I love labels. I own a label-maker and love the feeling of clarity and control that comes with designating a spot for a particular set of objects or items, labeling said shelf or drawer or basket, and knowing ever-after exactly where those objects do (or at least should) live. My love of labels actually derives from a tendency toward disorganization, the result of an over-extended brain combined with a bit of laziness: using labels means I only have to think about where to put or find something once, and after that, all I have to do is read the signs. Lest you are picturing an entire house decorated with narrow strips of white tape, I should hasten to add that my labeling is confined to those places where, sans a defined organizational system, contents tend to accumulate, disappear, and/or multiply with mysterious rapidity: the basement, the closet, the craft room.
As much as I find comfort in their conspicuous certainty, however, not everything needs a label. It’s pretty obvious that bookshelves are intended for books, and I can usually remember where I last left, say, the sofa.
What does any of this have to do with wedding venues? And why is Steve wearing a post-it with “Fiancé” stuck to his chest? Funny you should ask.
In Virginia, one of the biggest challenges to choosing a wedding venue is that there are gorgeous possibilities everywhere you turn. We’re surrounded by wineries with stunning views, rustic barns nestled beside rivers, historic inns with tall white columns perched atop rolling hills—not to mention the abundance of old country churches and stately city cathedrals. When we started looking, we were already aware of a few possible venues, but being good academics, we felt the need to do thorough research before we made a decision. Combing through regional bridal magazines and checking out websites expanded our initial list of possibilities exponentially. It quickly became overwhelming: how on earth would we ever find the time to visit ten, much less fifteen or twenty places? (The fact a number of them were wineries that conducted tastings made the prospect more appealing, but no less daunting.)
So we were perhaps a little too happy to discover the perfect place NOT to hold our wedding, a place so clearly and completely wrong for us that it might as well have had a label on it, a big sign saying “NO.”
And that was precisely the problem: that was the only sign that didn’t appear on the property. Everything else—every structure, every overlook, even the benches—all were marked with large wooden signs, most of which sported blatantly obvious, utterly uncreative labels. The primary ceremony location, a mountaintop pavilion that overlooks the valley below, is titled “Overlook Pavilion.” Its much larger neighboring wooden structure, which also sports a view of the vista below, is clearly marked “Vistaview Lodge.” A teepee-type arbor constructed of deadwood is, yes, “Deadwood Arbor,” and I’m pretty sure you can picture the “Rock Garden” without the use of any imagination whatsoever. What you do have to try to imagine is what would possess someone to mar the otherwise lovely nature of all these spaces—not to mention every wedding photo taken in them—with a (minimum) 10″ x 16″ sign declaring a copse of trees the “Tree Garden” or a group of boulders the “Stone Chapel.” The overly pointed and prolific signage, combined with the rustic, down-home look of the buildings and benches, gives the whole place a kind of Dollywood-meets-Richard-Scarry feel.
It would be kind of nice if the red flags that inevitably crop up in clearly-wrong relationships were just as obvious and in-your-face as the signs at this venue. Though, in truth, they usually are; people just choose to ignore them.
There is no ignoring the signs in this place. Steve and I briefly entertained ourselves with the idea of getting married there and embracing the vibe: he would wear a placard reading “Groom”; I could have one with “Bride”–just in case the long white dress was insufficient. Every guest would sport a tag reading “Guest,” the cake would say “Cake,” the chairs all be tagged “Chair,” and so on. I still think it would be funny to do a photo shoot along those lines, and my 10-year-old nephew found the idea “Hilaarrrious!” (Our silliness combined with my enthusing about labels in other arenas was the inspiration for Steve’s post-it.)
It’s a shame, because the amenities at the venue actually look pretty nice, and the views are spectacular. But the place lacks subtlety. The old-fashioned “getaway” buggy has big sign on the back that reads “And they lived happily ever after….” It’s a carriage, not a cartoon; it doesn’t need a caption. Especially one that screams Look how romantic this is—it’s like a fairy tale! It reminds me of the inexperienced writer who doesn’t trust her reader to get it, so she announces the character’s emotion, shows details, and for good measure interprets it all for us: “Kelly felt nervous. She paced back and forth in her living room, picking up knick-knacks and setting them back down. The days following her accident were an anxious time.” In writing as in life, less editorializing = more direct, engaging experience.
So, what are the signs a venue is “the one”? Budget, of course, is always a primary consideration. In our searching, we discovered three additional important questions to consider:
- Can you picture the wedding in this space? One day we visited a lovely old Southern manse turned community center, the Fishburne Mansion. We wandered the grounds, eying them for a scenic spot to hold the ceremony outdoors. Just to left of the mansion in the back, I spotted a small structure–shed? wellhouse?–perched on the slightest of rises, which I thought would work beautifully as a frame. I walked to the building and turned. The grassy area before me stretched out wide and flat, shaded by towering trees. I imagined rows of white chairs, an aisle marked by ribbon. Steve joined me where I stood and took my hands, and for a moment, we were transported to the future, saying our vows. The moment left me breathless, and made us seriously consider the location.
- Are there any complicating logistics? There are so many beautiful wineries around, and we especially liked Virginia Mountain Vineyards. I could picture the ceremony there clearly, amongst the vines, facing the mountains. The vintner was friendly and welcoming, the grounds were lovely, they had a big tent installed onsite, and I was impressed that they were adding AC to their bridal dressing room because a bride had requested it. But ultimately, we decided against getting married at a winery because most posed the same significant issue: they’re located out in the countryside, so to ensure the safety of our wine-drinking guests, we would have to hire buses to transport them back and forth to town. The added cost and complication made a winery an impractical choice for us.
- Is the venue a good “fit”? For us, this question took on both literal and figurative aspects. We looked at a historic property, the Gish House, adjacent to a local park. It has a gazebo on the property, which looked like a ideal place for an outdoor ceremony—until we realized the roof on it was so low that the top of Steve’s head disappeared when he stood inside. Um, nope. More importantly, as we walked around the house, which we’d never been to before, we realized we really wanted to get married in a place that was personally meaningful to us. Without a personal connection, any place we chose, no matter how beautiful, was just a pretty backdrop.
Once we decided we wanted a place with which we had some sort of history, our search practically focused itself. And that’s the only sign you really need: the one in your heart that tells you YES, this is the place.
P.S. Exercise your right to vote today–it matters!