Choosing a Wedding Venue, Part 2

elegant rustic wedding venue

In my last post I wrote about questions to ask yourself to narrow down wedding venue reception options. Here, I get into the nitty-gritty of selecting the one wedding venue for you, using Robert’s and my search as an example. Here are my tips:

  1. Let go of earlier notions of what you thought your venue would be. Having grown up in the South, I attended many weddings in historical mansions and I always assumed I’d do the same. But, to be honest, I was picturing a wedding, not a marriage, and while that might have suited the hazy, fictional man that was a part of that scenario, it seemed too formal for the very real couple Robert and I are.
  2. Decide what matters most to you. My cousin held her wedding reception in a historical house, and I loved that the party spilled from the indoors to the outdoors. But it wasn’t the historical mansion that made the impression on me, it was the free-flowiness of the event. It felt like a lovely, relaxed summer party. That’s what we wanted, and we didn’t need a mansion to do that.
  3. Be open. Inspired by my brother’s wedding in a nursery, I decided to check out venues that didn’t advertise themselves as wedding venues. Chief among them: old-timey restaurants with porches, many of which were onetime country grocery stores. Ultimately, we decided against this, but thinking in that direction led us to a more established venue with a similar vibe, which we ended up booking. A note: Using a venue that isn’t typically a wedding venue can give you a wonderfully original setting for your wedding, but keep in mind that you’ll be dealing with a vendor not set up to host weddings. There’s bound to be a learning curve for your venue contacts. I recommend having a wedding planner to help iron out the kinks if you go this route.
  4. What can you give up and what can’t you? Having an indoor/outdoor wedding was at the heart of how Robert and I envisioned our reception — we couldn’t give that up — neither were we willing to compromise on an open catering policy that allowed us to hire a caterer of our choosing. Also, I really, really wanted a porch. It wasn’t essential, but it was a heavy preference. Luckily, we found a venue that offered all this … but didn’t allow us to have open flames and has some restrictions on what you can hang on the walls. Alas, the sparkler send-off I vaguely envisioned is not going to happen, but who cares? Some other sort of sendoff will do, and I’m fine with unadorned logs setting a rustic ambiance for our reception anyways. In the end, we have the atmosphere we want, we can have any caterer we want, and the Hermitage has been so easy to work with. I think the Cabin-by-the-Spring is as good a match for Robert and I as we are for each other.
  5. Is the venue in your budget? This budget calculator from a wedding planner helped us break down our budget. It uses preset percentages, which may not align exactly with the percentages you plan to devote to each wedding element, but it gives you solid ballpark figures. For us, it helped us quickly determine which venues we shouldn’t give a second thought to — they weren’t worth the strain they’d put on our budget.

And what did we end up with? Strangely enough, it’s affiliated with a historical mansion: President Andrew Jackson’s former home The Hermitage. But instead of the mansion itself, we booked its Cabin-by-the-Spring, which was built on the grounds in 1940 by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, a nonprofit organization founded in 1889 to preserve The Hermitage.

Recently, LHA did a major renovation of the cabin: increasing its size, adding a giant porch (I get my beloved porch, pictured above!), building a well-equipped kitchen and installing air-conditioning. In fact, once we learned the cabin was air-conditioned, that opened up all of summer as an option to us, which we weren’t considering initially because of the heat.

We suspected our out-of-town guests (who will make up the vast majority of our guest list) would plan on taking Friday off to fly to our wedding, and it turns out that July 4, a national holiday, is on Thursday in 2013. So if we booked for that weekend, our guests would get an extra-long weekend in Nashville without taking more days off work during a fun time of year there — in fact, Nashville has the fourth-largest fireworks display in the nation!

So that’s what we did. The Hermitage’s Cabin-by-the-Spring, July 6, 2013 — here we come!

Photo by Jenny Cruger Photography

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