Jo notes. “I suffer from terrible stage fright, so I was worried I was going to feel anxious, but once the ceremony started, I felt incredibly peaceful standing under the chuppah with Brandon.”

The backyard—decorated with rentals from Bright, The Ark, and La Tavola—was transformed into an outdoor oasis that resembles the likes of an Italian villa, complete with candles and string lights from Lighten Up as well as a floral-covered chuppah created by Edge Design & Decor.

Following the ceremony, guests sat down to an intimate al-fresco dinner and toasted to the newlyweds. Afterward, a handful of Jo and Brandon’s best friends joined them in the backyard for some cocktails and cake made by Sweet Lady Jane and Sweet Laurel to end the night.

Bold autumnal florals by Putnam and Putnam sprawled across the tablescape, creating an effortless, inviting atmosphere to share stories of the bride and groom over dinner catered by Haute Chef.

When reminiscing over their big day, both the bride and groom emphasize how they had made the right decision for them by downsizing their celebration. “When we were planning for this micro-wedding, we were both a little concerned that it would be SO small that it wouldn’t feel special,” Brandon says. “But it not only felt special, it felt very “us.” Jo adds to his sentiment and shares, “Though small, our wedding was perfect.”