You've come to the decision to ditch the stress and overwhelm of planning a big "typical" wedding and are diving into planning a small micro-wedding. Or maybe that's what you've always been planning because honestly, you really don't want to spend the money on an elaborate event to entertain others and would rather just center the marriage around the two of you and your closest family and friends. So, you start to search for small unique wedding venue and quickly find that the search results lead you right back to those typical banquet-hall type of wedding venues built for the big wedding.
If you've read my story, I get it! In 2007, after 10 years in the wedding industry, I was planning my own small 25-person wedding and found that there weren't advertised venues. I had to do my own digging and research which was NOT easy. But, it lead me to an amazing adventure where in 2011, I decided to *only* plan small weddings of 35 guest or fewer, helping those that have similar challenges. Think: elopement, just with a few guests witnessing. Small weddings are different, and so are the venues. Here are 10 types of micro-wedding venues that you won't often see in glossy magazines or on the first .... or even third page of web search results.
1. (my favorite) Out in Nature
This type of wedding venue is as unique as they come! Its not an official site - simply anywhere out in nature that holds either a special meaning the two of you, or boasts incredible views. Pro tip: AllTrails.com - great for hikers, but even better for finding unique places, reviews of the surrounding trails, and directions. Best of all, many trailheads *don't* require a big hike, so that means Mom & Dad can be there!
© Photos by Andrea Flanagan
Think of all the great places vacationers like to tour in the destination you'd like to marry. Often, there will be observation decks associated with parks, observatories, scenic sites, and points of interest. Pro Tip: go to Google Maps for the region in which you'd like to say your "I-Do's" and simple search "deck".
3. Adventure Elopement
The hiking elopement is super popular right now. And there are many planners and photographers that know of incredibly beautiful scenic backdrops. There are a couple considerations though: yes, you'll need to hike, .... and, yes, your guests would need to as well. So, this by default means your wedding may be super super tiny - even just the two of you. But, if that is your vibe, strap up the boots, pin up the hair (and dress), and hike on!
4. The Vacation House
Okay, this is my other number 1 favorite. There are literally millions of vacation home options across the United States. Of course I'm biased, Colorado hosts some of the most stunning! If you want ultimate luxury complete with hiring a private chef, you'll never regret memories made at the vacation house. There are things to consider with this option, so please checkout the article I wrote on how to host a vacation house intimate small wedding.
© Photo by Jeanine Thurston
True, many mansions are commonly advertised to host your typical large wedding. But, there are many other smaller, unique mansions managed by historical societies that will be open to hosting small intimate events. Check out your local organizations. Many of them will have nice grounds and gardens too!
And, that brought me to of course.... your local botanical gardens. Again, think small. For example, in Denver the Denver Botanical Gardens is a premier spot for hosting weddings, and the price tag comes with it. But, think more local to find those sweet, accommodating and affordable small wedding gardens. Here's a give-away and example/alternative: Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, or the Benson Sculpture Garden in Loveland, CO
7. City or County Parks
Our city parks are totally underrated. They are AMAZING places to host events. And, many of them will have gazebos and shelters that are reservable for smaller groups. Another give-away: Denver City Parks has many unique properties - I'm wanting to do a wedding as Inspiration Point (is there anyone game for that? - please email me!)
Okay, city parks aren't the only sweet spot. Our State and National Parks have designated group spots. Many of them have built-in amphitheaters (for example Staunton State Park's Marmot Burrow Amphitheater and Maroon Bells Amphitheater). Please note: you do have to obtain permits in State and National Parks, and National Forrest Land. So please, be kind users of our natural resources.
9. Historical Properties
These are a GEM! Seriously. Historical properties can range from mines (Lomax Mine in Breckenridge) to mansions (Fleming Mansion in Denver), to former homes of famous people, to even chapels (America Mother's Chapel in Colorado Springs).
10. The Outrageous (best intentions here)
As cool as saying you "I do's" while jumping out of an airplane, it simply isn't something I've planned (but, I do have referrals to send if that's your gig). My style of outrageous (rather, my normal) is to say your vows on the ski slope, or on a snowcat/snowmobile ride. What do you love to do together? Is it running marathons?
BONUSES: the Bed & Breakfast Elopement, or the dude ranch, or the hot springs
I can't forget these options. Oh, there are so many! Let me know if you have any fun ideas for different for different types of places to exchange vows. I'd love to hear your stories, experiences and connect with you. And, of course if you are wanting to host your small intimate wedding or elopement in Colorado, please....
