Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Winterthur: Do we look like we're du Ponts?

Ah, inside joke. Allow me to explain.

Winterthur is the former estate home of a member of a local (and very wealthy) family - the du Ponts. Their legacy has left an indelible impression on the Brandywine Valley past and present. Grand country homes, acres of gardens, and impressive collections of antiques hint at the history of Delaware's own "royalty." It's nothing short of spectacular. And we wanted to marry on one of these estates. Winterthur was our first choice.

Still early January. Still freezing cold. The catering manager advised us to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the cold - we'll be walking the grounds. And to your right, you'll see... water. We had high hopes for Winterthur but were understandably restrained. I worried the cost would be insane and the in-house caterer inflexible.

Visitor center's cafeteria: yes, it smells like you'd expect

Our meeting started in the visitor center with a sit-down overview that explained the focus of Winterthur weddings. It's all about the outdoors and the legacy left by the duPonts. The catering vendor focuses on local, seasonal, organic and fun - all of my buzz words. I think I squealed a little bit. What cannot be made fresh is brought in from local sources. The pasta is made fresh in Philly and delivered daily. The goat cheese is sourced from a local farm. Creativity with the menu was encouraged. We flipped through albums showing decor and site options. Mr. P was VERY involved and asked/answered 99% of the questions, emphasizing that his family is really into food and wine.

Rear patio

The walking tour began outside the visitor's center on the patio, which would be the budget option as it would be one fee for ceremony and reception space. It required some imagination to see through the coating of snow and think of spring/summer greenery. A quick shuttle ride to the mansion house delivered us to our next possible site - the reflecting pool and patio. It was the only location I felt worth considering. Every other spot seemed boring in comparison.

Tucked away behind the house and terraced hillside is the two-level stone patio with a large reflecting pool, dramatic stairs (hello photos!), and lots of in-season greenery. This is the location I'd imagined when thinking of a sophisticated, romantic garden affair.

Hard to picture what it'd look like without the snow?

Summertime shot courtesy of Winterthur

The cost quickly put the brakes on this dreamy location. For the honor of a ceremony and cocktail hour, be prepared to fork over $2-3 grand. No seated receptions outside as there simply isn't room. I strategized ways to make it work. Abbreviated reception with only cocktails and h'or d'oeuvres (man, this word gives me fits), Thursday instead of Saturday, reception at the basic visitor's center... It would be lovely but I couldn't get my heart set on it until we knew what type of budget we were working with.

The third and last site is The Galleries, which is the large gathering hall (foyer) and adjacent main level galleries.

North entrance

Gathering hall

... and a gratuitous architecture shot

We were ambivalent on this one. The hall didn't look large enough to accommodate a seated dinner and dancing. And I couldn't help think our guests would be more interested in wandering the gallery spaces than the actual wedding events. It's a little too formal for me; he liked it just fine. Catering manager helpfully quoted costs as we walked, only later did I realize what the per person figure totaled. We assumed catering would be a significant portion of our budget, but even a simple cocktail reception at the reflecting pool was pushing it.

Our favorite thing about Winterthur is the inherent beauty. It's a bonus that the venue has hosting events down cold and I'm confident it would be seamless. And there's the allure of one-stop shopping... just need a florist and music. The only downside is cost with a BIG C.

(all personal photos except where noted)

Was your dream venue too far out of reach? Did you come back down to earth or find room in the budget to make it work?

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