Help me plan a wedding I could like?
June 26, 2020 9:34 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I want to get married. I'd rather elope, but he wants a wedding. We're compromising with something small and non-traditional. But what?

Priority One: Cost around 5k ideally, 10k MAX. Priority Two: Personality/Fun. I just can't do the whole banquet hall/hotel/generic fancy thing.

Other notes:
-We live in Chicago, our families are all over the US.
-We would have 50-60 people.
-This would take place sometime next year so hopefully post-COVID? Maybe?
-I've been married once before and it was a lovely intimate brunch in a historic building overlooking a pond and so I don't want to do something TOO similar to that, it would just be weird.
-I don't want any of the wedding traditions, I don't care about dancing or cake cutting, etc.
-I like privacy and nature and simplicity.

Our ideal wedding would be a casual and fun gathering in our (tiny, beloved) backyard, but alas I just don't think we can realistically fit that many people (and the number is pretty non-negotiable, immediate family and close friends only.) I'm interested in odd or unique settings like (off the top of my head) a bonfire in the middle of nowhere, or an old schoolhouse, or a maze, or a woodsy lodge, or a big campground, or an antique store, etc, etc. But also - CHEAP.

If you have a specific venue to recommend, great! If not, I'd love to get general ideas and inspiration that I can go research. (Please note - I'm considering AirBnbs. Please only recommend I look at AirBnb if you have a particular one in mind.) Thank you!
posted by ohsnapdragon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My wedding was on a boat. You can pick the size of the boat depending on your exact guest count.

Perhaps one of those boats that does the architectural tours of Chicago can be rented out? Or a boat ride on Lake Michigan.

Nature included, privacy enabled by distance, and very simple.
posted by birdsquared at 10:29 PM on June 26, 2020

Best answer: We went to New Orleans with 20 of our favorite people and a family friend officiant, had dinner at a restaurant we loved, and then went to a blues club instead of a reception. We had people all over the US, so we knew everyone would have to travel. We care about food and music and looking fly as hell, so we put our energy and budget into that stuff and said screw it to everything else. No buffet, no dj, no white dress, no cake, just our favorite people having a great time.

I suggest thinking about what what a wonderful day with your most beloved people would look like and do the heck out of that, whatever that is for you and your partner.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:34 PM on June 26, 2020 [6 favorites]

One of the most beautiful and simple weddings I’ve been to was held in a wooded county park. The guests helped unload the folding chairs and the altar was a bolt of purple cloth. We guests were probably out there about an hour including the half hour the bride was running behind. The actual ceremony took 20 minutes.

At the end we all loaded up the folding chairs, then we went back to their house where the reception was catered by Subway.

If I ever get married again that’s how I’ll do it. The first time I got married we put on quite a production for our family and friends — I’m glad that we took the opportunity, but in a lot of ways it detracted from the whole purpose of getting everyone together. Next time it’ll be a lot more informal and personal.

(The only thing I will definitely repeat from my first wedding is providing daycare. People who have long forgotten the name of my wife still remember that I had daycare at my wedding.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:48 PM on June 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

My wedding was in an art gallery/small museum. They did private hire usually but not weddings — we were the first, it took some negotiation. (They do weddings now!)

Would recommend.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 11:01 PM on June 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

You may be able to find ideas on
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:20 PM on June 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am not sure where in Chicago you are, but I lived near the Chicago Botanical Gardens up near Glencoe. Beautiful place. I am sure they would work with you on both budget and site. I would also check with some of the towns on the North Shore to see if they will rent you the beach for a few hours in the fall or spring or off season. I know Glencoe and Highland Park and their beaches would be good. Maybe Rivinia?

Also, we rented a house in New Buffalo Michigan with a pool near Lake Michigan. Check the towns on the Michigan side of the Lake on AirBnB. I am sure going north too to Wisconsin such as Lake Geneva or even Kenosha somewhere would be nice. Not sure about budget.
posted by AugustWest at 11:25 PM on June 26, 2020

On mobile, so apologies for the lack of links, but A Practical Wedding (website and workbook) should give you a place to start.
posted by Tamanna at 12:07 AM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

As above, A Practical Wedding is definitely a good resource, as is Offbeat Bride.

Ideas that came to mind, included food truck wedding, picnic wedding, pot luck (very much a 'know your guests' thing), BBQ/cookout wedding, beach wedding. I think for 50-60 people would be my limit for self-catering and I'd do cold food if you wanted to save costs that way. Parks are good venues for outdoors and may have free or low-cost permits for this sort of gathering. Often you're not allowed alcohol so you may want to check up on that if it's important to you. Some friends of mine rented a field and we all camped. It was very rustic and informal and I think slightly less than your budget. It did not have an amazing rain plan (v. cheap gazebos) so it was lucky that it was kind of drizzly all day rather than a major storm. That may be something you need to consider.

If it's helpful, an indicative starting point on the money is that about 1/2 people's budget will typically be spent on the reception and half on everything else. Yours may end up being very different but it's probably a good exercise to plan out what you think you want to spend on clothes/rings/licences/invitations etc as well as the reception to see whether it all fits into your preferred budget.

