In a stunning November afternoon in Southwest Florida, Contessa Gilman walked down the aisle and took her groom’s breath away. “I thought, ‘Whoa, she’s gorgeous,’” recalls Ethan Williams, who first met Contessa while they were both in high school in small-town Kentucky. Ever patient, Ethan waited to date her until she was ready to graduate. But by then, in 2015, Contessa was committed to studying community health and biology at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Though they were young, their love survived the long distance, eventually pulling Ethan to move to the Naples area to be closer to Contessa. He wasn’t the only one who saw the appeal of her new surroundings, as her parents and siblings relocated to Naples, too.
After completing an emergency medicine rotation at NCH and wrapping up her physician’s assistant coursework in August, Contessa hopes to land a job in Naples. Ethan, meanwhile, is balancing a full-time job with the United States Postal Service with taking classes at Florida SouthWestern State College to earn a business management degree, so he can advance to a managerial role. They are both working hard and dreaming big.
For a few sweet moments during their wedding weekend, the couple escaped their responsibilities and busy lives to celebrate at the White Orchid at Oasis in Fort Myers. “We chose that location for the beautiful water background,” says Contessa. “I also wanted grass, greenery, and a tropical environment. That’s why I went for a neutral color palette.”
Contessa spent nine months researching and planning her wedding, all with the help of her mother, Amy Gilman, a Naples-based realtor. Eventually, Contessa caved in and hired a month of coordination services with Mostly Becky to assist with the last-minute details and styling. “I didn’t want to be a bride and a planner on the day,” she says.
The ceremony unfolded in a quiet, private setting, like the couple wanted. “We just had our family there,” Contessa notes. “We enjoyed everything outside. We love the weather here, which played a huge role in the wedding.”
Immediately after they exchanged vows, Ethan and Contessa had a moment to themselves to take pictures in front of the ceremony arch. “Then everyone greeted us,” Ethan recalls. “We felt all of the love. It was very emotional.”
The theme of the wedding, according to the bride, was California meets Bali with a bohemian feel. “We wanted to keep it elegant with whites and neutrals, and not overdo it with boho elements,” she explains. Ethan’s interests were reflected in the big day, too. “Ethan is a musician and can play every instrument under the sun,” says Contessa. “We incorporated his love of music in special details like our guest book, which was near a record player.” The two of them were represented together in their reception tables, which they named after the islands they love in Southwest Florida. “We sat at Lovers Key,” Contessa adds.
Their small invite list included family from Kentucky, friends from FGCU, and loved ones from as far as Washington, Ohio, and Alaska. “Thirty people weren’t comfortable coming,” Contessa says. “As soon as our videographer got us the video, we posted it and sent it out immediately.”
After they danced the night away and said goodbye to every last guest, the couple met up with friends to rehash the celebration. “We were on a high,” Contessa recalls. “Ethan and I wanted to do it all over again. It was awesome.”
Like many newlyweds, when the bride and groom woke up the next day, they had hundreds of notifications on their phones from well-wishers. Before the wedding, they took a mini moon in the Keys, where they fished and Jet Skied. They’re now enjoying their happily ever after living in Southwest Florida and working in Naples, where they savor time with family and friends. They also love kayaking on the Imperial River, beach bumming at Gordon’s Pass, and walking around Freedom Park. For this youthful, nature-appreciating pair, the adventure has only just begun.
Photography by Michelle Gonzalez