When photographer Max Papendieck wanted to propose to his girlfriend, model Julia Van Os, he did so with a gorgeous diamond engagement ring at a classic California landmark.
Chalk it up to his creative background, but the Brooklyn-based photographer planned the most picturesque proposal we’ve ever heard of. The night before, Papendieck got a suite at the historic hotel on the Sunset Strip, summoned room service for champagne, and popped the question. Hotel guests lounging by the pool could see the interaction through the window and started applauding.
“I didn’t have it perfectly planned out, but it turned out to be such a perfect moment,” he said.
Here, the couple discusses the life lessons they learned in 2020, the pros of having multiple engagement parties, and the “classic and timeless” diamond engagement ring.
It’s been a whirlwind year and a half. How has your life changed for the better since 2020?
Max Papendieck: I was able to look at the bigger picture and connect with myself a little more, rather than just getting caught up in the day to day stresses of my job. My life has never been more disrupted than it was last year, and I felt very vulnerable, but having Julia made me feel safe. I think it definitely strengthened our relationship a lot. Going through such a stressful time together brought us closer and we really became a family over that time.
Julia Van Os: I think 2020 put a lot into perspective. We are both always on the go, we travel a lot for work, and have very busy social lives here in New York City. When all of a sudden that got taken away, we were just left with each other. We spent months together in our Brooklyn apartment without seeing anyone, and it brought us so much closer. It made me realize again how much I love Max. Here we were in a scary and uncertain situation, but it didn’t feel so bad because we had each other. That’s what it always comes down to. After those months, I knew I wanted to marry him.
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care as a couple?
MP: No phones! And no work talk. Because we work in the same industry, it’s easy to bounce ideas off each other all the time. But it’s very important to consciously press pause on that and just enjoy spending time with each other.
JVO: Before the pandemic, we used to do date night once a week. One of us would choose a restaurant and it would be a surprise—we’d dress up and go out for dinner, just the two of us. Then the lockdown happened and we started doing date nights at home. We’d set the table nicely, put on some music, open a bottle of wine, and cook together. I always really love that quality time. Even after being together for many years, I think it’s so important to make time for these things and do something special.
How did you two meet?
JVO: In a nightclub in Manhattan—a pretty unlikely place to find love! [Laughs.] I saw Max sitting on a couch and I went up to him. We clicked right away, and we ended up talking all night. At the end of the night, we exchanged numbers. We went out on our first date two days later and have pretty much been inseparable ever since. Everything about it was very easy and natural—we just wanted to be around each other.
MP: It was one of those nights where I wasn’t planning on going out, but I found myself going anyway. I ended up talking to Julia all night. We just really hit it off and I wanted to see her again after that.
What were your first impressions of each other?
MP: When I first met Julia, I remember she was showing me some of her photography work. I thought it was so cool that she was so passionate about it. I really liked that about her and I wanted to get to know her better because of that.
JVO: I also thought Max was very cool. I had just moved to New York, and I remember being impressed with the way he navigated the city so seamlessly. He really fit in there! He had this apartment on the Lower East Side with a little fire escape in the back. We used to sit there and drink wine and talk for hours. I was very intrigued by him—I just loved the way he operated.
When did you first say “I love you”?
JVO: I actually really don’t remember! But I do know it was pretty early on in the relationship.
MP: I definitely said it first. It was probably late at night after a couple drinks. And I remember she said it right back, and it was a beautiful moment.
Tell us the proposal story.
JVO: Well, we had planned a two-week road trip around California in an RV. So we flew from New York to L.A., and the plan was to stay the night in a hotel and then pick up the RV and start the trip the next day. When we arrived, Max had gotten this beautiful suite in the Sunset Tower Hotel. He proposed to me not long after we got in. It was such a lovely setting. Afterward, we went on the road trip, which sort of felt like an engagement honeymoon. [Laughs.]
MP: Julia had no idea that I had been carrying the ring around with me all day while flying. I was so nervous. I had called the hotel previously to ask if they could put some champagne in the room. When we got to the room, there wasn’t any, so I called down while Julia was in the shower. A gentleman came to bring it up and loudly said “congratulations!” when I hadn’t even proposed to her yet. I think Julia heard, so I did it right then and there. The people downstairs at the pool saw it happening through the window and started applauding. I yelled out the window, “She said ‘yes’!”
Who chose the ring?
JVO: Max did it all himself! It was a total surprise to me.
MP: I worked with an amazing designer, Lauren Addison, who held my hand through the entire process and carefully explained everything to me. It took me about eight months from start to finish. It was a process I really enjoyed.
Julia, what do you love most about it?
JVO: I love that it’s a solitaire setting. The diamond itself is so stunning—it doesn’t need any bells and whistles around it. It just has this beautiful gold band. It’s classic and timeless.
How did you celebrate the engagement? Give us the deets!
MP: The night we got engaged, we went to dinner just the two of us. It was so nice to share that moment together. After that, we did the road trip. That was also amazing because we got to really switch off. We didn’t have phone service or internet during most of the trip—we just really got to enjoy each other’s company.
JVO: We went to dinner in the hotel that night to celebrate, and they had live music playing. Then, after we got back from our road trip, our friends threw us a surprise engagement party. We thought we were meeting two of our friends for dinner, and then 30 of our friends jumped out from behind the wall! That was really incredible. We had hardly seen anyone since we had gotten engaged, so it was great to celebrate it with everyone.
Max, what’s your favorite photo you’ve ever taken of Julia?
MP: This photo I took on my old fire escape in my Lower East Side apartment when we had only been dating for a few months. It was a Sunday morning and we were having coffee, and I asked her if I could take her picture. I climbed up on the roof of the building next to us while she was sitting on the fire escape wearing a white shirt of mine, and took the photo with a long lens. I love it because it will forever remind me of the time we met—we were both young but in love with each other, and that was a beautiful time in our relationship.