Weddings head out of the banquet hall

Wedding venues

SmogShoppe in Mid-City L.A. was chosen by Kim Byerrum, left, and Stacee Coleman. Their theme: Sunday Funday Brunch. 

(Brian and Allison Callaway)

A cookie-cutter wedding just would not cut it for urbane lovebirds Brittany Mrsnik and Jason Barnes of West Hollywood.

When their wedding planner recommended Millwick, a hip new venue in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District, they were immediately smitten by the industrial chic of the 80-year-old converted livery stable.

“We walked in off the street, and it was literally an urban oasis,” the bride, 33, recalled recently. “It was just so ... different than any other venue we had seen.”

“Different” seems to be the order of the day as Southern California couples scout for the perfect setting to tie the knot.


Many couples are eschewing hotel ballrooms, country clubs and houses of worship in favor of repurposed spots with plants on the walls, recycled wood paneling, funky leather couches, neutral color palettes and oversize garage doors separating indoor rooms from garden courtyards. The blanker the slate, the better.

“I love unique venues where you can really make it your own,” said Mindy Weiss, a Beverly Hills party consultant. “When we hear of a new one opening up, I get very excited.”

Jodi Cohen, co-founder of Jowy Productions, an event-planning company, said that “the cool, chic, urban venues are great for those brides and grooms who want a clean space that

allows them to do whatever they want” — better than, say, a hotel ballroom where the carpet and chandeliers might not be to a couple’s taste.


“Our space is raw and empty,” said Miguel Nelson, co-owner with his wife, Sherry Walsh, of Millwick and SmogShoppe, a converted smog-check shop in Mid-City. “We give clients the freedom to put their own stamp on it.”

Inspired by images on Pinterest and Instagram, couples are going all out to make their weddings unique. And often that starts with selecting the right boho-hipster scene.

At Millwick, “we were able to choose all of our own vendors and truly design an experience that was our own,” Brittany Barnes said of her Friday night wedding in September. She and her globe-trotting mate adopted a travel theme, naming dinner-seating areas after places they’d traveled: Monte Carlo, London, Chiang Mai. On a big screen at one end of the room, they projected a party countdown and the theme: Best Day Ever!

Among other go-to places that Weiss and Cohen favor are the Washbow in Culver City, Carondelet House in Westlake and Lombardi House, a restored Victorian-style farmhouse in Hollywood surrounded by fruit trees and gardens. Another popular spot is the Fig House in Highland Park, where owner Steve Fortunato said he went for a “warmth meets class” ambience.

By contrast, the quirky décor of SmogShoppe — including a life-size, black-and-gold statue of an Egyptian Nubian maiden with a spider plant on her head — drew Stacee Coleman and her bride, Kim Byerrum. The theme for their daytime wedding was Sunday Funday Brunch. In keeping with it, their layered wedding “cake” was a stack of pancakes.

Rental costs can vary widely. At Millwick and SmogShoppe, “a good estimate would be between $6,000 and $11,000,” said Helen Yoon, venue director for Millwick. Fig House rates are $4,000 to $8,500, depending on the day of the week and the guest count, Fortunato said. Most weddings there have guest counts in the 150-to-200 range.

For those on a budget, Weiss offers a word of caution about these locations: “You’re renting the venue, and most of them come with nothing.” That can mean hefty added expense for renting tables, chairs and other paraphernalia. But at the same time, she added, “you know whose wedding you’re at when you enter.”