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Wedding Receptions: At-Home Wedding Secrets

Sentimental? Yes. Simple? Not always. Here's what you may not know about planning a backyard wedding celebration.

Photo: Black Dog Imageworks

When it comes to weddings, there really is no place like home. Maybe your parents have an amazing lakeside house, or Grandma has that perfect country cottage. But odds are your childhood homestead isn't quite prepared for 150 wedding guests, 75 cars, 20 waiters, 15 tables, and 1 happy couple. Although it may be more work (and more expensive) than you anticipated, you won't regret saying your vows in the place that means the most to you. It's all about being prepared for what it takes to throw a wedding in your very own backyard.

You Need Room to Say "I do"

Does your setup have enough space for all your guests? If not, you'll have to start trimming the list. Don't mistake overcrowded for cozy. If you plan to use a combination of indoor and outdoor space, know that if the weather takes a turn for the worst, everyone will need to fit indoors. Will there be enough space in, say, the living room, to set up white folding chairs with a wide enough aisle? The general rule is six to ten square-feet of floor space per guest for row-seating.

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See how other couples pulled off their own amazing home weddings.

You Can't Do It All Yourself

Since you're so accustomed to your home, hiring a wedding coordinator will give you a fresh perspective on the property and what you can and cannot do. You will also need people to cover all the basics: setting up, cooking, serving, parking cars, and cleaning up. Hiring a cleaning crew may be the best decision you'll make. In the days leading up to the wedding, the last thing you (or your parents) want to have to do is a massive house-scrubbing.

You'll Need to Tend to Your Lawn

Your yard will be on display, so give the space a manicured look. Whether that means dragging out the lawnmower or hiring a landscaper, you'll want your lawn to be in peak form. If you're planning on a spring wedding, start preparing in the fall. Talk to your professional landscaper about reseeding, replanting, and sodding.

You'll Need to Plant Early

Most perennials need a winter to take hold, and it takes some time for annuals to fill out. Make sure to find out the appropriate planting times for the flowers you'd like, so they'll be in full bloom on your wedding day. For a spring wedding, cool-season flowers like tulips, daffodils, and lilies of the valley will be in bloom (which need to be planted the autumn before). For summer, try annuals like geraniums, Gerbera daisies, and African daisies, which should be planted after the threat of frost; you'll probably want to plant perennials for fall, like Japanese anemones, chrysanthemums, and blue salvia -- these should also be planted the fall before.

Your Wedding Officiant May Not Comply

Make sure your wedding officiant will give you his or her blessing at your chosen location (some aren't able to perform the ceremony outside their place of worship because it's not recognized by the church). You'll want to give yourself plenty of time to find a licensed officiant who will do the honors.

Wedding Guests May Try to Stay At Your House

Try to dissuade them from this idea. Unless you're marrying at a 25-room estate, the only people who should be staying at the wedding site are the homeowners and their immediate family (the bride or the groom, other siblings). You don't want to be fighting your cousin for shower time the morning of your wedding. What you should do is recommend a hotel that's as close to your property as possible.

You'll Need to Rent Everything

Your must-have items are tables, chairs, dinnerware, napkins, table linens, place settings, barware, portable bathrooms, and a tent. Rent enough chairs so everyone can be seated for the ceremony. If you need more room for the reception, remove most of the chairs after the meal, keeping just enough around so half the party can sit during the festivities.

You'll Probably Need a Generator Too

Most homes can't accommodate the amount of power necessary to light a tent or provide power to a catering kitchen. You don't want to risk a power outage, or even worse, blowing out the whole neighborhood! Check with your caterer to see if you need to rent extra coolers, grills, or roasters. Don't wait on this; you'll want to start researching and reserving equipment six months before your wedding.

Wedding Vendors Need to Check Out Your Home

In order to determine what extras they'll need to bring, vendors should stop by for a visit. Have your caterer survey your kitchen to make sure it is well-equipped and large enough to prepare the menu. Otherwise he may need to bring in a completely functional traveling kitchen.

