On December 30, 1945, Virginia Stovall and Bert Fincher were married at her parents’ small home in Abilene, Texas, about 180 miles west of Dallas with about 15 family members in attendance. They had a traditional wedding cake and a few flowers, an uncle who was an ordained minister officiated, and the bride wore a simple blue dress. In the 1940s, at-home weddings were common, as people were emerging from the uncertainty that World War II and the Great Depression created. Times were challenging, but hope—and love—remained.
Sounds somewhat familiar, doesn’t it?
“We were married in the living room in front of the fireplace and had a little reception in the dining room,” Virginia, 97, recalls. “Most men at the time wore their military uniform, but Bert wanted to wear a new suit he bought just for this when he got home from the war. A local bakery made the wedding cake, and the flowers were from a florist who came to the house and made the table nice with a pretty tablecloth with flowers arranged around the punch bowl. I wore a corsage. It was rather simple.”
Simple, but special, as the couple was married for 63 years when Bert passed away in 2008. “He had only been home from overseas for about three weeks at the time, and we had said we would get married when he got home,” Virginia says. “It (home weddings) was done that way a lot then. I guess it would have been nice to have a fancier wedding, but we had been engaged for quite a long time, even before he went overseas for a year and half. We didn’t want to wait!”
And neither do many engaged couples during the current pandemic. COVID-19 has waged a war of its own, changing almost everything about the way we live. Couples who are planning weddings are experiencing its impact as they re-imagine, regroup, and in many cases, scrap their original wedding plans and start over to meet ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions. For those who don’t want to push back their wedding date a year or more, a smaller, more intimate at-home wedding has become Plan B. And for couples who became engaged during the pandemic, an at-home wedding may be Plan A, much like the Fincher’s wedding 75 years ago.
While the guest list of an at-home wedding today may be small, the presentation itself can be anything but. Everything you would find at a large wedding and reception can be incorporated into a home wedding, just on a smaller scale. Dallas’ most sought-after wedding vendors are busy doing just that for couples who are shifting their big events to a more personal, at-home affair. In fact, many have been working their magic at several weddings per weekend in homes throughout Dallas since the pandemic began in mid-March. Yes, love—and hope—indeed remain.
“Postponing a wedding due to an unexpected emergency doesn’t have to be a doom-and-gloom situation,” says Crystal Frasier, a wedding planner with Crystal Frasier Weddings. “Exchanging vows is the most important aspect of the day. And the best part–you can do this just about anywhere, including a family property or home.”
Your at-home wedding can have it all—stunning floral, the wedding cake of your dreams, a DJ and lighting, full streaming, and innovative catering options. First, let’s talk floral. “I certainly hope no one feels disappointed by a wedding at home,” says Kristen Wolchik, owner/designer of Haute Floral. “I absolutely love the intimacy and closeness of an at-home wedding. There are a few key steps to making your home feel like a celebration, rather than just getting dressed up to go to your living room. Flowers have a way of completely transforming a space, a day, or even a mood. Fresh blooms mean it’s a celebration.”
To get started, Wolchik suggests the following tips when it comes to floral:
Lisa Pritchett, owner of Lilium Floral Design, has been busy reworking the weddings of couples who want to keep the same date but downsize the event, and of couples who are postponing until gathering restrictions are lifted. One thing brides don’t want to change is the impact of beautiful floral arrangements on their big day, she says. No matter when or where the wedding is scheduled, make sure you book the florist you want well in advance, she says. “Depending on the size of the at-home wedding, I would suggest at least three months ahead,” Pritchett says. “Call the florist/event planner ahead of time to check the date as soon as you have one picked. For example, with all our weddings from the spring pushing into the fall, our fall is pretty booked.”
Pritchett adds the following tips for brides who are ready to transform their wedding space with beautiful florals.
Of course, wedding guests are coming to see the happy couple exchange vows, but the next reason to attend is the food and wedding cake. This is usually what guests remember most. Dallas area wedding caterers have accommodated most every request when it comes to safely preparing and serving food at weddings during the pandemic. Jordan Swim, owner of Vestals Catering, says many of his clients have welcomed the opportunity to get creative and re-think their original reception menus. Building a reception menu for 200 guests is much different than making food and drink selections for 10 guests. For couples who want to make thinking through safety as simple as possible, Swim suggests individually boxed meals for each guest, individual cheese boards, or even contactless delivery of a catered menu where everything is prepared by the chef in advance and delivered to the front door. The only thing the host has to do is remove the covers and serve.
“Some of the couples we have worked with are happy to spend less money on food, or are realizing they now have a budget that allows them to choose a more special menu because there are fewer people on the guest list,” Swim says. “For example, an at-home wedding meal could be a more intimate, seated dinner with a longer time frame so the meal can be served in multiple courses, possibly with wine pairings or craft cocktails. It can be more of an experience around food. Now is the time to get more creative and really think through the options. You could create a menu using local and artisan products that tell a story. The food doesn’t even have to be fancy. Let’s say you love chicken-fried steak; you can now do cast-iron chicken-fried steak for 20 people in a fun outdoor backyard setting. We have really latched onto the possibilities and love working with couples and the chef to create something that can add to their stories.”
