What You Need to Know If You’re Planning a Wedding at Home

The Banks family home in Father of the Bride.

Even though it’s been 26 years since Nancy Meyers’s Father of the Bride was released, the 1991 romantic comedy remains one of the best (and funniest) depictions of the stress that often accompanies planning a wedding at home (even when it’s a house that’s as picture perfect as the Banks’s). After all, securing a flock of swans, figuring out parking on a suburban San Marino street, and setting up a tent in the backyard, all requires a lot of work—and Franck can’t handle everything!

As any fan of the film knows, the wedding of Brian MacKenzie and Annie Banks ultimately goes off without a hitch, and we’re willing to bet it partly inspired many a bride or groom to consider their own childhood home for their future wedding venue. For those planning on tying the knot in the house they grew up in,  Francie Dorman and Britt Cole, founders of wedding planning firm 42 North, share their expert advice on transforming a childhood home or private residence into the perfect wedding location.

What is the significance of holding a wedding at your childhood home? Is it more sentimental/romantic?
Planning weddings at private estates is our specialty, but when we are celebrating at the childhood home of a bride or groom, we truly get excited. There are endless opportunities to bring something personal into the day’s festivities and reveal the residence in a unique way to guests who may already be familiar with the house.

When we first tour a home, we listen closely to the little stories that come along with the tour. We love to find ways to highlight specific places on the property that are special to the client—like a ceremony overlooking the beach where the couple got engaged, or a lounge setup under a tree where the family picnicked every Sunday in the summertime. The entire point of hosting a wedding at home is for the couple to feel a deeper connection to a place that provides meaning for their life together. At the same time, we want to convey that same sentiment to every guest celebrating alongside the couple. Those personal touches leave everyone with a profound and lasting impression.

Are the logistics more stressful, or is the wedding planning process the same?
Planning at-home weddings or weddings at other non-traditional venues demands special attention and expertise to execute. Keep in mind that you are building a temporary wedding venue from the ground up. It’s easy to overlook the production and logistics at the beginning of the process, and only focus on what you and your guests will see. The key is to understand what does need to happen behind-the-scenes to ensure a seamless production. We survey every property from the perspective of our vendors: Where will the tent be positioned in relation to the catering team and satellite kitchen? Where will the restrooms be placed for easy access without being obtrusive? Where are the power sources for the band or lighting crew? When we walk on to a property, those are the things we are thinking about, from the very moment we arrive.

The wedding tent in Father of the Bride.

Can you give some examples of your favorite childhood home weddings and why they were so special?
Weddings at childhood homes are our favorite kind of weddings because they can never be reproduced! We recently worked with a couple who lives in Manhattan, and the bride grew up spending her summers and holidays at her family home in New Hampshire. Guests were invited from all over the world, including many who had never even been to New Hampshire or experienced the “wilds of New England.” Everyone entered the property through a wooded path led by a bagpiper. We had a dining platform custom built into the rolling hillsides where guests enjoyed an alfresco feast, before a surprise fireworks display at the conclusion of dinner. It was magical.

At another recent wedding, the inspiration was the property itself. The bride’s father is a renowned illustrator, and both parents are activists in the farm-to-table food movement. We planned the entire event to showcase the home and gardens, a spectacular showpiece which the father of the bride designed himself. We brought in a world-class catering team from northern Maine, and furnished the tent to feel as though it was an extension of the property’s gardens, complete with trees “growing” from the ground, vine covered trellis walls, and a bark-front bar.

How big does the house typically need to be?
Size of the home doesn’t matter as much as space on the property; any unique features like a farm, water view, or grassy hill can make a childhood estate a great venue to host a celebration. We often try to identify special places on the property that hold sentimental memories that we can tie into the wedding. Perhaps there’s a swing where the bride used to play on that we can incorporate into a unique lounge area, for instance. Parking is also a consideration, so having a large grassy field for cars or transportation is optimal.

How much space does there need to be for a tent?
The factors that determine the size of a tent are the number of guests, type of food service, band vs DJ, etc. The general rule of thumb is to allow for 15-20 square feet per person. Keep in mind, the actual space you will need on the property would be a larger footprint, since tent pole rigging takes up space around the perimeter. Consider overhead trees (that can cause challenges for tents) and whether you’ll be using flooring and the needs for a stable platform if the ground is not level. 

Do you typically bring in outside restrooms?
We always bring in restrooms with a dedicated attendant to ensure they stay clean. Many of today’s options come complete with fine finishes and modern amenities that really impress guests. 

Do you always use an erected kitchen or does the home kitchen work?
We never use in-house kitchens! Instead, we work with the catering team to build a satellite kitchen on site, typically quite close to the event space. Building out a satellite kitchen involves tenting, lighting, power, access for load in, and commercial-grade kitchen equipment and rentals (all the way down to salt and pepper shakers). In some cases, the catering company can provide the set up, however in other cases all of the equipment needs to be rented. Planning at private estates demands a creative design vision, but also a functional production plan that can be executed without fail.

What do you do with the furniture in the house?
Typically, when our clients are hosting their wedding at a private home, we don’t recommend incorporating the use of the actual house and furniture for the wedding plans. It’s simply not worth the risk of anything getting damaged, lost, or even stolen. However, we often use the home for smaller celebrations throughout the weekend, such as the rehearsal dinner or a post-wedding brunch. Additionally, the bridal party can use the home to get ready and enjoy their morning together in a comfortable setting. The majority of the actual wedding celebration takes place outdoors, underneath a tent or with a set floor plan for alfresco dining and dancing.