It is super easy to spend a lot of money on decoration - there are loads of ideas for DIY crafts, the cute shabby chic look is very fashionable for weddings and you can buy a tonne of stuff etc. If aesthetics matter to you, then (partic. given your description of your preferences) it's likely to be cheaper and easier to hunt for a venue that already looks good to you and to have minimal decorations than to decorate one that doesn't.
posted by plonkee at 2:45 AM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We rented out half of Camp Wokanda for our wedding reception nine years ago. It’s an old Boy Scout camp. We held our reception in the old dining hall. As part of our rental, we also got access to several cabins and basically infinite camping sites for the whole weekend, and several of our guests used those. A couple of friends also had gotten married there and used a “chapel” that’s built into the hillside that was very pretty. I don’t remember the actual cost for us, but it was well under a thousand dollars to get the whole place for the weekend. We did everything ourselves, so I can’t speak to catering, etc. don’t know if you’d actually want to travel down to Chillicothe for your wedding, but you did say middle of nowhere, so it seemed worth mentioning!
posted by obfuscation at 4:29 AM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing about cool quirky settings - the less that the venue provides, the more organising you have to do. I would think really hard about whether you want to deal with organising the hire and setting up of tables, chairs, cutlery, linens, lights, how do we get food here, who cleans up...

I wanted to elope but ended up having a small wedding because my husband wanted one. One of the best parts of our venue (a small gothic historic hotel that hired out function rooms for 2 to 50 people) was that everything was provided and there was no decor required because it was already beautiful. Pick the alcohol and food from the list provided, give them the guest list, done. I'm not saying you have to pick a generic fancy wedding-y sort of location to get that, but a place that comes with any sort of catering and seating is a big plus in my book. Means on the day you can do more socialising and less supervising. (My bias- the weather here is totally unreliable and an outside wedding like food trucks on the beach would have been a bad gamble).
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:07 AM on June 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I got married at the Bennett-Curtis House in Grant Park, IL (not the park in Chicago, a small town near Kankakee in IL). There was a beautiful garden for the outdoor ceremony, and a beautiful Victorian-style house for the reception. It's about an hour south of Chicago. It looks from the website like it would work with your budget, and they are set up for weddings so you don't have to worry about all the set-up, tear-down, food and drink, etc. We had a few quirky requirements (vegetarian menu, non-traditional music instead of the usual DJ set) and they were able to work with us on everything.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:02 AM on June 27, 2020

Best answer: A different idea:

My wife and I got married and instead of inviting our friends to see us, we did a train tour around Canada/US to go and see them. We took three weeks, had 14 different parties (which were as large as 20 people and as small as 4), and had a great time.

This may not exactly be possible in your case, but if you can map the correct route, it is a nice way to see all of the people you want in a variety of different settings.
posted by vernondalhart at 6:50 AM on June 27, 2020 [13 favorites]

I suggest thinking about what what a wonderful day with your most beloved people would look like and do the heck out of that, whatever that is for you and your partner.

This this this. Also this:

Here's the thing about cool quirky settings - the less that the venue provides, the more organising you have to do. I would think really hard about whether you want to deal with organising the hire and setting up of tables, chairs, cutlery, linens, lights, how do we get food here, who cleans up...

The biggest expenses are food and beverages. In a nontraditional venue you can do something like hire a food truck and end up with a food cost around $20 per person at the bottom end, but that doesn't count drinks. Seated dinners are going to be $40-60 per person, if not more, and that doesn't include rental costs if you have them. If you want an open bar and not a cash bar, assume something like $15-20 per guest for the first hour, and then less for subsequent hours. I've seen people do open bar for the first hour or two and then cash bar after that, but whether that works well is going to depend on your crowd. And if you're self-catering you can just do coolers full of beer and box wine, if that's your thing, but make sure your venue allows it and you have the proper event insurance (because that's a thing, too).

We didn't want a "hotel wedding" but ended up at a historic hotel because it literally checked every box for us. We looked at standalone rentals and catering or self-catering, but between renting tables, chairs, linens, and dishes, paying for insurance (required by the standalone rental venues we looked at) and then having to figure out cleanup, what we wanted (a great party) was going to be less about that for us and more just a straight up event we had to manage. The nice thing about our hotel venue was that they only did one wedding per day and you got all the public spaces in the hotel for the whole day. Because it was a beautiful, historic space and not just a fraction of a giant ballroom with a divider up it didn't feel like a "hotel wedding" even though they provided literally everything. They had all the tables and chairs and linens and dishes and and and, a flexible catering menu so we could pick the options we wanted, and they worked with us to split the difference between their "basic bar" and their "premium bar" (we upgraded three of the six spirits, but I couldn't tell you which three). In the end we could just focus on having a great party, which I don't think we could have done in a standalone venue. It was a great party. My parents' friends still go on about how it was the most fun they'd ever had at a wedding.
posted by fedward at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

An arboretum or botanical garden? I had my wedding at a botanical garden outside a large city and people are still talking about how pretty it was years later. The smaller you go, the further you go outside the city, the cheaper it is, most likely. The nice thing is that outdoors is COVID-flare friendly, just in case.
posted by *s at 9:52 AM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

The book A Practical Wedding can help you and your partner talk through what's important to you. It was really helpful for me when I was thinking about having a wedding.
posted by radioamy at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2020

Here's the thing about cool quirky settings - the less that the venue provides, the more organising you have to do. I would think really hard about whether you want to deal with organising the hire and setting up of tables, chairs, cutlery, linens, lights, how do we get food here, who cleans up...

A cute quirky pub or club (have both the ceremony+ the reception there) is a good workaround for this pitfall. At least where I am venue hire will be free if you find a pub that will make more money off your food and drink than a typical night at their usually quiet establishment. The food and drink prices are so much more reasonable.

Two of the nicest weddings I've been to were at a country pub where guests could camp on the property if they liked or stay nearby, and at a (not at all posh, very local to the little town) old wooden boat club.
posted by hotcoroner at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

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