Matrimony in Miniature

April 2021 View more

By Lisa Arnett | Photography by Lauryn Schalk | Calligraphy by Devin McSherry

Had Jenna McKeown and Jason Riddell pursued their original vision of a big wedding, they would’ve opted for a formal gown and tuxedo. Instead, Riddell bought a new navy suit from Banana Republic; SLT Makeup Artistry did McKeown’s hair and makeup, and she wore a simple slip dress from

ike many couples hoping to marry this past year, Jenna McKeown
and Jason Riddell, both 28, found themselves recently engaged and facing a dilemma.

They could have the big church wedding they envisioned, gathering hundreds of loved ones to celebrate—but it would have to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic ran its course, however long that might be.
The alternative? Think small. Very small. So on Thanksgiving weekend, their parents and siblings—and grandparents via Zoom—joined them for a heartfelt ceremony in the backyard of the McKeown family home in Naperville.

The bride and groom pour a Champagne toast for their guests.

The couple’s love story began in summer 2017 when they met through mutual friends. McKeown’s battle with leukemia during high school at Benet Academy inspired her to become an oncology nurse; she now works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Riddell, who grew up in New Jersey, moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University and now works for Boston Consulting Group.

Riddell thought he’d propose on a European vacation in summer 2020. When those travel plans dissolved due to the pandemic, he instead popped the question in New Buffalo, Michigan, where McKeown vacationed with her family when she was growing up.

Wedding planner Amy Reifenstuhl of Rustique Swan set up a display in memory of Riddell’s late grandparents.

“We decided the idea of having a bigger wedding would have to sit on the backburner, because we absolutely wanted to get married,” McKeown says. The safest option, they thought, was to gather only their siblings, parents, and grandparents for a total headcount of 14.

The bride’s father, Jerry McKeown, is a general contractor and owns McKeown Classic Homes in Naperville. When building their own home in 2016, Jerry and his wife, Amy, couldn’t have possibly anticipated that their eldest child would marry there someday. Yet, when faced with the challenge of finding a venue to stage a small celebration, it seemed like the perfect choice. “We were saying, ‘Where around Naperville can we do a small, outdoor thing?’ ” the bride said. “And my dad said, ‘What about under the pergola in the yard?’ ”

The bride with her father, Jerry McKeown, a local homebuilder.

The McKeowns contacted event planner Amy Reifenstuhl of Rustique Swan; she and Jerry McKeown actually grew up together and went to the same Naperville schools. “Jerry and Amy reached out to me in October,” Reifenstuhl says. “And they were like, ‘I don’t know if you can do this, but Jenna and Jason want to pull together a wedding in November. What do you think?’ And I said, ‘I think we can do it!’ ”

To create a romantic setting for the ceremony in the McKeown family’s backyard, Aysel Cristian of Aysel Cristian Floral Atelier draped the patio’s pergola with romantic greenery and white blooms. The couple recited their vows in a ceremony officiated by the bride’s grandfather, Jim McKeown, via video conference, while heaters and blankets kept their parents and siblings comfortable on a sunny but brisk November day.

Within a matter of weeks, Reifenstuhl had lined up a tiny team of local vendors to bring the couple’s vision to life. Aysel Cristian of Aysel Cristian Floral Atelier would create a lush, romantic setting for the backyard ceremony by draping the patio pergola with leafy branches and white blooms. Lisle caterer Chef By Request would prepare an elegant dinner for 14, and Naperville native Erin Martin of Chicago-based ECBG Cake Studio would create a darling, diminutive cake. For photos, Reifenstuhl recommended Lauryn Schalk of Photography by Lauryn, who happened to be free on their chosen date of November 28. “Lauryn is incredibly talented, and I knew they would really like her style; it’s so full of life,” Reifenstuhl says.

Riddell worked with Rose Bouchard, a family friend who owns Tysons Watch & Jewelry Exchange in Vienna, Virginia, to source this Gabriel & Co. pear-shaped diamond engagement ring for McKeown. He proposed on the beach in New Buffalo, Michigan.

