Michelle Kahl and Pete Mscichowski’s unique wedding day was more than a decade in the making. They met in Chicago in 2009 during their first semester of college. “In some ways, I knew from the first moment I met Michelle that there was something special about her,” Pete remembers. Still though, when he asked her out, it wasn’t on a date, per se, but rather to “spend an afternoon as tourists.” “We walked through Millennium Park, took selfies at The Bean, and rode the Navy Pier Ferris wheel. We shared childhood stories while we watched Buckingham Fountain rise and fall over and over,” Michelle recalls. Though Pete remembers holding hands on their way to dinner at the iconic Rosebud Steakhouse, “It wasn’t until he grabbed the bill that I finally realized it was our first date,” Michelle admits.
Their relationship took a turn in the summer of 2015, on the last day of a family vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. Everyone else had gone home, but Pete and Michelle had a later flight. They spent the day wandering the historic city. “I remember that afternoon so clearly because it was the first time I felt to the core that Pete was family, that he was my partner for life, and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else,” Michelle says.
In 2019, after 10 years together, it was time to take the next step. “Pete proposed at sunset in Victoria Peak Garden in Hong Kong,” Michelle says. “It was the tail-end of our eight-week trip through Southeast Asia. We’d picked out a simple hammered-gold band together at the John Hardy workshop in Jimbaran, Bali, a week prior. We celebrated with an intimate dinner at Mott 32 and after with drinks at The Peninsula Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui.”
A wedding was never a given for Michelle, though. Previously a buyer and stylist for BHLDN and Anthropologie, she’d worked in and around weddings for years. “However, it was a big debate whether or not I would have my own,” she says. “In the past, I have felt turned off by big ceremonies or events that felt inauthentic, and for that reason we seriously considered elopement.” She continues, “When Pete and I were considering different wedding options, we read The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, which helped us draw out a purpose for our wedding: to honor support from our loved ones, feel connected to our community, commit our lives to each other, and celebrate love. It was important to us that the event was designed so that the ethos and details reflected our intention.”
They decided on a weekend-long “semi-destination” wedding in Paradise Valley, Arizona, to allow the time and space to focus on celebrating family and friends—and said “I do” on April 10, 2021. Read on to see how it all came together, planned by Danielle Abbey and Ashley Kovarick of Dash Event Company and photographed by Michelle Scott Photography.
Planning began with choosing their “semi-destination.” Michelle and Pete quickly landed on Arizona—specifically Scottsdale and the surrounding Paradise Valley area. “We knew we wanted to get married in April when the desert is in full bloom,” the couple shares. “The weather, sunlight, and landscape are so inspiring. Michelle is studying to be a landscape architect and has always been inspired by the red rock; the Arizona landscape has a sense of adventure. Historically, the American Southwest has been this quiet frontier, inspiring architects and artists.”
From there, the design took on a life of its own. “The creative and visual planning was fun for me,” Michelle says. “I am not afraid to take some risks to do things in a non-traditional way.” She curated Pinterest boards for the landscape-inspired color palette—Sedona rose, deep eucalyptus, brick red, and bright indigo—and built out a deck on Google Slides to guide the decor and vibe. Putting her degree in graphic design to work, she designed and printed the invitations and signage along with her sister. “The design incorporated custom artwork done by Clare Conway, a talented artist and longtime best friend,” she says. “The project was a really fun collaboration of creative ladies.”
Among the meaningful accessories Michelle donned for the big day was an heirloom pearl ring. “It was a gift passed down from my mother that was originally given as a first anniversary wedding present from her father-in-law, my grandfather who recently passed,” she says. She paired it with her hammered gold John Hardy engagement ring and Eden Philippa wedding band.
She pegged Rachel Psarkis of Cliffrose Studio to do her hair, but makeup was a family affair. “My sisters and I did our own makeup to create a more natural look,” Michelle says. “We took product tips from a close friend and beauty influencer, Sarah Rita. We loved the Westman Atelier lip suede, creme foundation, and contour sticks. Other favorites were Diorshow waterproof mascara, Anastasia waterproof crème color eyeliner, and Tower 28 BeachPlease blush in Magic Hour.”
