As traditional wedding venues book up, many couples are converting ordinary spaces into unique, exciting places to get married. We’re seeing beautiful weddings staged on a mountain, beside a forest stream, or in a rustic family barn. If you like the idea of doing something original, here are ten tips to help you turn practically any space into a magical, DIY wedding venue.
Free your imagination to any place that has special meaning to you as a couple. That may be a museum or art gallery, the beach, a favorite campsite or national park, a nightclub, a ski resort, or even the place you first met. The possibilities are endless.
As you dream big, bear in mind that when you create your own wedding venue, you’ll need to supply everything that a traditional venue would generally provide. That includes water, electricity, restrooms, transportation, parking, accessibility, and permits…the list is longer than you think. But if you’re willing to work with your planner and address each aspect of the event thoughtfully, creating your own wedding venue can be pure magic!
Assuming that you and your chosen one have agreed on your wedding priorities and budget (you have had that talk, right?), think about how well those priorities line up with the venue you have in mind. Are stunning photos at the top of your list of must-haves? Is your priority to make sure the whole clan can be there? Or is your first concern to treat your guests to an amazing sit-down dinner and then party and dance the night away? Whatever your top priorities are, make sure the space you’ve chosen can offer them. You may not be able to afford everything you dream, but you’ll get what’s most important to you if you prioritize.
If the space you’re considering is huge (like, say, a horse pasture or the Bonneville Salt Flats), there are tricks to make a venue feel smaller and more intimate. However, if a space is too small to accommodate your guest count, there’s no way to fix that except to trim your guest list.
As a rough rule of thumb, for a seated dinner you’ll need about 12-14 square feet per guest, or 8-9 feet if you’re serving cocktail style with some sitting and some standing. Add another 4-5 feet per guest if you want to add dancing. You’ll also need room for your caterer, a head table, cake table, bar, gift table, etc., but the measurements really depend on the particular venue. That’s why the eye of an experienced planner is crucial. Do a walkthrough together and make sure your space can handle everything you have in mind.
At a minimum, you’ll need to provide the basics: food, water, electricity, and restrooms. (Nothing can turn a dream wedding into a nightmare faster than a problem with restrooms.) If the space you’ve chosen doesn’t already have restroom access—enough to avoid long lines—it’s worth hiring professionals. Electricity can be supplied by a generator, but remember that ordinary generators are way too loud; you’ll need a whisper generator or two. If your site doesn’t have clean water, you’ll have to pack in enough for drinking, washing, and on-site food prep. Consult your caterer about any food and beverage issues.
PROTECT YOUR GUESTS FROM THE ELEMENTS
If some of the festivities will be outside, you’ll need to protect your guests from too much sun, wind, rain, or other inclement weather—not to mention bugs. A tent, kata, yurt, or marquee are all good options, but make sure you know how they’ll be transported to the site, set up, and taken down.
In hot months, start dinner around 7:30 to avoid the heat of the day. But if you’re going to be in the mountains, move that start time up to around 4:30. Trees will provide enough shade, and the sun sets much sooner in the mountains. Plus, the air is thin, so temperatures drop quickly.
VIEW THE SPACE THROUGH YOUR GUESTS’ EYES
This is where DIY wedding venue planning really starts to get fun!
Think of the celebration as distinct stages that move your guests from one event to the next throughout the night. What do you want them to feel and experience in each stage? Maybe you want them to feel welcomed and relaxed with a lounge vignette with comfortable sofas and a murmuring brook in the background? Or maybe you want them to enjoy a fun display of relics or memorabilia that shares your personal connection to the place? Whatever it is that you love about your chosen venue, find ways to weave it into your guests’ experience.
There’s no better way to add beauty and mood to your DIY wedding venue than with the creative use of lighting. Uplights placed near walls or drapery can create a muted, open feel that makes a space seem larger. On the other hand, a canopy of bistro lights can make a space feel more intimate and enclosed. Candlelight is a surefire way to heighten the romantic mood, while fairy lights add a playful whimsy. Lights are easy to transport and are an inexpensive way to create the right mood in your wedding venue.
PERMITS, LICENSES, AND INSURANCE
Before you finalize plans for your venue, make sure you’ve taken care of any required permits, licenses, or insurance. Depending on where you want to create your venue, there may be parking permits, fire permits, fireworks permits, or noise ordinances to deal with. A fire marshal may even need to do a walk-through prior to the event. Some cities require a special use permit for a wedding, and state parks generally do too. (Those park permits take time, so get started early!) If you’re planning to set up a tent or other temporary structure, some municipalities require a temporary building permit. An alcohol license may also be required if you’ll be serving any kind of alcohol.
Contact the city or county where you’re planning to host your event and find out what legal hoops you may have to jump through. It may also be worth looking into insurance for your event, especially if you are holding it in a museum or some other setting with a threat of significant property damage.
WORK WITH A PLANNER AND VENDORS
Creating a wedding venue of your own opens up all kinds of beautiful possibilities, but also a lot of challenges. You probably don’t want to deal with every one of those issues on your own, so look at your budget and decide which worries are worth passing off to the pros.
Our main advice here is that you work with an experienced wedding planner. A planner’s expertise can save you time, money, and trouble. Your planner may also have recommendations of local vendors who can greatly reduce the headaches of converting a space into a wedding venue.
If you’re throwing an outdoor wedding, make sure to incorporate eco-friendly practices that are easy on the earth, and your budget.