Thursday, December 16, 2010

Choosing the right venue

I recently wrote an article on the importance of choosing the right wedding venue for a great website called Chicago Wedding Venues.  This site offers photos submitted by some of the city's best photographers of wedding venues in the Chicago area (city and suburbs).  How many of us have been turned off by the website photos of a certain venue only to visit in person and be wowed?  If you're in the market for your ideal wedding venue, definitely check the site out! 

You can read my original article here on the site, or see below.  I hope you find it helpful!  What are some of your favorite venues in the Chicagoland area?

The Importance of Choosing the Right Venue

After selecting your life partner, your choice of venue is the most important decision you’ll make during the wedding planning process! The venue defines your event style:  formal or casual; soft and romantic, or bright and cheerful.  It will even determine how well your other vendors can do their jobs: the lighting affects your photographer, your band or DJ will thank you if your dance floor is placed among your tables instead of at the far end of the room, etc.  Once you have the perfect venue the stage is set for all of your other planning decisions.  I’ve included here the major aspects you should consider as you begin your search.

Budget  Don’t just compare rental fee to rental fee—consider what is included.  Some venues come with tables and chairs for your use while others include the use of the space only.  Those rental items certainly add up, so make sure you’ve gotten the whole story.

Capacity It is equally as uncomfortable to have one hundred guests seated in a ballroom intended for five hundred as it is to try to squeeze 300 guests into a room with the capacity for 250.  All venues have a max capacity that they will likely have on their website or in their information packets, but one of my favorite questions to ask a venue coordinator is what their ideal number of guests is in a room—enough to fill the space but not feel crowded.  Before you begin with the search have a good idea of your invitation list (and remember to account for the 10-25% of your list that will decline). 
 Logistics  If you plan to be married at a location other than the reception venue, think about how your guests will get from one place to another—will you provide transport or are you expecting your guests to drive themselves?  If you are holding the ceremony on-site, will it be outside?  If so, have a contingency plan in place ahead of time that the venue staff, your caterer, and all others involved are comfortable with.  Plan to hold the ceremony in the same room as the reception?  Make certain you have a place for your guests to have cocktails while the room setup is changed over.

Style As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, your venue sets the tone for your event.  If you have always wanted “country chic,” dragging hay bales into the Marriott Grand Ballroom won’t do the trick.  The same goes for trying to create a romantic and opulent feel with the stark clean lines of the Art Institute Modern Wing.  Let the space guide the d├ęcor—don’t force it!

Feel Don’t ignore that little voice in your head!  If your gut tells you “this place is the one,” go for it!  At this point in your planning almost nothing is set in stone, so allow yourself the luxury of changing your original ideas about wedding date, guest count, and style to match with your dream venue.

            Aside from these categories, there are some other characteristics to avoid in a venue as you are learning about each venue.  I am personally not a fan of the venues where multiple events will be taking place at once.  No matter what the catering manager says, you CAN hear the music from the other party, and it is incredibly awkward when your soft-spoken grandmother begins her pre-dinner blessing while Get Low is blasting from the other room. 
            Read reviews of the venue on Yelp, Wedding Wire, and other rating sites.  If you see couples talking about hidden fees or impossible-to-deal-with venue contacts it may not be worth the trouble.  By discounting both the highest and lowest rated reviews you should be able to get a pretty good read on the average couple’s experience.
            Finally, as important as it is to use a good feeling to allow yourself to choose a venue you might not have otherwise, if you get a bad vibe from a venue, head the other way!  Instincts can be a powerful indicator of the way you’ll feel spending one of life’s most important days there.

            Below is a list of some of the questions I hear a lot from clients as we enter the venue selection process.

