Like many of you, I’ve been to several big weddings over the years. There was one in the gorgeous gilt ballroom of a five-star hotel in Washington, D.C., another with a 10-piece band that played overlooking a California bluff, and the three-day affair I secretly dubbed “the wedding that wouldn’t end.”
But the wedding I remember most fondly was a much smaller celebration, held in a backyard on Cape Cod. It rained buckets that August afternoon, so we huddled in a small tent during the ceremony, then took off our shoes and danced in the wet grass. It was a close-friends-and-immediate-family type of festivity, a happily chaotic afternoon, relaxing, and so much fun: the best wedding I’ve ever been to.
While big weddings can, of course, also be unforgettable, smaller affairs — from casual ones like the celebration I remember to those that are more like elaborate dinner parties for the couple’s nearest and dearest — have distinct advantages. And these intimate celebrations may be gaining popularity, especially among couples no longer in their 20s.
Mandy Connor, who runs Boston-based Hummingbird Bridal and Events, has organized several smaller weddings for between 20 and 50 guests in the past year. “I’m seeing a huge trend to much, much smaller weddings,” says Connor. “A smaller guest list means the couple is able to really spend quality time with all of their guests. A huge wedding can feel like a three-ring circus. There is so much excitement that you only have a minute to talk to each guest.” Without a mile-long receiving line and a stream of folks whom you may barely know invited by your parents or in-laws, the focus is on love and laughter shared by the people closest to you and your partner.
Then there’s the stress advantage. “You still need to find a photographer and to plan the menu and the entertainment, but with less people to manage it’s a calmer experience,” says Connor. There are far fewer phone calls and e-mails to field from out-of-town invitees about travel arrangements, and you don’t need to search for hotels willing to block large numbers of rooms.
One of the more obvious reasons to downsize your guest list is cost, says Christina Friedrichsen, author of Intimate Weddings: Planning a Small Wedding That Fits Your Budget and Style, who put together her own backyard nuptials outside Windsor, Ontario, for 50 guests. Friedrichsen’s comprehensive blog, intimateweddings.com, offers tips and vendor and venue ideas, along with real wedding stories and photos. “For many couples, the savings can go toward other priorities: a down payment on a house, paying down a student loan, or traveling,” she says.
A shorter guest list can also mean more room in the budget for all those little luxuries. “Couples can have the gourmet five-course feast, the signature drinks, and the late-night food truck,” says Friedrichsen.
Boston-area wedding planner Gabrielle Stone has coordinated many small celebrations for couples in their 30s and 40s. “The older the couple is, the more likely they are to have a smaller wedding,” says Stone. “They are more mature and often have busy careers. The bride isn’t your typical 25-year-old planning the wedding with her mother.”
Speed is another advantage — while a large wedding can take a year to 18 months to plan, a smaller one requires less notice. “I often have couples come to me asking what can be pulled together in a short time frame. They tell me the weekends they have free, and I start exploring the options,” says Stone. Even with a time constraint, Stone says that typically she can find a location quickly that suits the couple.
While the supply of appealing venues that can handle a huge wedding in New England is limited, “there are many more venue options for a small wedding,” says Stone. From private restaurant dining rooms to bucolic inns to cozy art galleries off the beaten path, there are a slew of appealing spots with the in-house expertise to pull off an intimate celebration with aplomb. Read on to learn about some of the area’s best.
This boutique hotel has a modern flair, yet the wine cellar is an authentic nod to the site’s 18th-century origins, when the wealthy Boston merchant Edward Bromfield Jr. had his home here. The atmosphere in the wine cellar is warm and enveloping, with plenty of style: There’s a double vaulted ceiling, a caged glass wall looking into the reserve room, and a Roman mosaic dating from the fourth century. The space accommodates gatherings of up to 50 people for a sit-down meal provided by the in-house restaurant, Mooo. Some couples opt for vows on the hotel’s roof deck. In season, the perimeter of the twelfth-story two-tiered deck is lush with plantings. Views of the State House’s gold dome and the Charles help make the event memorable and very Boston.
15 Beacon Street, Boston, 617-670-1500, xvbeacon.com
Chef Barbara Lynch’s most upscale eatery draws couples who really know food. The decor is sleek and chic, with two spaces devoted to private gatherings. The Chef’s Table accommodates 12 guests at a long table overlooking a glass wall into the kitchen. Menu choices include four-course meals or six- to eight-course tastings; wine pairings are available. The Private Dining Room, with silk wallcoverings and windows overlooking the bustle on Congress Street, has round tables that accommodate up to 45 guests for a sit-down meal. Menu choices include four-course meals or six- to eight-course tastings, and wine pairings are available. A separate kitchen serves the space, to ensure that a private event isn’t affected by the workings of the restaurant’s main kitchen.
