Choice Settings for a More Perfect Union

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of you proposed. The other said yes. Now comes the work. Nailing down a reception site is near the top of any wedding agenda.

Though many professionals in the nuptial business--caterers, florists, photographers, musicians, cake bakers, party coordinators--prefer the intimacy and unique character of weddings in homes, they do have plenty of favorites among rentable places. In some cases, the costs detailed below cover only the rental fee for the site and nothing else. Nada. Zip. And, of course, prices do not include flowers, entertainment, photographer, videographer, officiant, limo and those cute little napkins printed with your names.

Oh, for the days of hippie weddings, when you could get married in any old field. . . .

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Brides love the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles for its lush garden setting, wedding gazebo beside the swan lake, soft pink buildings and pastel reception rooms. But it's also admired as the ultimate wedding backdrop by many who work in the nuptial business. Pasadena-based photographer Tom Rafalovich, known for his artistic black-and-white wedding photos, always breathes a sigh of relief when he's booked at the Bel-Air.

"The main thing is that it's elegant without being over-manicured or stuffy. There's a soft natural feel to it and has great light and shadows," he says. "I know the grounds well, but every time I shoot there, I discover a new place and a different light. Every wedding's different and every couple's different and I can always find someplace new to shoot there. The textures and light accent the wedding instead of taking away from it or overpowering it."

Hotel Bel-Air

701 Stone Canyon Road, Los Angeles 90077; (310) 472-1211.

CONTACT: Deanna Maddalena, director of catering.

GUESTS: up to 200.

COST: $125 and up per person for lunch; dinner starts at $150 per person.

THAT INCLUDES: cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, meal, champagne toast, wine, parking.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: $925 ceremony fee (with that, they'll throw in the bride and groom's honeymoon suite).

BOOKED: As much as two to three years in advance. Most Saturday nights taken through 1997. Only one wedding allowed on the grounds at a time.

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An ocean-and-cliff backdrop reminiscent of the Cote d'Azur makes the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel a favorite of Paul Ecke, owner of the Black Iris floral design shop in Laguna Beach.

"The outdoor wedding gazebo is perched right on the cliff. You can see the ocean, white sands, cliffs, rocks and Catalina," he says. "Flowers are always in bloom and the guests are seated on the rolling grass lawn. It's peaceful and romantic. Sunset weddings are gorgeous there. Brides love to make an entrance and here we can have trumpeters announcing the bride as she walks down the long walkway to the gazebo."

After the ceremony, receptions are held in either the elegant Mediterranean ballroom or one of the smaller rooms with an ocean view.

The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point 92629; (714) 240-2000.

CONTACT: catering department.

GUESTS: up to 550.

COST: lunch $60 to $80 per person; dinner $100 to $120 per person; $7 per car parking; ceremony location fee of $1,200 or $2,200, depending on the spot.

THAT INCLUDES: lunch and dinner include three courses, hosted bar, wine, champagne toast, hors d'oeuvres and cake.

BOOKED: up to a year in advance.

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Master wedding planner Colin Cowie loves the Hotel Bel-Air's intimate garden setting. But a close second is the Saddlerock Ranch in Malibu, where he's done the weddings for Lisa Kudrow, Don Henley, Charlie Sheen and Vanessa Angel.

"It's extremely private," he says. "But you have to be prepared to do everything from scratch. All you get is a gorgeous piece of land and a gorgeous setting. You have to bring in everything." He says the mood is set the moment guests arrive. "You drive in 1 1/2 miles along a green pasture where you see horses, ostriches, llamas and oxen. The setting is very equestrian with beautiful manicured gardens. It's rustic and groomed at the same time, which is so great."

Cowie, who is working on a lavish wedding book due out later this year, says the ranch lends itself to a tented reception or a picnic-style wedding. His staff can bring in everything--elegant catering, flowers, tents and chairs--for about $250 per person. (Not including the ranch rental fee.)

Saddlerock Ranch

31727 Mulholland Highway, Malibu 90265; (818) 889-0008.

CONTACT: Carolyn Hotchkiss, wedding coordinator.

GUESTS: 50 to 5,000.

COST: $3,500.

THAT INCLUDES: the site for the day for an outdoor wedding. No indoor facilities other than cabana for bridal party to dress, bathrooms for guests.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: Everything else--caterer, security, tent, tables, chairs, linens, valet parking attendants.

BOOKED: one month to one year ahead.

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"When I first saw the Adamson House, I thought, 'This is where I would have wanted my wedding to be,' " says the already married Lori Mark, a singer who's hired for wedding ceremonies and receptions. "It's exactly what I was looking for at the time, but I didn't know it existed."

