From all the adjustments the wedding world has weathered recently, there is a blissful legacy that lies just beyond the micro-wedding: greater flexibility and versatility. Take these five venues, each of which has introduced inventive themes, adjustable spaces, and new menus that bring back the magic.
As sweet as that buttercream-iced cake that steals the show at the end of the night is a wedding director attuned to how high the stakes are when it comes to matrimonial perfection.
“A wedding is one of the three largest expenses in life,” says Susan Smith, the effusive owner and chief planner at Windham Manor, which is located in — wait for it — Windham, known as the “Gem of the Catskills.”
Skiers for three decades at the nearby Windham Resort, Smith and her husband bought a home in the area 20 years ago and this 45-acre parcel several years later. They gutted the house — only the elevator was left standing for Aunt Millie — and thoroughly reimagined it into 10,000 square feet of event space. Among its features are a 12-bedroom Victorian mansion, a gym, a game room, a spa trafficking in antiaging facials and Swedish massages, a cook deck with a dreamy view of Bearpen Mountain — Greene County’s highest hilltop — and the stunner: a newly built but rustic party barn that maxes out at 300. Smith’s most flawless wedding concept to date may be Winter Wonderland, about which she positively gushes.
Recently, she hosted a multicultural union that brought together family members who’d been separated for the duration of the COVID lockdown. Witnessing the raw emotion of the event, as well as the swaying Hawaiian dancers, she says, affirmed that her work really is a labor of love. The former makeup artist is a flat-fee kind of businessperson, so interested parties should ask about what’s included. Given the proprietor’s magnanimous spirit, it’s likely a lot.
A New York Times story from January of 2020 speaks of the highly anticipated March opening of The Abbey Inn at Fort Hill near Peekskill, a site, shall we say, with a lot of history: a fur-trading post, a lookout in the Revolutionary War, and a convent of the country’s oldest order of Anglican nuns. Soon, the reporter wrote, it would be a high-end travel-and-event experience at the gateway to the Hudson Highlands. Of course, the story said nothing of the 21st-century scourge that would make masks and social isolation nearly mandatory and limit gatherings, like weddings.
Director of catering (and resident wedding madam) Eileen Whitney equates the pandemic with a test designed to see who could pivot best. During the coronavirus dark ages, the hotel received guests, offering touchless room service and grab-and-go meals, then in September of 2020 hosted its first protocol-compliant small wedding, at which Chef John Paidas, a farm-to-table advocate, debuted a new, six-course tasting menu paired with wines.
Now, only one wedding per day happens at the Abbey, and the guest-list limit is 120. Nuptials can be arranged on a bluff overlooking the river and in the original convent chapel, with its vaulted ceilings and stained glass, now known as the Highlands Ballroom. Also available are a wine cellar, the Cornerstone Room — hand-painted Ecclesiastical images adorn the walls — and Apropos, the on-premises restaurant. Managed by Hay Creek Hotels, The Abbey Inn features 42 guest rooms, a spa, and, in theory, the benevolent spirits of nuns offering their blessings.
Sharing the love. That’s what Charlotte Guernsey is up to way up there on Lambs Hill, on Fishkill Ridge, a popular destination of Hudson Valley hikers. After getting married on this 10-acre property in 2007, Guernsey filed for a permit and began hosting 50-person micro-weddings on a lawn that affords 180-degree views of the Hudson, Mount Beacon, a panorama of the Catskills, and the twinkling lights of Fishkill and Beacon below.
Accessorized with 18th-century-inspired split-cedar fencing, simple benches, lanterns, and arbors decorated with flowers and grapevines, the venue’s alfresco experience is marked by an intentional organic elegance that differentiates it from a wedding-factory production.
A typical wedding runs six hours, including a ceremony on the lawn followed by cocktails on an elevated terrace beside a pool with a vanishing edge, and a seated dinner inside a stone-and-timber barn embellished with crystal chandeliers, string lights, and a gas fireplace. (Dinner is also served out on the lawn under spare pavilions.)
Because the road up to the site is a winding one, Lambs Hill provides a mandatory shuttle service to local hotels. Couples who elect to start their honeymoons on-site enjoy the equestrian suite, located above the horse stalls of this working gentleman’s farm, which houses a menagerie of farm animals, including Icelandic horses, chickens, and mini-donkeys — all of which are available for petting, posing, and surely Instagram-posting.
“We let nature do the speaking,” says Guernsey, who operates a bridal boutique in downtown Beacon. Up where she is, that seems to be all that’s needed.
There’s something Gatsbyesque about Lyndhurst, the pinnacle of Gothic Revival architecture, whose turrets tower above a promontory on the Hudson River in Tarrytown. Although F. Scott Fitzgerald’s chivalrous rake would have been born well after the 1838 date the summer villa was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis (for War of 1812 General William S. Paulding Jr.) and known as the Knoll, one can imagine Jay whispering secrets into Daisy’s ear on the Veranda at dusk — a choice spot for a cocktail reception — or playing footsie in the Rose Garden gazebo, where many a newlywed has taken a vow under a scrolled cupola in a sea of antique roses.
Paulding’s successor in ownership, George Merritt, is credited with hiring landscape gardener Ferdinand Mangold to sculpt the grounds into a manicured European park and for naming the idyll for its linden trees. Anna and Helen Gould, daughters of the estate’s third resident, railroad tycoon Jay Gould, earn the praise for the garden statuary and ornaments, and for bequeathing it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A century and a half later, the limestone manse and its 67 acres beckon couples nearby and faraway with such exquisite venues as the aforementioned Veranda and Rose Garden, appointed with arbors festooned with blooms; the Great Lawn, lush and sprawling and fit for a ceremony or an outdoor banquet with a castle as backdrop; the large Green House; and the Alley Lawn, an oak-and-sycamore-studded expanse adjacent to the 100-year-old bowling alley, with views of the Palisades and Cuomo Bridge.
Nautical history buffs and aspiring mariners alike get giddy at the thought of a wedding at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, in Kingston, which is situated in the midst of a thriving downtown district on the banks of the scenic Rondout Creek. An approximation of the Dutch word for “fort,” Rondout refers to the redoubt that once stood where the creek meets the Hudson — and where barges headed down river, loaded with coal.
With its paintings of sloops and steamers, ship captains’ artifacts, and exhibits on cement-making, ice-harvesting, bluestone-quarrying, and garden-variety merchant-marine life, the museum’s East Gallery is a surefire conversation-starter for guests who are strangers. In addition, the compound offers an industrial barn (heated in winter but not air-conditioned in summer) that hosts 150 if they’re standing, 125 if seated. Doors on either end open to the river or to the street and provide ventilation.
Should you opt to take your vows while in motion, the Solaris, a fully solar-powered touring vessel, can accommodate up to 28 seaworthy passengers, captain included, but bring your own drinks and snacks. And while you’re at it, pick a theme: Native American folklore, indigenous birds, or industrial history.
The most darling exhibit of all? the Mathilda, a steam-powered tugboat with a red smokestack that was built in 1898 for transport assignments on waters as far away as the Great Lakes and New York Harbor. Historians are available for hire should guests have a taste for more than salty hors d’oeuvres.