With a vast number of incredibly luxurious, large vacation homes in Colorado that feature stunning views, it is no wonder that this trend has been increasing - especially for small intimate micro weddings. But, before you go down a rabbit-hole searching for that perfect AirBNB, VRBO, Vacasa…. Or even send off that deposit, there are a number of things to consider.
I got married in a vacation home with 22 guests in Keystone in 2007, well before the term micro wedding was coined. I’ve also helped hundreds, even approaching a thousand couples with their small intimate weddings, many of whom each year decide that a vacation rental in the Colorado Rockies is their venue where they can find privacy, freedom, luxury, customization and uniqueness.
This article will explain what to expect when searching for the perfect rental property for your ceremony and/or dinner celebration. And, while it's exhausting trying to keep up with the thousands of home listings, we will highlight some locales and property management companies at the end.
1. Decide your format
What attracts many couples to a vacation house wedding is the 1-stop-shop idea. Its as all-inclusive as you can get: from hosting all or most the guests overnight to the wedding day getting ready, from the ceremony to the private-chef catered dinner, at the vacation house. It is the epitome of easy….. at first thought.
When considering this format, reflect on the relationships among your guests. If there are any conflicts, like divorces or habits that others may object, it might be a good idea to give people some room and options to stay at their own choice of lodging. Also, if the locale features fun activities and great restaurants, your guests may want to explore and experience what is in the area. Finally, you may get a little cabin-fever if everything is housed at one place.
Therefore, think about mixing-up some of those components. Here are some examples:
2. Variable and Amenities
Vacation home offerings are as unique as the couples we marry. Before you start searching, consider the following and make a list of your negotiable and your non-negotiable.
3. Permits, approvals and fees
Make sure that you are clear with the homeowner about your plans for an event at the vacation house. Many towns have permitting requirements on vacation rentals for hosting events due to considerations like noise, parking, and sewage. And, we wouldn’t want you to put a huge deposits down only to find out it won’t be allowed, thus you having to change your plans. Worse yet, having the fire-department arrive because parking isn’t allowed on the street and then having your event shut down while in the middle of the ceremony. So please be open and clear about your wedding plans with the home owners.
Permitting regulations will likely maximum capacities for the number of people allowed on property. These capacities for permitting can vary depending on the owner and permitting, even within the same town. Additionally, companies like AirBNB have put restrictions on owners for hosting events, especially during the COVID pandemic. Often we see houses permitted up to #25, #35, sometimes #50 guests, and occasionally up to #75.
Most often, we see regulations around parking - so, be sure that you know how many vehicles can park at the house and specifically where they can park. And, even if the house accommodates more parking, consider the time of year: it can be more limited due to snow removal in winter than what would be available in summer.
When having conversations with the homeowner, be up front about any furniture moving or rental deliveries. They may not allow this because they don’t want scratches or dents in any flooring or furniture. Also be honest about dancing as heels and cowboy boots it can ruin custom wood floors. Thus, home owners may charge an event fee or ask for more of a damage deposit. Be understanding that this isn’t an opportunistic fee, there are expenses incurred by the owner such as additional cleaning, additional security in case of damage, and even additional trash removal.
For micro weddings where your guests counts may be less than the maximum occupancy of the house (for example #12 guests when the house accommodates up to #16), permitting and approvals may not be necessary. But, we believe honesty is the best policy and be very clear with owners on what your event plans entail. Regardless of any allowances, regulations, parking situations or permitting (or not), it is absolutely essential to get approval in writing from any homeowner or property management company if you plan to host an event at the house.
4. Booking Expectations
In Colorado, we experience high, low, and premium seasons. Each one will have different sets of fee structures and minimum night stays. While we’d like to give you exactly what those might be, it varies from owner-to-owner during different season and regions across the state. For example winter may be peak season in ski-resort communities, in other areas of the state where there aren’t ski resorts, it may be low season. Generally summer season is our peak and the shoulder seasons are in April & May, and then again in November.
Depending on the season, you could see 2-night minimum night stays in low seasons, 5-night minimums in high season, and 7-night stays in premium seasons (like around the Holidays). Finally, make sure to ask about all fees: cleaning fees, pet fees, damage deposits and occupancy taxes - along with those event fees that we mentioned above.
