Jonathan Goldman and Steven Schessler discovered love in the grocery store. While pushing their respective carts through the aisles of Whole Foods Market, the couple had a chance encounter, which ultimately lead them down another, much more impactful aisle. “You really can find everything you need there,” says Jonathan.

The couple dated for three years before Steve proposed in March of 2006 while vacationing in Spain. If you’re thinking this already sounds like a situation worthy of a hand over the heart, wait for it. “I knew Jonathan always wanted to go hot-air ballooning,” Steven says, “since he mentioned it when we first started dating.”

And so the perfect proposal was born, shimmying through the skyline over farmland with the Pyrenees in the background, Steven put a ring on Jonathan’s finger. Though it may seem like that’s when the proverbial happily ever after kicks in, there’s still a whole process of conceiving, organizing and executing the perfect ceremony to accompany a perfect love. This can put a lot of pressure on the months following an engagement but if approached with the right planning, attitude and calmness, the process can be fun, personal and enhance the experience.

“We happily put off planning for a good six months, with the intention of leaving ourselves a year for a September wedding,” Steven says. Jonathan currently lived in San Francisco, and Steven stayed in Atlanta to wrap up a fellowship teaching at Emory for another school year—a plan that could ultimately provide stress at a time meant for celebration and elation over the pending union. The extended planning-free engagement helped the cross-country lovebirds to relish in the moment before diving into the details.

As could be expected, the bicoastal living situation presented challenges to the newly engaged couple—tours were difficult to arrange with limited time together, venues don’t always communicate in a timely fashion and the obvious desire to be near each other makes things tricky. Many couples agree that the planning process is a good testament to the patience and love that bind the relationship. Cooperation in the form of Jonathan flying to Atlanta once a month and Steve flying to San Francisco once a month combined with slew of talented friends and coordinators made getting the ball rolling less daunting.

Wedding coordinator Daria McGregor also made planning easier, allowing the couple the freedom to enjoy the process even more. “We knew we could count on her to keep us, and everyone, on track,” says Steven. “After we set our venue [the Magnolia Hall lawn and Magnolia Hall at Atlanta’s landmark Piedmont Park], nothing was very difficult, perhaps the most surprising thing in itself.” Attention to every element can become challenging when bombarded by so many details, so delegating each aspect of the ceremony based on personal preference contributes to this ease. The invitations give a glimpse of what guests can expect at the ceremony, and after finding gorgeous, handmade Italian paper, the couple left the work to Bruce McDonald at Craftsmen Printing, who engraved the invitations.

Florist John McDonald at Twelve took an area and delivered the personal vision Jonathan and Steven had put together. “Weddings are traditionally designed to appeal more to women, and we wanted a more masculine feel to the ceremony and reception,” explains Jonathan. “John helped us create a space that was modern, unique and masculine without seeming staged.” Details like a handcrafted chandelier to hang over super-deep tables filled with natural arrangements kept the atmosphere handsomely warm. The grooms’ boutonnieres of black callas, fern fronds and equisetum caps continued the theme.

Food is a big deal at any ceremony. You want something you love that will translate to your guests with mass appeal while maintaining a unique and special flavor in accord with the feel of the day. It’s hard to put all of that on a plate, but Chef Drew Ihrig from Endive in Atlanta put together an exquisite Italian-themed menu inspired by foods Jonathan and Steven enjoyed while living in Florence, beginning with passed hors d’oeuvres and Prosecco and ending with dobos torte with chocolate butter cream presented with Fiore de Latte gelato. The main entrée was an Italian surf and turf featuring fennel-encrusted wild boar chop with grappa raisin jus, medjool date, Romano bean and pancetta ragout and prosciutto-wrapped sea bass filet painted with sundried tomato coulis over white truffle asiago polenta with shaved asparagus.

Jonathan donned a Dolce & Gabanna suit with an Alexander McQueen shirt and Brioni tie with Steven in a Hugo Boss suit, walking down the aisle hand in hand as strings played “Time After Time.” “I knew I was smiling really big, so I was thinking, ‘Stop smiling so big or you are going to look stupid in your pictures,” says Jonathan. “I was trying to keep up with Jonathan and make sure I smiled at all our friends and family who came to celebrate with us,” adds Steven, “and I was so happy to be there and that we got such a gorgeous, sunny afternoon after all.”

The crucial moment was made perfect by personal touches and sincere expression. “Since the details of the ceremony were up to us entirely, we wrote it using some traditional elements, but wrote our officiant’s opening welcome as well as the content of his ‘sermon,’” explains Jonathan. “We also each shared readings with each other before the ring exchange.”

Dominic Ramirez was behind the lens, capturing the intimate moments and candid smiles and the unique and custom musical stylings were provided Ray and Erika Lindholm, who run Atlanta Classic Weddings and engineered the aisle song. The reception soundtrack was delivered by DJ Scott Anthony, a regular spinner at various venues in Atlanta.

Jonathan and Steven were pleasantly surprised at how different, happy and excited they felt at the end of the day. “We realized that while we need to continue to fight for marriage, equality and the recognition of our civil rights,” says Jonathan, “all our emotions and memories of getting married come from the ceremony and reception that we designed to share with the ones we love in Atlanta, and that the laws we’re fighting to change can’t stop us from sharing our love.”

—Katie Gallagher