Beth Albright, owner of Blue Fire Catering, is happy to work with couples to incorporate innovative catering ideas into their at-home wedding that meet COVID-19 safety protocols. Couples shouldn’t be worry that the food won’t taste or present as well just because it is now served at home and not at a lavish hotel or reception site. Remember, it’s about the food—not the location. And Blue Fire Catering has food well covered. Think New Orleans Chicken Lazone pasta, honey-infused bourbon grilled chicken with watermelon salad, or wok-tossed chicken served over jasmine rice in a petite take-out box with chopsticks. Albright also suggests the following serving options for an extra measure of safety:
Once dinner—however it is served—has ended, it’s time for cake. But everything about serving a cake can be questioned when it comes to COVID-19 safety guidelines. “If the head count is over 10 people, I often propose a fake cake,” says Lauren Kitchens, owner of Fancy Cakes by Lauren. “This way, the couple can have a gorgeous smaller cake for photography, but the real servings aren’t out and around the people (a COVID-19 safety measure.) The caterer, wearing gloves and a mask, can cut and serve the cake more safely for the guests. The only difference between a real wedding cake and a fake one is the substitution of Styrofoam for cake. The outside is decorated with the same icing and sugar media we would use on a real cake, so no one is the wiser.”
Now that some COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, Kitchens is able to meet with engaged couples at the Fancy Cakes by Lauren bakery to discuss cake design or, if the couple prefers, by a Zoom meeting. Clear acrylic screens have been built for the dining table in the store and plenty of hand sanitizer and face masks are on hand. Only two people are allowed at a time at the appointment, and cake tastings are sent home in a beautiful box to take home and try with loved ones, if the couple prefers. (https://youtu.be/RGzAGKryk-s).
Kitchens says her clients’ smaller at-home weddings have, for the most part, served as a pre-show to the larger weddings the clients will host later in the year or in 2021. “The small wedding cakes, for now, seem to be simple, as brides want to keep the show-stopping cake designs for the big shin-dig later,” she says. “And because so many weddings have been pushed, a lot of brides have already received their wedding china. What a perfect way to serve your cake!”
While Bert and Virginia’s 1945 wedding may have ended with a punch toast and a happy send off, today’s brides often prefer a party to wrap up the evening—wherever that may be. Andy Austin, owner of Andy Austin Entertainment, has taken a lot of stress of the shoulders of couples who want more from an at-home wedding during the pandemic. He keeps the party going—safely. “I think a smaller wedding is totally OK,” Austin says. “With one wedding we recently did, they kept it to the close family members who were already hanging out during the stay-at-home measures, and guests wore masks. We incorporated many aspects of a larger, traditional wedding at the ceremony and during the cocktail hour, prepped and ad-libbed speeches during dinner, did a custom roast on the bride and groom—and dancing!”
At the same home wedding, Austin and his team positioned six professional broadcast-style cameras around the house, added professional wireless mics, and had an on-site video tech with a switcher so they could run the wedding like a live broadcast so that family and friends who couldn’t attend had an easy way to watch the entire event—or just a few particular moments. “We promoted the agenda, so guests could tune in at any time,” he says. For this wedding and others that have taken place during the pandemic, Austin performs a site visit prior to the event (wearing a mask and gloves) and suggests a floorplan that will allow for better social distancing. He does everything possible to blend the audiovisual equipment in with each individual environment. “During the site visit, we discuss the best placement for everything, down the to the DJ and bar facades,” he says. “We can even use white speakers to blend in!”
As COVID-19 restrictions change, so do the options for an at-home wedding. It’s something wedding planners like Frasier are watching closely so that they, along with their brides and grooms, can adapt. “The number of people who can attend and the venue may change, but the same elements of any wedding can still be incorporated—a small band and dance floor, lighting, linens, floral, ceremony and reception music, and china. We can always do a larger party later,” Frasier says.
To pull off a successful at-home wedding, the expert guidance of a wedding planner remains critical. “It’s peace of mind for your day,” Frasier says. “We have established relationships and connections. You still want your wedding to be a representation of what you had planned, or what you are planning to host later. You want design continuity and consistency between the home wedding and the celebration you plan with the original guest list in the fall, or next year. This way, nothing looks like it was thrown together at the last minute.”
Frasier says she has advised many of her clients during the past few months to take a step back and look at some of the bright spots of having a wedding at home—an opportunity to share something special between each other and their closest family members. “Having guests in your home is something that is very intimate, as our homes are a private sanctuary,” she says. “It’s more of a personal, welcoming atmosphere. Some families who host look at it as a way to declutter, redesign landscape, or breathe a breath of fresh air into the home as they prepare the space.”
Frasier takes extra precautions to make sure every vendor entering the home is adhering to the strictest safety protocols. For instance, drink orders are taken by waiters so there aren’t multiple people crowding the bar, plexiglass goes over food stations, tables and seating areas are adequately spaced, hand sanitizer kiosks are placed at each door and at the restrooms, and every server and vendor will have his or her temperature checked prior to working.
“I think you can still have a beautiful wedding that shares the same tones of what your event was going to be,” she says. “If you are going to do a post-wedding celebration, the at home ceremony can be more like a pre-emptive party. The focus of the day should be getting the bride and groom married so they can start their life together. Your big celebration may have to be put on hold, but you can certainly celebrate with immediate family and close friends as you become a married couple, which is how love conquers all—even during COVID-19.”
Featured Wedding Credits:
Photography: Joshua Aull Photography
Entertainment: Andy Austin
Coordination: Anna Eisenlohr
Photographer: Joshua Aull
Florist: Branching Out
Cake: Panini Bakery