After two years of dating Michelle Geannakakes, jewelry designer Sydney Strong knew it was time to plan a proposal of epic proportions. Michelle, a nurse practitioner, was working in Alaska at the time, so Sydney decided: Why not do it there?!
On July 1, 2018, she surprised Michelle with a helicopter ride to Colony Glacier—a place so remote, it's only accessible that way—and proposed when they reached the top. In her hand was a 2.5 carat oval engagement ring that she'd designed and personalized with an “M” and “S” engraving and an etching of the Alaskan mountain range inside of the band.
Michelle returned the gesture on September 21, 2018, proposing back to Sydney in grand fashion at the Capilano Extension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia. This time, she popped the question with a rose gold engagement ring designed by Sydney's mother, llyn Strong Fine Art Jewelry. To honor their adventurous spirit, there is an image of the Vancouver mountains below the halo surrounding her stone.
After proposals atop a glacier and on a suspended footbridge, expectations were quite literally set high. Naturally, the couple chose to say "I do" in an equally as thrilling destination—on a helipad with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. However, despite the dramatic views and unexpected location, Sydney and Michelle didn't make their 150 guests jet off to some far-flung destination to witness their vows.
Rather, they hosted a two-day wedding close to home at Hotel Domestique—a small boutique hotel owned by renowned cycler, George Hincapie—in Greenville, South Carolina. "Our wedding vision was built specifically off of the feeling we wanted our guests to have, as if they were spending an evening in our home," explains the couple. This informed every decision they made, from the food and drink choices—pizza, champagne, and cake—to the dinner service and entertainment.
Every detail was selected to mimic their home, but the weekend's events (and décor, for that matter!) were far from expected. Keep reading to see how Sydney and Michelle tailored their wedding, thanks to planning by Jason Mitchell Kahn and photos by Red Apple Tree Photography, to ensure that every guest felt perfectly at home throughout.
The weekend's celebrations began with a welcome party on Friday night. "Our favorite way to celebrate any milestone or special life event is with pizza, champagne, and cake," says the couple. "We could think of no better way to kick off our wedding festivities than with an evening full of exactly that."
Sydney and Michelle dressed in white for the welcome: Sydney wore a sophisticated sheath dress by Alice and Olivia, while Michelle sported a chic one-shoulder mini from Halston Heritage. They both wore Jimmy Choo throughout the festivities, first opting for coordinating wedges (in white and silver!) since the welcome party took place on a lawn.
Deciding to craft our wedding around a feeling really gave us an amazing focal point to continue to circle back to with every decision we made.
Other personal touches included splashes of rainbow to celebrate and honor their pride and a living wall with a neon sign that read “Because Love." And the biggest hit? Two roaming "unicorns"!
A statement cake—the final item on the couple's signature celebration menu!—was suspended from a custom-built arch and swing. When cut, Michelle and Sydney revealed surprise rainbow layers inside.
Glasses of vintage Veuve Clicquot were presented on a custom ice wall etched with the phrase “Cheers to Love." This saying first appeared on the couple's wedding invitation and made several appearances throughout the evening.
For dancing, a custom stage was built with a marquee sign reading “Cheers to Love.” After confetti cannons showered guests with biodegradable glitz on the dance floor, the couple and their bridal party headed back to the wedding venue together. "We spent the weekend there with our entire bridal party and their spouses and significant others," Sydney recalls. "It felt like one giant sleepover and was the best experience to have all of our favorite and most important people under one roof spending time together."
The next morning, Sydney and Michelle got ready separately with their girlfriends. "But when it came time for each of us to get dressed, we had carved out that time to just be with our moms," Sydney says. "They both contributed so much love to the day, and we knew that would mean more to them than any gift we could find."
Sydney and Michelle met up for a first look before the ceremony—but this was not a dress reveal for the couple! They had intended to find their gowns separately, but after several unsuccessful appointments with their bridesmaids and mothers, an opportunity presented itself when a planned girls trip to Charleston fell through, and they decided to go anyway! "We actually went dress shopping together," Michelle says. "We started the appointment trying to stay separate and hide things from each other but we ended up seeing each other's dresses to ensure they looked good together."
Michelle said "yes" to a Caroline Castigliano gown, joking that she knew it was "the one" when she discovered it had pockets! "But, honestly, it made me feel exactly the way I wanted to feel," she adds. Sydney chose a gorgeous strapless design by Pronovias but she admits that she did not have an "aha" moment in the salon. In fact, it wasn't until her final dress fitting that she knew she truly loved her dress.
Of course, jewelry held a special significance for the brides, who both accessorized with pieces designed by Sydney or her mother. Sydney completed her ring stack with three rose gold rings—a set of diamond wedding bands and a plain band made to match the rings she gave her bridal party when she "popped the question." On the wedding day, Sydney also had a gift for Michelle: a gold Cartier love bracelet hand-engraved with the same Alaskan mountain range as her ring.
The couple's 15 bridesmaids wore Jenny Yoo dresses in shades of blue and gray. The palette was inspired by the wedding invitation suite, which Sydney and Michelle hand-painted in the same soft hues.