1.     What is included?  This can vary greatly from place to place.  Make sure you get a complete list of everything the venue has for your use so you can take stock of what you’ll have to bring in.
2.     How long will we have to set up?  Most venues allow you an hour or two on either end of your rental period for setup and tear down.  Anything beyond that can cost extra.  These details should be listed in either their information sheets or on the contract.
3.     Where will my guests park?  If your venue is in the city parking can be a major factor in your guests’ experience at your wedding.  If there is not a lot specifically intended for the venue, ask about valet or nearby lots that can be rented.
4.     Are there any rules applying to my on-site ceremony?  Some venues have rules about use of candles, where food or beverage can be consumed, or even whether or not religious ceremonies are allowed!  If you plan to hold your ceremony on-site, ask these questions first.  You wouldn’t want to be surprised after it is too late.
5.     Does the venue keep a preferred vendor list?  If you have your heart set on a specific cake vendor, florist, or caterer, ask if the venue has any mandates about who is allowed to work in their space. 

            It is so tough to decide on a favorite when each venue seems to be “perfect” for a different couple.  I’ve given my favorites here in three categories: 

Traditional and Romantic:  Any of the Chicago Cultural Center’s three spaces are perfect for creating a classically beautiful wedding environment.  You can’t go wrong with the ornate ceilings, Tiffany Domes, and cultural significance (it was formerly the Chicago Public Library) of this stunning space.  Plus, its central location means your guests are within walking distance of many of Chicago’s major attractions like the Art Institute, Millennium Park, and Symphony Center.

Funky and Eclectic:  You won’t have to worry about anyone calling your wedding “ho hum” if you host it at Salvage One!  Your guests will spend the cocktail hour wandering amongst Salvage One’s architectural salvage and furniture finds (they can even purchase something if they fall in love with it!).  Or, on a nice day send them out to mingle in the courtyard with the bathtub waterfall and altar surrounded by a moat.  The upstairs holds the band or dj, dining tables, and one of the largest bars you’ll find this side of Clark Street.  Just before wedding day, walk around the store with Salvage One staff so they can move your favorite pieces up as part of a lounge setup! 

Natural Beauty:  Garfield Park Conservatory is a natural haven on the west side of Chicago.  Your guests get to enter through a tropical rainforest as they head into the reception room inside the conservatory.  In the summer, ceremonies are hosted on the Blue Stone Patio just outside of the desert exhibit and overlooking a grassy knoll.  And, any areas of the conservatory they missed going to and from your wedding sites guests can explore throughout the evening.  Lower your wedding’s carbon footprint by encouraging guests to arrive by public transit—Garfield Park Conservatory is just steps away from the Green Line’s Conservatory/Central Park stop!
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Brittany and Dave's Classic Wedding at the Odyssey Country Club 10.23.10

Brittany and Dave's wedding was definitely one of the most entertaining weddings I had the pleasure of being a part of last year.  I knew the bride and groom from college, but interestingly enough, they were referred to me by my downstairs neighbor (thanks Todd!) without him even knowing the connection!  Britt and Dave wanted a great big party for a wedding reception and that's definitely what they got, as I'm sure you'll see from the photos, all courtesy of Steve Matteo Photography.

I met the ladies at their suite at the Holiday Inn bright and early on Saturday morning as they were beginning to trickle in from their hair appointments at D'Marie Salon in Frankfort.  The lovely Tiffany Berry of Flawless by Tiffany  got to work on Brittany's makeup while the bridesmaids got to work on their mimosas. :) 

Steve Matteo Photography
Unfortunately the weather forecast was not looking good.  It had been pouring all morning and there was no sign of it letting up!  Luckily Britt's step-mom, Karen, was prepared with several large umbrellas and galoshes for Brittany. 

Steve Matteo Photography
 Before long, the flowers had arrived and it was time to get dressed!  Brittany's gown was a lovely silk shantung with a few crystals for accent--so simple and beautiful.  The Bridesmaids donned elegant long navy dresses while the Maid of Honor (Britt's twin sister, Ashley) wore the same dress in a deep purple which matched the sash on Brittany's dress.  The four lady ushers wore purple dresses of their own choosing.  The Enchanted Florist did an amazing job with some of the most vibrant blues and purples I've ever seen featured in the bouquets.

Steve Matteo Photography
  Meanwhile Dave and his groomsmen were getting ready at Dave's parents' house nearby.  While the ladies had been up since the crack of dawn for hair, make-up, and prep; I'm pretty sure the guys spent 95% of the time sitting and drinking and about 10 minutes on the "getting ready" part.  It always cracks me up how quickly a groom can get ready for one of the most important days of his life!

