DC Weddings.
March 3, 2012 7:03 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting married in DC, or at least I'm trying to! A few questions regarding budgets and venues inside.

Not having been married before, and not having a lot of second-hand experience or girly-girl inclinations, I have almost no idea what goes into making a wedding. The first issue I want to tackle is the budget.

Am I insane for thinking that a wedding can be had in the DC Metro area for under $5k? The idea of putting anymore money into one day makes me feel slightly ill. Our parents are willing to help out a bit, but we want to pay for the majority.

It seems that venues and catering will be the main expense, and we're trying to keep it small (50 to 80 guests) I'm fine with a cheap dress, and he'll be wearing a suit, and we're both crafty/DIY inclined.

It seems that having the reception and ceremony in the same place can save on costs/hassles. If that won't be possible at a particular venue I'd be willing to have a very small ceremony (in a place like Metafilter's own eviltiff's DC wedding chapel), and put most of the focus/money where I think it should be: having an awesome party for my wonderful friends and family.

So, that said: what venues would you recommend that are artsy, outdoorsy or historic? We'd like to stay away from hotels and country clubs. No churches. We both live in DC, and our parents live in Northern Virginia. We'd do metro area MD too. I'd ideally like something public transit accessible, but realize that might be prohibitively expensive.

Thanks! Any other related recommendations are welcome as well.
posted by fontophilic to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I attended a wedding last year at River Farm. It's outdoorsy and historic. No idea how much it costs though.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 7:17 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The 'Great Hall' of the National Building Museum is an awe-inspiring place...

What about at one of the monuments on the National Mall?

Also, it's a shame a DC marriage can't be held in Virginia (or can it?) cause I always thought the front lawn of Mount Vernon overlooking the Potomac would be a great place to get hitched.
posted by matty at 7:20 PM on March 3, 2012

Yup, DC weddings have to be in DC.

The rooftops of the Newseum and the Interior Department, the west lawn of the Jefferson Memorial, The George Mason memorial, Art & Soul, and Mei N U are the go-to places in DC.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:29 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

We were married at Cabell's Mill in Centreville. A little farther out than you're probably thinking, but close to Dulles for out-of-towners, inexpensive, and quite nice. We did ceremony on the terrace. We liked it b/c we, like you, wanted historic, pretty, outdoorsey, not a church, and not a hotel. It was a good wedding and we were happy with the place, though it would probably work better for the 50 guest version than the 80.

One other thing to consider (we did) is Gadsby's Tavern in old town Alexandria. Open since 1770!
posted by feckless at 7:39 PM on March 3, 2012

I don't see anywhere that you have to get married in DC, did I miss that? Because you're more likely to find an outdoor, artsy venue that can fit that many people outside of DC if that is in fact possible (meaning, you're not having a same sex marriage). You might look into a hotel in the area - the Gaylord National Harbor is beautiful, Tabard Inn has a really nice garden for example. Or a park somewhere like Brookside Garden in Silver Spring. Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown Maryland, and VisARTS Center in Rockville both look pretty cool, too.
posted by echo0720 at 7:59 PM on March 3, 2012

Congratulations! Under the "other related recommendations" topic, check out the A Practical Wedding blog and book. Their philosophy is that you can have a beautiful, meaningful ceremony at any price point.
posted by donajo at 8:00 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a really lovely wedding at the Arts Club of DC in Foggy Bottom. The ceremony was outside in the courtyard and the reception was inside. It's a lovely old building with all kinds of nooks and crannies to explore. I don't know the price but it was a small wedding (less than 100) and I think it was pretty reasonable.
posted by fancypants at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2012

Friends of ours are getting married and holding the reception at All Souls Unitarian Church, a short walk from the Columbia Heights Metro stop. There are indoor and outdoor spaces available, and the fees seem very reasonable.
posted by evoque at 9:19 PM on March 3, 2012

