This Flower-Filled San Francisco Wedding Was 16 Years in the Making

Michelle and Paul always imagined they'd tie the knot in a small ceremony at city hall, followed by a big party at home. In the end, they did the exact opposite.

Updated 11/21/16

Photo by Jose Villa

After 16 years together, Michelle Rabkin and Paul Pinto imagined they’d get married in a small city-hall ceremony followed by a big party at home. Instead, they did just the opposite, tying the knot at the bride’s family home in Piedmont, California, and then heading into San Francisco for a formal reception in the massive rotunda of its historic City Hall. “It was reverse logic,” says Michelle. “We love what the building stands for and that it’s beautiful in and of itself, but we wouldn’t have been able to turn the space around quickly enough between the ceremony and reception.”

On October 3, 2015, Michelle and Paul welcomed 155 guests to a flower-filled ceremony and a downtown reception, complete with botanical details inspired by the Rabkin family home. “We knew we wanted to get married outdoors immersed in greenery, somewhere beautiful, and somewhere that had meaning to us,” the bride says. With the help of Laurie Arons Special Events and florist Sarah Winward, the couple pulled off one seriously spectacular day at two equally special venues, all tied together with a botanical theme. Read on to see every perfect detail, as captured by Jose Villa.

Photo by Jose Villa

The bride’s sister and maid of honor, Beth, just so happens to be an accomplished designer, so it was an easy decision for Michelle and Paul to lean on her expertise for their invitation suite. She started with the couple’s save-the-date, which was modeled after old botanical print in their childhood home and a magnolia, Michelle’s favorite flower. That aesthetic ultimately carried over to the rest of the couple’s wedding. “It was really important to me that the whole wedding felt botanical,” the bride says. “I grew up loving the outdoors. I love being outside. I kept saying I wanted it to be wild, lush, and green when we were planning.”

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

How gorgeous was Michelle’s ivory silk Oscar de la Renta wedding dress? “I liked that this dress was timeless and modern, structured and feminine, and unique but simple all in one,” she says. “It felt bridal and beautiful but wouldn’t scream to be the center of attention, which was a balance I really liked.” The strapless silhouette fit her like a glove, and her flowing veil, wedding-appropriate lace heels, and a bold red lip lent a glamorous vibe to her look.

For her final touch, Michelle wore her mother’s pearl earrings and carried her grandmother’s lace handkerchief. In keeping with the flower-focused vibe of the day, the bride’s bouquet was packed with an abundance of gorgeous blooms in shades of green, white, and burgundy. The wild, garden-like mix was comprised of antique and koko loko garden roses, anemones, nandina, and greenery, all tied together with hand-dyed ribbons.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

Paul’s boutonniere, the finishing touch for his Tom Ford tuxedo, was made from astrantia and fragrant jasmine vine.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

While the bride went neutral with her look, she wasn’t afraid to bring in color in the form of her bridesmaids’ dresses and bouquets. Michelle’s five ‘maids wore gray chiffon gowns from Joanna August and carried bright bouquets, complete with pink garden roses and astilbe.

Even the couple’s youngest attendants donned garden-inspired hues. Flower girls in pink dresses wore hydrangea crowns while Michelle and Paul’s four ring bearers looks super sweet in their striped bow ties.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

One of the couple’s biggest pre-wedding challenges was figuring out where exactly their ceremony would take place. In the end, the best way to accommodate the couple’s full guest list was to cover the family’s pool with a platform, a task that Laurie Arons and Mr. Rabkin took on as a team. “They’re two of the most detail-oriented people on the face of the earth,” Michelle says. “It was a logistical nightmare, but they pulled it off!”

In keeping with their vision of a botanical celebration, the couple turned to florist Sarah Winward to create a chuppah decked out tons of different flowers. “We didn’t want it to look overly manicured. Having different textures and a little bit of wildness was very important to me,” Michelle says. “That’s actually why we picked Sarah. I had to have her!” Rows of wooden chairs faced the stunning structure, which was made from lush layers of magnolia branches, smilax, oak-leaf hydrangeas, and snow berries and designed to look as if it had been growing naturally in the space. Urns overflowing with the same mix, plus tons of café au lait dahlias, were arranged along the aisle.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

The 5 p.m. ceremony was officiated by both a priest and a rabbi, a decision that was important to the couple. “We wanted an interfaith ceremony that incorporated both Jewish and Catholic religions,” Michelle says. In addition to reciting their own vows, the bride and groom asked four friends to share meaningful readings and tapped their immediate family members to read the seven traditional Jewish wedding blessings.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa; Design by Sarah Winward; Planning by Laurie Arons Special Events

After the ceremony, guests were shuttled into downtown San Francisco, where they were treated to a champagne toast on the mayor’s balcony at City Hall. There, everyone found an escort card display they won’t soon forget: Sarah Winward created framed pressed botanicals, which were finished with guests names and table assignments, all handwritten by the couple’s calligrapher. “We were trying to think of the right way to bring in botanicals for the reception,” says the bride. “I love plants and textures but the pressed plants were sort of a great allusion to the botanical print on our invitation that started the whole conversation. It wasn’t overly theme-y, but I do think they were a more literal representation of our wedding inspiration.”

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

The couple loved the Beaux-arts architecture of City Hall, so they worked with Laurie and Sarah to create wild, lush floral details that would strike a balance between their outdoor ceremony and indoor reception. For them, that meant filling the Rotunda with tall trees in beautiful pots, a mix of different plants, and mismatched centerpieces. “It was so cool to walk through the space and see oak leaves casting shadows on the walls,” the bride says. “It added something. It didn’t compete with the marble, but it changed it.”

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

Round and long tables were decorated with low urns of loose, natural centerpieces in different shades of white and green, finished with pops of burgundy. Guests enjoyed a two-course seated dinner and sipped the couple’s signature cocktail, the Bee’s Knees, which was a mix of gin and local honey with fresh lemon juice.

Photo by Jose Villa
Photo by Jose Villa

For dessert, the newlyweds skipped traditional wedding cake in favor of croquembouche.

Photo by Jose Villa

Guests filled the dance floor all night, but one of the most special moments was Michelle and Paul’s first dance. The two chose “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

Photo by Jose Villa

Despite the formality of the day, the evening closed out on a casual note: Michelle, Paul, and eight of their closest friends piled into her parents’ car and headed to their hotel, where they kept the party going. “We planned a wedding that was somewhat unconventional but also included the traditions we wanted,” says the bride. “It was an ‘aha’ moment to realize that we could mix and match ideas that felt meaningful to us.”

Ceremony Venue: Private residence || Reception Venue: San Francisco City Hall || Wedding Planner: Laurie Arons Special Events || Bride's Wedding Dress: Oscar de la Renta || Hair & Makeup: Mimi & Taylor || Groom's Attire: Tom Ford || Bridesmaids' Dresses: Joanna August || Invitations & Save-the-Dates: Beth Rabkin of Seaview Studio || Additional Paper Products: Amber Moon Design || Floral Design: Sarah Winward || Trees & Plants: The Plant Library || Cocktail Hour Catering: Manzare Events || Reception Catering & Croquembouche: Paula LeDuc Fine Catering || Music: Synchronicity Strings; Encore of West Coast Music || Rentals: Classic Party Rentals || Lighting: Illusions Lighting Design || Favors: Laura Zindel || Photographer: Jose Villa

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