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Choosing a wedding site

Some brides worry about the wedding cake. Others fret over their dresses. But what should they be thinking about? Location.

"Where the wedding takes place helps to set the theme and feel of the wedding," says Lynn Huntress, wedding consultant in San Antonio, who's planned more than 200 weddings over the past 10 years.

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Her advice on choosing a wedding site? Figure out your guest list first.

Size matters
"The size of the reception dictates where you will have it," says Huntress.

For example, a small, private ceremony would get swallowed up in a large ballroom -- giving guests too much space and an uncomfortable echo when speaking. Shoving 300 people into your aunt's den for a home ceremony is also ill advised.

Once your guest list has been decided, you can begin to search for the perfect place.

Going to the chapel and ...
A traditional wedding held in a church with a reception hall can be arranged to fit most budgets. Bargain shoppers should inquire close to home because many churches offer lower fees to members of the congregation. At The Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Tenn., use of the church costs $150 for members and $300 for nonmembers. Members will find the biggest price break for the use of the reception hall -- $500 for registered parishioners as opposed to $1,000 for nonregistered parishioners. You'll need to manage the details -- find a caterer, decorate and arrange for the music.

If you'd rather have your reception at a hotel, the Adam's Mark Hotel is a popular chain that frequently hosts wedding receptions. Its Clearwater, Fla., location can serve 50 to 250 guests. A reception at Adam's Mark can range from $5,000 to $21,000, depending on the number of guests and menu.

But the "where" for weddings isn't limited to churches and hotels. Museums, beaches or antique homes can provide a beautiful backdrop for nuptials.

Of course, there are considerations to be made so that the location doesn't lend itself to disaster.

Rain plan
Huntress recalls one wedding that almost wasn't an outside ceremony and reception. On the day of the wedding, the town was beset with rain, a lot of rain.

"It was a deluge. We had a phone committee going to move the whole thing. It took a tremendous effort to make that change -- finding a church at the last minute, telling 600 guests." Huntress says that finding an available church at the last minute was an exceptional stroke of good luck. To avoid similar certain peril, she insists that anyone planning an outdoor wedding have a rain plan.

"You have to be able to go inside or make the decision to rent tents -- and tents can be quite costly. You need to make that decision a few days before because the tents will need to be reserved and set up." Tents can be anywhere from $70 to $380 each.

Like a rain plan, other careful planning can avert many potential wedding disasters. Here are some alternative wedding spots and what you should consider if you want them to be yours.

Weddings at home
Think you'll save a lot of money by having the wedding at home? Think again. Huntress says all you really save is the rental fee. And the extra cost to get your house wedding-ready may not be worth it.

"You are still looking at paying a caterer, possibly setting up a dance floor and setting up a riser for the band," says Huntress. She adds that home weddings held outdoors might require an electrician to wire additional outlets and create ample lighting. A rain plan must again be considered. "Then you have to ask yourself if you actually have the room to fit all your guests," she adds.

Dance floors can be rented at a starting price of about $1 per square foot, small stages start at $20 per four-foot section and electrician fees will vary according to house and work required. Other rentals you may consider for home weddings include tables and chairs (starting at $7 a piece for tables, $2 per chair) and table linens (starting a $8 per tablecloth). Caterers vary widely but Huntress advises that buffet-style food tends to cost less than sit-down meals. "But nothing," says Huntress, "is inexpensive."

Someone else's home
If you want the intimacy of a home without the hassle of reception renovations, you may want to consider renting an antique home. Homes frequently rented for events have the advantage of being reception-ready -- no electricians or home repair necessary.

In the sloping hills of Austin, Texas, a restored Victorian home attracts at least 100 weddings per year. The Daniel H. Caswell House, former home of the wealthy Austinite, was purchased and restored in the 1970s by a women's service group, the Austin Junior Forum, that paid for the house entirely by the sale of their cookbooks. The home's picturesque setting, antique furnishings and impressive view of the Capitol allows for a quaint home-style wedding without the hassle of an own-home wedding.

"I knew I wanted my wedding at Caswell House," says Stacie McClure. "I worked the date of my wedding around the availability of the house." McClure's January 2002 wedding reception was held at Caswell House following a ceremony at nearby Westlake United Methodist Church. "Caswell is an intimate setting where the guests get to interact with the bride and groom -- more like a home," says McClure. She was also pleased that while Caswell House has a suggested list of caterers, but she was not required to use the list. McClure says that was much better "than being tied to the kitchen of a country club or hotel." She was also able to use the furniture already in the house, rather than renting from an outside supplier.

Another bonus for McClure was her member discount -- members of the Austin Junior Forum can pay almost 50 percent less than the nonmembers.

Fees for use of the home range from $700 for a minimum five hours, to $2,440 for an entire day. Prices vary according to date, with all proceeds funding the upkeep of the house and various Austin charities. Discounts are available if you use the recommended vendors. The vendors, in turn, donate services and food to house fund raisers.

To find historic homes in your area, contact the National Register of Historic Places.

-- Updated: May 4, 2005




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