"Elegant" is the most overused adjective in the world of wedding planning, and it is commonly interpreted to mean "expensive-looking". For a couple on a budget, the quest for elegance can be hell on the wallet. It can also make for a celebration that looks a lot like it's "supposed to", but not much like the bride and groom themselves. I'd like to suggest sidestepping cookie-cutter wedding elegance in place of alternatives that create a unique sense of specialness, like a barn.
A barn wedding is not for everybody. I love the idea, but I don't mind mud, bugs, or most animal smells and my favorite color is gingham. I think the main reason barns appeal to me is because I find their honesty appropriate to the occasion. There's nothing wrong with catering halls, but like barns they're just not for everyone and they feel a little too faux for me. I'd rather get married in a barn that is what it is, than in some boxy space with mirrored walls dressed up in a "european" style (a fountain and some greco-roman columns).
Barns have long been places people not only worked together, but where they shared food, music, and good times. They're a fitting venue for a celebration among family and friends, easily accommodating a crowd. Like vineyards a few years back, barns are gaining popularity as an alternative wedding venue, which is good news for farms seeking supplementary sources of income.
There are now many websites and businesses that can help you locate barns rented specifically for special events including weddings. A great place to start is The Barn Journal, where you can browse barn listings by state. Event barns vary widely in size, and many may be too large for your needs. If you're not sure what size is right for you, professionals that rent barns for special events are a great resource. They can help you find the space that's right for the crowd you expect, large or small.
Critters, cow patties, and allergies to hay
Barns are a great choice for anyone interested in history, outdoorsy types, and closet hayseeds. How earthy your barn setting is depends on your budget. The barn of a family or friend is by far the cheapest way to go, but consider the work involved in prepping the space before committing yourself. There's likely lots of cleaning and hazard-removal involved, both inside the barn and out. Barns are full of surprise residents, like wasps and bats. There's also the expense and logistics of renting furniture to consider, not to talk you out of it. If you're a hearty soul with lots of help and up-to-date shots, it's a viable option.
The rental rates for properties that cater to special events range from $1,000 for a reception to $4,000 or more. This might seem like a lot for a rustic venue, but event barns rates are less than most banquet halls and many provide everything you need to accommodate a crowd. And they will likely have their critter population under control. With the casual environment setting the tone, you will probably find that you spend less overall on decorations, entertainment, even food and drink. Another factor to consider: the money you spend on your rental often goes to support small farms and the preservation of historic buildings.
Fields, fences, old buildings with peeling paint are photogenic on their own. Add dressed up people and you've got a recipe for great wedding photos. A farm setting makes for a great backdrop and a great guide when it comes to planning the details. For more on barn weddings, including decorating ideas, entertainment, and menu ideas, stop by the blog!
Above: Palladian Barn at The Hill, Hudson, NY