Our Affordable BK Wedding

I got married. A while ago.

This blog has been sorely neglected. It started as a planning tool for me, but, as we got closer to our wedding and as hubs got more involved, we used a lot more google docs and our free wedding website and shared bookmarks for the planning, and much less with this blog.

We didn’t do the best job in the world tracking our expenses, but I do feel comfortable saying that our total wedding cost came in under $5,000, which is a feat for 100+ guests within the five boroughs. Since I’m no longer planning or reviewing various options, I will probably not update this blog with any sense of urgency, but it does still exist, I am still around, and I do have information about some things that I looked into. So if you feel like asking, please do go ahead and comment with questions or contact me directly, and I will post about it.

In very broad strokes, we saved a lot of money in these ways:

  • Venue: We went with the Dumbo Loft. Chris, their events guy, was a pleasure to deal with. They offered their own rentals, which were totally reasonable, and, though prices for Saturdays went up over the course of our lengthy engagement, the cost for a Sunday event remained $2,400 through 2011. I had some communications with the people at the Green Building following my initial review way back. They’ve really revamped the place. My impression is that they are great to deal with, have done away with their weird old rules, and it looks like an amazing place, but the cost has gone up with all of the changes, and it ultimately rang in at nearly double the venue we went with.
  • Potluck. We did it. It worked. If you are thinking about doing it and fear that there won’t be enough food, fear not. There was so much food. It was amazing. We did a little map suggesting places to purchase things for out-of-towners with no kitchens, and we delegated some bulk food things. We included a page on our free website with a google form for the things we wanted. I can expand on all of this later if anyone desires.
  • Disposables. Instead of renting dishes, we went with biodegradable disposables. Not the classiest, but nobody seemed to mind. I was gifted with lots of mason jars from a friend’s wedding, which I painted with a little slash of chalkboard paint to personalize, and we used those as glasses and favors (though people forgot to take them home and I am, in turn, passing them on to another wedding party this month). But we had biodegradable cups at the ready as back-up, and they were fine and were put to good use.
  • Decor — I delegated! I put a couple of friends in charge of doing the tables. I purchased some vintage sheets to use as runners. My friend found table cloths for like $50 total on eBay, and they basically gathered little veggies (my suggestion – it was fall) and candle-holders and baskets and various things that they had on hand and made ‘em all pretty. Kind of like potlucking.
  • Drinks — OK, so we were given wine. We got lucky there. But our plan before that was to get a few cases of the 10 under $10 from Astor wines. We got kegs through a bar that we frequent, which I think got us wholesale prices. My husband insisted on two kegs, but we would have been fine with one. We had two cocktails prepared (again, one was a wedding present from friends who brought the booze for that drink and assembled it there. I provided booze for the other, but friends mixed it up) and a bunch of drinks that the in-laws picked up at CostCo.
  • Ceremony — I wrote it. My stepfather got himself ordained and officiated. I loved writing the ceremony so much that I thought about getting myself ordained and registered as an officiant so I could keep writing weddings. Is that weird? I might still do it. It felt good to have something that was personalized all the way through and deeply authentic to us.
Surely I am forgetting some other things that saved us money. And there are more details on all of the above. The bottom line is that we went with an affordable venue, and we asked for people to pitch in and help rather than purchase presents. I will say that I am the kind of person who loves weddings and loves being on the flipside of these requests. One of my old BFFs and I spent days preparing a sweets table for another friend’s wedding earlier in the summer (from whence the jars came), because we grew up in the same community, and it was a labor of love. I made a wedding cake (again, collaboratively) this spring because I love a baking challenge and wanted to do it. I love all that stuff, so I felt comfortable making it a part of my own wedding. One of the best compliments I got on the wedding (or in general) was when a guest told me that she thinks of me as a good hostess, someone who loves cooking and feeding and taking care of people so much, and that it was nice that I gave people the opportunity to do that for me. I was blown away.
That said, I had a ton of anxiety about asking for so much help and asking others to perform such labors of love for me. I had a lot of pangs about growing up in a close-knit community and potlucking every single week of my childhood but no longer living in the same town as those people and feeling a lack of community here in the city that I could rely on in that way. But you know what? I asked anyway, and people showed up for us more generously and profoundly and beautifully than I could have hoped. Those people from my childhood schlepped decorations and garden-grown flowers and food to the city in cars. Family members rented apartments instead of hotel rooms in part so they could cook and prep. And newer friends, people I became close to in recent years or some only in recent months, offered crock-pots and bulk cooking and set-up. I was concerned, going in, that I didn’t have a ton of friends like myself in terms of wanting to take on large-scale cooking projects, but it was amazing how much community came out of the woodwork. Just amazing. If we can do it, you can do it.
If you want any more details on any of the above, or if you want to know what we did about x,y, or z, anything I’ve totally omitted from this post, feel free to comment or to drop me a line using this form, which will send me an email rather than posting publicly. I like sharing ideas.

