By Donna Cornelius
Journal Features Writer
Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria and San Antonio Spur Tony Parker tied the knot at Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a 17th century baroque manor house near Paris. Ivanka Trump, Donald’s darling daughter, got married – where else? – on the grounds of the Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey.
And what Seinfeld fan can forget the episode when Jerry and the gang traveled to India for the ill-fated wedding of Sue Ellen Mischke? Birmingham area brides may not be flocking to such exotic locations for their weddings, but there’s a definite trend toward choosing unexpected wedding and reception venues.
“It’s moving that way,” said Meghan Cease of M. Elizabeth Events in Birmingham. “We’re in the South, and there are lots of family traditions about getting married at churches, country clubs and homes.
“But brides today are looking at other options.”
Molly McNutt and Clay Morrison, both Vestavia Hills High School graduates, chose the Sonnet House in Leeds for their big day last May.
“I always knew I wanted an outdoor wedding, and the Sonnet House had all the elements I wanted – the old Southern white house with an inviting wraparound porch with rocking chairs, the rustic wooden barn, the giant tree next to the barn and the woods with a creek running through the back of the property.”
The best part about having her wedding there, Molly said, was the flexibility of the owners – something that is often true for non-traditional venues.
“They had built this really nice terrace behind the house for brides to use for the ceremony, but it really wasn’t my style,” she said. Instead, she got married beside the barn under the shady elm tree.
Molly, like many brides who opt for an out-of-the-ordinary wedding site, was able to bring in her own cast of supporting characters. A gospel choir sang on the terrace, which was big enough for Café Dupont to set up a grill to prepare food for the reception.
“Wildflower Designs made it look gorgeous with tons of sunflowers,” Molly said. “It’s such a nice, big piece of land that we still had room for a tent.”
Brides and grooms in search of a wedding setting that will allow them to express themselves – and to ensure that their guests have a ball as well – have several options in the area.
Animal Appeal: The Birmingham Zoo
For animal-loving – and fun-loving – couples, the Birmingham Zoo may be just the place for an unforgettable wedding.
“We have ceremonies and receptions at the Zoo Lodge or the Children’s Zoo outdoor area,” said Mindy Bergh, special events coordinator at the zoo.
The lodge, a stone building nestled into the woods on the zoo grounds, is quaint and cozy, and there’s a grassy area around it where the ceremony is usually held.
“We cater to any needs, formal or informal,” said Mindy. “We encourage brides and grooms to make the lodge their own.”
Couples can choose from six approved caterers, she said, and can bring in their own planners, florists and photographers. She offers coordinating and bar services.
Plentiful parking is a plus for zoo events, since some smaller venues may have limited space for cars.
The zoo has a colorful assortment of unusual settings, such as the train and carousel, for wedding photos. And of course, no nuptials at the zoo would be complete without a few furry, winged or slithery visitors.
“We offer different animal demonstrations and animal greetings,” Mindy said. “The keepers and their animals walk around and mingle, and guests can ask questions and learn about different animals.
“The llama and beavers are popular. People like animals they can pet.”
Other wild things that might put in appearances include chinchillas, ferrets, armadillos and even snakes and vultures.
Themes for zoo affairs are as diverse as the animals. “One elegant wedding had animal print linens, and they brought in bright green flowers,” Mindy said. “Another group did a tropical theme. It just depends on the bride’s preference.”
For more information about weddings at the Birmingham Zoo, call Mindy at 879-0409 or visit www.birminghamzoo.com.
Ode to Joy: The Sonnet House
Brides who, like Molly McNutt Morrison, crave old-fashioned charm may find that the Sonnet House, on Alabama Highway 119 in Leeds, is the ideal blend of tradition and modern amenities.
Brothers Jared and Jason Heaton and friend Corey Hults bought the Victorian-style farmhouse in 2003 with the intent of transforming it into a venue for weddings and receptions. The house, built in 1917, needed extensive renovations, so it didn’t open until 2007.
The result was worth the wait.
“That first year, we just rented out the facility, with no planning or directing,” said Jared. “Now, we’ve done about 175 weddings.”
Brides can choose to get married outdoors on the recently-added ceremonial stage with a forest background, in a shady spot near a picturesque 1920s-era barn or on the gracious veranda.
“We can do indoor weddings, too,” Jared said. “We have a reception hall that can be used in case of bad weather.”
The Sonnet House hosts only one event per day, so couples can come in early for photos, and wedding times can be changed with no conflict. “We’re open to vendors,” Jared said. “You can bring in your own as long as they’re licensed and insured.”
The wedding party can get dressed upstairs in well-appointed rooms.
“It’s private, and we try to make it feel like home,” Jared said. “Sometimes photographers will take pictures of the bridesmaids jumping on one of the beds.
“For the guys’ room, we have a TV, because it typically takes them about five minutes to get ready.”
For more information on the Sonnet House call 699-7490 or visit www.thesonnethouse.com.
Barn Beautiful: Swann Lake Stables
Swann Lake Stables may be one of the area’s most original choices for wedding sites – not just because its main feature is a barn but because it’s primarily a private home.
Alex and Marjorie Jones, whose Jefferson County residence is on the Little Cahaba River, built a barn next to their 1920s house six years ago. Alex, an attorney, bought a log house kit and, with a contractor’s help, adapted it into a barn.
“A friend of ours got engaged, and we had a party for her when we first built the barn,” Marjorie said. “People started asking if they could get engaged by the river and married at the barn. Since then, it’s just been word of mouth.”
Because they aren’t really in the wedding-hosting business, the couple limits events to one per month in just the spring, summer and fall.
“Every wedding we’ve had here has been different,” Marjorie said, “from simple to elaborate.
“Some couples have had cowboy or Western themes. One bride had everyone sitting on the grass, with an altar made out of flowers.”
While the Smiths try to be on hand for weddings, the bride and groom are in charge, Marjorie said. “We see this as our gift of hospitality,” she said.
There is a fee for events at Swann Lake Stables, which helps pay expenses for the family’s horses. Horses are boarded there, but are turned out to pasture when the barn’s being used for weddings.
For more information on Swann Lake Stables, call 967-8492.