Your Comprehensive Guide to Getting Married at Home
Home is where the heart is—which is exactly why many couples choose to tie the knot in their own backyards. Your home is, after all, the definition of a sentimental wedding venue as tying the knot there means you're exchanging lifelong vows on the grounds where you experienced some of life's most significant moments. While your wedding is a celebration of your bright future, it will also feel nostalgic. You, your husband or wife, and family will all reflect on the moments that brought you to the here and now. Add in your childhood home as the setting and that nostalgic feeling goes through the roof (pun intended).
Prepring for your at-home celebration, however, is a huge undertaking, and one that often comes with a high price tag. Your home, in its regular form and layout, likely isn't equipped to handle your many guests, which means blueprinting the space, bringing in virtually every rental type possible, and preparing for unfavorable weather aren't simply optional—they're requirements. To help you navigate the tricky process of planning and throwing a successful home wedding, we tapped several of the industry's leading planners, who've all had experience executing backyard parties.
According to these pros, the challenges of planning home weddings often make them that much more rewarding—the experience alone will make all of those efforts worth it, says Allison Jackson of Pineapple Productions. "Getting married at home allows for a highly personal and sentimental celebration—an experience completely unique to the couple that ends up very naturally having a family focus," she says. "It is a very powerful feeling to be married at home, where so many family memories have already been made and will continue to be made."
If you're set on tying the knot at home, click through for these insiders' must-know tips, from hiring experienced personnel and obtaining the proper permits, to manicuring grassy grounds and renting a tent.
Survey Your Interior Space
One of the most difficult parts of getting married inside your physical home is "seeing a space that you are so familiar with in a different or unexpected way," says Sarah Radasky of Sarah-Allen Preston Designs. Your home is, by default, where your heart is—which means visualizing the kitchen as a cocktail hour space or the living room as a dinner site can often be difficult for couples. Also challenging? Looking critically at your childhood domain. Will highly-trafficked rooms need a new coat of paint? Does the bathroom need to be remodeled? Before you get your sights set on a home venue, ensure that you're holding it to a similar standard you would any wedding location.
….and Your Exterior Space
If the majority of the event is taking place outdoors, it's important to make sure that the grounds are up to par. "New mulch" and "replanted flower beds" are good places to start, says Jackson.
You might also want to consider inviting your landscaper back post-party, says Laura Ritchie of Grit & Grace: "Having a landscaper come back after the wedding to make sure the garden beds and grass are okay after being danced on, driven over, and possibly demolished should be considered!"
Hire an Experienced Planner
Look for a planner who can "demonstrate that they have frequently planned at-home, tented wedding receptions," says Lynn Easton of Easton Events. Lovely Planning's Kristen Estela couldn't agree more: "They already have an appreciation for the complexities involved and can guide you the whole way through."
Get Real About the Budget
In short, getting married at home will not save you money, says Ritchie—it will likely cost more than a traditional venue, which is something to keep in mind before you begin planning. "You are essentially creating an entire venue on a property not meant to host, feed, house, and cater to hundred(s) of guests. The logistics, money, and time spent on simply securing the property need to be considered first and foremost." Being realistic (and setting a strict budget!) now will help those often-unexpected expenses feel more manageable when they do crop up.
Don't Forget About Permits
Permit requirements vary by region, so visit your local town hall to learn about your hometown's specific regulations. "Some towns require getting a permit for any gathering over 50 people and some locations require nothing at all," says Easton. Permits that you might need encapsulate noise ordinances ("Many couples are disappointed when they find out they can't have their band play until the wee hours of the night—sometimes only until 10:00 p.m.," says Estela), building policies, and parking restrictions.
It's better to be safe than sorry: Invest in liability insurance for personal injury and property damage.
Blueprint Your Space
"Ideally the ceremony, cocktail, and dinner are all in different spaces," says Easton. "We highly recommend not flipping a space. It puts a level of stress on the entire wedding which is certainly not ideal."