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Venue #2: The Dumbo Loft

When I started to look at wedding venues earlier this year, I sent a bunch of emails to a handful of places that piqued my interest. Chris at The Dumbo Loft was the first to respond to my email, and his response was the most comprehensive. Having now visited the space and met Chris, my impression is that he is a pleasure to work with. He is straightforward with answers to questions, and he gave us the sense that the space would be accommodating and flexible while still having clearly established practices (compared to, say, the first venue we saw, where flexibility was definitely an option, but the carefree approach of the venue came across as flaky).

Location: The Dumbo Loft is located at 155 Water Street, at the corner of Pearl and Water, in Dumbo. The entrance faces out onto the little green (that would be painted green, not grass) triangle just next to the Manhattan Bridge.

Quality of Space: This is a pretty bare-bones space. It’s got some nice, wood floors, heavy beams (of which I am a fan), exposed brick walls. One wall has some kind of metal siding that I definitely don’t love, but others might. It is a raw space, and the possibilities for styling it are infinite, but it doesn’t have a ton of personality in its own right. Basically, it’s a 2800 square foot room broken up by some beams. There is a “kitchen” area that is separate from the main room (I put quotes around kitchen, because it’s pretty much just a microwave and some seating), which is where the bathrooms are. Some people might see the separation between these spaces as a drawback, but I think we could make some great creative use of the separate space — it might be a great spot for a photo booth, guest book signing, etc.

As far as the size of the space goes, Chris said that the room can typically accommodate 144 people for a seated dinner or 250 for a standing reception.

Cost: We were quoted a price of $3,000 for a Saturday event or $2,400 for any other day of the week for a wedding in 2011.

What’s Included: This cost includes use of the space until 1am, as well as access to their professional sound system, which can be accessed by a DJ or hooked up to an iPod. There are 2 bartops included with the space, which can be moved around, as well as the optional use of a coat rack. They also have additional furniture for rent at a very reasonable cost — $2 per chair (not the prettiest folding chairs in the world, but, again, affordable!) and $10 per table (either long tables or round tables).

Catering Requirements: The Dumbo Loft is open to whatever caterer you’d like to use. They do require that caterers be insured (this is pretty standard), and Chris gave us a list of suggestions, but the message was really “these are some caterers that have done a great job here,” as opposed to “these are out preferred vendors.”

Bathroom Situation: There are 2 unisex bathrooms off the kitchen area. They are working on putting some more bathrooms in the basement, which could be used for events, but the timeline is pretty unclear on these.

What You Wouldn’t Know from Their Website: I wasn’t totally sure what floor the loft was on from the website. It’s on the first floor. No sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline, though those views are mere steps away. It is also important to note that, while this venue is nestled in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, the sound insulation is excellent. Also, when Chris first emailed, he mentioned that security would be required, but this is their standard event language. Security is not typically required for weddings.

This Venue is Great for You if: This venue is great for anyone seeking an affordable raw space in a fairly central location. We were initially looking for a place that would work for both ceremony and reception, but the sparsity of the space didn’t really make me want to have the ceremony itself in that location. At this point, we are very much leaning toward a reception at The Dumbo Loft following a ceremony in Prospect Park (Hello, $25 permit!). We are thinking about Prospect Park, because we love the idea of showing our guests different sides of Brooklyn and because we love, love, love that park, but those who do not wish to schlep all over town could look into a permit for the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has the advantages of being beautiful, offering stunning views of the city, and being approximately three minutes from The Dumbo Loft on foot. All in all, I am a fan.

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FREE Invitation Templates!

How much do I love this site (found through iDIY)?

There are a lot of great resources out there — free fonts, free templates, but this is a great site that is constantly cranking out new designs, all for free! I think this is my most recent favorite, though it’s very hard to decide:

Invitation Template: Flower Trellis

There are many lovely designs in a range of styles, all free to download and print at home — the easiest DIY path imaginable.

