Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"let's start at the very beginning..."

After mentioning last week that I wanted to share some of the stories from our wedding planning, I figured that picking the location made a logical first story. Or, as the song in the title would continue, that it would be "a very good place to start" - even if it's a rather long story to tell.

While I would like to say that choosing our wedding venue was an easy decision, the truth is that it took some time. In fact, knowing we had more than two and a half years from the date of our engagement to the approximate date of our wedding probably created more of an obstacle than a help in this decision - we had time to meander through the possibilities.

Our decision was made even more difficult by the fact that we didn't have a clear vision of what kind of wedding we wanted. So when we were looking at venues, we weren't thinking, "could this venue be a suitable location for the wedding we have in mind?" Instead, we were thinking, "what would a wedding at this venue - which we find interesting - be like, and is that the kind of wedding we want?"

For the record, I do not recommend this approach.


The first venue we considered was an absolutely beautiful castle-esque estate in the hills of western North Carolina. I had seen this location in a wedding magazine, and I was enchanted by it. (There were also jokes about having fun storming the castle.)


But seriously - this room. The pictures of a ceremony set-up in this room were delightful; and when we took a tour in June 2011, we liked it. A lot. There was just such a unique feel to it, and the various spaces offered so many different possibilities, and the amenities were pretty awesome. My creative brain was in overdrive.

Unfortunately, this beautiful property was a bit remote for our tastes, with the nearest town relatively small and any larger, more appealing towns just far enough away that travel logistics for our guests would be awkward. The venue was also at the very upper end of our preliminary budget; and to take advantage of some of the cooler amenities would have pushed us over our budget altogether. So sadly, after some thoughtful considerations, we had to move on.


At the same time we were considering the delightful castle, we visited a well-known resort at the beach in my college town with the idea to have an outdoor ceremony and an indoor reception. Setting aside the fact that October (our desired month) is still technically hurricane season, we just didn't like it. Initially, I chalked that up to the fact that we'd just seen the other venue. But the more we discussed it, the more we realized that, even if a beach wedding was what we wanted (and we weren't sure we did), using a hotel ballroom - for the reception and, possibly, the ceremony - was just not for us.

This was progress, though. It helped us understand that we wanted a location with more atmosphere than a traditional ballroom or event space had to offer.


So later that summer, browsing through wedding websites, I came across a number of listings for venues in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. Considering that Wildcat Guy and I are both outdoors-y people, and how beautiful that area would be in autumn, this seemed like an idea with potential.

A lot of research later, we decided to visit this farm near Pigeon Forge. It had enough space for our anticipated guest list of 100-125; the venue was a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces; and the package options were broad enough that we'd have some discretion in the decision-making. (Who knew that some venues would actually prohibit picture-taking by anyone other than their venue photographer?!)


Even on a drizzly September afternoon, it was lovely. The barn would be a good space for the reception (and, if needed, an indoor ceremony); and the forest made a gorgeous backdrop for this simple outdoor gathering space. The location was pretty great, too. It was relatively easy to get there, and the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area sounded like a destination people would enjoy.

Yes. This worked. In fact, it did more than work - it resonated with us. We had not only found our venue, we had found our concept.

Then, a few months later, we had arrangements for a second visit. We had requested a cake testing, to decide on flavors, and my mom was going with us so she could see the property and, likely, place the deposit...only to have the manager tell me (when I called to confirm a couple of days before we went) that she had been too busy to set the tasting up - but that if we still wanted to tour the property, that would be fine. Really? And she didn't think that was important to let us know before we made a three-hour trip? Instead, we said we'd wait until after the winter holidays to reschedule a visit and cake-testing.

Except that, after the holidays, we decided the whole experience felt off. Perhaps this would be the only challenge - but perhaps not. So we decided to keep looking...


...and found this. We had spent so much energy looking out of state that we had overlooked the lovely options less than an hour away - like this winery with a restored barn beautifully-adorned in white lights...


...and a sweet little gazebo to provide a backdrop for our vows. It was awesome, and within days of our first visit in March 2012, we had all kinds of ideas for making this space ours.

That summer, we visited again with my mom and dad, to scope out the site and taste some wine; and we were ready. Ready to commit. Ready to begin planning. Ready to have our wedding here.

And then. Oh, and then. Who knew it would be so hard to receive a contract from a wedding venue in order for us to give them a deposit (and, ultimately, a lot more money on top of that)?! I spent literally months calling and emailing, asking for a contract to reserve our desired date - always to be told, "yes, we'll get that to you" or, "I'll have our events manager call you." In the meantime, that window of time until our wedding date was slowly growing smaller and smaller; and if you do like we did, waiting to confirm other vendors until the venue is set, you can possibly understand how stressful this previously-meandering process became.


Finally, we realized that, if we kept waiting around for a contract, our wedding date would come and go uncelebrated. Liking the idea of a winery, and having realized that, with time ticking away, something nearby would be a better choice, we did some more research on wineries in the area and found Equus Run. Our first visit was in February 2013 (hence, the wall panels), but it was easy to get a sense of what it would look like in October without them.


We could also envision what a wedding ceremony might look like on this lawn.

Thankfully, even though the path to discovering Equus Run was bumpy and curvy, our experience with the staff there was wonderful. As soon as we agreed that this was our spot, we made the reservation, received a contract and put down a deposit in no time at all. At last - simplicity.


In August, we visited again to do a wine-tasting and finalize our layouts for the barn and lawn. Wildcat Guy was kind enough to be my model for one of the planning photos, of which we took a lot, knowing that my mom and dad wouldn't be able to visit, but wanting them (especially Mom) to have a good idea of what spaces we had and how we intended to use them.

It was also nice to see what the venue would look like in the sunshine (and hope for more of the same in October).

(by Kyle Matthew Photography)

(by Kyle Matthew Photography) 

In fact, the weather ended up being so pretty on our wedding day that the inside of the barn - which we had anticipated being part of the seating and socializing - became, instead, where people went to get food and beverages before settling in on the patio during the reception.

(by Kyle Matthew Photography) 

And the lawn we picked out? It was exactly the right spot for our ceremony. Sure, we could have probably decorated it a bit more, but given the time we had and the simple approach we were aiming for (more on that to come), I was pleased with how it turned out.

(by Kyle Matthew Photography)

Especially this part. When I think back to that first time we saw the lawn - on a grey February afternoon - even though I could envision our ceremony there, I had no idea how magical this moment would actually be. But I am so glad that this is where the moment - our first as a married couple - ended up happening. It was just what I wanted...and more.

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