Throwing a springtime wedding in my parents' backyard (above) seemed so simple at first: We could choose any date we wanted, there would be no capacity restrictions, and we would be marrying at a venue that was meaningful to us. Easy.
But when I arrived at my parents' house the day before our wedding and saw the fire marshal standing in our reception tent, I had a serious "What was I thinking?!" moment.
"Hi! Can I help you?" I asked in my cheeriest voice.
"Yup, are you the bride?" he asked, with no trace of a smile.
"Yes," I replied cautiously.
"I'm the fire marshal, and I'm here to shut this thing down," he said.
Turns out he was totally joking. But at that second, I wished that I could go back in time and tell my starry-eyed, newly-engaged self to quit while I was ahead and book a venue where I wouldn't have to worry about permits, inspections, weather forecasts, noise ordinances, generators, and infrastructure.
I'll be the first to admit that I was completely unprepared for what planning an outdoor event involved. About a year before our wedding, we met with our planner, Jill Gordon, and "tent guy" Steve Trebing of NY Tent. After Steve measured my parents' property and recommended a Navi-Trac frame tent instead of a standard pole tent (um,what?),* there still seemed to be a million other questions we needed to answer.
Did we want our tent to have a gable end? (Again, what?) **
Did we need heating or cooling for the tent? ***
What kind of flooring did we want? ****
Did we prefer a gathered or a smooth liner for the ceiling? *****
Where would we be putting the cook prep tent, the restroom trailers, and the generators? ******
I just sat there trying to sound as coherent as possible as I stammered out answers that I hoped sounded intelligent. Luckily, Jill and Steve were patient and helped guide us toward what would work best for our reception.
The biggest variable, however, was the weather. We wanted to host the ceremony and cocktail hour outside, and the reception in the tent. But what if it rained? We put additional tents on hold for our wedding date, but since they take some time to be erected (like, days), we needed to decide by the Wednesday before our Saturday night wedding if we wanted to put up the extra tents. Is the weather forecast really that accurate a full four days before an event? We had to hope it was.
I spent the week before my wedding barely sleeping and stalking every weather forecasting website that exists. The forecast wavered between a 20 percent and 30 percent chance of rain, with cloudy skies. Even though a seven in 10 chance of sun might seem like pretty good odds, to a neurotic bride (me), it wasn't good enough. We were able to push off making the final call until the Thursday before our wedding. Ultimately, we decided to take a chance, forgo the extra tents, and pray.
The morning of the wedding, I woke up at 6 a.m. and crept to my window. I slowly pulled open the shade and peeked out. No rain. Overcast skies, but no rain.
Later that day, as I stood at the altar holding my almost-husband's hand, and a cool breeze tickled my veil while the birds chirped in the background, I remembered all the reasons why we had decided to have an outdoor wedding. I couldn't believe I had ever questioned whether all the stress of planning an outdoor wedding would be worth it.
*Steve explained that pole tents are the ones with the super-pretty peaked roofs, but they have to be erected on a grassy surface.
**Turns out, a gable end doesn't slope as much as a traditional tent end does.
*** We decided to pump in some heating—nighttime in May can actually be pretty chilly in New York.
**** We used a wooden surface for the dance floor and beige Astro Turf (yes, Astro Turf) for the rest of the space. Even though it sounds potentially tacky, Astro Turf is a really affordable option, and with all the tables and chairs, no one even noticed what they were walking on.
***** I loved the look of the gathered ceiling liner—it was really pretty with the paper lanterns we hung up.
****** Good to know: If you're having a decent-sized wedding in your backyard, don't think you can just use your home's electricity and kitchen. You'll most likely need a generator and a special tent for the catering team. As for restrooms, your home plumbing won't be able to accommodate all those guests—we hired Emil Norsic & Son, who set up "Port-o-Sans" (basically nicer versions of Port-a-Potties) in the driveway.
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