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Elopement

When I called my father to say that I was engaged, he was at his girlfriend’s house, and they were both in good spirits. I heard her yelling in the background that she wanted to come to the wedding. “Of course,” I thought. She’s great, and I’ve known her for years, and I was puzzled as to why she thought she might not get to come until she shouted her clarification: “Weddings are wonderful! Don’t elope!”

Honestly, eloping had never even crossed my mind. Shawn has a big family. I have a relatively small family, but I was blessed to grow up with a strong sense of community, a motley crew of friends who feel like home. Family-oriented types that we are, we want these people with us as we enter marriage. I don’t have a concrete vision of my wedding, but I do have an abstract vision, and it includes a whole bunch of people. Eloping is just not my style.

And yet…and yet…a few weeks ago, I got out of class early on a Friday. It was a beautiful day, so I headed downtown to Shawn’s work neighborhood to sun myself in Battery Park until he got out of work. And there, in the middle of the park, was a couple eloping. She wore a black cocktail dress and two spiky white flowers in her hair, somehow reminiscent of angel wings. He wore a black suit with a white vest and the biggest grin I’d seen in ages. There were two obviously professional photographers, one officiant with a folder open before her, and one man and one woman getting married on their own, in the middle of a ring of bare winter trees, looking out on choppy water with ferries and swooping birds, Lady Liberty standing regal in the distance. This was no small wedding party, no “just our closest family and friends.” It was just the two of them, smiling, standing together on a Friday afternoon, and it was wildly romantic.

While I do not intend to elope, I have stumbled across a couple of eloping-oriented websites here in NYC. Guerilla Weddings is a husband-wife, photographer-officiant team that helps plan and photograph small weddings in wacky locations. Their site is worth looking at even if you are not planning on eloping, as they list many creative wedding locations, all of which are good for getting the old brainstorming wheels turning, and some of which can be used for larger, more traditional weddings. (Greenwood Cemetery Chapel! Why didn’t I think of that?)

Elope New York also has a list of locations suitable for eloping as well as a step by step guide to the logistics involved in making the whole marriage legal.  I’m sure there are many more excellent resources out there, which will likely go unexplored by me on account of, you know, not planning to elope.  But I’ll certainly spend more time poring over the locations offered on these sites for brainstorming purposes if nothing else.

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Venue #1: The Green Building on Union

I have actually long-admired this green warehouse building on Union Street in Brooklyn, overlooking the Gowanus. As I wrote in an email to a friend the other day, what could be better than pledging our eternal love and starting a life together on the shores of Brooklyn’s most recently designated superfund site? SuperFUN is more like it!

All joking aside, I really do have a soft spot for the Gowanus, and I have a tremendous soft spot for industrial spaces, and I really have admired this building since I first laid eyes on it, so I was intrigued and excited when I learned that it had become an event space. I actually learned this via another mailing list that I am on — Michael Aranella’s Dreamland Orchestra has participated in some amazing sounding events in the space, but I have not yet been able to attend. Needless to say, this space shot to the top of my venue list when I got engaged, and I enjoyed the opportunity to check it out.

Though this place is still a possibility for us, there were some issues that took it down a few notches when we saw it in person. For starters, their event manager booked us to see the space at the same time as another couple. I actually thought this was great — we were able to hear and to build on each other’s questions — but it as clearly not intended to be a double booking (the event lady was surprised that we were all there and asked, wide eyed, if she’d scheduled us for the same time), and the scheduling snafu and resulting confusion didn’t instill a ton of confidence, especially in light of this place’s quirks, which I’ll get to below.

Location: Union Street at Bond, Brooklyn. This building is right on the Gowanus Canal. If you want a neighborhood that looks more upscale, this is not your spot. If you are OK (or, like Shawn and me, kind of excited) for an ever-so-slightly gritty area, go for it. The building is a block away from the M & R trains at Fourth Avenue, there’s a Holiday Inn Express easy walking distance for out-of-towners who like that sort of thing, and it is smack dab between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope and all the great bars, restaurants, trains, busses, shops, etc. that those neighborhoods have to offer.

Quality of Space: The indoor space is stunning. It has a raw, sparse aesthetic that looks beautiful even without the addition of extra decorations. Some of the sofas are a little on the dingy side, but, honestly, the chandeliers are on a dimmer, and, with the lights down a bit, the space becomes soft and romantic, and even the uglier couches become cozy and inviting. Oh the miracles of lighting. The site says that they have an outdoor space as well, but this is really a parking lot that is leased out to someone else. It can probably be rented for an additional, fairly low fee, but it’s not a sure thing, and it’s not pretty.

