Hello, Claire here!
It still feels weird to be writing about my wedding planning experience, rather than simply sharing Gemma’s planning escapades, but hey, here goes, my take on the hardest task of wedding planning so far; The Venue Search.
Photo by Megan Gilger via The Fresh Exchange
The first pic I ever pinned for wedding inspiration. This would be my perfect night, though not really feasible for Irish weather/aunties and uncles with bad backs!
JUNE 19th 2015: 13 months, one week and five days.
(Still aaaages to go, though it feels like it was 18 months away yesterday, so time is moving fast!)
– Mark’s current obsession: Green Suits (like this one)
– This month we’re mostly: Looking at the legalities and setting up appointments for our next trip back to Ireland.
I was obsessed with The Millhouse, from this single picture, it’s such a beautiful venue, but when we visited I was gutted that we couldn’t have our reception in this space.
Our venue search took in two countries, about 5,000 Google searches and at least 13 venue visits. Yep, we took it pretty seriously!
Being a wedding blogger, I know that once you’ve picked your venue, a lot of the decisions will be out of your hands. You might not be able to hang those string lights the way you want, you might be restricted with your choice of caterer, and the whole look and feel of your celebration will be dictated by the space you have.
Photography, food, and music are all super important, but getting the venue right first, will make the rest of your job so much easier.
So while I felt a bit like Goldilocks at each venue appointment, (that one is too quirky, this one isn’t quirky enough!) I think in the end, our pickiness paid off.
Another early pin, I was so excited to discover this cool venue, MC Motors, was just around the corner from our flat in London. But sadly it was a little (a lot!) out of our price range.
First, It Was London
So we already knew where we wanted to get married when we got engaged. This cool pub near our home in London, with the most gorgeous secret garden space out the back. I had pictured how we would decorate it, I had planned the menu in my head, and I’d even envisioned our ceremony in the little courtyard behind the bar.
Then we looked into it, and sadly, the pub said, no dice. To say we were gutted, is an understatement.
Photo by McKinley-Rodgers Photography.
We loved the idea of a London pub wedding, like this one at another local, The Londesborough. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask our families to travel all this way for a day in a pub!
We wanted to have a wedding in London, because we thought it would be laid back, fun, and an opportunity to show all our Irish friends and family what our life was like in our new stomping ground.
But we quickly found out it wouldn’t be that easy. There are great wedding packages to be found in London, but if you’re looking for what we were, (and outdoor space, with a weatherproof option, ideally in East or North London, with a cool, ‘unweddingy’ vibe) it was instantly apparent that we’d struggle to find something in our budget.
When we sat down to talk about it, and considered all the people travelling, the fact that we’d need to entertain our guests for a few days, and that the Euro to Sterling exchange is so bad at the moment, we realised that we’d have more choice and flexibility if we got married back home in Ireland instead.
Then, It Was Ireland
So once we decided we’d look to Ireland, we found that, since we left four years ago, the choice available for wedding venues and vendors had improved extensively.
We knew we still wanted somewhere unique, laid back, and unweddingy, but moving away from London meant we now had a choice of barns, country houses and glamping venues. The options were endless so we decided to limit our search to exclusive hire venues, where we could hold our ceremony onsite.
After picking out our favourite ten venues, Marko and I scheduled viewings and flew to Ireland for a very fun three days of driving around the country, checking places out.
Photo by This Modern Love
We just adored quirky glamping venue Mount Druid, but this place is so popular, it books up for weekends two summers in advance.
We booked and unbooked one, were super torn over a couple of others, and very nearly sacked off our entire party plan for an intimate restaurant venue instead.
Then finally, we landed on a place we both had a great feeling about the second we’d walked in.
It ticked every single one of our boxes, and gave us a space that allowed us to play around with, and be creative in.
We didn’t realise until later, but it also has a space that *weather permitting* will be the most beautiful backdrop for our ceremony!
We’re getting married at the Grain Store at Killruddery House in Wicklow, Ireland.
Killruddery House is a stunning, elegant, historic country house with beautifully manicured gardens, and a beautiful orangery. But we’re not opting for that. We’ll be having our BBQ bash in the the barn and farmyard out back, where they hold a weekly farmer’s market.
Not only is it a casual and unusual backdrop and a beautiful and atmospheric setting, but the team there have been so kind and flexible (and open to my strange requests!) and we’re so excited about sampling their offering of homegrown and locally sourced food and drinks.
We think we’ve found the perfect spot, that’s so ‘us’ – and really we couldn’t ask for more than that!
Photo by Simple Tapestry
My Top 10 Tips for Finding a Wedding Venue
I’m no professional but I feel like we did a pretty thorough job at finding a venue, so here are the top things Marko and I learned on our search. (And check out some expert tips for finding a venue here.)