Each of her accessories was thoughtfully curated—even the ones you ones you couldn’t see. She wore a dried floral headpiece by Maria Sn Novias, turquoise Eshvi earrings to represent the Southwest, and lace-up sandals by her favorite Seoul-based shoe designer, Reike Nen. Underneath, “I wore a vintage embroidered silk slip by VanitiesFair, and a lingerie set by Lonely Label,” she says. “The bridal fragrance was Empressa by Penhaligon’s. Purchased on a whim during an NYC outing with my best friend, it has since become a treasured perfume for the most special moments.”
Dress shopping during the height of the pandemic proved an interesting challenge, and the Nevenka Japanese silk-rayon gown was the only one she physically tried one. “I saw this dress silhouette in black on Nevenka’s website and inquired to see if they would consider making me a version in white as a wedding dress,” Michelle remembers. “Lead designer Rosemary Masic was so welcoming and opened her arms to me. We worked together on Zoom and WhatsApp to create the iteration in white, and she surprised me in the mail with a little custom Japanese swing jacket to pair with it.”
Pete wore a narrow-lapel green suit by French menswear designer Neil Barrett, an embroidered shirt by Japanese-brand Kamakura Shirts, and a gray-blue silk tie by Turnbull & Asser. He finished the look with a pair of Persol Typewriter sunglasses—“Pete’s classic look; he’s had these for a long time,” says Michelle—and a wedding band by the same designer as his bride’s, Eden Philippa.
Allow yourself a moment to let the beauty of your commitments sink in.
The couple shared a romantic first look among vibrant bougainvillea. It was a moment to be cherished, and they advise other couples to do something similar. “Try to set aside at least one quiet, intimate moment for you and your partner,” the couple suggests. “Allow yourself a moment to let the beauty of your commitments sink in.”
Michelle carried a delicate bouquet of acacia and sweet pea, yet another expression of their visual theme—“casual, global, romantic, and midcentury modern,” Michelle says. Her dual maids of honor carried similar bouquets featuring florals that complemented their dresses.
“Each element of the day was thoughtfully considered,” Michelle shares. “We are not religious or traditional, so we were not following any prescribed conventions; defining our intention for the event early on made all the difference.” Throughout planning, they made sure to keep sight of what was most important. “We were able to continually refocus on the important piece—our marriage—by attending premarital counseling with Next Step Chicago during our engagement. Our counselor, Kelsey, was an amazing guiding resource for us and it was hugely helpful to not get lost in the chaos of wedding planning.”
We loved the idea of showing our guests an iconic Arizona landmark.
“For the ceremony, we chose Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, the southwest studio for the iconic American architect,” says Michelle, who has always admired his work. “I remember paging through my grandmother’s Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table books as a child. I had never been to Taliesin West before booking the site, but I fell in love with the architecture, citrus grove, stairs, and outcrops. I love how it nestles into the McDowell mountain range. We loved the idea of showing our guests an iconic Arizona landmark—the grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage site.”
Michelle’s younger sisters Brooke and Mary Kate served as co-maids of honor in dresses by Ulla Johnson and Shona Joy. “My ‘friends of honor’ also picked their favorite color from the palette and a dress style of their choice,” Michelle says.
“I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and wear something they loved, but still feel like we styled the group above just wearing anything. I sent lots of ideas and inspiration, but ultimately everyone picked a dress they just loved.”
Meanwhile, the groomsmen styled suits in the same color palette with Paul Smith ties and Otaa pocket squares. “We wanted them to wear different colors to create the mix-and-match look,” Michelle says.
Decor for the outdoor ceremony was minimal. “Taliesin West is so stunning as is. The palo verde, bougainvillea, and citrus grove were all in bloom, so we did not need to add very much. We chose garden chairs and offered guests white parasols to shade from the sun.”
They pegged Spanish guitarist Angelito Agcaoili to strum for the ceremony. The background music was soft, but he took up a more familiar tune—The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun”—as Michelle’s father escorted her down the aisle.
Because so much of the wedding was non-traditional, we wanted some part of the ceremony to feel familiar and climactic.
Pastor Mark from The Perfect Wedding officiated the ceremony, which included a blessing by the bride’s mother and readings from The Sea in You by David Whyte and “Look at Love” by Rumi. The couple also sat for a portion of the ceremony. “We did classic vows,” Michelle shares. “Because so much of the wedding was non-traditional, we wanted some part of the ceremony to feel familiar and climactic.”
It was The Beatles again for the recessional after “I do,” a fitting pick against the mid-century backdrop. This time the guitarist took up “Till There Was You.”