They made plans for Riddell’s parents and two siblings to travel from the East Coast, and for the bride’s grandfather, Jim McKeown, to officiate the ceremony. But with COVID-19 infection rates climbing about a week before the wedding, they decided it would be safest if their three grandparents took part virtually instead of in person.

That meant setting up a large screen for the bride and groom to stand in front of so Jim McKeown could conduct the ceremony virtually.
“I wasn’t sure how having my grandfather on a TV screen on a podium to officiate was going to work out, but it was beautiful,” Jenna McKeown says. “I felt like he was there.”

After saying “I do,” the bride and groom uncorked Champagne for toasts given by their fathers. “Jerry and Amy delivered really nice bottles of Champagne to each set of the grandparents so they could be part of the toast at the time it was happening,” Reifenstuhl says.

Bride Jenna McKeown and groom Jason Riddell (center) are both the eldest of three children. Here, they pose for a portrait with their siblings and parents (left to right) Jeremy, Maya, Jerry, and Amy McKeown; Laura, Matt, Allie, and Evan Riddell.

As the family sat down to an intimate meal in the McKeown family’s dining room, Reifenstuhl worked with the caterers to package up every course—hors d’oeuvres through dessert—to deliver to the grandparents’ homes, along with a bouquet of coordinating flowers and the same laser-cut wooden nameplates that adorned each place setting. “That was really special that they got to continue being a part of it in some way,” Jenna McKeown says.

Though McKeown and Riddell never fathomed their wedding guests would fit around one table, they ended up relishing all the unexpected advantages of celebrating small. “Our parents had never met before and we basically formed our own 10-person bubble that week,” Riddell says. “I know that we never would have been able to get that amount of intimacy from a big wedding, and I do think our parents and siblings would not have gotten to know each other as much as they did. I don’t think either of us realized how important that was.”

Wedding planner Amy Reifenstuhl enlisted shop Light Box Laser to create wooden cutouts of family members’ names to mark each place setting.

Downsizing from a big bash also presents the opportunity to upgrade other details, Reifenstuhl says. “For all the weddings I did in 2020, everybody who had scaled down [their headcount] opted to build a more elegant, full-course, sit-down meal. That’s everything from adding additional appetizers to the cocktail hour to better alcohol to a higher-quality meal,” Reifenstuhl says. “With a smaller group and with dance floors being closed, people are coming up with new ideas to offer guests, whether it be an ice cream bar, or a cigar bar, or a whiskey bar out on the patio. If you had more people, that would be far too expensive.”

The desire to keep headcounts low has also inspired couples to ask guests to moonlight as vendors. For instance, Riddell recruited his sister to curate the musical lineup. “We played her Spotify playlist over the speakers in the house and it was all awesome songs—Frank Sinatra, Billy Joel, some Taylor Swift,” the bride recalls.

Lisle’s Chef By Request catered hors d’oeuvres (including burrata toast, pictured) and dinner for the family to share in the McKeown’s dining room. Courses included arugula salad with beets, goat cheese, and candied walnuts, plus pan-seared halibut with charred tomato beurre blanc.

Looking back on their wedding day, this bride and groom couldn’t be happier. “One of my fears was, how are we going to find the balance of this being a smaller, more minimalist celebration? But I also wanted it to have the gravity of, ‘We are getting married today,’ ” McKeown says. “They balanced that so perfectly.”

Naperville native Erin Martin of Chicago’s ECBG Cake Studio created this elegant all-white two-tiered cake.

The couple recently bought their first home in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and are pondering the possibility of hosting their big church wedding postpandemic. “There’s no reason to start planning yet; everything is on pause until the situation changes,” Riddell says. “We are happy with the beautiful little wedding that we had, the start of our marriage, and settling into our home,” McKeown says. “It gave us the beautiful start we were looking for.”