Guests were greeted with refreshing drinks at the ceremony entrance. The custom signage added a dose of the couple's personality to the program with a message that read, "It's a hot one, and it's going to be a long night." (Translation: Hydrate now so you can drink and dance later!)
The wedding party's names were also front and center along with the message: "Eyes up, phones down, hearts open."
The ceremony took place on the helipad at the top of the property, which received a custom ivory paint treatment for the event and offered guests stunning mountain views.
The couple customized the ceremony script—and even designed an aisle that allowed their bridesmaids to alternate entrances and, most importantly, made it possible for them to appear at the same moment. Created to look like an inverted letter "Y," Michelle and Sydney were escorted down separate "aisles" by their parents before meeting at the center point of the "Y."
"While in that center point, we did a little bit of a play off of the Jewish tradition of the seven circles," Sydney says. "Neither of us are Jewish—it was just something Michelle had previously seen and felt connected to." Michelle circled Sydney three times; Sydney circled Michelle three times; and, then, they joined hands and circled once together before walking the rest of the way hand-in-hand.
Sydney and Michelle wrote their own vows. "Oddly, they both included the promise to always have snacks on hand to prevent either of us getting hangry," they admit with a laugh. There were also several readings, such as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's "Ruling on Gay Marriage" and poems by Christopher Poindexter and Rupi Kaur.
As they proclaimed their love, artist Ric Standridge was nearby painting a portrait of their vows in real time. It was later displayed during the reception.
A cellist and guitarist duo played throughout the ceremony, with the brides processing down the aisle to "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers and recessing as newlyweds to "Not a Bad Thing" by Justin Timberlake.
Michelle and Sydney first met in July 2016 through Sydney's cousin Llyn Sillich, who went to nursing school with Michelle. Michelle is now a nurse practitioner.
We went as far as to bring in our own artwork to hang in the venue to truly make it feel like an extension of our home.
The reception was designed to feel as if guests were in the couple’s living room. "The blues and grays are colors in our 'cocktail' room, also known as a formal living room but that’s way less fun, at home," they explain with a laugh. "We went as far as to bring in our own artwork to hang in the venue to truly make it feel like an extension of our home."
Separated by curtains from the cocktail space, long tables were dressed in ivory linens and topped with navy hemstitched napkins, blue and gray taper candles, and a combination of high and low flower arrangements, votives, and greenery by Katelyn Pinner Studio. Menus and place cards were also hand-painted to match the brides’ invitation suite.
The meal service was selected to enhance the cozy, communal atmosphere. "Dinner was served family style at long tables—similar to our dining room table at home—to encourage conversation and a blending of friends and family who many did not know one another," reasons the couple.
True to their wedding style, Michelle and Sydney put a special twist on their first dance music. The song was a combination of “This Too Shall Last” by Anderson East and “XO” by John Mayer and Beyoncé, and was performed by Sydney’s father, Buddy Strong, on guitar and vocals and Sydney’s maid of honor, Heather Paviol, on vocals.
After, they danced with their fathers, at the same time, to "Sweet Child of Mine." "Halfway through the song, we switched fathers, so Michelle was dancing with my dad, and I was dancing with Michelle’s father," Sydney explains.
Since there were multiple nights of performances, Sydney and Michelle specifically chose bands with different vibes. The Retreat played during the wedding reception—"They're party but a little more mellow," according to the couple—and The Free, a more "upbeat party band," headlined at the welcome party. "We knew we wanted strong female vocalists for both bands, then just loved their vibes," they say.
Looking back, Sydney and Michelle describe the planning process as "incredible." "We had the best time sitting and coming up with ideas and truly creating a feeling for guests," they say. It was a "hugely collaborative process," and they were fortunate to have shared similar tastes and thoughts on what they wanted the day to mean to them and their loved ones.
That said, even if you don't share the exact vision, the newlyweds have advice to share. One: If you can, hire a planner that you love and trust, as they did with Jason Mitchell Kahn. "Jason is family to us, so planning the wedding without him was never an option," they . "His execution of our ideas and his industry knowledge was unparalleled, even working with vendors in a city he didn’t have previous exposure in." And, finally: Be creative! "Deciding to craft our wedding around a feeling really gave us an amazing focal point to continue to circle back to with every decision we made," they say. "It made most of our choices much easier because we would just go back to whether or not what we were choosing supported the creation of that feeling."
Venue Hotel Domestique
Planner Jason Mitchell Kahn
Officiant Dr. Marni Brown
Sydney's Bridal Gown Pronovias
Michelle's Bridal Gown Caroline Castigliano
Shoes Jimmy Choo
Sydney's Welcome Party Dress Alice & Olivia
Michelle's Welcome Party Dress Halston Heritage
Hair & Makeup Katie Cotton of Cotton Rouge Hair and Make Up Studio
Bridesmaid Dresses & Flower Girl Attire Jenny Yoo
Floral Design Katelyn Pinner Studio
Invitations & Paper Products The Indigo Mill
Live Painting Ric Standridge
Ceremony Music WireWood
Reception Music The Retreat
Cake Tessa Pinner
Videography Humming Meadow Productions
Photography Red Apple Tree Photography