Photo found on Pinterest.
So, yes, the search went on for about six months. I needed something to do while I was waiting for him to propose!
Haha okay… I’m crazy. But the fun part is that while I was searching, I really appreciated being able to look through and read about others’ experiences. It’s hard to come up with a list of places that fit, and often even those you think are perfect turn out to be duds. Reading about the ups and downs of the hunt for a venue from awesome women like Allison and Kathryn not only helped me to come up with new ideas, but it helped me to get over the massive hump of frustration that threatened to eat me alive every time a new idea fell through. Hopefully, now I can take what I’ve learned and offer my own little bit of insight, and maybe it will help a few brides out there like myself to get over that hump.
So here we go, down to the serious stuff…
In the beginning we were torn between having only a few people and somewhere in the neighborhood of 50, but eventually we settled on the larger option. It just felt like more of a celebration that way, and you know what? This feels like a pretty celebratory moment to me. We never considered a larger, 100-200 person event. For Mark and I, an event of that size felt too impersonal. We wanted to celebrate with only those family and friends we really know and love, those who we have shared our relationship with us up to this point and who we feel are a truly important part of our lives, not necessarily those we haven’t seen or spoken to in years. For others the number might be more, but for us, it comes out to about 50.
With our number in place, size (as it should) began to dictate our choice of venue in many ways. In the beginning I was very excited about the idea of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It had seemed like the perfect connection in Arkansas (Mark LOVES him). I was particularly inspired by this couple’s backyard feast, all the charm of a wedding at home with the added bonus that the home in question just happens to be designed by Wright and set in a kickass woodsy location!
And who knew? There are actually quite a few Wright houses for rent around the country.
Of course, now we were running into the same problem as Arkansas. We just don’t have a connection to any of these places. The Duncan House was a real possibility, since it is close by in Pennsylvania, not to mention the amazing barn at Fallingwater nearby. There is also a Wright house for rent in DC, but it sits on a larger plantation that could easily overshadow the whole “at home” feel I was going for. The Hagan House at Kentuck Knob made its way to the forefront at one point, but I had a hard time contacting the folks who rent it out and, honestly, this speaks to the fickle nature of most brides… I just didn’t want to have to push or search to try to get ahold of someone, especially if I wasn’t 100 percent sold on the venue. If I didn’t get through, it sent me packing 9 out of 10 times and will probably continue to do so in my search for wedding vendors. The Hagan and Pope-Leighy homes were also not overnight rentals, which began to feel important as the idea of a backyard/but not our backyard fête began to take shape.
I looked at wineries in Virginia and in Maryland, where we live, but felt like a winery wedding just wouldn’t be right without the west coast. Some of our most amazing trips together have involved gorgeous drives and incredible tastings in the Willamette and Napa/Sonoma Valleys.
So, I started to gravitate toward the west coast.
Mark says I’m a west coast snob, and I’d hate to think this had anything to do with my ultimate decision, because all of the places I’ve already mentioned are amazing in their own right… but it might have.
When I really thought about what I wanted on my wedding day, I kept coming back to this wedding. The gorgeous location that needs so little, the long farm tables… ugh, and that dress. I am still dreaming about that dress.
Full disclosure: Mark and I actually called Off the Beaten Path Weddings and set up a meeting with Mary to see another of their locations, Twisted Willow Farm in Napa. Despite multiple phone calls and messages, Mary never showed. She also never called to apologize. She was sweet in our early interaction and I know things come up, but we never heard from her again.
Of course, we took a little look around the farm anyway and, despite its undeniable cuteness, it’s pretty close to a busy road. Our guests would have been able to hear cars whizzing by as we said our vows.
There were two locations that I was absolutely certain would be the one.
First, this gorgeous home in Calistoga.
The Aerie is a gorgeous vacation rental, but I get the distinct impression that the owner is not fond of holding events. When I asked to visit I was told carefully that the price for a wedding was very expensive, due to the permits the owner would have to acquire, and that I should consider “whether it was really the best place” and “in my budget” before I request the manager take “take time out of his schedule.” He suggested I take a few days to “look around and compare other prices in the area” before confirming my appointment.
I really don’t mean to sound bitter here. I don’t. I’m sure that both the owner and manager of the Aerie are very nice men, but ultimately, when I did take a look around at other prices in the area, $6-8k for a less-than-enthusiastic owner offering no linens, tables, chairs, or other services (besides permits) just didn’t seem as appealing. Honestly, had Laurence, the manager, not essentially talked me out of renting, I might have considered it.
The second location was really first all along. When I think of those trips through the Willamette Valley, the one we took to this winery was one of the most special. I honestly think it may have marked one of our first real discussions about marriage and the possibility of us… getting married. It was a little over a year into our relationship, one of our first trips home to Oregon together, and the place was inspiring. Mark mentioned that it would be an incredible place to get married, and it would.
How could we not consider it?!
The location was Vista Hills, perched high on the Dundee Hills in Dayton, amidst some of the best wineries in the Willamette Valley.
I wasn’t sure how much Mark liked the location at first, so it didn’t immediately make it to the top of the list.
(and I know there is a whole lot of “me, me, me” in this post, but I have to stress to you just how important it was that Mark also love the location. I spent a lot of time worrying that he would go along along with a place just because it was my favorite, but not really his. He is unbelievably considerate this way and it drives me crazy.)
Both Kat and Sarah, who work with Powers Oregon, the company that rents the facility, are amazing. Hands down amazing. They are sweet and responsive and helped me with every question I had, waiting patiently while we worked out our indecision. On top of being wonderful, they provide loads of amenities and services for your wedding day at Vista Hills, including an on-site coordinator, bartender, firewood for the two large fireplaces, tables and chairs, and even a webcam!
But, and this is a really big but… the timeline allowed for weddings at Vista Hills is very short. And when I say very short, I mean very. Although the rental is technically available from 3-11, the earliest ceremony start time is 6, and events have to wrap up at 10.
The event we really want, including a sit-down, family style dinner and a feeling that is more like a backyard BBQ than an intricately-timed function at a “venue,” would not have been possible in four hours.
I am so sad to say that what I truly thought was the perfect location (actually, all along) just wouldn’t have worked.
So, I started looking again… and by some chance, found myself in Oregon right about the time I realized I had no clue where to look.
We considered this beautiful winery near Healdsburg, which is super cool and has super great wine, but only does receptions.
We considered my parents’ house, complete with an idyllic hilltop location, private pond, and big red barn (but lacking many options in the way of catering and hotels).
We looked high, we looked low, and ultimately, we decided to take a very long trip a little out of our way to visit what could be the perfect location, if I dare believe in one again.
(to be continued…)