This historic site in Malibu rents out its grounds (but not the 1929 Moorish Spanish Revival house itself) for outdoor weddings. Even though you have to bring in everything, Mark says the spot is irresistible because it's ocean-close.

"You practically have the water right next to you. The big lawn is right on the level of the sand." When Mark got married, incidentally, she chose the restaurant Lautrec in Woodland Hills. (It's now called Villa Piacere.) "It was nice for a smaller wedding, 50, 60 people, because it has a beautiful garden area with a fountain for the ceremony. It looked like a private estate's backyard."

Adamson House Museum

23200 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu 90265; (310) 456-8432.

CONTACT: Lynette Hernandez in leasing offices, (310) 457-8185.

GUESTS: 200.

COST: $2,500.

THAT INCLUDES: use of the five-acre ocean-side gardens, dressing room for the bride, restrooms for the guests, two Department of Recreation employees (they're required as this is a state park).

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: everything else--caterer, parking, etc.

BOOKED: Full through 1997. Dates available April through Oct. 1998.

Villa Piacere

2160 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills 91364; (818) 704-1185.

CONTACT: any manager.

GUESTS: 20 to 250.

COST: $500 rental fee plus per person charge of $19.95 and up for lunch, $21.95 and up for dinner; $3 per car valet parking.

THAT INCLUDES: three-course meal, cake and advice on coordinating the wedding.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: beverages, tax, tips.

BOOKED: at least five months in advance.

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"From a client's point of view, the Four Seasons gives the best service. It's impeccable," says Walter Hubert, owner of the Pasadena-based custom floral-design firm Silver Birches. "The staff is so great to work with that it makes my job easy. They make what I do look twice as good."

Hubert, who recently did Paula Abdul's wedding here, loves the outdoor garden setting that's picture-perfect Southern California. The ceremony area is surrounded by flowering trees and shrubbery. Guests sit in chairs on the grass.

"Then you can opt to have cocktails in a canopied area in the garden or in the interior rooms, which are classic, light and airy. They're decorated in peach and ecru that are neutral enough that you can do anything from simple to extravagant."

Another plus: "There are not a lot of places that serve fine food in an excellent setting for a large number of guests. This is the place to do it."

Four Seasons Hotel

at Beverly Hills

300 S. Doheny Drive, Los Angeles 90048; (310) 273-2222.

CONTACT: Jonathan Reeves, catering director, or his staff.

GUESTS: up to 250.

COST: $85 to $110 per person for lunch; $140 to $155 per person for dinner. $7 per car parking.

THAT INCLUDES: hosted bar, hors d'oeuvres, three-course lunch or four-course dinner, multiple entrees, wine, cake, tip and tax, suite for bride and groom.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: garden rental fee of $950 for ceremony.

BOOKED: three months to 1 1/2 years in advance.

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The best California weddings take advantage of the great outdoors, believes caterer Don Ernstein, owner of Wonderful Parties in Los Angeles. One of his favorite sites is the Streisand Center for Conservancy Studies, the property singer-actress-director Barbra Streisand donated to the state. To meet its upkeep as a nonprofit center, the conservancy rents out for one wedding a weekend.

"It's like somebody's fabulous ranch. It's rustic in the most chic way," Ernstein says. "There's a draw because Babs lived there, but I think it's the setting that's so fabulous."

Ernstein says the 22-acre property includes four houses, but weddings are held outdoors. "I'm doing a wedding there now. The ceremony is held by gorgeous trees and a beautiful bridge. We move to the meadow area for dinner. In the center, we set up dessert and dancing in this wonderful rustic barn."

The Streisand Center

for Conservancy Studies

5750 Ramirez Canyon Road, Malibu 90265; (310) 589-2850.

CONTACT: Kelly Curtis, Ext. 122.

GUESTS: 50 to 125, but they'll allow up to 200 if you make special arrangements.

COST: $3,000 for first 50 people; additional $30 per person thereafter; $73 insurance fee.

THAT INCLUDES: the site from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: caterer, party rentals, lighting, parking shuttle and off-site parking arrangements.

BOOKED: a month or more in advance.

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Custom cake master Linda Goldsheft, whose company the Cake Studio is based in Fountain Valley, says there are two real gems in Orange County. The Sherman Library and Gardens is a public place that books weddings after 4 p.m. when the grounds close to everyone else.

"The setting is very pretty, private and intimate," Goldsheft says. "We've set up cakes on the tea garden patio, or in the indoor room that has French doors looking out on the gardens."