If you do have to flip a space, Jackson recommends hiring a team of experienced vendors to assist. "Also consider adding more staff to facilitate the transition in the time you have to complete it," she says. "An overly-long cocktail hour can feel awkward and cut into your time set aside for dancing."
Make Renting a Tent a Priority
Unless the inside of your home can accommodate all of your guests—and every part of your wedding day—you're going to need a tent, says Jackson. Getting hitched in the summer? A tent with air conditioning and fans might also be a welcome addition.
Create a Rain Plan
On that note, it's also critical to prepare for the possibility of unfavorable weather—renting a tent, even as a Plan B, should be in your budget, says Radasky: "You might be planning to get married on the back patio, but have a tent ready for a rain plan just in case."
Load Up on Rentals
According to Estela, if you're getting married at home, you're essentially building a venue from the ground up. "Everything is needed, from tables, linens, and china, to lighting, ovens, and barware," she says. "The rental bill can get quite high," so you'll want to choose your vendors wisely.
Be Mindful of Formality
An at-home, backyard wedding can absolutely be black-tie. If you do want to amp up your event's formality level, consider starting the festivities later in the evening, notes Easton—this allows for cooler temperatures, which better suits full tuxedos and floor-length gowns. You'll also want to add in sturdy flooring, notes Ritchie, to ensure that stilettos aren't aerating your grass. A casual vibe works just as well, if that's more your style—just be upfront about proper dress long before your guests arrive. "A wedding website is a great place to communicate details on what guests should expect," says Jackson.
Think About Lighting
"A project couples often forget about is lighting," says Estela. "You want to make sure your guests can see where they are going, so we have to install some kind of lighting to facilitate that." If you're installing lighting, you also have to think about a back-up power source (like a generator) to ensure that your home's electrical map can take the extra strain. "You have to make sure you aren't going to blow out the power with the band and your lighting," says Radasky.
Consider Officiant Limitations
Book your officiant as soon as you set a date and disclose your location upfront—many religious officials aren't able to perform ceremonies outside of their place of worship.
Think About Your Neighbors
Give your neighbors fair notice of your wedding plans. Best-case scenario, they'll offer up their driveway for parking (or at least vow to shut off their sprinklers!). Even better? Invite them.
If you're getting married on a huge piece of family property, like a multi-acre ranch or farm, getting guests to and from can be challenging—especially if you don't want to ask them to get back in their cars and schlep to the reception area following the ceremony. Or, perhaps you can only fit 100+ cars on a piece of land outside of a comfortable walking distance. If either is the case, you might have to consider some degree of big-day transportation, like a bus or trolley.
This comes down to personal preference, but most of these experts recommend some degree of security—especially if your house won't be part of the big-day line-up. "If you don't want guests inviting themselves into the house then a security guard at very accessible entrances could do the trick," says Ritchie. Looking for a more laid-back, but still-effective approach? "We have also had the house locked up and just us have a key for emergency access."
Spray for Bugs
Believe us—if guests spend the majority of your wedding battling mosquitos (and losing the war), that's what they'll remember. Spraying for bugs is non-negotiable, notes Easton. As for the best way to keep the critters away? "There are a variety of approaches," says Jackson. "Some couples choose to work with an exterminator on a long-term plan, beginning several months prior to the wedding day. Other couples prefer tactics like removing standing water, having plenty of fans on hand, avoiding fragrant flowers and sugary drinks, and using things like citronella candles and insect repellant to keep guests comfortable."
You'll also want to take precaution against any other local, unwelcome critters, like garden snakes, notes Radasky.
Don't Skimp on Bathrooms
Chances are, your two-and-a-half bath home isn't equipped to handle 200 people's bladders. "Restroom trailers are 'must have' in my opinion," adds Estela, who says to avoid Porta-Potties and spend a little extra for a full-service bathroom station with running water and lighting. "For a little more money, it's well worth it—and your guests will be grateful they can wash their hands, flush the toilet, and actually see what's going on when it gets dark at night (it gets very dark!). "
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