Seated at a substantial round table in the lobby of the Hotel Northampton, Brianne Ebel, the hotel's wedding and social event planner, often sets the stage for brides-to-be to imagine their wedding day.
During a first meeting, Ebel wants to help brides appreciate the advantages a Hotel Northampton wedding offers. The first two draws, she points out, are obvious-the gracious historic landmark building and its location. "You get Northampton," she says. "This is such a friendly, cool place to be. You don't have to drive guests around or really entertain them, because there's so much to do within an easy walk or drive: museums, hikes, shops, movies and good restaurants."
From the lobby, the appeal of the gracious hotel building, which has been designated an historic landmark, is obvious. Ringed by an atrium, the lobby isn't imposing, yet feels generous; it's a space that manages to absorb workaday hotel traffic almost undetectably. Ebel calls the space "comfortable and homey." "The lobby," she adds, "tends to be where the cocktail hour is held. I have a table out here because I know that from this spot you can begin to envision the day."
A recent renovation has brightened the lobby; dated, heavy drapes are gone and wallpaper has been replaced by soothing yet cheerful sage green walls. Ebel says, "Updated upholstery in the atrium seems to draw people out there in greater numbers, too."
From the hotel's downtown location, there are several suitable sites for the wedding ceremony within a short walk or drive. The nondenominational First Churches appeals to many couples. "It's convenient, a pretty walk through town, with opportune places for photos en route to the hotel. And its Gothic style is similar to the hotel's," Ebel explains. Amongst less conventional sites is the Academy of Music Theatre, where couples can have a center-stage ceremony. The courthouse lawn adjacent to the hotel is a pretty spot for a gregarious couple willing to share their ceremony with onlookers and passersby in the ambiance of downtown. Another more traditional outdoor option, at a distance from downtown, is Look Park.
Many couples have their ceremony and reception at the hotel. Downstairs, the Hampshire Room is often used for ceremonies; upstairs, the "bright and sunny" Northampton Room offers a more intimate option. Some ceremonies occur in the ballroom. "After the ceremony," Ebel explains,"we hold the cocktail hour in the lobby and turn the ballroom around for the reception."
Less obvious at the outset may be the allure of the Hotel Northampton's delivery of wedding services in soup-to-nuts fashion. "Our wedding packages streamline the process," says Ebel. "We make planning easy and affordable. That's because we include so many custom touches that would be much more expensive and time-consuming-and most likely stressful-to track down yourself." Specifically, Ebel refers to floor-length ivory table linens, centerpieces-the hotel works with two area florists, currently Forget Me Not in Northampton and Durocher in West Springfield-and cake. Again, currently there are two choices for bakeries, Gregory's in Hadley and Cerrato's in West Springfield, and a celebratory champagne toast.
What's more, the wedding planner is included: all events on the hotel grounds benefit from Ebel's guidance and on-site coordination. "This is especially helpful for long distance brides," Ebel says. "For things like flowers, we get a discounted rate, so we can offer a better value than you'd find yourself."
What if the bride's aunt owns a flower shop or there's a cousin who is a professional baker, though? "There's plenty of room for flexibility," Ebel assures me.
The Hotel Northampton has the ability to go big. One of a very few spots equipped for larger parties, the main ballroom generally requires a minimum of 135 guests, with a capacity for 180 guests. Since this is a full-service hotel, there's also valet parking, and ample lodging for out-of-town guests. Discounts on blocks of rooms, as well as use of a bridal suite for the couple's wedding night, are included in wedding packages.
Beyond accessibility, many people are drawn to Northampton for sentimental reasons. "We get graduates from Smith and UMass and Amherst," Ebel explains, "couples that want to come back because this place holds a lot of meaning for them. If your first date was at Spoleto or you used to sit on the steps in front of City Hall together, you can use those moments for your photos, because you're right in town."
For additional focus on the personal, Ebel says, "We even have someone who can create customized tri-fold maps that highlight things like the groom's favorite place to get a burger, or the spot where the couple first kissed."
Ebel calls attention to the hotel's capacity to offer a series of unique events that assure a memorable wedding weekend: "We might be working with one side of the family on the wedding and the other side on the rehearsal dinner. Often I suggest holding that rehearsal dinner party in the kitchen space at the back of Wiggins Tavern. It's really intimate there, with a time warp feel. Because I coordinate all in-house events, I'm careful to customize each dinner to avoid repeat items and ensure the meals are completely different. At the hotel, we're able to create brunch the morning after the wedding and additional cocktail hours or coffee hours."
Included in the wedding package, Ebel notes, is use of a hospitality suite-completely catered-for the bride to prepare for her ceremony, whether it takes place in the hotel or elsewhere.
Many brides grew up in the area, live elsewhere and return for their weddings because of family ties. "Sometimes, the mother of the bride does all the advance work for a daughter who lives elsewhere," Ebel notes. "People like to come home for weddings. It's nice to be able to share a special place with people who don't know much about your life here."