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Finding a Ven-YOU! Part I

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Heather McCoy
Estate venue (park-district owned)!

Finding an awesome venue was extremely high on my priority list; probably #2 in my top three must-haves (after an awesome photographer). After all, the venue sets the tone for the entire wedding, so you’ve got to pick somewhere that fits your personality and that complements the mood you are trying to create.

As I mentioned in my last post, we are a somewhat nontraditional couple, so we knew right off the bat that we weren’t interested in getting married in a church. I also didn’t want a typical banquet hall venue for the reception. Ideally, I thought it would be especially nice if our guests could attend both the wedding and reception in one handy-dandy location, and if the overall location was in the midst of other fun places for our out-of-town guests, that would be ideal!

Although I set out with a vague idea of some of the characteristics I wanted, I had attended very few weddings in our area that weren’t in a church and/or banquet hall, so I had no specific ideas of where to start. I appreciated the ambiance of some golf-course venues, but I was quickly scared off by their $70-$100 per plate price tags.

Lucky for us, we live within reasonable driving distance of Chicago, so there are a wealth of city venues for all kinds of tastes. There are all kinds of places we could have explored, including museums, art galleries, small-town coffee shops, gardens, university campuses (we both work in higher education), and countless other options. Ideally, I wanted our wedding to be in some kind of conservatory because I fell in love with Navy Pier’s Crystal Gardens years ago. Of course that particular venue—in the very middle of downtown Chicago—was so far outside of our price range that even a winning lottery ticket probably wouldn’t have made it possible. Alas, we had to search elsewhere.

I wanted our venue, above all, to be bright and airy and full of plants. We chose our home based on the fact that it had lots of windows and a view of nature, so those two elements just made sense. Plus, more plants = fewer decorations = lower cost! And we know that lower cost is what we’re all about here.

It was through this nature-focused search that Jon & I discovered what I consider to be one of the greatest secrets in wedding venue selection: park districts! Park district property is owned by the government; therefore, you (the bride-to-be) are already a partial owner of your prospective venue through your tax dollars. In other words, these venues are a great deal!

Park districts exist for the sheer enjoyment of the people who visit them, so they are designed to be beautiful spaces. This means that you get a lovely backdrop for all of your momentous wedding photos, and any money you spend on it can be recycled into keeping the place beautiful for future visitors!

Our venue search in particular was an adventure. We looked into 8 or 10 different facilities: park district properties, conservatories, an estate, an arboretum, a Japanese garden, a golf course, and more. The coolest thing about venue-searching is that 1) You get to explore some neat places in your hometown that you maybe have never visited, and 2) You generally get treated like royalty when you say those magic words: “We’re thinking of having our wedding here.” Smart venue owners will offer you things like free admission, coupons to return, discounts with other vendors, and more in hopes that you will book with them.

We found the search to be a lot of fun. We got to check out a bunch of new places we’d never been, and it was like a little hometown staycation adventure!

I took tons of pictures throughout the process and learned a whole lot about what kinds of things to consider when searching for a venue, which I will share with you in my next post. For now, though, here’s some pictures of some of the places we visited! Feel free to contact me if you live in the Chicagoland area and are interested in learning more about any of these facilities!

Chicago city venues
Sometimes, it’s all in the details…
Chicago city venues
Bad news: It was pouring and FREEZING the day we visited this venue. Good news: We know the permanent tent doesn’t leak!


Chicago city venues
For a more rustic feel…
Chicago city venues
A perfect koi pond


Chicago city venues
Jon likes this one!
Chicago city venues
A lovely Japanese garden



Chicago city venues

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Heather McCoy

is a lifelong learner who works in higher education and overanalyzes everything. She got married in May 2012 - read her wedding planning posts here.