“Right after the ceremony, the overwhelming joy of our marriage hit us while we were signing our marriage certificate in Frank Lloyd Wright’s private quarters,” the couple shares. “It was the most wonderful private moment with our immediate family.”
“I hired photographer Michelle Scott after I had the opportunity to watch her capture my best friend’s wedding in Savannah, Georgia,” Michelle says. “Her attentive presence with the wedding party and her eye for styling shots is just lovely. On the wedding day, she carried five different cameras—digital, film, 35mm, polaroid—scouted the locations ahead to carefully plan our shots, and sourced a local assistant to make sure she didn’t miss a candid moment. The resulting images and edits are heirlooms of their own.”
After the ceremony, the newlyweds and their 91 guests headed to Paradise Valley, where Michelle and Pete had booked luxury rental property Cameo Estate for their reception. “We looked for a space that felt more intimate and casual, so our guests could relax and feel at home,” the couple shares. “We loved the location—right at the base of Camelback and Mummy Mountains—and we loved the idea of staying on the property during the wedding weekend.”
Extra-long banquet-style farm tables (the head table sat 34!) set the tone for a dinner-party style event. “Centerpieces were delicate color-blocked bud vases with texture and local stems, and I set out photos and notes I had written to Pete over the years,” Michelle says.
“We also did a creative interpretation of a guest book. We had cards with blank faces painted on them. Guests used markers to draw themselves on the card with a little note. The result is the sweetest illustrated book of our wedding guests.”
I collected poems of love and joy that reminded me of each of my guests.
Michelle tackled a handful of DIY projects for the reception—“Doesn’t every creative bride?” she says—with the most meaningful being personalized poem place cards. “Over the course of wedding planning, I collected poems of love and joy that reminded me of each of my guests. I picked a special poem for each person and had it printed on their seat card with their name. It was my special gift to each of the guests, and had such a beautiful reverberation into the event.”
“We prioritized lighting over excessive floral because the reception began at 7 p.m. as the sun was setting,” Michelle says. “We knew lighting would have more of an impact than floral to the feel of the event.” They selected colorful 17-inch taper candles from Danica Design Candles for the tabletops, Japanese-inspired stacked lanterns from Valley Event Lighting, hanging tree lanterns, bistro lights, and more.
“I had been collecting ideas for music for some time, so planning the music details felt fun,” Michelle shares. There were a number of notable music moments, including the newlyweds’ entrance into the reception to “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells.
Another hit was Bobby Womack’s “Fly Me to the Moon” for the first dance—“I saved that one for years,” Michelle says. (The couple took dance lessons at Windy City Wedding Dance leading up to the big day.) “We had a surprise moment calling my best friend and her new husband to the dance floor. They were married December 28, 2020, and unable to have the reception and chance to dance to their song, ‘For Island Fires and Family’ by Dermot Kennedy. It was so beautiful and emotional.”
“The reception had a backyard feel and we wanted the dinner to feel relaxed and fun,” the couple says. “Food was served family-style by Artisan by Santa Barbara Catering, and all the spring produce was grown locally by The Farm at South Mountain.” Guests sipped on a signature Aperol Spritz as they dined.
Speeches came during dinner. “Brooke, my sister and maid of honor, surprised me with her speech,” Michelle says. “She found and read an old love poem I had written to Pete in 2018. It was so special and felt so personal.”
Then everyone hit the dance floor—truly everyone. “Another reason we selected Paradise Valley was to be close to my grandmother, Margaret Kahl,” Michelle shares. “I’ve been visiting her in the Paradise Valley area for over 15 years and as the only grandparent between the two of us, she was our guest of honor for sure.”
Local vendor Abbie Cakes crafted a trio of cakes in coordinating colors, Michelle’s favorite being an orange cake with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream filling. “I dream about it,” she says. The bride even curated a playlist for cake cutting, requesting “You’re the One” by The Vogues for the moment.
It capped the joyous celebration of love we imagined.
“Late in the evening, myself, my sisters, and friends of honor—in utter bliss and laughter—plunged into the pool, dresses and all,” Michell remembers. “It capped the joyous celebration of love we imagined.”
Following the celebration, the couple spent a few days relaxing nearby at The Canyon Suites at The Phoenician. They’re planning an international honeymoon—Poland, Portugal, and Morocco—for a later date. Looking back on the process, they offer this piece of planning advice: “Set your intention and let it be your North Star.”