Monday, April 15, 2013

Venue Hunt, Part I: All About the Atmosphere

As soon as Jon and I got engaged, I promised myself that I would take the time to update you all here with every detail of the process, through the venue search, dress hunt, and general engagement jitters (with the planning, not with the fiancé!). I want to remember this -- this time before Jon and I are married and start our lives together as a family.

That being said, the last month I have been up to my eyeballs in internet searches for the perfect venue, debating the pros and cons, soup to nuts, of every location.

It's safe to say that I have a pretty clear vision of what I want. But really, more than that: I have a pretty clear vision of what I don't want. (I know that is the wrong way to approach decision-making, but I digress.) I felt this way about engagement rings; I'm sure I'll feel this way about weddings dresses. I don't believe that there's only one right option for me, because there is such a variety of venues (and rings, dresses, etc.) that so many of them can be "perfect." In general, I believed going into all of this that if the venue had the right bones, then we can create the right atmosphere to best match our personalities.

Historic Cedarwood wedding, photo by Krystall Mann via Style Me Pretty | candle photo source unknown | Babylonstoren wedding, photo by We Love Pictures via Miss Moss | Lago Giuseppe Cellars wedding, photo by MEF Photography via Style Me Pretty

Farmhouse tables, candles and market lights, handmade details, big blooms and wildflowers, surrounded by nature and/or rustic architecture... Low-key, but lovely.

I'm picky. We both are, but I wouldn't say that we have expensive taste. In fact, fancy locations make me nervous; I'd much rather be somewhere with some history, perhaps even something a little shabby.

You know what I mean.

collage and photo source unknown
A little bit of perfect imperfection.

We've always imagined our wedding being a bit like how we live: nice-looking and coordinated, but not so nice that it doesn't feel inviting, or you're nervous to settle in and touch things. Jon and I would rather elope with a handful of witnesses in tow than settle on a venue that doesn't work with our [varied-but-specific] taste. It's only worth it to us to spend money if we feel comfortable and complimented by the surroundings.

What I didn't consider during the last two years of pinning wedding ideas is just how much those details cost, and how quickly everything adds up. Budget, not surprisingly, became a huge obstacle. And we'd only been engaged for 2 weeks!

I think that with the pressure of keeping within budget and trimming away at costs in order to ensure that we can cover the things that are really important to us (late night food, open bar with specialty drinks, a reception that goes past 10 PM, etc.), we started to... veer away from what people would expect.

We started in the Bay Area. I never thought of looking outside of the Bay, but goodness, I gave up within one week. The issue with the SF Bay Area is that affordable venues go quick, and I was adamant about not getting married at a winery or country club. I have nothing against those locations (in fact, we love wine and are members of 3 wine clubs); they work for some people, but they just don't suit our personalities. Plus, it's hard to find places that don't come handcuffed to loads of time/noise restrictions and guest list requirements.

So if you're on a tight budget and looking to have a Saturday wedding in the Bay Area in June -- and you nix wineries and golf courses -- then, needless to say, you're going to have a tough time.

One option we found that we loved was the Brazilian Room located in Tilden Park in Berkeley. We even visited it less than one week after getting engaged, and sneaked a peak at the wedding being set up for that Saturday. We loved the simplicity and bare bones of the room, and knew we could really gussy it up to suit our styles.

Brazilian Room, Tilden Park, Berkeley via Hawthorne Photography

Unfortunately, given the fact that this venue is one of the "hot spots" for affordable weddings in the Bay, by early March every single Saturday from June to October of 2014 was already booked.

That was a pretty rough blow, since [price- and style-wise] nothing that I'd found during my hours and hours of searches the past week had some close.

So it was back to the drawing board.

I knew that finding a venue that Jon and I both loved [and could afford] was going to be a challenge, and I admit... I think I pushed myself a little too hard that first week. By week two, I'd pretty much given up on the Bay Area -- not because I couldn't find anything, but because it felt like too much of a challenge and I was losing perspective. I knew what I was looking for, and knew I needed to really hone in on the areas that were most important...

boober at the wedding - Spring Ranch, Mendocino by Chelsey Paul Productions

This would prove to be a surprising challenge.

Since Jon started a new job as a Data Quality Analyst at Machinima one week after we got engaged, I committed myself to finding the perfect venue without having to worry him too much with details. As much as I wanted his help, I knew working full time (with a commute into West Hollywood from Orange) and going to to school full time on top of that would not allow for a lot of free time to browse venues.

So I put the pressure on myself and expanded my search to also include Jon's hometown of Santa Barbara -- a place I'd originally avoided; I assumed finding anything decent would be completely out of our price range, but I came back with some pretty surprising results.

I'll be back with more about what I found in Santa Barbara, how we were this close to committing, and how I quickly lost sight of what we wanted.

Wedding planning is totes hard, ya'll. Needless to say: a lot has happened in five weeks!

Stay tuned.


  1. The suspense is building! Looking forward to the next chapter. This has so far been very educational!

  2. Wow!! The places are really great. I love the images that shows that the place can handle more people in their venue. Sometimes I see them in a conference venue finder site and this one is really a good choice. Thanks!