One thing I love about weddings is how inventive people are getting to create a day that they and their partner really want. For us, this meant an Airbnb wedding – although I’ve very much enjoyed seeing the emergence of festival-themed weddings, kooky Hobbit weddings, mini golf weddings and all kinds of fun and original ceremonies that skip the traditional formalities, because: you do you.
At the end of the day, what is your wedding if not an excuse to gather your nearest and dearest together to celebrate you as a couple? So, it makes sense to make it as personal as possible in all the ways that matter to you.
We really wanted to create a relaxed environment and to maximise on quality time. They say the day goes by in a flash (it does) and I’ve always loved the build-up to special events as much as the day itself, so we figured a staycation-meets-wedding situation would be the perfect fit. We could all get excited the night before, then each camp – bride and groom – could get ready together on the morning of, and we could all debrief the next morning, too. We wanted somewhere that was peaceful, but still offered enough space for a hoard of us to descend and get merry. We wanted somewhere that was already beautiful on its own, so the backdrop would already be taken care of. We wanted somewhere that felt special but also informal. And we wanted somewhere that fit the English countryside aesthetic we envisioned for the day. The only problem is that official wedding venues offering this are generally either: a) hard to find, b) eye-wateringly expensive, c) restrictive toward vendors, e.g. catering and entertainment or d) a combination of the above.
After completing the web trying to find the perfect location for us, I decided, why not go off-road? And that’s when I turned to Airbnb. Our family and friends are scattered across the south, west, east and midlands, so we wanted a venue that sat somewhere in the middle. I opted for flexible dates, cranked the number of guests up to the max, clicked for an entire home and started searching in the cotswolds, before broadening outward until I found a beautiful country manor house nestled in Wiltshire that ticked every single box.
We couldn’t believe the listing: a beautiful, honey-coloured Georgian building named Henge Estate, with tall columns, a pretty, white, wrought iron balcony and vines weaving their way around the walls. It delivered on cosy, swoon-worthy interiors (fireplaces, wood panelling, country kitchen, antique rugs). It had two wings, which meant we could roughly divide guests into the bride-side and groom-side. It even had an extra little annexe with a separate kitchen (where my mum finished decorating our homemade wedding cake).
It had steps down to a big lawn overlooking lush, green paddocks and trees beyond (plus enough space for a marquee and an outdoor ceremony if the weather played ball). It had a pretty walled garden with plants growing up the sides that would be idyllic for an al fresco lunch. And – despite being beyond our wildest wish list – it also offered up an old tennis court, a little outdoor pool, a hot tub (which was very well utilised), a child’s playing area, a snug library and a basement games room (that our nephews still can’t get over). It was dream venue material.
With more of us looking to shake-up our wedding day and the Law Commission posting a report last year asking the government to regulate the officiant rather than the wedding venue (to open up a wider range of meaningful places for couples to get married, if it comes into effect), there’s a definite gap for unconventional venues to tap into. The beauty of Airbnb is that it has so many gems scattered across the country and abroad, whether you want a castle in Scotland, a villa in Italy, or a townhouse in the city. There’s something to suit all vibes, themes and aesthetics if you’re headed in an alternative venue direction.
That said, having organised my own Airbnb wedding and come out the other side, I have some tips and advice to share for other potential Airbnb nuptials out there.
For starters, while there are some official wedding venues on Airbnb, most aren’t, which means (unless the law does change) you’ll need to do the legal bit elsewhere for now. This worked for us as we had an important family member who couldn’t travel, so we’d always planned on doing the legal bit close to them. We booked a registry office nearby, went to the pub afterward and got to milk two wedding days out of it. Lucky us.
Another important step? Before you make the booking, it’s essential that you talk to the host and let them know your plans. This is someone else’s home or property, so you need to make sure you’re respecting their wishes. If they’re on board, crack on – and you may even find they have recommendations or information that will help you. Our host, Victoria, couldn’t have been more kind and responsive with intel on what was already in the larders and cupboards, a full property manual, a site plan with the best plots to place the marquee – she even helped us find two lovely local waitresses to help us on the day.
