For my parents' generation, the formula for planning a wedding was simple: pick a date, pick a dress, and book the local church hall, VFW, hotel ballroom or other banquet facility.
Then in the 1980s and 1990s, things started to escalate; brides wanted bigger, fancier weddings with all the bells and whistles, and budgets became as bloated as the puffy skirts and sleeves that were then in vogue. Weddings became an industry unto themselves, and couples started spending the equivalent of a year or more's salary on a one-day event. Things that were once luxury add-ons, like photo booths, professional videographers, and dessert stations, were suddenly de rigeur.
Thankfully, the tide seems to be turning away from ostentation and towards creativity and personal expression.
Nowadays, the thing we hear brides cite as most important to their planning is not how expensive or fancy their weddings will be, but how "different." For many couples, it's a point of pride that their venue, wedding favors, and food be one-of-a-kind, rather than expensive. Fortunately for metro Detroiters, the city has plenty to offer in the way of nontraditional options that showcase the urban beauty that can be found in unexpected places. Local couples we spoke to revel in "showing off" Detroit, especially to out-of-town family and friends unfamiliar with the city and its charms.
Naomi Ruth, owner of Midtown’s Yoga Shelter, echoes the sentiments of several brides I know when she says, "I'm not a big-white-dress, sit-down dinner type; for me, it's more about really good food and atmosphere."
Ruth went outside the realm of established event spaces altogether when looking for a spot for her fall 2013 wedding, considering the Green Alley and a friend's house on the river, before settling on Detroit Farm & Garden. Ruth knew DF&G’s owner, Jeff Klein, from working with him at the Greening of Detroit, and thought the space would be perfect, given that she wanted "minimal décor." Her main prerequisites were that the space have functioning bathrooms and be able to accommodate about 100 people. She is keeping things ultra-local and DIY with the décor, food and beverages; she plans to buy bales of hay for people to sit on, food will be sourced from local CSA City Commons, and her fiancé Jeffrey Golzynski and his friends will be brewing the beer.
For his part, Klein is happy that Detroit Farm & Garden inspired someone to want to plan a wedding there.
"When we were building out the store, we really wanted to make it a special place; I’m glad that people are reacting to it that way. I’m not sure what it is -- maybe the smell of the country?" Klein says with a laugh. "People want to be in a place they feel connected to. When you get married, you're putting yourself out there; not only to say, 'This is my partner,' but also 'This is what we’re all about.'"
Those planning relatively small weddings, like Ruth and Golzynski, have a bit more flexibility as far as nontraditional sites; but what to do when your guest list hovers around 300 and you still want something different?
Groom-to-be and Roxbury Group real estate developer James Van Dyke says that he and fiancée Katie Donohue were seeking a space that was unique, but big enough to accommodate a large wedding. Like Ruth, Van Dyke considered some privately owned spaces such as warehouses and vacant office buildings, but the logistics proved too difficult. We asked Van Dyke if he considered the roof of the Park Shelton (as residents of the building, it would have been free for them to use), but unfortunately that space was too small to work for them.
The couple seriously considered the Colony Club, a historic location that Van Dyke says is "beautiful, but a bit too traditional" for them. They eventually settled on the nearby Gem Theatre, run by the same management.
"The Gem was a good balance for us; it's a theater, not a ballroom, so it's more unusual, but they still have amenities like on-site catering," he says. Van Dyke and Donohue have settled on a strolling dinner with cabaret-style tables, utilizing both the theater and adjoining Century Grille, and will play up the theatrical nature of the space with live music by the Rhythm Society Orchestra.
For their recent Detroit wedding, newlyweds Christyn and Ismael Lucas had only five weeks to plan due to family schedules, and needed to quickly find a venue that was available and affordable. Their choice of the hall at St. Anne's, one of the city’s oldest churches, was "bare bones -- it used to be the auditorium for the school," says Christyn, but it fit the bill just fine. And with many couples these days choosing large, ornate ballrooms or unexpected venues like museums and warehouses, the choice of a church hall had the effect of striking the Lucas's guests as charmingly retro.
"People loved it; they kept telling us all night that it was just like an old-fashioned wedding," says Christyn. Like Ruth, she didn’t put much emphasis on the frills. "Don’t get me wrong, I love big weddings and being entertained," she says, but it was more important to the couple to have the wedding when family would be able to attend. Christyn relied on the help of wedding and event planner Melinda Anderson
, a great resource for Detroit-based vendors, to assist her with contacting florists and caterers and serving as the "day-of" coordinator.
Whether you want big or small, indoor or outdoor, historic building or modern warehouse, Detroit has a bevy of options for choosy couples; in fact, the amount of choice can be overwhelming if you're just starting the process.
Have no fear; the search can be fun, and a great opportunity to investigate cool places in the city that may not have been on your radar. Check out our list of tips and resources here
, and this 2006 Model D article about unique Detroit weddings here
Noelle Lothamer writes about food and other delectables for Model D.
Photos by Marvin Shaouni