Keeping it Small

For those set on avoiding the giant wedding-fest, the reward can be intimacy.

This originally ran in the 2011 issue of Baltimore Bride. 

Some girls dream of a big wedding with hundreds of guests. Others choose a small intimate wedding. But it was a small wedding that Marian Weaver had in mind.

“After being a bridesmaid in several of my friends’ weddings, I realized that during the huge ones, the bride and groom spent the entire wedding running around trying to speak to everyone,” remembers Marian. So when Marian and Steven Nowell got married in October of 2010, they had just 65 guests.

“When we made our list, we had a 10-minute rule. If we couldn’t come up with someone’s name in 10 minutes they weren’t invited. We did relatives first, then friends,” she says. “My mother pouted at first. But she soon realized how important it was to us to keep it small,” says Marian. No coworkers were invited, for example.

“I felt our guest list was a good mix of people who were important to us during different parts of our lives,” she says.

David Egan, owner of Chase Court in Baltimore, remarks, “I like to follow the advice of Judith Martin, “Miss Manners”—‘Invite the people you love and who love you.’ When you walk into your reception, you want everyone to say, ‘Yes, rah, rah,’ instead of people sitting around asking when the bar opens.” Remember, your wedding should reflect who you are. If that means keeping it small, then do it. 

“It’s important to determine your guest list early in the planning,” says Shelby Tuck-Horton owner of Exquisite Expressions & Events. “But be prepared to face some negative feedback about the size of your wedding.” If your mom is a little upset about your not inviting a third cousin, remember she’ll get over it and love you no matter what.

Diana Venditto, a wedding planner and owner of eventi planning, suggests that if the parents feel funny about not inviting someone, they should say, “I’m really sorry but this is what the bride and groom want.”

“Blame the couple,” says Venditto. “If nothing works with your mother, you can always play the guilt-trip card.”

Katelyn and William Shanklin had 60 guests to their wedding at Chase Court. “Our ceremony was at Goucher College in Baltimore where I went. It was very reasonable, something I was conscious of when planning the wedding,“ says Katelyn. With the smaller gathering, both Katelyn and William felt they had the people that mattered to them. 

Tuck-Horton cautions to start the planning process early. Some couples believe that a smaller wedding will not take the same amount of planning time as a larger one. However, this is not always true—it still requires attention to detail. And one of those details is securing a venue that fits the size of your wedding and is not too large for the number of guests.

“You need to feel the space,” Egan says. “When you walk through the door, you want to say ‘yes’ and be excited.”

Originally, Katelyn thought about having their wedding at a restaurant, but when her mother found Chase Court, Katelyn thought the setting was beautiful and the price was right.

Katelyn, who describes herself as very low-key, says, “I definitely didn’t want a big wedding. I’ve been to many weddings where I never got to talk to the bride and groom. My father got married five years ago in their home. They had a buffet and music. It was a big party. That’s how I pictured my wedding would be. Formal enough so it was a special occasion, but yet understated, comfortable, and fun.” In keeping with that vision, Katelyn wore a short dress.

Marian and Steven Nowell were married in a family friend’s refurbished, former 17th-century horse barn in Ellicott City. “It is a very cool place. Almost everything is original,” says Marian. “I’m passionate about horses and things that are old. For us, it was the perfect environment for such a joyous celebration.” They used a grove with native old loblolly trees for the ceremony, cocktails were served in the barn, and the sit-down dinner was in the paddock adjacent to the barn. Marian wore a long gown.

Egan of Chase Court remarks, “I like to think of the space as a big living room. You want to be comfortable at your wedding. For intimacy, comfort is a necessity.” Having the vendors understand what you are doing is important, too: A 10-piece band, for example, will be too powerful for a small wedding of 35.

In addition, Egan encourages couples to spend time planning their ceremony. It’s definitely not one-set-of-vows-fits-all. The ceremony talks about who you are. And the place you have your ceremony is important, too. You want a place where there are no bad seats. This way, your guests are not just spectators, but part of the experience. Tuck-Horton says, “With a smaller number of guests, you can include your guests—i.e. readings, toasts, words of wisdom to the bride and groom, having all the guests stand as your witnesses—and this builds intimacy.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the couples I work with have a sweetheart table—a table for just the bride and groom. The couple is usually up moving about for most of the wedding, anyway. And we see more and more couples doing cocktail-style receptions,” remarks Egan. It’s still a full meal, but there is seating for only about one third of the guests. This gets people walking around, talking, and mingling more. It’s more like a party. Wedding planners agree that today’s bridal couples want their wedding to be just that, a great party. Not stiff, but rather a relaxed experience, yet still formal enough so it doesn’t look like a backyard barbeque.

Egan believes that when decorating, less is more, especially if the space is beautiful. You can upgrade your linens for a small amount to add that special touch. Many couples use candles instead of gigantic floral arrangements. “By not overdoing the decorations, the focus is on the people, not the stuff,” says Egan. 

Venditto suggests that a small wedding should be personal enough that guests feel you’re throwing a party for them. “It is turning up the personal touch a notch.” If it’s outdoors, you might have flip-flops for all the guests and a shawl for the women. And when it comes to food, she tries to make it very Baltimore-focused by serving crab cakes as one of the choices and Berger cookies for a favor. 

“A smaller number of guests often allows couples to treat their guests well without breaking the budget, by having a six-course meal instead of the traditional three courses,” Tuck-Horton says.

The Nowells and Shanklins describe their small, intimate weddings as perfect. After all, they were surrounded by people they love and who love them. What could be better? 

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