Given you’re not going for a conventional venue, it stands to reason that some conventions will be out the window, this includes official viewings. We were lucky enough that our host let us do a speedy scope of the property in between some guests staying, but this won’t always be the case, so you’ll need to be comfortable with a more laid back, “what will be will be” approach.
Choosing an Airbnb wedding will hopefully give you more flexibility, but it might also require more admin and some unforeseen costs. I was able to book the caterer, entertainment and marquee company I liked, but I also had to project manage each myself. It was fine until I woke up in the middle of the night and realised we’d booked a DJ to play songs in a marquee in the middle of a field, without power… and a generator cost £600. Short of making our guests cycle for electricity, or plugging extension leads across the garden (not exactly rain-proof) I briefly considered a spotify disco, but that would have felt a bit bleak. Plus the caterer needed power for the evening food, so we had to bite the bullet. One of the things that added to the cost was that some vendors charged an extra fee for early pick-up on Sunday when we needed to be out of our venue. So depending on the day you’ve planned, you might encounter some costs you hadn’t originally considered as a trade-off for getting the setting you envisioned.
Likewise, there was no-one to oversee moving parts, which meant that setting up tables, chairs and tablescapes was down to us and our guests. We weren’t able to set up the night before because: British weather and I really thought I’d have more time to get involved on the morning (truly love a tablescape), but since our glam squad arrived at 8am, I had to step back while my husband-to-be, brother, brother-in-laws and the groomsmen heaved trestle tables into the walled garden (it was tough work watching from the balcony, lads). My bridesmaids created the most beautifully decorated tables with candles I’d brought for the day, little plant pots and shrubs my dad had gathered from his greenhouse and the prettiest florals from our florist, Martha And The Meadow. Plus our caterer, Tim, from The Charcoal Grill Co, was a legend and had already agreed to lay out the cutlery, glassware and napkins he provided, which completed the vision. And, while I do feel guilty I couldn’t be more involved – I’d planned on sprinting out in my wedding dress, but was advised against it – it also melts my heart that our family and friends pitched in for us like that.
As for whether I’d recommend an Airbnb wedding? I’m obviously a little biased but I couldn’t rate it more highly. When the weekend finally came, my husband and I were able to check in a little early (once again, thanks to our kind host). Each room has its own charming personality and matching them to our guests, then putting their favourite sweets on the bed and reserved signs on the doors was like waiting for Christmas. As they arrived, we had free reign of the house to relax and catch up together. Then, as the night went on, some jumped in the hot tub, others went to play snooker downstairs, and others mingled with a glass of wine. It gave us the quality tim that was so important to us.
When the day itself arrived we were so lucky to be joined by more of our favourite people and #blessed with beautiful weather. And since we were already legally married, we were able to make the ceremony our own. My dad officiated (after we walked down the aisle together). Our nephews each had dinky nerf guns when the question of “objecting” came up. And my friends and family surprised me with a flash mob at the end of the ceremony after I’d mentioned the scene with Pam and Jim from The Office to my husband incessantly.
It was relaxed, it was romantic, it was silly, it was special. It was truly “ours” and that meant everything.
Ultimately, booking an Airbnb wedding gave us the chance to create a day we wouldn’t have otherwise had. It allowed us to lead on every decision around how the day would run, while also leaving space for magic moments to happen. And it gave us the perfect laidback setting to make memories for life. The feedback from our guests has meant a lot too. It was important to us that everyone had a great time, and from what we’re hearing, it was a hit. Word is, we could even be attending some Airbnb weddings ourselves in the not-too-distant future…
Henge Estate starts from £1,769 per night on Airbnb.
For more from GLAMOUR’s Beauty Editor, Elle Turner, follow her on Instagram @elleturneruk
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