I have done this. We had the ceremony & reception at Swann House, an historic B&B around a 7-10 minute walk from the Dupont Circle Metro. Not sure if this counts as a "hotel" for you but it definitely isn't the typical ballroom space (gag) that I think you're intent on avoiding. The seated capacity is 36, though. Our families stayed in the hotel, which was quite convenient, and got us a discount on the event rental. We went for a Sunday afternoon for an even lower rate. My wife went to a floral wholesaler for some basic arrangements and the Swann House staff gave us some leads on caterers. The early afternoon slot allowed us to keep the food simple and avoid the cost of providing full meals.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 2:32 AM on March 4, 2012

I was coming here to say Cabell's Mill, so consider that seconded. I think our wedding was a bit more than $5k, but we did most of it ourselves, with the help of crafty and forbearing relatives and friends. Feel free to memail me if you want more of the details of how we put it together, or how Cabell's Mill worked out for us.
posted by instamatic at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2012

el_lupino and I were married at River Farm (mentioned by aloysius on the mixing boards above) ten years ago with about 80 guests. River Farm is south of Old Town and north of Mount Vernon, and it's right along the Potomac. It's a beautiful site, and there are options for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, and I think they always have the patio tented, so you don't have to pay for the tent to be erected, if I remember correctly.

We had our wedding on a Friday because the rental was much cheaper on a Friday than a Saturday, and by the time we were looking for venues (ten months out?) all the Saturdays except the week of Christmas were taken. I think we paid ~$2000 for the rental, and that Saturday rentals were at least double that. We had our wedding at 5:30, which, since you live in D.C., you probably know the insanity of traffic at that time and in that area. We actually put a specific warning about the traffic in the directions for people from out of town. And as I remember, we had to be totally out of there by 11 p.m., so if you want an all-night rager, it might not be the venue for you.

We also definitely didn't come in at under $5k - our caterer alone (Corcoran Caterers) was $10k, but I was in the food business, and that was the thing that was most important to me. I've heard of plenty of brides cutting catering cost by doing an afternoon wedding with cake and punch, or by getting stuff from Costco.

There are a number of historic properties for rent as wedding venues in the Fairfax County parks system. A friend had a lovely wedding at one of those - Stone Mansion - five years ago. You might also consider parks in Fairfax County - if you were planning for the summer or early fall, I think you could have a very sweet DIY/casual wedding with a pavilion rental at Burke Lake Park, given the carousel and mini-train and maybe using the amphitheater or fishing pier for the ceremony.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:08 AM on March 4, 2012


I got married in the greater Boston area 10 years ago for less than your budget. Some things we did that helped keep costs down:

- got married on a beach ($25 permit)
- had a brunch reception (our favorite meal -- and asked for a family reunion or retirement party level of service rather than WEDDING)
- made our own invitations
- had friends bring pies (which we prefer to cake)
- rented a reception space on a Monday morning (at the time, most of our friends were unemployed or underemployed, and our family had to come from out of town anyway)
- brought our own speakers and played MP3s
- ordered a dress online (MIL altered it)
- ordered flowers online (friends helped make bouquets and boutonnieres)
- had a friend officiate (legal in MA)
- had friends/family help with my hair and makeup
- gave our friends in the wedding party a general dress code but told them to wear their own clothes
- had a photographer friend take our photos

It was so lovely to have so much help from friends and family and made our day more special.

Also, check out this DIY wedding: http://www.younghouselove.com/wedding-album/
posted by mingshan at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2012

The garden at the Old Stone House in Georgetown is lovely and can accomodate 50-80.

You must have a permit from the National Park Service, but they are not hard to obtain. It costs $50 to apply.

I believe it costs the last couple I wed there $200 for 2 hours use of the garden.

I second MrMoonPie's suggestion for Mie N Yu. It is within walking distance from the Old Stone House (convenient for you and your guests). And... it is GORGEOUS!!!

