By ALIX STRAUSS
When Anthony Rossomando told his mother about the sand sculpture he and his fiancé, Stephanie Angelone, were having made for their beach wedding at the Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria resort in Key West, Fla., Mr. Rossomando recalled his mother saying, “How nice.”
“When she asked the price and I told her, $700, she said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’” said Mr. Rossomando, 32, a merchant mariner.
Little did Mr. Rossomando’s mother know how much fun it would be to watch it being built, how labor intensive it would be (some sculptures take two days), how long it would stay intact — and that $700 is a nominal price. Some hotels charge more than $3,000 for a sand sculpture, depending on design, detail, complexity and size.
Mr. and Mrs. Rossomando, who live in Grafton, Mass., were married March 5. To commemorate the event, they opted for a four-foot sculpture in the shape of a compass rose with an anchor down the middle. Their names were engraved on either side.
“When my mother saw it, she loved it,” he said. “She told me it was well worth the money.”
That’s how most people feel — those paying for the large, personalized visual and those who pass by and take a photo, whether they’re part of the wedding or not.
Sand sculptures seem to be what ice sculptures once were, minus the melting issue; impressively designed, highly personalized and offering an unexpected wow factor. (And in case of rain, protective covering saves the sculpture from the same fate of melting ice.)
For those having destination weddings held on sugary white sandy beaches, tributes made out of sand are taking center stage and becoming surprisingly popular.
“In the five years since I’ve worked here, I’ve seen a 65 to 70 percent increase in couples incorporating this into their weddings,” said Evelyn Judge, director of catering and events at the Casa Marina. While ice sculptures last only a few hours, those made out of sand can last for days — that’s longer than some marriages (think Britney Spears and Jason Alexander’s 55 hours of married life).
“I love Key West, and knew I’d want to have my wedding here,” said Mrs. Rossomando, 34, a sales operation manager. “The sea is a big part of Anthony’s life, so the nautical theme was important to us. When you get married at a hotel, there are always other people around. This marked our territory. Having our names on it helped as well. It says, ‘Be aware this is our day’ in a subtle way.”
At the Ritz-Carlton resorts in Naples, Fla., designs start at $2,000. Planning takes place over several weeks to ensure the couple’s vision has been captured correctly. (At the Ritz’s golf resort, a few miles from the beach, the sculptures can be done in the course’s bunkers.)
“Years ago we used to do two or three a year, now we do up to 10,” said Lydia Redmond, senior sales manager for weddings at the hotel. “Sand marks a special childhood memory for most. Sculptures capture that personal relationship.”
Lauren McHenry Greenwood, 34, and Jeff Greenwood, 39, were married on Jan. 9. They, too, chose the Casa Marina because of the sculpture option.
“We didn’t know something like this existed,” said Mrs. Greenwood, chief operating officer at an IV hydration and wellness clinic. “None of the other hotels we visited were offering it. When Jeff saw the one the hotel had outside, he turned and said, ‘I only need two things: a premium bar and a sand sculpture.’ I wasn’t convinced at first, but Jeff thought it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.”
The pair, who live in Georgia, met on Tinder in 2013 (after Match.com told them they were not a match).
“He had a photo of his dog wearing an Ohio State jersey, which is where he’s from, and I love dogs and thought, ‘Well, he can’t be a bad guy if he’s got his dog in this,’” she said.
Mrs. Greenwood, from Connecticut, came with Mac, a 4-year-old 55-pound German shorthaired pointer. Mr. Greenwood had Scarlet, a 14-year-old 35-pound Sheltie.
“Our dogs were too big to make the trip and would have needed to be flown under the plane, and we didn’t want that for them,” Mrs. Greenwood said. “But we really wanted them to be part of the wedding since they’re a huge part of our lives and is the reason we met.”
With that in mind, the pair decided the sculpture would be of their dogs. The hotel connected the couple with their sand designer. Emails were exchanged over a few months. Sketches were drawn. Designs finalized. A fee was agreed upon, $1,200.
“It was lot of money especially since we couldn’t take it home, but it was worth it,” she said. “Watching our dogs come to life was fascinating. Regular guests staying at the hotel took pictures with them. People from around the world who weren’t at the wedding have photos of our dogs.”
Marianne van den Broek, owner of Sand Isle, does the sculptures for the hotel and others. She attributes the growing popularity of the artisanal.
“There’s a trend right now in showcasing handmade pieces while moving away from something digital or mechanical,” she said. “We don’t use any power tools or machinery. People want something organic that’s reusable and kind to the environment. Each sculpture is made for that specific couple. Each is original, creative, unique and tells a story while being a compelling focal piece.”
Other Florida properties that offer this service are: Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach; Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, on its own private beach; Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa; the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami; and the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, which also offers sand painting. While some hotels offer a video of the building process as a memento, others provide professional lighting and photography.
Nick Wagner, director of guest experiences at the Marco Island Marriott, credits the hotel’s three miles of white sand for luring guests. Over the last year, sculpture demand has increased 15 to 20 percent. The number of inquiries are up, too.
“Sand is a new element that offers a memory and a surprise moment,” he said. “People are mesmerized that something from the beach is converted into a piece of art. Then the ocean reclaims it.”
As popularity grows, so do the ways sand is incorporated into special events. Many are hiring sand artists and sculptors to create original monuments in order to propose to their partners. Others have opted to use sculptures as their save-the-date card.
Popular sculptures are the couple’s names and date of the wedding; college logos; things that are indigenous to Key West or the sea — shells, dolphins, turtles, bottle of rum; and pets. One couple had a life-size recreation of the bride’s horse, which wasn’t able to attend, but clearly was there in sand spirit.
But the biggest appeal remains the building factor.
“I loved watching this mound of sand become something so personal and important to us,” Mrs. Rossomando said. “Within hours it became this tangible, beautiful entity.
“I wasn’t there when they built and decorated the ballroom venue, but I was there to watch the artist do the sculpture. That made me feel like I was part of the process. Watching it being built on the biggest day of my life gave me a deeper level of connection. Plus, it was up for several days, which was a happy reminder of our wedding.”