The Ground May Not Be level

Chairs, tables, the dance floor -- you don't want any of these items to be on uneven ground. Professional tent companies can ascertain whether or not they need to put down a foundation or if they'll be able to lay a dance floor directly on the ground. Your other vendors (caterers, florist, band) need to determine what is necessary to keep floral arrangements and the cake table from tipping over.

You May Need a Permit to Party

From the city permits to fire department inspections, make sure everything is in order. Bring in an electrician to inspect your area, find out if local noise ordinances require a permit or place restrictions on noise, and determine if you need to file for a permit to park cars along your street. The last thing you want is cops crashing your party.

Port-A-Potties Have Gone Luxe

You'll want to account for three bathroom trips per guest. Most septic tanks can't handle that many flushes, so portable bathrooms are a must. A general rule of thumb is to have one bathroom for every 35 guests. Keep in mind that your guests will need a place to wash their hands and do a mirror check, so keep the area well lit. Upscale portable bathrooms are now available that have lighting, sinks, heated water, and even air-conditioning. Don't forget to make them even more home-like by including an amenity basket filled with hair spray, tampons, Band-Aids, and breath mints in the ladies' room.

You Can Save on Decorations

What makes your home unique -- an elegant dining room, a massive oak tree in your backyard, a gorgeous lawn, or a spectacular view? Play up that feature to create a homey feel. It adds to the trend of making it look like you've emptied Grandma's china cabinet of all its unique and beautiful pieces. Use different centerpieces and mix-and-match vases. Bring in fresh, home-grown-type flowers or play with outdoor lighting possibilities. Garden lamps, paper lanterns, and tiny white lights strung on branches will create a stunning atmosphere.

Have a Plan B That's as Good as Plan A

Unexpected weather can bring about unique challenges. Always plan for the worst by making sure guests will be covered in the event of a sudden downpour. If there's no way to pitch a tent at the ceremony area, arrange to have the ceremony at a house of worship in case of rain -- make sure to have an insert in each invitation that gives the alternate address and a number to call to find out if the ceremony has moved. If a tent is your Plan B, make sure it has sides to keep out a driving rainstorm. Stifling heat can pose just as many problems as rain, so make sure ceremony chairs aren't in direct sunlight and that there are plenty of shaded areas, cool drinks, and even hand fans available. If it's a warm day, extra electric fans and portable air conditioners can be brought in; on wintry days, propane heaters can warm up the place.

You May Have to Include Your Neighbors

Let them know of your wedding plans well in advance. They may be planning to host a party the same night. Also, make sure they know the ceremony time so nobody's mowing their lawn during your vows, and ask if they'd offer their driveways for extra parking space. But you can't rely on neighbors' generosity completely. Make sure there's enough street space for parking, or arrange for guests to park at a nearby lot like at a school or church, and provide round-trip shuttle service. If you want valet parking, hire a reputable company. You don't need a Father of the Bride scenario on your hands.

Insurance May Cover Home Repair

From guests dancing on your lawn to vendors traipsing in and out, your home may take a bit of a beating. Find out what your homeowner's insurance covers. You may want to consider getting a supplemental policy. Check with your domestic insurance company to see if your policy covers third-party liability, and with your vendors to make sure they have their own insurance policies, as well. Click here for more wedding insurance tips.

It's All Worth It

We want you to be prepared, not scared. Having a wedding at home -- even at your new home as newlyweds -- is an amazing idea, and an event your family will always remember. The best thing about having your wedding at home is how personal it can be. Nothing compares to getting ready in your childhood room and coming down the staircase in your gown. Find the right people to help, and you'll walk down your homespun aisle stress-free.

Special thanks to Lindsay Landman of Lindsay Landman Events in New York, and Richard Goldstein, president of Green Meadows Landscape Contractors in Oakland, NJ.

-- The Knot

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