I believe you could create a light hors d' oeuvres menu and negotiate a wine selection with the catering manager that would fit your budget.
posted by eviltiff at 6:33 PM on March 5, 2012

If The Knot is not really your speed, you might want to check out the site DIY Wedding. They have tons of photos of actual weddings and ideas.
posted by jocelmeow at 7:43 AM on March 6, 2012

Figured I'd post a bit of an update for anyone looking to answer the same questions in the future.

Basically, a $5k budget did end up being pretty unreasonable. If either of our parents had a big enough back yard, I would have done that in a heartbeat and $5k would be fine. I've got a spreadsheet (google docs FTW) with incurred and estimated costs, at 3 months away from the wedding, and we're at $12k. That makes me slightly ill, but I've gotten used to it. These are the major expenses:

Photographer: $1800, includes 6 hours on the day of, and a 2 hour engagement shoot. All print res photos on DVDs and printing rights, (which was crucial for me).

Food Truck: $1800, for 100 people, 3 hours of service on site. This basically open up the buffet line to outside, leaving more room in the venue for dancing, which is a bit cramped.

Reception Venue: $1600, we went with the Hillyer Arts Gallery in Dupont Circle. They are a gem and a great steal at $200/hr. They're not a typical wedding venue and don't mark up their prices that way either. 100 people is really their max, and we can't do fixed table seating which we prefer. It'll be cafeteria style seating with a mix of high cocktail tables. Some chairs and small tables are included. Also no decorating is possible, since you've gotta bunch of art on the walls anyhow, which is a cost saver.

Rings: ~1500, still looking for a good deal, but this was one cost I didn't consider. Fun side effect of getting married in a recession, the price of gold for even simple mens band has jumped to $800. Same ring cost a friend $200 5 years ago.

Bartender and Appetizers: ~$1000, for 100 people, open bar.

Dress: ~$1000. I thought I was getting a deal at a $800 dress. Didn't consider the alterations being at least $200.

Officiant fees and license: ~$500.

Cake: ~$300. Being made by a friend of a friend (who went to pastry school) She keeps insisting she's doing it at cost, since we're buying her personal supplies. We're going to actually pay her a market price.

Ceremony site donation: $300. We ended up going back on that "no churches" line I posted above. Turns out, if you'd like a space with a whole bunch of seats and a roof, a church is an amazingly convenient place to do it. We've been going to lots of community events (mostly punk shows) at St. Stephens and the Incarnation Episcopal church on our block. The vestry is super mellow and welcoming and was OK with us bringing in an outside officiant. These people are amazing. Their suggested donation is like $30/hr, which we are going to multiply by 10. Plus his parents are Episcopal, understand we're not, but it's kindof a nice nod to them anyhow.

Groom's Suit: ~$300 with alterations.

Event Insurance: $200. Not strictly a necessity but with the recent power outages and resulting mayhem from a thunderstorm, when we're getting married in hurricane season, I'm thinking I made a good purchase. It covers any lost deposits, damaged dresses, decorations, rescheduling due to weather, family illness, etc.

Invitations, thank you cards, postage: ~$160. I'm designing them and printing them at my work, but paper/envelopes/enclosures aren't free and neither is postage.

DJ: free. Done by the best man who has his own equipment.

Still have to get more accurate prices on rental furniture and flowers (which I'll buy bulk and arrange myself). We're not doing flower centerpieces. Probably add another $1000. I also bought some test succulents for center pieces, the bridesmaid dresses ($80 a piece from Etsy) and we'll likely cover some suits for the groomsmen. You'll see that we're quickly at $12k, and this is by no means an extravagant wedding. We'll probably be at $1500 when the whole thing is over.

The biggest piece of advice I can give to couples starting out on this perilous path is to avoid like the plague typical wedding industry things. Wedding Wire, the Knot, etc, only push expensive vendors and venues on you. The great hall of the National Building museum starts at $30k to rent. It's the first result on wedding wire when searching for venues in DC. The Strathmore, at $20k, is #2. When you are only seeing $30k, and $10k places, suddenly $5k seems like a deal!

Ok, well this was way longer than I intended, but I know it would have been useful to me back in February.
posted by fontophilic at 8:23 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

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