Nina Canter and Rob Fresco knew when they bought a Santa Monica bungalow last year that it would be the perfect place for their wedding. Its spacious yard could accommodate 100 guests, a band and a dance floor. And best of all, it wouldn't have that generic hotel wedding feeling.
Fresco, 42, a screenwriter, says they opted for a home wedding, set for next month, so guests could "get a sense of me and Nina, in terms of our lifestyle. Also, we've created this home and we're very proud of it and a lot of my family and friends haven't seen it yet. And people meeting Nina for the first time will see more of who she is than had they met her in a hotel."
Adds Canter, 34, a costume designer: "I want the house to always feel like a place where people can put their feet up on the couch, and that was important for our wedding too. I want people to feel comfortable in our environment."
It's the dream of many couples to be married at home, whether it's their own house or one in which the bride or groom grew up. While hotels and restaurants can offer beautiful settings and great food, they're foreign territory. There are no family memories, no sentimental attachments.
Brides and grooms who have said their vows in their own backyard rhapsodize about the relaxed atmosphere and personal touches, such as cutting garden greenery for decorations and using heirloom china for centerpieces.
But, like marriage itself, a home wedding isn't something to be rushed into. Those who don't have a clue about planning a home wedding are in for a rude awakening. Remember the 1991 remake of "Father of the Bride"? Steve Martin envisions a barbecue with crepe paper streamers and balloons, but it quickly becomes an over-the-top extravaganza complete with swans, chandeliers and a price tag in the six figures.
Reality isn't always that far off.
One wedding planner estimated that a home wedding can cost 50% more than a comparable one at a hotel. Where does it go? Tents, tables, chairs, linens, lighting, heaters, kitchens, staff, refrigerated trucks and even extra bathroom trailers. The yard may have to be re-landscaped, the plumbing checked, furniture may have to be stored and Fido might have to chill out at a kennel for a couple of days.
Then there are valet parkers, security guards, and just to be on the safe side, an exterminator to make sure the house isn't bug-infested. Oh, and don't forget to check the homeowner's insurance policy to make sure it covers stolen or damaged wedding gifts.
Dr. Danielle Ardolino realized that her May wedding to director-producer David Zucker would be an undertaking but ultimately worth it. The two married on their 20-acre ranch in Ojai that Zucker bought 15 years ago.
"We looked around at different hotels in L.A. and thought that might be more convenient for people, but ultimately we decided to have it here," says Ardolino, a specialist in internal medicine. "It's green and peaceful and tranquil and it was a setting we were so attached to."
The ceremony was held in a stone amphitheater the couple had built for the occasion. With some 200 guests looking on, Ardolino, 29, and Zucker, 49, were married beneath a large pepper tree, under a chuppa decorated with tree branches and oranges from groves on the property. The wedding cake featured miniature versions of the amphitheater's stone steps. On the top tier was a re-creation of a little white bench, one of the couple's favorite spots. EvenArdolino's beloved chow chow, Puffy, took a stroll down the aisle.
A wedding planner helped with the arrangements, which included renting tents, tables, chairs, a bathroom trailer, dance floor and kitchens, and trucking it all up to the ranch. The preparation wasn't totally glitch-free: A tree branch had to be sawed off when a truck couldn't clear it, and other vehicles had trouble crossing a rope bridge. Accommodations also had to be made for wheelchairs.
"We ended up feeling like it was a huge production," Ardolino says, "but the wedding went so smoothly and everyone enjoyed it. We got thank-you cards from people."
Other couples have added special touches to their home weddings. Los Angeles wedding consultant Frankie Berger recalls a bride and groom who wanted to be married in the doorway of their new house. "Owning a home was very important to them," so they bought a house before they got married, she explains. "Everyone stood around them for the ceremony, and at the end he gave her a kiss and carried her over the threshold.
"There's a beauty in a home wedding," she says. "The hospitality offered by a family is quite special. And when you see a bride walk down the staircase in a house where she was raised, it's worth it. Also, when people are in a home, some things cannot happen perfectly, and those can be overlooked. If things are a little disjointed, you can accept it."
Berger's initial meeting with a couple includes making sure the house and yard can accommodate the desired number of guests. She asks the couple the style they're after--formal, informal, brunch, cocktail party, sit-down dinner.
"The next thing I say is, 'Let's talk about the cost.' Then I'll ask them if there's a Plan B for inclement weather, if it's an outdoor wedding."
Berger recalls one midsummer outdoor wedding that was doused by a thunderstorm, which dampened the table linens. She and the staff grabbed blow-dryers and remedied the situation just before the guests arrived.
Then there was the wedding that also got some unexpected showers--from lawn sprinklers that weren't shut off. And at another reception, hosts got a visit from some uninvited guests--police officers. Acting on neighbors' noise complaints, they ordered the music stopped.
Wedding coordinator Jennifer Loftfield of Joie de Vivre in Beverly Hills says most incidents like that can be avoided with planning. The police might never have appeared had the hosts sent notes--perhaps with a bottle of wine--to neighbors alerting them of the event. Still, she warns couples to be prepared for uncontrollable annoyances like planes, helicopters, sirens and construction.
Most of her home weddings have been happier, such as the one in which the bride and her father drove up to the house in the father's prized Model T Ford. She's in the midst of planning a wedding at a couple's "half-rustic, half-modern" home, using sheets of moss for tablecloths and topiaries for centerpieces.
"I think it's great, too," Loftfield says, "when you've been in an area for a long time and been to all the hotels, it's a nice change to go to someone's home. Guests love to see people's homes, to see what they've done with it to transform it into a reception location."
L.A. caterer and party planner Don Ernstein of Wonderful Parties, Wonderful Foods, agrees that home weddings can have a magical quality, adding, "Unlike a hotel, you don't have to give up the room for the next event. It's a completely different experience."
Ernstein says some couples think they must have a sit-down dinner reception. Not so--he's catered afternoon tea, brunch and lunch weddings.
"I think you need to take advantage of the California style," he says. "What works on the East Coast doesn't always work on the West Coast. People are into a casual feeling here."
And not every home wedding has to be a grand-scale production. A small ceremony could be done at home and a large reception held elsewhere. A little ingenuity can cut costs way down.
Bride-to-be Canter scoured flea markets for vintage table linens. Potted flowering plants will serve as centerpieces instead of expensive floral arrangements. A college friend is baking the wedding cake. Valets aren't needed since there's ample parking nearby. And Canter is making the chuppa herself out of silk chiffon, which will become bedroom curtains post-wedding.
"We like nice things, but we're kind of avoiding things that are too fancy," she explains. "At a lot of weddings people spend a lot of money on things like a fancy knife to cut the cake. We're more into stuff that's really sentimental."