- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

If you think an at-home wedding would be less expensive than one at a rented site, think again.

Event planners hired to oversee such occasions and make sure they run smoothly nearly always raise a cautionary note to families and brides-to-be. They warn — ever so diplomatically — that such a choice, while a sentimental favorite, seldom is cost-effective unless the wedding is extremely small, with a limited number of guests.

“Obviously, there is no site fee, but with all the extras, I sometimes think it averages out to be the same,” says Carol Marino, owner of a Fairfax business called A Perfect Wedding. She says the home choice is a national trend.

“We broach all subjects and try not to scare them from having a home wedding,” she says. “You always find that people feel it is very personal [to do it that way]. Even if you can’t have it at your own house, you can rent a home. Or it possibly can be held at a relative’s house.”

Even so, she says such a choice has many complications apart from cost.

“You really have to think of everything,” she says. “The elements above all. And the natural habitats of things like bees and birds. And not be afraid of what will happen.”

Things do happen, even when the site is a big estate and no expense is spared.

Ms. Marino recalls handling a big wedding reception on an estate near Plains, Va., that had two tents — one for dancing and another for dining. A lot of guests had been staying in the house the week before.

While caterers were working the dinner, she noticed a leak coming from a light fixture in the kitchen ceiling. A scouting trip through the labyrinth of the house revealed the culprit: a toilet that had overflowed in one of the bathrooms, leaving four inches of water on the floor. With the help of the catering manager, she rounded up towels and everything else in sight, stood on them, and “danced on them to get the water soaked up while music from the reception wafted up.”

“A tent almost always is needed, especially if you are having a seated dinner for 150 or more,” says Allison Jackson of the District’s Pineapple Productions. She notes that a limited number of those in pristine condition are available for rent. “And you are not just looking at a tent, but custom flooring and even possibly carpeting, which is a big chunk of the budget.”

She had her own wedding at home and says clients who want such a setting do so because “they don’t want something that looks ‘eventlike’ but will represent their personalities and style.”

Author Leslie Milk makes the cautionary point about at-home weddings more bluntly in her book about the experience of being mother of a bride, “It’s Her Wedding but I’ll Cry If I Want To.” On a page labeled “Reality Check #9: Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Host a Wedding at Home,” she outlines a tongue-in-cheek multiple-choice test on the five key factors to consider, including house size, interior and exterior preparations required beforehand, and post-wedding cleanup.

“I had been to outdoor weddings where we watched each other’s makeup melt in Washington’s humidity. I had shivered or huddled under tent flaps while the thunder roared and the rain poured. At one ceremony, the storm was so loud, the bride and groom had to shout their vows,” Ms. Milk writes.

The average price of a wedding nationwide for a hundred-guest event is $27,000, half of it for the reception. In Northern Virginia, the average is closer to $37,000, and in the District, costs can go up to $50,000, Ms. Marino reports. High-end mansions aren’t the only popular sites. One of the busiest places for home weddings is in downtown Washington, she says. Costs have spiraled because of the amount of labor involved in the production.

Wedding planners in the Washington area usually charge a set fee, depending on the work involved. The work can be as labor-intensive as clearing furniture away in order to have a feeling of openness and space so guests aren’t crowded.

“I walked into one home the day of a wedding and found the family room full of shoes and socks, newspapers and coffee cups,” Ms. Marino recalls.

Planners can be found through groups such as the Association of Bridal Consultants, but the best way is through word of mouth. Arrangements should be made “at least six months to a year in advance.”

Whatever the site, Ms. Jackson agrees “there is a lot of work involved in not making a wedding look contrived,” even when it includes placement of family photos and mementos as part of the decor. “You want the look of the interior of the house to match what one is doing on the exterior. You want it to flow in a seamless way.”

Another consideration is arranging transportation and parking because many properties are set off or gated. Then, too, she mentions, it may be necessary to rent generators in case of power failure and find caterers who don’t mind the challenge of working in a private home.

Michelle Baudry, 31, lives in Los Angeles but grew up in Oakton. Because of having to arrange matters long-distance, she signed last August with A Perfect Wedding for a reception for 160 persons, to be held Oct. 7 at her parents’ home on 42 acres in Hume, Va., following the ceremony at a church in Warrenton.

“There are unique elements to [having it at] home,” she says. “You basically are building a venue, [but] you gain intimacy in being able to have that important celebration in a place that is meaningful to you and, you hope, to others there.”

Brady Millar, 24, lives in New York and will have a reception for 300 guests in her parents’ home in McLean on Sept. 23 with the help of Pineapple Productions. The ceremony beforehand will be in a local church. Cost wasn’t the deciding factor, she says, acknowledging that many people regard a home site as being cheaper.

“I think home weddings can be more difficult because you don’t know all the logistics ahead of time. I’ve a big family and wanted the wedding to be personal and have the focus on being with family and friends,” she says.

For an at-home wedding, “You really have to think of everything, the elements above all. And the natural habitats of things like bees and birds. And not be afraid of what will happen.”

– Carol Marino, owner of A Perfect Wedding

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