The couple: Erika Wood, a civil-rights lawyer, and Clayton Harding, the president and owner of a test-preparation company
Where and when: Erika's parents' home in Hope Valley, Rhode Island, on July 2, 2000
Why they chose an at-home wedding: "As soon as Clay and I got engaged we both knew we
wanted the wedding to be at my parents' 18th-century farmhouse, where I grew up and Clay and I have spent a lot of long weekends," says Erika, who lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York . "My mom is an amazing gardener, and the grounds are beautiful. It's peaceful, happy and comfortable—all things we wanted our wedding to be."
Their first step: "Planning an outdoor wedding is a huge undertaking, since you have to bring in everything from tents to tables, chairs, plates and silverware, even a dance floor and kitchen equipment. Fortunately, we found an excellent caterer in the area, Guy Abelson, of Guy Abelson Caterers in Providence, Rhode Island , who not only helped us establish a food-and-drink menu but arranged for all those rentals, too."
Their toughest challenge: "Parking was our biggest headache, because there was no place to put all the cars. My dad came up with the brilliant idea of asking guests to leave their cars at a nearby park-and-ride, then having shuttles transport everyone to the house and back. For this, our caterer helped us rent trolleys that are used for tours around Newport .
The restroom issue was another big concern: My parents' well and septic system could not have handled the strain, plus they understandably didn't want 200 people traipsing through the house. So again, our amazing caterer helped us rent port-a-johns with mirrors and sinks, and we had the florist provide nice bouquets for them."
Glitches: "On our wedding day, the trolleys got stuck in Fourth of July weekend traffic and were 45 minutes late. Other than that, it all went perfectly. I was sure we'd be hit with a thunderstorm—our contingency plan was to hold the ceremony under the reception tent instead of in the front yard—but we lucked out with beautiful weather."
Any regrets? "None. Having our wedding at home made our event feel wonderfully intimate, like a really big dinner party. Total strangers became friends: We have pictures of my parents' older friends from New England dancing and laughing with Clayton's young cousins from South Carolina ."
Best advice: "Consider your guests' comfort, especially if they'll be outside in the sun and heat. Before the ceremony, we gave out folding fans made of paper (they were also our favors), and the caterer served lemonade and sparkling water. We had also told guests they didn't have to wear jackets and ties or high heels if they didn't want to."
1. Mind the costs. Many couples believe an at-home wedding will be less expensive than the catering-hall alternative, but that may not be true. Remember, you’ll have to rent just about everything from chairs to champagne flutes—all the stuff that a facility that regularly hosts weddings would already have.
2. Prepare the home. If you’ll be using an outdoor space, be sure the landscaping looks pretty. Survey the area to figure out where a tent will go best (a flat space is ideal) and where the port-a-johns will be situated (out of the way, but easily accessible). Will the wedding be inside the house? You may need to have furniture moved out and stored temporarily to make room. Finally, if the wedding’s not in your own home, pay to have the house or yard professionally cleaned after the party (and maybe before, too).
3. Be considerate of the neighbors. Most nearby residents, if forewarned, will be tolerant of noise—after all, it’s a wedding, not a teenage blowout. Consider using a valet service to make sure cars don’t block neighbors’ driveways, and plan to end the party by whatever time complies with local ordinances (check with town hall).