5. Property Management Companies
We recommend working through a reputable property management company rather than an owner-source such as AirBNB, VRBO or Vacasa. Property management companies usually respond to any kind of service or maintenance requests immediately. Also, if something happens to the house (like a sewage leak), they have other properties in which they can move the group and the staffing to assist with the move. We once had wildfire breakout near a vacation the couple had rented - strict evacuation orders were called out TWO HOURS before the couples ceremony. The group had just enough time to pack their belongings before we were scheduled to depart for the ceremony. The property management company moved the group’s belongings while they were getting married.
Now, that isn’t to say that you won’t receive they same kind of service with an AirBNB, VRBO or Vacasa as many property management companies will post their properties on these sites. And, many owners also have connections and are extremely responsive to their client’s needs. So, read the reviews carefully, ask questions and build rapport with the owners.
This may seem like a lot to consider before selecting a property and sending off a booking fee. With a little conscious, thoughtful decisions, you’ll have a good plan and know what to expect when searching for the perfect wedding home rental:
When planning a small wedding, it’s understandable that you want to stick to a modest budget without sacrificing quality. And, though wedding costs can quickly add up – from decorations, to venue, to food – there are ways to balance your spending so the money you do spend is spent on important parts of the wedding, and not expenses that will quickly be forgotten or thrown away.
I’ve put together this guide on what to skip and what to savor to help you decide which parts of your wedding are most important to spend money on, and which parts you can go without, DIY, or order for cheaper in order to save money in the long run.
SKIP: Expensive invitations
There is an abundance of options when it comes to invitations for a small wedding. There is no reason to spend hundreds on special paper and printing for invitations that your guests will likely toss out as soon as they mark your date in their calendar. Instead, you can DIY your invitations using a photo printing program from a drugstore, complete with envelopes from a craft store, or even send invites via email or phone. Professional language and a few dollars spent to make sure the invites look good (if they are digital or on paper) will go a long way in ensuring your invites don’t seem cheap or quickly thrown together.
SAVOR: A great photographer
If there is a must when it comes to quality, it is a great photographer. Don’t be afraid to spend a good portion of your budget on a highly-rated and recommended photographer, as photos will be how you remember your special day for the rest of your lives. Skipping out on an experienced and professional photographer will make it difficult to capture beautiful wedding memories, which are a must regardless of the size or extravagance of your wedding.
SKIP: An expensive indoor venue
If you are planning a small wedding, one of the easiest ways to cut down on costs without looking tacky is to use an inexpensive outdoor venue such as a beach or mountainside instead of renting a large indoor venue that can cost thousands. For many outdoor wedding sites, such as a beach, the only thing you need to purchase is a permit. This will allow you to have a beautiful, natural wedding without spending a cent on a building rental. Not to mention, outdoor photos often turn out better than those taken indoors, regardless of venue.
SAVOR: Tasty, high-quality snacks
Instead of serving a large, low-quality/inexpensive meal, opt instead for a smaller assortment of high-quality snacks such as fruits, desserts, and cheeses to keep your guests satisfied without breaking the bank. (Keep in mind that, if you decide to serve snacks instead of a full meal, you should let your guests know ahead of time or host your wedding reception at a time that is not traditionally mealtime.) This will allow you to feed guests more expensive foods without using a large portion of your budget on a buffet or large dinner.
Of course, what to skip and what to savor ultimately boils down to your priority list. If you haven’t done our “Setting your priorities” activity, connect with me as I’m creating a FREE simple course/activity for how to set your priorities and stick with them throughout your planning. This activity will help you to determine what to skip and what to savor according to your vision.
UPDATE: Planning a "Simple" Backyard Wedding
Backyard weddings were popular even BEFORE Covid-19 forced many couples to scale-back their larger celebrations due to venue closures and capacity restrictions. As simple as they may seem, there are some logistics, preparations, and details you need to consider before your (or your family's home) become the site to hot and event. Isabella Caprario wrote and excellent article for Porch.com titled "The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Backyard Wedding". I encourage you to to consider all the elements before committing your abode to a venue. We've done many weddings either at a vacation rental property, backyards at private homes, or even family ranches. So, with careful consideration and preparation, it can be done!
Their story: “We met on New Years Eve at a bar! I (Kristi) was DONE dating, but said “yes” anyway. We started our business 2 years ago and it's been a crazy journey. He has 4 kids (29-17) and mine are 7 & 9. Wow! His grandkids are friends of my kids - oh well! It's fun anyway. We wanted to do a Mexico destination, but travel warnings are scaring our parents/siblings. So, we figured: we live here, and let's celebrate in Colorado instead. We can still make it a destination wedding in Vail!"