Cost: Tamar quoted me a price of $3,500 for a wedding. She was not specific about exact number of hours included in this — she was very laid back and nice, and it seemed like there was some flexibility here.

What’s Included: The space has some 6 foot tables, some kind of weird smaller tables, a whole lot of folding chairs (I was told 80), couches, some cushy seats, room dividers, a sideboard, 2 bars that can be combined into one, and maybe some other furniture I’m forgetting. Everything can be included or moved out according to the event. The venue also throws in candles and a PA system that can be used by a DJ or an iPod.

Catering Requirements: If you are having a Jewish wedding, your catering needs to be Kosher. If you are not having a Jewish wedding, there are no restrictions. Caterers need to have their own insurance. If you are not hiring a caterer, but, as we hope to do, providing the food yourself, there are no restrictions. There’s no liquor license, so no selling booze on the premises, but you can bring it in and serve it for sure.

Bathroom Situation: There are 2 bathrooms — one for men, one for women, though they can be combined if ladies don’t mind sneaking a peak at the urinal (Tamar said it could be draped, but I don’t much see the point of this).

What You Wouldn’t Know from Their Website: Hands down, the most important and salient detail that is not apparent from their website is that this building is used as a synagogue every week. This means that it is NOT AVAILABLE from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday. Saturday events must take place after 8:30pm, and set-up can’t really happen during the day. As a workaround, Tamar pointed out that we could come in early — up to 48 hours early — to set up the space ahead of time. The space will be used in the interim by a religious community of respectful adults who, she assured us, would not mess it up. Caterers may come in and start setting up before sundown on Saturday as they will be in a separate space and will presumably not disrupt services. Now, we’re not totally sure what kind of event we want to have, but I feel pretty strongly that I’d like to get started earlier than 8:30pm, so this might be a deal breaker for us. I’m open to a Sunday afternoon event, but it might get tricky doing set-up ahead of time if the space also booked a Saturday event. That said, they seemed really laid back and would probably grant a lot of flexibility with set-up time on the day itself.

This Venue is Great for You if: This is a beautiful space that would be great for a Saturday night event. The couple that checked out the space at the same time as us planned to do the ceremony on the west coast, and they were looking for a spot to have an evening celebration here in NY. I think it would be great for that. If you want to do a nighttime event, especially if you want to use the furniture that they have available, you should definitely check this place out. It might get tricky if you want to use rentals for a Saturday event as they’d need to be moved in a day in advance (which might bump up the rental costs).

Overall, we both really liked the space, but there were some logistical things that were a little hairy. I know that there are venues out there that cost less than $3,500 for the raw space, but I haven’t seen them yet, so I’m not sure how they compare. This place is definitely still on the list.

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Starting Out

I got engaged last month to an excellent man with whom I have been in an excellent relationship for the last 5 years.

I love him, I already live with him, I look forward to spending my life with him. These things are known. We know, too, that we want a wedding: some fanfare, some celebration, and, most importantly, a great day that we can share with the people we love. We want this very much, and we are excited. So excited, in fact, that I have spent hours scouring the internet for ideas, brainstorming, envisioning venues, thinking about this special day. A couple of things have taken shape. Many have not. And, in my journeys online (and my admittedly limited forays into magazines), I have come across a lot of information about weddings. Many of the wedding planning resources provided by “traditional” wedding information outlets have been helpful, but much of the information out there holds very little value to me. I don’t care all that much about appearances or traditional etiquette (not that I’m devoid of manners, you understand, just that I trust my own moral and ethical compass in dealing with my friends and family). Nor do I require a guide to help me select my wedding party or a checklist enumerating the duties of the Maid of Honor. I’m just not that kind of girl. I want my loved ones involved in the ways in which they want to be involved, plain and simple.

In and amongst all of  this wedding information, I have found some incredibly useful resources — blog posts or entire blogs devoted to Brooklyn weddings, DIY weddings, supercheap weddings. As a student with no income at the moment, crafty inclinations, and a desire to get married here in Brooklyn where our life is, these are wildly appealing. What I have not found thus far (and please, please let me know if you’re aware of things I’m missing) is a central location where these things meet.

I will be planning this wedding for a while yet. At least a year. This blog will serve as a planning tool for me — a place to compile links I love as well as local venues and vendors that interest me — and it is my hope that, as I explore and review said venues and vendors, and as the list of awesome links grows, this just might become a useful resource for other brokish Brooklyn brides-to-be.

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