For a sophisticated, older or second wedding, she loves the Robert Mondavi Wine and Food Center. "It's an art gallery that opens onto a veranda and lawn with sculptures. There are French doors all around, which makes it elegant and full of light, but I think it's perfect for an evening wedding because you can see the art. They only serve wine; no spirits or beer. It's not limited to an older crowd--I once did a Renaissance-theme wedding there for a bride in her mid-20s."

Sherman Library and Gardens

2647 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar 92625; (714) 673-2261.

CONTACT: Dorothy Woods.

GUESTS: 300 for indoor / outdoor weddings; 100 for indoor in winter.

COST: $4,000 flat fee.

THAT INCLUDES: the site, place for ceremony, parking, tables and chairs, on-site wedding coordinator, security guard.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: catering and all extras.

BOOKED: six months to a year in advance.

Robert Mondavi Wine

and Food Center

1570 Scenic Ave., Costa Mesa 92626; (714) 979-4510.

CONTACT: any staff member can assist.

GUESTS: up to 200.

COST: $36 per person starting for lunch; $64 per person starting for dinner.

THAT INCLUDES: wine reception, three-course meal with unlimited wine, flower centerpieces, use of site, parking.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: cake, set up for outdoor ceremony, tax and tip.

BOOKED: six months in advance. Only one wedding booked each day.

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"The Beverly Hills restaurant Il Cielo is charming, just right for a wedding of about 80 to 120 guests," raves wedding coordinator Jennifer Loftfield of the Beverly Hills firm Joie de Vivre. "It has wonderful character and great upscale Northern Italian food. There's a romantic brick courtyard with trees, and inside it has a fireplace and frescoed ceiling, very Italian. But it's not what I would call rustic. It's whiter and lighter than that. It feels intimate and personal, as if you're in someone's home."

The restaurant just added a glass solarium, with a roof that rolls back, where brides can choose to hold the ceremony.

Il Cielo

9018 Burton Way, Beverly Hills 90211; (310) 276-9990.

CONTACT: Allison Myers, manager; Pasquale Vericella, owner.

GUESTS: up to 120.

COST: facility rental fee of $1,000 for an afternoon, $1,500, evening. Plus $55 per person meal charge, $3.50 per car valet parking charge.

THAT INCLUDES: hors d'oeuvres, four-course meal, cake. No additional ceremony fee charged.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: beverage, tax and tip.

BOOKED: typically six to nine months in advance.

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If a private garden wedding is the goal, caterer Pauline Parry of Good Gracious! Events suggests her favorite spot, the Wattles Mansion perched in the Hollywood Hills.

"It's secluded, yet right in the city, dramatic without being ostentatious," she says. Ceremonies are set up in the garden with guests seated between the hillside tiers. Though guests have access to the inside of the landmark house, the reception will largely take place outside, Parry says. She sets up the wedding cake in the middle of the house so it's prominently on view.

Part of the charm of the location is its position in the hills. "It's up high enough to see the view overlooking the city," she says. "At night you can see the city lights."

Wattles Mansion

1824 N. Curson Ave., Hollywood 90046; (213) 874-4005.

CONTACT: Stephen Sylvester, managing director.

GUESTS: up to 200.

COST: $1,600 for 100 or fewer; $2,500 for 100 to 200.

THAT INCLUDES: the location for the day.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: everything else. Because the mansion is in a residential area, they require you hire valet parking attendants and have no amplified music.

BOOKED: If the date is available, as little as a week in advance.

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The ultimate personalized wedding place is a tent, says florist Wayne Woods, owner of the Woods in Brentwood. Large white party tents, rentable from firms like Regal Rents, can be pitched anywhere, and Woods is quite fond of some of the tented weddings he's done in backyards. It's more work than having a wedding at a hotel reception room, but that's also the point: The wedding will look like no other.

"It's good for people who want to express themselves," Woods says. "You can turn a tent into anything you want and that's what's so much fun. There's no color, no nothing. You have this huge canvas and endless options. We did a Tuscan party last fall with gorgeous 19th century tapestries, sage green carpet and mahogany chairs. When Kelly Lynch got married, we did '50s French. You can't do that in other spaces where you're limited by fixtures in a room. And these are always the most enjoyable weddings. There's a different energy level."

Regal Rents

(310) 204-3382.

COST: white tents are 40 cents a square foot plus $75 round trip delivery. Clear tents are 70 cents a square foot plus $75 delivery. A standard tennis court-sized white tent, for example, will cost $3,027.

THAT INCLUDES: assembly, breakdown, delivery.

THAT DOESN'T INCLUDE: extras like dance floor, Astroturf, lighting, heating, generators, bandstand, tables and chairs.

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