Seaside Dream

A couple ties the knot amid yachts at Pelican Isle.

After an outdoor ceremony at Aqua in North Naples, newlyweds Grant and Jillian Finlayson cruised aboard her father’s boat to their reception at Pelican Isle Yacht Club.
Photography by Alee Gleiberman Photography

You always recall your first time and wonder, could it last or lead to forever?

In this instance, Jillian Haverkate dipped her toes into online dating. Grant Finlayson was the first man she noticed, and that was the last time she opened the app.

This poster couple for dynamic, young professionals living in Miami got married in Naples last year, blending modern, stylish details with revered traditions. A website, a nautical logo, even their own hashtag (#4EverFinlayson), pushed the wedding plan to full throttle, while nostalgia kept their romance idling toward a sentimental slip.

Jillian was a physician recruiter, and Grant was in medical school at Michigan State University when they met in Grand Rapids. It was the fall of 2015, and both were 24 years old.

“We met the modern way,” she says. “A girlfriend downloaded Bumble [a dating app] and said, ‘Oh, look at this cute guy, Grant. He looks like a great family guy.’ He and I talked and agreed to meet fairly quickly. My sister, Diana, was so nervous that she said she’d have to track me. But he was a gentleman, very funny and kind. Our values and sense of family were very apparent.”

Another common bond was that Jillian’s family were Michigan State alums, and the pair were ardent fans of its sports teams. Grant arrived for their first date wearing “bright, electric-blue pants and a pea coat.” Thus, Diana deemed him a prime candidate for Jillian’s fashion sense.

“We both were so nervous, but we had a nice meal” at a jam-packed local brewery, Jillian recalls. However, she cut the evening short because it was right before Thanksgiving, and she was leaving the next day to meet her family in Naples.

“Grant asked whether I was interested in going out again, maybe the next weekend. After that, we were inseparable. It’s hard to realize we met that way, but I can’t imagine being without him. I feel like I’ve known Grant my whole life.”

Jillian’s career in human resources led to her current position at the University of Miami, and Grant is doing his anesthesiology residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Their wedding website read like a valentine to Naples, where they visit every possible weekend: “We are so excited to welcome you to one of our favorite cities,” it begins. “If you have some extra time to explore, here are a few of our favorite spots.” On the list were hotels, attractions, and restaurants, including The Hampton Social, where the couple welcomed friends following their rehearsal.

The wedding simply had to be in Naples, the vacation home for three generations of Jillian’s family. A backyard, harbor-side ceremony took place where her parents, Sheryl and Paul Haverkate, have wintered for six years. They knew the Aqua at Pelican Isle was a perfect backdrop for a sophisticated yet relaxed soiree. The Rev. Thomas Fountain, a friend from Grand Rapids, kept his remarks traditional yet personal.

Family heirlooms had a “something old” role, as Jillian’s wedding ring had been a gift before her beloved grandmother passed away, and Grant’s ring had been his great-grandfather’s. She “borrowed” a bracelet Paul had given Sheryl, and wore a Tiffany bracelet with a “something blue” tag. A ribbon around her bouquet of orchids was imprinted with the initials of three deceased grandparents.

A spontaneous outing with her parents led to Jillian finding her Vera Wang wedding gown and another dress for the reception.

“They came over on their boat to surprise me and said, ‘Let’s go look in Chicago,’” recalls Jillian. The trip turned out to be a success, and she scored a must-have ivory, strapless gown with an embroidered motif on the bodice that resembles a family crest. “That unique detail caught my eye. It was so ‘me,’ my personality, my look, my feel.”

Shopping for their daughter’s gown wasn’t the only surprise on deck. Jillian’s father and grandfather grew up in Michigan, and the waterways of Spring Lake were the wallpaper of her youth. Hence, the affinity for Naples’ boat-friendly surroundings—her father’s main requirement to live here.

Although Grant grew up in Texas, his parents, Kathleen and Richard Finlayson, live in Holland, Michigan, so their ties to Lake Michigan formed another bond between the two families. Once the couple began dating, Naples was a favorite destination for the Finlaysons as well.

“We introduced them to the city,” Jillian says, “and now Grant feels like it’s his second home.”

Her wedding plan began with an idea for a nautical logo, and she worked with Chicago artist Allie Hasson to personalize the image of a triangular flag suggestive of a yacht club—an optic to drive the overall aesthetic.

The theme included bridesmaids’ dresses by Jenny Yoo, in a shade of blue-gray like the Gulf of Mexico and the horizon at dusk. The men wore formal threads from The Black Tux. The mother of the bride, Sheryl, meanwhile, donned a green, tailored “very nontraditional” dress by Carolina Herrera from Saks Fifth Avenue at the Waterside Shops in Naples.

Instead of wedding gifts to each other, Jillian and Grant exchanged personalized cards. One was a pop-up of a kissing bride and groom seated in a boat on fair seas as grinning dolphins cavorted in the waves.

After the ceremony, the couple boarded her father’s boat, Intrepid, with a “Just Married, Jillian & Grant” life preserver on the back, for a very short cruise to the almost-next-door reception. The captain tied up at the Pelican Isle Yacht Club, where offshore islets buffer the Gulf; the indoor vernacular is woods and nautical wall moldings; and watercolors of boats suggest how easily one might drift off on a honeymoon.

As the newlyweds and 100 guests arrived at the club, a custom neon sign aglow with “The Finlaysons” anchored an entry table. The aim was an intimate evening for family and friends, and Jillian and her mother worked with designer Jessica James of the Garden District in Naples to interpret her wishes for the venue.

“Jessica had the artistic ability to truly transform the entire yacht-club space,” Sheryl says. “She put everything together brilliantly but was very instrumental in keeping the design like it was Jillian’s own.”

Sprays of white phalaenopsis orchids were the focal point, complemented with tropical monstera leaves, palm fronds, gold table accents, and custom place cards.

Jillian’s initial caveat—“no flamingos”—followed her mother’s suggestion for an accent. She acquiesced and says now, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole day was so fun.”

Recalls Sheryl: “Paul and I wanted the wedding to be fun more than ‘perfect’ or anything else. Just as things slowed down, we surprised them with La Hora Loca, a blast of color and sound to stir the crowd into a frenzy of dancing. It was just the fun we were looking for.” 

Fun is an understatement for the Brazilian-style “crazy hour.” Performers crashed the party with stilt-walkers, exotic costumes, beads, masks, and Carnival-inspired moves.

“My mom wanted a very memorable event, and she succeeded,” Jillian says. “She took over, we let loose, and it was the most fun surprise ever.”

Prior to that zany eruption, there was music by Edith Diamond, a Southwest Florida band named for the great-grandmother of two founding brothers.

After the cocktail hour, guests dined on double entrées of luscious beef tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce, and Gulf grouper crowned in crispy leeks, served with carrot-wrapped asparagus and dauphinoise potatoes. The feast began with mixed greens, roasted teardrop tomatoes, sliced cucumber, carrot curls, candied almonds, shaved Manchego, ciabatta croutons, and a mango-Champagne vinaigrette.

For dessert, Jillian opted for “a different approach”—a smaller cake and multiple sweet temptations—after which, she and Grant prepared to fly to Portugal for their honeymoon.

Online dating had floated into the past, and it was high time to begin #4EverFinlayson.

Story Credits:

Text by Stephanie Murphy-Lupo

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