Wedding details: We started working with Kristi well before she had a date and location in mind. It was important for them to have easy logistics and not have their family trek up on the mountain via a gondola. It was important for them to have family, great food, fun in an informal but nice environment. The entire clan of about #25 guests stayed in a cluster of townhomes in Lion Square Village at Vail. We convoyed out to the ceremony site on Vail Pass, exchanged vows, celebrated with hubby and ate dessert first at the site, then returned to the townhome where a private chef had prepared an amazing meal.
Their story: like so many of our clients, Ali and Michale met online. "We wanted a small wedding in the mountains because we didn't want to plan a large, elaborate wedding. We wanted our families with us when we "eloped". We both love the mountains and are big hikers, so it seemed like a wonderful place to get married."
Wedding details: Looking back at our initial contact with the couple for their Ceremony Site Report, there top priorities were having good food, an outdoors ceremony site accessible to family members, and a great house to have a small reception. We designed just that for their wedding day!
The bride loves coral, so what better way to incorporate color than with flowers and cake! The bride held a colorful & garden style bouquet in mostly coral & peach with purple & fuchsia and blue accents, created with dahlias, garden roses and other seasonal blooms with accents of mixed green succulents.
The wedding day started with getting ready at a vacation home located in the stunning Shock Hill area of Breckenridge and a private "first-look" (with just the couple). We all caravanned out to the ceremony site, Sapphire Point Overlook. After the ceremony in which the groom's brother performed, we shot some fun photos before heading back to the vacation home where a private chef (Jen with the Happy Cuisiniere) was waiting with appetizers and drinks!
Their story: "After meeting online, our first date was at a park to introduce our three dogs. The rest is history! We love the Colorado lifestyle and all the outdoor recreation it affords and feel very fortunate to now call this beautiful state home." From day one, Ashley and Michael were on the same page about wanting an intimate mountaintop ceremony with those closest to them in attendance. We are happy to have found this gorgeous couple to help pull it all together for them!
Wedding details: they rented at a large vacation home near Keystone, Colorado, overlooking Lake Dillon and hired a private chef to cook a celebration dinner for their small party of 12 guests. Her bouquet details: a rustic, voluptuous, garden style bouquet in pink, coral, peach, cream hues with accents of blue created with a mix of locally grown garden roses and other seasonal blooms and mixed foliage. Stems finished in rustic “burlap & lace” style.
Their story: "We met on a blind date via mutual work friends. We have quite frankly a true love story. We both were married before and both in a place in life that we were comfortable with just ourselves. One blind date changed our future. We are each other's equal and enjoy how we each compliment our daily lives. We chose a small intimate wedding because we want to take in the moment that we become a spouse to each other rather than the "big hoopla" of getting married."
Wedding details: Planning a "rogue style" microwedding at the Maroon Bells takes special consideration. Our couple rented a nearby vacation home and drove in to the scenic area after the gates open at 5:00 pm (otherwise, visitors have to take a shuttle). They walked to a spot they liked, and their family-only guests (10 in total) stood around them as they exchanged vows. We celebrated after the wedding with photos. A private chef greeted them back at the vacation house where they celebrated with cheers and cake: raspberry mousse for the top tier, and chocolate buttercream for the bottom tier.
A surprise engagement AND wedding!
Their story: This was one of the most unique weddings we have planned - a surprise engagement followed the next day by a surprise wedding. What?! Yes - the groom and both his/her families were all conspiring a destination surprise wedding trip to Colorado, but the bride did not know a thing about it!
About the Couple: Brittany and Greg met six years ago in Fort Collins, having been introduced by mutual friends. "We hit it off right away, and after just a few dates...we knew we had something special." They decided to do a small wedding because it was always their vision to have a wedding with just our closest family members. "We wanted our special day to be exactly that...special! And by doing a small wedding, it allows us to really enjoy the moment with our closest loved ones, without all the additional stress that larger weddings can potentially bring with them."
Wedding details: Brittany and Greg were planning a micro-wedding of less than 12 guests. One of our favorite spots for this is in Rocky Mountain National Park. They rented a vacation home near Allenspark, Colorado where they returned after their wedding for scrumptious dinner prepared by a private chef. Because they enjoy spending time in Hawaii, their style, aqua color and inspiration is based on the sea, yet with a Colorado vibe. We designed a wild-looking bouquet with a couple of her favorites: succulents and lilies.
By Wendee Vezzetti
Mother, student, planner, gardener, mountain biker, entrepreneur, librarian, hiker, snowboarder, reader, dork, chocoholic, trail runner and creative.