Fresh Start

Getting married OFF the beaten path

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Saturday, September 01, 2012
Photo By Mark Roessler
Quonquont Farm, Whately

Way back when I got married, we wanted an autumn wedding, for the foliage: this is New England, after all, and we didn’t want to get married inside. Oh, and we needed a place that could accommodate a large event, because our guest list topped 200.

We ended up at the Swift River Inn in Plainfield, where we had a gorgeous outdoor ceremony, a beautiful reception with delicious food (that I never ate) and a fantastic wedding (the best one I’ve ever been to). If you’re thinking, “ooh, that’s the place,” don’t bother; it’s a school for troubled teens now.

Our Plan B, somewhat in jest: rent the Academy of Music and organize a concert. We figured we’d watch the concert from the wings, come onstage between acts to get hitched, then mill around onstage afterwards with our wedding guests.

Imagine my surprise many years later, when I received a phone call from a couple seeking someone to officiate their wedding ceremony, which they planned to hold onstage at the Academy of Music.

Weddings can be theater, after all. This ceremony was that much more dramatic—and fun and novel and memorable—for its setting.

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But maybe you don’t want to take center stage in an 1891 theater for your nuptials. Your friends have already gotten married, or your twelve siblings have gotten married and you feel as if you’ve been to the same few places for so many weddings that they all blur together. You want your wedding to be a little bit fresh. Try someplace new, at least to you. I’ve compiled some newer venues, or ones that are a bit quirkier than the stalwart, old-faithful sites for you to consider.

You can go urban at the Mill One space in Holyoke’s Open Square complex. Formerly mill buildings, these impressive brick structures along the canals offer modern interiors with “exposed brick walls, sandblasted ceilings, and honeyed maple floors.” High ceilinged and grand in a decidedly sleek manner, the relatively unadorned space is primed for decoration, yet requires nothing to achieve sophistication.

Perks include ample parking, easy access to the highway, and flexibility in terms of catering options—barbeque to Thai to anything in between. Simplicity and flexibility seem to be Open Square’s watchwords. The space accommodates 210 with a dance floor and 250 without one. While the eco-friendly factor doesn’t show, Open Square functions boast no carbon footprint, since the zero net energy buildings draw upon the canals for power. Already on-site are a bridal shop and a salon.

Or eschew urban for a classic 19th-century barn. Whately’s Quonquont Farm created a handsome 5,000 square foot event space that has capacity for a 200-person party. Sweeping views of hills and fields and the backdrop of Quonquont’s orchards define this as a timeless New England postcard that stretches out to all sides.

Says Jenelle Murphy, event coordinator, “The Barn does have a very rustic feel. It is also extremely elegant. There are beautiful chandeliers that hang down the middle along with post lighting and a gorgeous, polished concrete floor. I have found that people really don’t feel they need to dress the space up much at all. We are a blank slate to leave as-is or add touches you would like. Either looks great!” There’s a catering kitchen on-site, and people can choose their own caterer. If your dream is a Quonquont wedding, dream of a 2014 date: 2013 is booked.

A little further afield and dreamier, Becket’s Dream Away Lodge draws wedding parties from the Berkshires and the Valley, as well as “in the know Brooklynites” who trek from the city to see a favorite band perform there and “decide it’s a unique setting to tie the knot,” says Deborah Sims, event coordinator. Outdoor options for the ceremony include Wedding Rock in the forest, a labyrinth, a clearing near the pond or one in the birch grove, or a spot by the garden. Sims explains, “We really cater each wedding to suit the desires of each couple.”

Indoors, there is room for a party of 120 people. Slightly smaller indoor winter weddings are gaining popularity, due to the season’s beauty and affordability. Some people opt for brunches or daytime affairs. Untried as yet, although Daniel Osman, Dream Away’s proprietor thinks it’s a stunning option: sunrise ceremony at Wedding Rock followed by breakfast. Flowers arranged by Osman and mostly grown in the gardens are included in the house charges. Baker and chef Amy Loveless brings her affinity for locally sourced seasonal foods. She adorns wedding cakes with flowers from the gardens.

Want your wedding to marry novelty, elegance and perhaps a little whimsy? Two particularly appealing museum options are the Springfield Museums and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst.

The Springfield Museums is plural for good reason; possible settings include a starry (regardless of weather) planetarium to a grand entrance down a lighted glass stairway into a three-story gallery. If natural history, samurai armor, vintage cars or Dr. Seuss is your fancy, you can mingle amongst related galleries with your guests or choose a favored spot for photographs. Because the Museums are so vast, there’s capacity for very large or small events—and there’s a sizeable list of approved caterers, too.

With apple orchard, colorful murals by a famous artist and even a Very Hungry Caterpillar at the end of the distinctive Great Hall, the Eric Carle Museum is a surprisingly elegant space, and not at all fussy (because, you can’t get too carried away with the grown-up when that caterpillar perches nearby). Its exterior includes an apple orchard and lawn and patio; indoor ceremony options are the Great Hall and the small auditorium. There’s flexibility for larger, smaller, more casual, or more formal sensibilities. A range of caterers is approved to use the full-service catering kitchen.

If you want a rustic—110 acres meadows and woodlands—simple, and weekend camp-like experience, you could rent out Woolman Hill in Deerfield. While most couples opt for an outdoor ceremony, if weather forces their hand, they can retreat to a Quaker meetinghouse. The entire retreat center can be rented for the weekend, and sleeps 35. Capacity for daytime events is 150. Woolman Hill has someone on site to help with logistics and field emergencies. Woolman Hill is the kind of place where hikers and bikers and hang-out-by-the-campfire singers would share a memorable wedding weekend. There are no restrictions on caterers.

After all that, let’s say you can’t let go of center stage and you do want to hold your ceremony at the Academy of Music Theatre. Debra J’Anthony, Academy of Music director says that for many couples, “the theater holds nostalgia or personal meaning.” Cost depends upon the couple’s technical needs; some people mount a production and others keep their personal theatrics very simple. J’Anthony says, “We do allow for small receptions. If anyone wanted popcorn with the ceremony, we could accommodate! It’s our specialty.”

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