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The home wedding keeps it personal and affordable

mary Jo Baras and her daughter, Jacqueline, never considered throwing Jacqueline's wedding anywhere other than the back yard.

The bride, a 26-year-old student at Stanford Medical School, always assumed she'd wed at her family's St. Petersburg home, with its 1-acre waterfront lot. And her mother?

"You have to love entertaining to have a wedding in your back yard, and I just thrive on it,'' Mary Jo said this week, recalling the April 12 event that had 180 people of all ages and nationalities converging for hours of dancing, dining and celebrating.

The bonus? "Home weddings can be economical, and that's the bottom line,'' Mary Jo says. "We've got three kids in college, and a wedding really puts a crimp in the budget.''

No kidding. If you pay any attention to the many wedding-themed TV reality shows, enormous glossy magazines or countless Web sites devoted to all things bridal, you'll have seen the mind-boggling stats on the high cost of modern nuptials. The Wedding Report's site, www.costofwedding.com, allows you to plug in your ZIP code to see what weddings (minus rings and honeymoon) are going for in your area. Brides in the Carrollwood area of Tampa, for instance, spend on average between $25,000 and $42,000, according to the site.

In these budget-conscious times, staying home is one way to save. We talked to local brides and moms — and a TV wedding planner — to find out how to have a home wedding without tears (except, naturally, tears of joy).

First, a caution

Donnie Brown is a Texas wedding planner you may have seen on the Style Network's Whose Wedding Is It, Anyway? After planning better than 2,000 weddings, Brown has seen it all. He himself got married at home, but warns that a home wedding requires a lot of thought.

"Getting married at home seems like an obvious way to save money. But it doesn't always end up that way. There are so many things to contend with: Do you have enough bathrooms? What about tables, chairs, linen, crystal, lighting? How much power will the DJ require? And the caterer?''

If you do marry at home, he advises, keep it small and keep it casual. "Especially in the summer,'' Brown said. "Nobody wants to sit outside in a formal dress or a tuxedo in the heat.''

Now, on to the party

Aimee Kosky, a 32-year-old prekindergarten teacher and newlywed from Seminole, agrees casual is best.

"I didn't want pantyhose and sequins. I wanted people to have fun. Family is a big thing for me and Ken,'' whom she married Oct. 11 at her parents' home in Dunedin.

Their Florida-style ranch house is unassuming from the street but offers an ideal party setup, with a big family room that leads out to a lanai, pool area (with a deck for the steel-drum band) and a pretty fish pond where running water masks traffic sounds.

Aimee and her mother, Pat Packham, spent nine months planning the tropical-themed wedding, a three-day affair that cost $15,000.

First came the Friday party in nearby Philippe Park so the two families (the groom is from Michigan) could get to know each other. Then the Saturday wedding for 78 at home, which started with cocktails at 6 p.m. and ended after the Rays-Sox game at 2 a.m. Finally there was the Sunday brunch prepared by Pat's mom and her sisters, also at the Packham home.

"Aimee said her wedding would be a party with a wedding in the middle,'' said Pat, sitting in a house still awash with silk flowers and other tropical decor she collected over months of scouring sales.

The wedding represented lots of work for the family, but they got to include scores of personal touches. There was a "sweetheart table'' with family wedding portraits dating to 1923. Instead of a unity candle, guests received different colors of sand to add to a sand sculpture commemorating the day. Wedding favors included glass Christmas ornaments filled with sand and miniature beach toys.

Sand castle centerpieces decorated the tables. Folding chairs were decorated with tropical-themed flags from the Dollar Store, and in the pool floated a giant "A'' and "K'' made from Styrofoam and more silk flowers. Aimee's father, Chuck, built tables anywhere his wife or daughter told him to and cleared furniture in case it rained and the party had to move indoors.

The caterer, Melody LaGreca, produced a luau feast, complete with a roasted pig.

"I had an excellent support base,'' Aimee said, smiling at her parents. "There's no way you could do something like this on your own. But it was so worth all the work. It was a homey, loving environment for our wedding.''

'Just say yes'

Ann Porter, who married her husband, Perry, on Oct. 18 at his parents' home in Riverview, has one piece of advice for those about to be married:

"If someone offers to do it for you, just say yes.''