1. Cast a Wide Net
We only had one rule for our venue. We didn’t want it to feel too weddingy. We decided we didn’t want a hotel or a function room, so we looked to alternative spaces in our venue search.
Theatres, restaurants, bars, cafes, studios, private houses, farms, barns, even a movie set. ‘Exclusive hire’ was our buzzword, we didn’t want to be sharing our space. While our final choice is a ‘ wedding venue’, it doesn’t look or feel like one, and we’re satisfied we’ve not overlooked anywhere better for us.
I get food regret when I’m ordering dinner, I definitely didn’t want venue regret when I was planning my wedding!
2. Feel Over Look
Put more emphasis on how a venue feels than how it looks. We went to so many beautiful venues, but they just didn’t feel like ‘us’.
And we simply couldn’t picture our friends and family having a raucous party there.
We both loved The Fern House at Avoca, it would be a beautiful place for a small, intimate wedding, but it just wasn’t the right fit for our kind of party.
3. Make a List of Priorities
On the plane to Ireland, Marko and I made a list of what aspects were most important to us, and which areas we were willing to compromise on. Outdoor space, a unique aesthetic, great food and friendly staff were all key.
These priorities might change as you search, but writing them down from the beginning is so helpful, which leads me on to Tip 4!
4. Be on the Same Page
We both knew we were looking for the same kind of place for our wedding, but we both had full veto rights on every venue we saw.
There was no point in us booking somewhere if I loved it but Marko wasn’t 100%. Luckily we didn’t come into any major conflicts!
Ballyvolane House was one of my favourites, but when Marko wasn’t head over heels for it, we had to tick it off the list. (It also would have required a BIG budget stretch!)
5. Stay on Budget
There was one venue which I loved, and it appeared to be within our budget from the figures on their site. But when we got the quote back, it was actually double.
You might be tempted to stretch your budget a bit, and you can, within reason, for the right place. But do remember this will mean cutting back elsewhere, and you still have a long way to go until the big day!
6. Try Not To Get Attached
I’m an emotional person! And I had high hopes for every single venue we visited. That made it pretty disheartening when venues were booked out, too expensive, or didn’t look quite like they did the pictures..
Try not to be like me, it will save you a lot of disappointment!
Arthur’s Barn was perhaps the coolest venue we found, a total blank canvas, but a bit too much work for us to take on from London.
7. Think Logistics
We had certain ideas for our wedding in our heads, like long banquet tables, BBQ or family style catering and a 10 person band, so we kept them in mind when we were viewing venues.
These things weren’t dealbreakers, but it was good to be looking out for how they might fit into the space.
It’s also important to have a good idea of your guest numbers before you start your search, capacity is something venues will not be able to compromise on down the line.
8. But Be Flexible
While you should keep your ‘dream wedding’ in mind while you search, do be prepared to make some compromises for the right venue.
In an ideal world, we’d be having a back garden bash in balmy weather, but living in Ireland for most of my life has taught me that planning a party entirely around the outdoors is a sure fire way to get rain on your parade.
Likewise, it’s good to have a few potential dates in mind, but be willing to move them around if you find the perfect venue but your dates aren’t available.
Photo by Darek Novak Photography
We actually booked Dublin church-turned-theatre venue, Smock Alley, (if we’d had a winter wedding it would be perfect!) but in the end, we decided having outdoor space was too important.
9. Prep Your Questions
It’s good to have a list of questions ready to ask each venue, so you don’t forget anything.
Our list included things like corkage costs, what time the bar closes (very important to our guests!), restrictions on outside vendors, on the day and decor coordination, photography options, if children are allowed there at night, and if the venue included things like chairs, tables, tableware, and sound systems or lighting.
10. Pros & Cons List
In the end, it was nigh on impossible to pick a venue. We fell in love with three gorgeous places, but we landed on Killruddery because it offered us the closest to the wedding we’d always pictured in our heads.
We found it so helpful to tally up the costs, and make a pros and cons list for each venue (you know like the one Ross does in Friends!).
It was really good for clarifying why we liked each venue, and it became obvious pretty quickly which of the pros were the most important and what venue ticked the most boxes.
Photo by Simple Tapestry
Our wedding venue from the outside (we’re hoping for a little more sunshine!) expect there to be string lights, florals and lawn games in the farmyard.
So there you have it, our venue search story. I know I’ve waxed on a bit long, but hopefully it helps you with yours!
Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment of my Real Bride Diary. Next time I’ll be talking wedding photography (I’ll try to keep it brief but choosing a photographer was almost as hard as choosing a venue!)
Check out our Step by Step Guide to Wedding Planning.