History, Channeled: Taking Wedding Cues From Your Venue's Past

April 29, 2010


ONCE UPON A time, pledging till death do you part meant booking the church, synagogue or backyard. Nowadays, couples richen their big day by vowing a lifetime of sharing the TV remote at places steeped in history, from colonial manors to beaux-arts ballrooms. Recapturing the charm of weddings past means heeding the venue’s historical cues. “You don’t want to go into the Willard and make it an ’80s-themed event,” says D.C. wedding planner Vicky Johnson. “Let the space speak to you, and then follow where it goes.”

BEAUX-ARTS
» The Scene: Gallivant like a turn-of-the-20th-century aristocrat at Anderson House. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Dupont Circle embassies, the Beaux-Arts mansion was the upper-crust crib of diplomat Larz Anderson and his well-heeled wife from 1905 to 1937. The space drips with opulence befitting a lavish affair — think 16th-century Flemish tapestries, a Steinway grand piano and sweeping Italianate staircases.
» Serve Up: Try a gin and bourbon rickey — a fizzy highball concocted in the late 19th century in D.C. — or another Gilded Age favorite, the Brandy Fizz.
» Floral Focus: Bunch soft pink peonies in julep cups, then place on tables draped with pink toile, suggests Alexandria wedding planner Laura Weatherly. Or take a page from Edith Wharton’s Victorian tome, “The Age of Innocence,” and feature white lilies of the valley.

FUTURISTIC
» The Scene: Find a sleek space with up-to-the-minute tech capabilities at the Human Rights Campaign’s ultra-mod Equality Forum in downtown D.C. A minimalist vibe — complete with airy windows, exposed industrial columns and recessed lighting — offers a blank-but-stylish canvas.
» Serve Up: Go molecular with rejiggered cocktails, such as cotton candy puffs melted into mojitos, like those slung by Jose Andres Catering with Ridgewells.
» Floral Focus: “Suspend flowers [with fishing wire] throughout for a weightlessness effect like you’re in space,” says D.C. florist Sarah von Pollaro. For space-age style, opt for spiky protea, star thistle or even blinking fiber-optic buds.



COLONIAL
» The Scene: Woodlawn Plantation offers plenty for those looking to forge their new life with antiqued flair. Near Mount Vernon in Alexandria, the 126-acre estate was a bighearted wedding gift from George Washington to his nephew in 1799.
» Serve Up: To channel the wisdom (and drinking habits) of our Founding Fathers, fill punch bowls with spiced hard cider. Keep food communal, too, with family-style platters on long tables. Since tiered wedding cakes weren’t invented until the Victorian era, consider booze-soaked fruitcakes instead.
» Floral Focus: Cover Woodlawn’s wrought-iron arch with English garden flowers, a nod to the era and to the estate’s gardens, says Fairfax planner Carol Marino.

ART DECO
» The Scene: Jump, jive and wail in Glen Echo Park’s 1930′s-era Spanish Ballroom, perched along the Potomac just outside Northwest D.C. The restored hall has a large stage and dance floor that can hold 450 guests. The nearby 1920s Bumper Car Pavilion is also an open-air rental space.
» Serve Up: Offer libations from the bar bible of the Jazz Age, “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” Try the Wedding Belle Cocktail, a regal blend of orange juice, cherry brandy, dry gin and Dubonnet concocted for the 1947 nuptials of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip of Greece.
» Floral Focus: Carry loose bundles of ivory calla lilies, accented with flapper-esque ostrich or peacock feathers.
» Decor Ideas: Mark each table with deco-style frames that display mugs of movie stars (Fred Astaire, Greta Garbo) from the 1930s and ’40s, suggests Karyn Jarboe of the Art Deco Society of Washington.
» Cheeky Extra: As a nod to Prohibition, fill an antique bathtub with gin or moonshine. Line it with ladles and let guests bottle their own boozy party favors.

Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky
Photos courtesy Greg Gibson Photography; Woodlawn Plantation

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