Wedding plans are certainly shifting in the era of COVID-19, with more brides and grooms than ever looking to host weddings in their own backyards—or perhaps at their family vacation home. Yet, as guest lists shorten and wedding plans pivot, the pursuit of an unforgettable and fully luxurious wedding is still top of mind. And to offer advice to the couples looking to host an upscale backyard wedding, we turned to Alison Bryan Destinations, coveted planners known for orchestrating six and seven-figure weddings. Bryan Keck and Alison Laesser-Keck produce magnificent, over-the-top weddings for couples who spend $2,500 to $25,000 per guest. Here, they share insights and need-to-know tips for those interested in putting on a luxury backyard wedding.
The Benefits of Planning a Backyard Wedding
The key benefit to planning a backyard wedding is, of course, that you’re putting together a wedding at a venue that’s entirely under your jurisdiction. That means controlling the set up, how many people you can accommodate, and perhaps most importantly in this day and age, the COVID protocol. When you’re home (be it your primary or secondary residence) becomes a wedding venue, you’re empowered to enforce things like mask policies or distancing restrictions—and distancing becomes even easier if you have an expansive backyard and are hosting an outdoor-only event.
You also have your pick of dates when hosting a backyard wedding. If you take a good look at top wedding venues’ 2021 and 2022 event calendars, you land on one hard truth: brides and grooms in a constant state of rescheduling and newly engaged couples are all eyeing the same dates. “Most venues in 2021 no longer have weekend availability (at least not in the U.S.),” Alison Laesser-Keck says.
But when hosting an at-home celebration, there’s no competition for a perfect wedding date. Having full reign of your venue also means “you don’t have the time constraints for install and strike that you might normally have,” says Laessar-Keck.
At an event hall or botanical garden, you rent the venue for one day, and have to cram setup into a specific time frame—often taking photos in whatever nooks aren’t occupied by sound or catering equipment. Having days, if not weeks, to style your own backyard venue “can really afford you the ability to think outside the box creatively, since the ‘am I allowed to?’ doesn’t ever enter the equation,” continues Laesser-Keck.
Building Your Venue From the Ground Up
So, where does that out-of-the-box creative thinking lead when building your event from scratch? Creating your own wedding venue—especially when hosting a particularly luxurious event—will require a significant amount of outside help. Before you get into the customizations you want to bring into your space, you need to evaluate the infrastructure you’re working with. Here are some initial questions Laesser-Keck recommends asking:
- Do we have flat and level surfaces for the event so we don’t have to regrade the property?
- Do we have accessibility for delivery of executive restrooms, generators, and kitchen equipment?
- Are there watering systems or ground stability issues at those access points that may prevent us from using certain vehicles?
- Are the surrounding roads wide enough for those vehicles to get through?
- Where will valet park cars?
- What is the weather backup?
Laesser-Keck also recommends bringing in a luxury wedding planner with experience building out at-home events if you want to host a lavish, five-star backyard wedding for more than 15 guests. Not only will a planner help with securing specialty vendors and imagining the entire event with you, they will also prepare the timeline for construction and setup and schedule out the event—down to the last minute.
“It can’t just be any planner. It’s important to ask a planner to show you examples of events at private residences that they’ve produced,” says Laesser-Keck. “Anyone can design a pretty tablescape, but the business of doing complete build-outs and large scale production is a very specific skill, and one that comes with years and years of experience.”
The nuances of staging an al fresco event and bringing in venue infrastructure and decor is going to be the biggest hurdle, and that’s why you’ll want to work with a planner who has designed full-fledged luxury weddings at non-traditional venues. You’ll want to seek out vendors (particularly caterers and rental companies) with similar experience, too.
As you curate rentals and fixtures to bring into the backyard, the design aspect of wedding planning will really come into play. You’ll want to rent pieces from professionals who will work with you to completely reinvent your space. And when you begin the actual staging, “you have to prepare for your home turning into a construction site for a week to two weeks,” warns Laesser-Keck.
Adding Luxury Touches to Your Backyard Wedding
Planning the wedding—locking in vendors, assessing your space, and working with your planner—is only half the undertaking. The second part of the equation is elevating your event such that each element feels lavish, thought-out, and perfectly customized.
“The elevation of a wedding into luxury is all about the details; in the design, service, and attention to a guest’s needs,” says Laesser-Keck.
You may start with decor customizations—like considering pergolas, linens, ceramic, and chic furniture for conversation clusters—but you’ll want to add experiential customizations, too.
“Detail in service is so important and, in large part, is what elevates an event,” says Laesser-Keck. “Our guests go to incredible events all the time in amazing locations and they are accustomed to five-star—and nothing will drag a wedding down more than lackluster service.”
Think about what sets your stay apart at a luxury hotel. It’s not just the well-curated room decor and impeccable cuisine. The luxury is in the freshly laundered and heated towels in the restrooms, the Champagne laid out in front of a well-stoked fire at cocktail hour, and the car service already waiting for you out front. It’s that level of comfort and detail you want to bring to your luxurious backyard wedding.
Laesser-Keck’s headline advice in terms of curating a luxury experience is to not get so bogged down on luxury pieces—astounding light installations, over-the-top floral arrangements, rare antiques positioned in the garden—that you forget to include personalized comforts for guests. That means ensuring guests’ needs are thought of in every phase of the event (“a heater at the valet station, shade in front of the restrooms, or a private space for a new mother who needs to breastfeed,” she says). Sometimes the smallest touches are the most memorable.
“It’s all about quality over quantity,” concludes Laesser-Keck. “Keep the guest count as small as possible and really focus on who these people are and what would be impactful. People will be looking for connection after spending the better part of a year in their homes and away from family and friends. The more you can do to facilitate an environment to make that happen, the better your event will be,”