When Small Weddings are Big

Just because you want to keep it intimate, doesn’t mean it can’t be grand.

When Lisa Solomon and Tom Fowler began planning their wedding, they had a few priorities. One was not to blow their savings on a big event, since the two were trying to save up for a house. Even so, says Lisa, who had been married before, but hadn’t had a traditional white wedding, “I really wanted something traditional, with the gown and the bridesmaids.” They decided to celebrate their vows with a small group of close friends and family members, and though they live in Montgomery County, wanted to do it in Baltimore, Tom’s hometown.

The couple discovered The Inn at Henderson’s Wharf, a boutique hotel at the end of Fell Street overlooking the water, and felt they’d stumbled upon the ideal spot. “It was just beautiful,” says Lisa. “And it was the perfect size.” The hotel had recently been acquired by the Harbor Magic group, and had just started offering weddings. So Lisa and Tom became the first couple to be married there.

They sat their 42 guests at a long table in a room that opens to a serene enclosed garden with fountains and stone walkways. On a chilly November night, the courtyard was lit by soft white twinkle lights. Another entrance led to the harbor, where Lisa and Tom assembled their guests on the pier for a group photograph with sparklers that bounced off the inky water. “It was magical,” says the bride.

Samantha Moskal, who was the wedding and events coordinator for all three Harbor Magic properties (the company also owns Baltimore’s Pier 5 Hotel and the Admiral Fell Inn) when Solomon and Fowler got married, says many of the spaces—such as the Pier 5 ballroom, which seat up to 220—are designed for larger events. But when people were looking for something smaller, she loved showing them the elegant 1,500-square-foot gallery at Henderson’s Wharf, which is large enough for 80 and can accommodate a dance floor.

“Most of the time, it was ‘Bing!’­—they loved it. I had people sign on the spot,” she says. And while Solomon and Fowler’s wedding inaugurated the space last fall, Henderson’s Wharf already has bookings throughout the spring and summer.

Couples choose smaller weddings for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s a decision based on economics. And sometimes a second marriage may compel the bride and groom to shun the hoopla of an elaborate event. Others simply prefer a small affair. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want their wedding to be special, says Moskal.

“Sometimes, people don’t want a full-blown event, but they can still create a stunning space. You can have an extravagant wedding in a small venue.”

Orchids in a glass house

One small venue that is magical any time of year is the the 123-year-old Howard Peter Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic

Gardens of Baltimore in Druid Hill Park, one of the oldest glass houses still in use in the United States. While the conservatory and its two matching pavilions—constructed when the building was renovated in 2004—can be configured with tents to accommodate hundreds of guests, the smaller display rooms are perfect for intimate weddings, says Kate Blom, conservatory supervisor. The orchid room, filled with delicate blooms, for example, is a beautiful space for a ceremony, with chairs set up for 15-25 guests.

“We’re a living museum with a mission to show the diversity of plant material from around the world,” says Blom. “Our banana trees have bananas growing on them, and our orchids are spectacular. I can’t think of a more enchanting or memorable spot to exchange vows.”

Shot Tower wedding

When Anne Pomykala started offering an elopement package at Gramercy Mansion, the bed and breakfast she owns and operates in Greenspring Valley, she didn’t anticipate how popular it would become. The elopement option is popular for second marriages and military weddings, and the package includes an officiant, a photographer, and up to 20 guests. “We do about 60 a year,” she says. 

With renovations complete to the downtown’s landmark, 234-foot Shot Tower at President and E. Lombard Streets—it’s adjacent to the 1840s Carrollton Inn and Ballroom, which Pomykala also owns—she intends to add another locale for small weddings and elopements. The top floor of the tower, where molton lead was once dropped through a series of mesh screens into cold water to make ammunition of various sizes, can accommodate about 15 people for a tiny ceremony, says Pomykala. When it was constructed in 1828, the tower was the tallest structure in the United States. “The views are tremendous of the entire city,” she says. “You can see the Inner Harbor and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and all of downtown.” She’s planning to set up a package that will include a night at the 1840s Inn and dinner at a nearby restaurant. Proceeds from Shot Tower weddings will go to the Carroll Museums, where Pomykala is a board member.

Maritime Marriage

Weddings at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, part of the Living Classrooms Foundation complex, also support a good cause. The building on the site, the oldest industrial building in Baltimore, was rebuilt after a fire, using recycled bricks from the period and charred beams from the original building.

“It’s a space for someone who loves history and wants a less traditional wedding,” says Marsha Reeves Jews, director of events and curator of the Herbert Bearman Community Art Gallery, an exhibition space available for parties.

In the Founders Room, portraits of the founders of the nation’s first African-American-owned shipyard are hung, along with leaders present and future. Large windows overlook the harbor in the brick, loft-like space, and there’s a promenade and pier adjacent to the building that has been the site of both ceremonies and sit-down dinners.

Like other event planners, Jews has found that small weddings are big lately. The museum and its outdoor spaces can be configured for groups from 50 to over 300. Bridal parties have used the space creatively, says Jews. “We’ve had people who have used high and low cocktail tables, and have brought in couches and lounge chairs. We’ve had Japanese lanterns, and once even had wreaths suspended from the ceiling.”

Castle at Maryvale

Built as a private home in 1917 by a doctor who worried that his wife missed her native England, the Castle at Maryvale was modeled after Warwick Castle. Subsequently a Catholic girls school, the castle, now just one building on the campus of Brooklandville’s Maryvale Preparatory School, is beautifully preserved with its wood paneling, pocket doors, Gothic arches, and leaded glass windows still intact. There’s even a small chapel (only available for Catholic weddings, though non-Catholic ceremonies can be held in other parts of the house). While the ground floor has a hall that is suitable for up to 125, and tents outdoors can accommodate even more guests, the scale of the house is perfect for intimate affairs, says Maria Kaczaniuk, special events coordinator.

Wedding parties “have the run of the main floor,” she says, including the library, a solarium, and a parlor that is often used for the groom and his party. The bride and bridesmaids are offered a sitting and dressing room with bathroom on the second floor. And while the house has been available for weddings for more than six years, says Kaczaniuk, “we still have people who come for an event and tell us they had no idea the place even existed.”

Some may recall the Tudor mansion though from its cameo in the Clint Eastwood film Absolute Power.   


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