354 Congress Street, Boston, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com
One of the Berkshires’ great old country estates, Blantyre was modeled after a Scottish castle. The ivy-covered brick Tudor manse dazzles with towers, turrets, and gargoyles. Set on a vast, rolling lawn surrounded by more than 100 forested acres, the inn and spa evoke romantic notions at first glance. Small weddings take place in the Music Room, with its detailed moldings and an antique Steinway. The space opens onto a terrace with wicker furniture and a view of the verdant grounds. The glass-enclosed Conservatory is another intimate setting for up to 60 guests. Many couples make a weekend of their celebration; the inn can accommodate 50 guests in the main estate, carriage house, and cottages.
16 Blantyre Road, Lenox, 413-637-3556, blantyre.com
Designed by Ogden Codman, architect to Boston’s elite, this 1910 Georgian Revival retains its turn-of-the-century splendor. Weddings are held against a backdrop of Italian marble, carved oak paneling, crystal chandeliers, and long Palladian windows overlooking Boston’s Public Garden. Receptions and ceremonies take place in the second-floor library, with its elegant carved bookshelves. Small weddings are also held on the third floor in the light-filled, high-ceilinged Codman and Thayer rooms.
84 Beacon Street, Boston, 617-227-9600, hampshirehouse.com
Housed in a post-and-beam barn dating to the 1890s on Cape Cod’s historic Route 6A, the interior has a rustic feel with pine plank walls, exposed trusses and beams, and a ladder that once accessed the hayloft. The space was meticulously restored in 2008 and now boasts a commercial-grade kitchen. Sit-down dinners are held in the main gallery, where guests can also peruse the art collection, which includes contemporary photographs of Cape Cod and Cape Ann, maritime art by local artists, and antiques. While the gallery has a contract with a caterer, couples can choose their own vendors for all other aspects. A wine cellar is often used for cocktail hour, and some couples have their ceremonies outside, where the grounds are lush with plantings.
524 Main Street, Dennis, 508-385-3434, borsarigallerycapecod.com
ADOLPHUS BUSCH HALL
Constructed as Harvard’s Germanic Museum in 1917, this under-the-radar structure was built in the spirit of a grand Medieval hall and features plaster casts of medieval and Renaissance sculpture; a Baroque-style Flentrop organ was installed in the 1930s. This architectural gem no longer houses the museum, and other than the occasional class lecture, it’s primarily devoted to private events. It’s a perfect spot for a sit-down dinner for 50 to 80, with food provided by The Catered Affair. After dinner, bring on the band: There’s plenty of room to dance, and the voluminous curved ceiling makes for fabulous acoustics. An outside courtyard is lovely, with a reflecting pool, well-tended lilac bushes, pot after pot of fragrant blooms, and two stone gargoyles that guard the garden.
29 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, 617-495-1275, harvardartmuseums.org
THE FOUR SEASONS
Known for hosting large, luxe affairs in its ample ballrooms, the hotel also has spaces geared for cozier celebrations overseen by the same professionals who ensure that the big weddings go off without a hitch. Smaller rooms on the upper floors exude the hotel’s signature elegance in a much more intimate setting. Overlooking the Public Garden, the Phillips Room is bright and airy with silk draperies and wallcoverings. There’s room for 50 to have a seated dinner and an area to accommodate a ceremony for up to 50. The nearby Stuart Room has the same specs and a slightly more enveloping aesthetic due to a darker color scheme. Neither room accommodates dancing.
200 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-338-4400, fourseasons.com/boston
There are more than eight spaces to host a celebration at this bucolic property tucked in the Green Mountains. The former home of Nobel laureate Sinclair Lewis and journalist Dorothy Thompson, Twin Farms is about 2½ hours from Boston. Boasting rolling lawns, orchards, and trails dating to the 1800s, it offers the wonderful appeal of remoteness, and couples may use the inn as their private retreat for the weekend. There are accommodations for up to 40 guests, and the staff will coordinate hikes, swimming, cycling, snowshoeing, and a slew of other activities. While the origins of the property are historic and the main house is original to the property, most of the outbuildings are newer, with a modern lodge-like appeal. Receptions for up to 60 people are held in the main house; a lakeside cabana that holds 40 is another option. A secluded chalet can accommodate a six-person sit-down dinner. The executive chef and wine director customize event menus.
452 Royalton Turnpike, Barnard, Vermont, 802-234-9999, twinfarms.com
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Jaci Conry is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.