With two teenage daughters, a full-time job at G&J Marketing in Palm Harbor and a part-time job, Ann, 39, didn't have a lot of time for wedding planning. Not only did Carol Porter have the entertaining know-how, she and her husband Gene's lakefront lot made a lovely setting.

Ann figures they saved about $3,000 on what they might have paid at a beach hotel. In the end, their casual outdoor wedding for 60 cost a bit more than $5,000.

"The bulk of the money went to the food,'' she said, praising the work of G. Elliott's Catering of Tampa (Elliott also owns the Brunchery restaurants), which also handled all the equipment rental and serving the buffet-style dinner.

One friend at work volunteered to take pictures; another sang at the ceremony. "We had so many people volunteer their expertise,'' Ann said. Shopping with coupons at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michaels, as well as buying the flowers from Costco, where Perry works, also shaved expenses.

But was it hard to hand over the details to other people?

"Once I was completely willing to let go, it was great,'' Ann said. Plus, getting married at home had special virtues. "Everyone lit sparklers at the end, Chris (her friend and DJ) played everyone's favorite songs, nobody was pushing us out the door. We got to do all the extra things you can't do anywhere else.''

Family heritage

Jacqueline Baras-Shreibati's wedding got its theme from her dress, an open-backed lace gown she purchased on eBay. Her mother spent months snapping up lace and linens at garage sales to festoon trees and tables. In photos, the scene looks like a Victorian garden party, enhanced by bringing indoor furniture outdoors.

The setting got a three-day workout, starting with a rehearsal dinner hosted by the groom's parents. They even prepped the food at their California home so they could showcase their Mexican (mother of the groom) and Syrian (father of the groom) heritage and brought it with them to St. Petersburg.

The couple was blessed on the bima at Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg on Friday (the bride's father, Dr. David Baras, is Jewish), then married on Saturday at Blessed Trinity (the mothers of both the bride and groom are Catholic). Then came the Saturday night reception (complete with a mariachi band and a jazz band), followed by a Sunday brunch prepared by friends, both at the Baras home.

"It felt so international,'' said Mary Jo Baras, the mother of the bride. "And so today.''

It was the first wedding for both Jacqueline and her groom, Sammy Shreibati, a computer engineer, and both were deeply involved in the planning, eager to reflect their families.

Working with local vendors made that easier, said Mary Jo, a dietitian who loves to entertain and feed people. Her caterer, Island Flavors in Gulfport, didn't mind her bringing in bread from EuroBake or artisanal cheeses from the Saturday Morning Market. The major flowers, including the bridal bouquet, came from Carter's Florist, but she also added flowers from a wholesaler.

Her church let her use facilities and plates, a big money-saver. Friends pitched in with plenty of sweat equity. Neighbors didn't mind all the extra cars; they were all invited to the wedding.

The wedding for 180, including many items that were used all three days, totaled $22,000.

Besides, Mary Jo said, having the wedding at home was a joy.

"I was on a euphoric high all year planning this,'' she said. "I couldn't believe how much fun I was having.''

Charlotte Sutton can be reached at sutton@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8425.

Voices of experience

Tips from our home wedding veterans.

Plan, plan, plan. You can't be too prepared. What if it rains? Do you have enough toilets? Where will everyone park? Who's going to clean up afterward? If details make your head spin, think about hiring a professional planner.

Let go. Check any control-freak tendencies. When you delegate, you'll have to accept how others work. Bridezillas is an annoying TV show, not a worthy aspiration.

Know your budget. Wedding costs mount up quickly. Set your priorities — food, music, flowers, whatever means the most — and realize you may not get everything you want.

Start early. You can't shop the sales if you're doing everything at the last minute.

Don't go it alone. Do you really want your mom slaving over a hot stove? Hire caterers (ask friends for recommendations) and take their advice not only on food, but also on drinks and equipment rental.

You gotta have friends. If you don't have a sizable and reliable support network, it may be best to leave your wedding to the pros.

Charlotte Sutton

The home wedding keeps it personal and affordable 11/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 8:35pm]

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