Steve Matteo Photography

Much to our surprise and contrary to all weather reports, the clouds broke and they were able to fit in a few outdoor shots before the ceremony.  I love this one of the guys with their beer bottles!

Steve Matteo Photography
Brittany and Dave had a lovely nuptial mass at the beautiful and modern St. Stephen's Catholic Church.  They did a wonderful job of incorporating family members into the ceremony and making sure everyone felt included.

Steve Matteo Photography
Post-ceremony, as soon as family photos were done, it was time to party!  The bridal party hopped on a limo bus for a few photos while Sara and I headed over to the Odyssey Country Club to set up.  The couple definitely put their personal touches on every part of the day.  They had a slideshow of photos from infancy to current times going in one corner of the room, little after-dinner mints placed on each table for their guests' enjoyment, and bottles of wine as their alternative to a guest book!  As big oenophiles, they chose to put out 10 bottles (one for each of the first 10 years of marriage) for guests to sign.  Now for each anniversary they will get to relive their special day by reading the notes and messages from their friends and family.

Steve Matteo Photography
Britt and Dave kicked off the evening by cutting their DELICIOUS, and I mean delicious, cake from Creative Cakes.  They were cake smashing, just enjoyment.

Steve Matteo Photography
We all enjoyed a family style dinner and heard toasts from the Fathers of the bride and groom as well as Maid of Honor, Ashley, and Dave's Best Man, (Dave's brother) Brian.  As soon as dinner was over it was like a gun shot went off.  Everyone hit the dance floor and it was packed immediately and for the rest of the night.  Matt from Electric Blue Entertainment kept the party alive and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely!  There may have even been an icing or two (or twenty?)  Hilarious.  My favorite kind of wedding :)  

Steve Matteo Photography
Now just in case my flowing prose didn't describe how much fun was had at their wedding, I've included a short video clip for you to watch.  Brittany and Dave rented flip cams from Story Mix Media.  As part of the package, post-wedding they shipped back the cams and Story Mix edited all the footage and put it together in this montage for them.  So cool, right?  

Brittany and Dave, I enjoyed every minute--of working with you for your wedding.  Cheers to you both, and all the best for a lifetime of love and happiness!

Steve Matteo Photography
Brittany and Dave's Classic Wedding at the Odyssey Country Club 10.23.10SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cool People Volume XVI: Avery House

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of having dinner with an amazing group of folks.  The get-together was the brain-child of the lovely bride and groom, Amy and Matt, and the purpose was simply to get their "dream team" (aka wedding vendors) together prior to their May wedding so that by the time the big day rolled around we'd all feel like a family.  And clearly, it worked!  Amy and Matt really have compiled a fabulous team to bring together on their wedding day.  I've already featured some of them on the blog here: Elan from I Do Films was there (here's my post about I Do), Dena from Toast & Jam came (here's my post about T&J), and Matt and Stevi from Avery House.   And here's my...oh wait!  I haven't featured Avery House yet!  So here we go :)

Matt and Stevi were some of the first people I heard about in the industry but it actually took the middle of this summer before I was able to meet Stevi in person (and I didn't meet Matt until last night!!).  As Stevi and I were having breakfast together in August, I was struck with how incredibly humble she was, and yet SO passionate about the work she and Matt do.  You should have seen her eyes lighting up when she was describing a service trip to Mexico they were organizing with other photographers.

Honestly, their photos could be straight out of a magazine.  They are constantly looking for new inspiration and developing their skills and style by putting together test shoots.  Just recently they moved into a new studio along with I Do Films to build, in my humble opinion, one of the most amazing partnerships in all of wedding-dom!  If a picture's worth a thousand words, I'd say Avery House's are probably worth a million, so I'd better show you some pics before this post gets way to long...

Avery House

 Make sure you look into their website and blog for all their latest work.  You won't  be disappointed!
Cool People Volume XVI: Avery HouseSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
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