By definition, a wedding is the merging of two separate families into one; Dr. Michelle Tyson and Ara Hagopian took this theme to its best incarnation with their family-and-fun oriented grand-scale wedding. With the dream of perfectly and seamlessly blending Ara’s Armenian heritage with Michelle’s Southern Creole and Jamaican background, the couple incorporated traditions and customs from both of their families, resulting in an event was absolutely one-of-a-kind.

The bride and groom planned their over-the-top celebration in just six months – a feat not often attempted – and enlisted the expertise of a professional wedding consultant to create the wedding of their dreams. Along with the help and advice of Michelle’s mother, the couple based many of their main decisions on the service and reputation of potential vendors. In addition to following your own instincts, Michelle advises future brides to hire a wedding planner who really has a sense of humor and is willing to think outside of the proverbial “wedding box” with resources that allow creativity and unique choices.

During their engagement, Michelle experienced the one major surprise that does not often cross the minds of busy brides: the quickly growing list of attendees! Because today’s overbooked lifestyle often results in large numbers of regrets for any event due to conflicting work or family commitments, travel issues and other factors, many couples normally plan on a certain percentage of “no” responses once the rsvps start rolling in. In this couple’s case, the number of excited “yes” answers just kept growing and growing! In the end, nearly seven hundred guests witnessed the marriage of Michelle and Ara.

The bride and groom exchanged vows in St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Pasadena, with an afternoon ceremony performed by both a Armenian priest and a Catholic priest. The unique musical accompaniment featured a brass octet and a fourteen-person gospel choir, making for a striking and memorable service.

Following the ceremony, the guests traveled to the nearby Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa. A famed Pasadena landmark since 1907, the historic grand elegance of the hotel captures the grace of Southern California in a most luxurious atmosphere, perfectly fitting the formal reception for Ara and Michelle’s sophisticated celebration. The couple had allocated the majority of their wedding budget on food and entertainment, resulting in a party that was lavish, unmatched and uniquely theirs. As Michelle explains, “Our personalities were reflected by the music, décor, and food, which were all planned with a sense of fun, just like the way we live.”

The Ritz-Carlton’s famously ornate ballroom was further adorned with the wedding’s rich palette of chocolate brown, gold and burgundy, perfect for creating a sense of warmth and intimacy within such a grand event. Wintry-hued florals added further romance and drama to the room, with tables topped by glass bowls abundantly filled with blood red amyaryllis, black magic and sahara roses, golden and muted shades of cymbidium orchids, while tendrils of English ivy and tufts of hypericum berries for textural contrast. As best described by the couple’s talented florist, the result was “ a centerpiece fit for a princess!”

The warmth and glow of the room was only outdone by the mood of the partiers themselves — after a spirited cocktail hour, guests enjoyed an evening of dancing and dining that last until past midnight. Like the ceremony music, the reception entertainment was equally impressive and featured an unexpected blend of different bands and different types of music, giving the night an international feel. Most outstanding was guitarist Nocy of the Gipsy Kings, who got the whole crowd to their feet. The wedding photographers say they still get goose bumps when they recall his amazing performance! One of the most unique sights was the performance of belly-dancing twins, which added an even more eclectic mood to the non-traditional repertoire.

Abundance was certainly the theme of Michelle and Ara’s savory reception dinner, again planned with the essence of their two backgrounds in mind. Paired with distinctive selections of fine red and white wines and champagne, the gourmet meal began with pumpkin and sweet pepper veloute, followed by a salad course of baby spinach with herbs, red onions, Granny Smith apples, blue cheese, candied walnuts and yellow pear tomatoes. For the main course, guests chose between four incredible entrees: roast filet of beef in a red wine sauce accompanied by butternut squash, wasabi mashed potatoes, wax beans and green beans; roasted game hen with cornbread Andouille stuffing, tomato and okra stew, wax beans, green beans and roasted red potatoes; Portobello ravioli, accompanied by fricassee of artichokes, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and asparagus tips with a tarragon white wine sauce; or Caribbean spiced sea bass with pineapple and cucumber relish, citrus cream sauce, asparagus, baby squash, turnips and carrots, and garlic red mashed potatoes. The dinner was topped off by a dessert duo of hazelnut crusted chocolate tart with cinnamon ice cream and espresso sauce, and a honey pistachio frozen nougat Napoleon with apricot citrus coulis. Adding to the sweet fare were two fabulous cake creations. First was the main wedding cake, which was a feminine-looking confection inspired by Michelle’s glorious wedding gown and second was the whimsical fire truck shaped groom’s cake, which matched the antique fire truck that the newlyweds used to depart their event in style.

Michelle and Ara treated themselves, and their many loved ones, to a day that will stand out in each of their memories for years to come. The two are living proof that a marriage embodies more than just the love of two people, it encompasses the spirit, values and love of two whole families.