Past Pine Lake, grazing horses, buzzing tractors, a cow-crossing sign, the city of Finlayson (pop.
Urban palaces. Dream homes. Historic mansions recall a time of romance and elegance: horse-drawn carriages, elaborate dinners with impeccably dressed guests under crystal chandeliers, reading Walt Whitman in the library by a crackling fireplace. It’s these images that make a Twin Cities mansion the perfect venue for an elegant fall or winter wedding. The setting is picturesque and the ambiance brims with character. And historic mansions often have many features that can save brides money and stress: minimal decorating requirements (they’re beautiful already), all-in-one catering services and an on-site ceremony option. Just be prepared to be flexible on a few issues.
If these walls could talk
The most striking thing about a mansion wedding is the surroundings: These historic homes are among the most stunning reception venues in the state. “A mansion is so beautiful,” says Andrea Jarosinski, whose Oct. 10, 2009, wedding was held at 490 Summit, an 1886 Victorian mansion in St. Paul. “It is a great backdrop for pictures, and it’s elegant and unique.”
Jarosinski and her husband Marty chose 490 Summit precisely for this built-in ambiance. “I love anything vintage. We wanted something our guests would remember,” she says. “As soon as we saw it, we knew it was the place for us.”
LeAnna Siegfried chose Minneapolis’ Semple Mansion for her Oct. 18, 2009, nuptials for similar reasons. “Semple Mansion seemed more personal,” Siegfried says of the Italian Renaissance-style home. “I love entertaining in my home, and at a mansion it seemed like we were entertaining people in our home, albeit a beautiful, giant home!”
The beauty within
The interior features in these historical homes allow brides to save on what can be a large chunk of their wedding budget: décor. “We didn’t have to do a whole lot of decorating,” says Jenna Wiley of her Sept. 18, 2009, wedding and reception at Gale Mansion in Minneapolis. “We wanted classic, romantic and intimate, and Gale Mansion already had all that to begin with.”
Allison Klint already knew that Blaisdell Manor in Minneapolis was the place for her August 14, 2009, reception, as she’d celebrated her sister’s wedding there two years before. Klint says that brides considering a mansion for their reception should use the venue “to your advantage. Enhance the features that are already there, such as the banisters or the fireplaces.”
Several brides used mantels for their family wedding photos. The only décor Wiley used at Gale Mansion were simple ivory chair covers and small centerpieces of petals and tea lights. “We didn’t have to do anything else,” she says.
Siegfried notes that brides should make sure a mansion fits their wedding-day vision. “You could have a very modern, minimal wedding at Semple Mansion,” she says, “but it doesn’t [quite] make sense. It’s a classic, traditional venue. Align your mansion choice with your personality. Enhance the space; don’t overwhelm it or change it.”
Size and mansion layout are together probably the biggest planning hurdle most brides face. “You really need to manage your guest list,” says Siegfried, “You typically don’t have as much flexibility as a large hotel ballroom.”
Blaisdell Manor is one of the few mansions in the Metro area that accommodates large numbers (up to 300 people for a dinner reception). Semple Mansion’s Grand Palladian Ballroom and 490 Summit each can accommodate up to 250 for dinner. Summit Manor and Gale Mansion each can accommodate up to 200 guests.
The pared-down size turned out to be an advantage for Thomas and Melissa Parish’s Nov. 6, 2009 wedding at Summit Manor in St. Paul. “We could really talk to all of our guests,” she says. “Couples should take full advantage of the character and flow an old house has versus one big room. There is a sense of community not present in other venues.”
Most mansions in the Twin Cities are within the urban core of Minneapolis and St. Paul. However, a charming alternative is Cedarhurst Mansion in Cottage Grove. Originally a farmhouse, Cedarhurst is perfect for brides looking to blend a garden-party feel with the elegance of a mansion. It has a smaller capacity—up to 120 for a sit-down dinner—but couples hosting receptions in the warmer months can rent tents to accommodate more dinner guests outside.
Rooms with a different view
Because of the layout of older homes, sit-down meals often have guests seated in different rooms and sometimes even on different floors. Jarosinski had dinner guests on two floors of 490 Summit, with the ballroom on the third floor, which made it a little hard to talk to everyone, she says. “But we actually had a lot of compliments about rooms and floors. Some people just like to sit and talk and have coffee while others are upstairs. Some were grateful to not have to be with the loud music during the dance.”
Couples can work around these multiple rooms by having the “visual” moments of the reception, such as the cake cutting, toasts and slideshow, before dinner, so everyone feels included.
Klint inquired about changing the usual layout of the bars for her reception at Blaisdell Manor. But the staff quickly explained to her why the setup they designed works. “Make sure you listen to the people who run the mansion,” she says. “They know what works and what doesn’t work. With space limitations, the staff knows how to get around it.”
Another advantage of a more intimate venue is the personal service of the staff. Many of these mansions have just a handful of full-time staff, giving couples a single point-person who knows everything about their event.
“Hosting the reception at a mansion really downgraded my stress level, as it kept me from having to worry about details,” says Parish. “We didn’t have to coordinate much, from the cake delivery to the decorating, as the staff did it all.”
While most mansions have upgraded their facilities to include air conditioning, modern catering facilities and technology/audiovisual capabilities, other issues sometimes remain: parking limitations, handicap accessibility issues and few or inconveniently located bathrooms.
Semple Mansion in Minneapolis is a rare parking find, as it has a 200-car, free parking lot across the street. Cedarhurst in Cottage Grove features parking on-site as well, but others have only on-street parking available. Many couples work with the mansion staff to provide shuttles to and from local hotels.
Gale Mansion, like several other mansions, features a courtyard where guests can congregate or couples can hold their ceremonies, weather permitting. Wiley held her ceremony on the lawn of the Gale Mansion, with a couple surprises. “People were walking by on their cell phones and cars were driving by,” says Wiley. “It wasn’t too intrusive, but it was something that I really didn’t think about that much.”
Despite some quirks and compromises, a mansion reception can easily become the most beautiful and stunning celebration any bride could hope for. “One of my favorite moments of the day was walking down the grand staircase [at Semple Mansion] and I could see everyone, all our family and friends,” says Siegfried. “It was such a great feeling of being surrounded, supported and loved.”