"I thought, 'Well, that would work out economically because we could split the costs,' " said Paris, a former TV show editor taking courses to prepare for nursing school. "And then, because I live in Los Angeles and I really wanted to get married in Philadelphia, organizing that from 3,000 miles away would have been hard." Her sister would be "on the ground." Family would need to make travel plans only once - a twofer of sorts.
While a double wedding might sound like an anachronism best left to Jane Austen novels - not to mention a virtual impossibility given today's bridezilla culture - the sisters saw a chance to create a one-of-a-kind celebration to fit both of their personalities (and their budgets).
Kelly Miller, who runs a Manayunk-based event-planning business, says she sees a lot of brides getting creative in hopes of getting more wedding for their buck. Usually, though, couples take small steps: holding Friday weddings or opting for holiday weekends when venues offer discounts. Certainly there's a fair share of do-it-yourselfing: make your own bouquet, design your own centerpieces, bake your own party favors. But double weddings? That's something Miller hasn't seen.
Given how unusual a two-in-one is, it may not be surprising that the Merins' fiances required some persuading.
"I thought it would be a distraction from Paris and I," Maxey, 41, admitted. And both men initially pictured, cringingly, two couples standing up for vows side-by-side. But the sisters mapped out a plan for keeping ceremonies short, sweet, and, importantly, separate - followed by a bigger, better, more boisterous party than either couple could finance alone.
The men were won over, and a year of transcontinental collaborative wedding planning began.
Aside from a few whirlwind trips to Pennsylvania to visit venues and attend tastings, the sisters planned most of the June wedding online and over the phone, sending links and photos back and forth, and holding conference calls with their DJ and caterer.
It added a level of difficulty to the planning and required a willingness to compromise and an open mind on just about everything.
"You couldn't make a decision without getting the other one's approval," said Nina, an interior designer-turned-stay-at-home mom. But, she said, bouncing ideas off a fellow bride also made the planning process far more fun. With less laid-back people, it might be a greater challenge - but the sisters said the only real conflict in the process was something that comes up in many weddings: getting all the bridesmaids to come to terms with their assigned outfits, in this case, clover-green cocktail dresses.
Of course, getting a four-person consensus maybe wasn't in the cards - meaning this approach might not work when there are opinionated grooms in the mix.
"I tried to give my opinion early on in the process and it got vetoed, so I decided, 'I'll keep quiet,' " Papa, 31, said. "The ongoing joke was: Tell me what time to show up and I'll be there."
Due to Paris' yearning for a quintessential Philadelphia wedding, the sisters were looking for a location in Fairmount Park and found the Belmont Mansion. The outdoor party area on the Belmont Plateau offered space for all 200 guests and a view of the Center City skyline - plus, since the historic mansion is a mostly DIY venue, it offered plenty of opportunities both to save money and to personalize every detail.
The sisters did just that: designing and making invitations and save-the-date cards, creating their own bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces - white stock, yellow solidago, and pink spray roses arranged in mason jars - and even sewing 250 brightly patterned napkins themselves.
They also spent hours planning the program of events: They shared a family friend, Common Pleas Court Judge Diane Thompson, as an officiant, and organized a shared wedding party that required no one, except their father, to walk down the aisle twice. Paris, as the older sister, got to tie the knot first. "We didn't want people to have to sit through two really long ceremonies, because everything is double, timewise," she said. "People want to see the vows, the kiss, then they're ready to party."
As for the reception, the couples' first dances, the father-daughter dances, and the various toasts were scattered throughout the evening so that nothing dragged on too long. In between, a newlywed game on the dance floor and a surprise appearance by an utterly convincing Michael Jackson impersonator helped work up the crowd. Papa, who had himself been told only briefly that the King of Pop might swing by, said that was a highlight. "I remember looking around at everyone's faces and laughing, and thinking that was definitely the start of an epic party."
Brainstorming also yielded other fun touches: picnic blankets and a croquet set scattered around the mansion grounds for guests to enjoy the June weather, and a handful of Flip cameras set up on tripods so friends and family could record video messages for the couples.
Just about the only thing the sisters didn't plan together was their dresses. Although, Paris admitted, they did influence one another. "I was going to get something a lot simpler until I saw Nina's dress and then she kind of raised the bar," she said.
They also opted for separate photographers, to ensure that each couple would have a customized album.
The total cost: about $28,000, which the couples basically split down the middle. (That's $9,000 less than the average for a Philadelphia wedding, according to a TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com survey - and that's before being divided by 2.) Paris and Charles saved enough to be able to throw a second reception on the West Coast, for those who couldn't make it to Philadelphia.
Both sisters, and their husbands, agreed it was the ideal way to bring all of their families together.
Nina said that by the end of the night, even the doubters were convinced. "When I told people about it, they thought I was crazy. They said, 'Really? You're going to share your day? You don't want to be in the spotlight?' But you're still in the spotlight; you're just sharing it."