Transforming a working horse farm into an elegant wedding site is no problem at all--if you have all the money in the world, that is. But what if you’re saddled with a super-tight budget? “Not a penny more than $60,000, cash,” wedding planner Gwen Helbush recalls her client insisting. In that case, some seriously creative coordinating is called for. Helbush, owner of Newark, Calif.-based Where to Start, says an unconventional mix of hard work and hard cash helped her get the June wedding off the ground--in this case, freshly planted sod.
Noting that her clients “eat, sleep and breathe horses,” Helbush says she wanted to do all she could to give them their dream wedding at the bride’s parents’ home, which doubles as a horse farm. Ever the savvy businessperson, she also saw an opportunity to showcase her capabilities to future clients.
GIVE A LITTLE
“From my perspective--and from that of other service providers I was able to con into doing this--it was a chance to use the wedding as a marketing opportunity,” she says with a laugh. For example, the wedding videographer, Moraga, Calif.-based MetMedia, recorded the entire event--including setup and day-of festivities--for free. The accommodating client couple gave both MetMedia and Helbush permission to use the professional video for future client presentations, Web sites and other marketing needs.
Also key to creating an upscale home wedding on a shoestring budget was “sweat equity,” Helbush notes. “I encourage a little DIY whenever possible, but this is the first time it’s gone to quite this level.”
Volunteer efforts and good old-fashioned dirty work were essential, for instance, in the transformation of the farm’s horse arena into a site suitable for wedding tents and dining. The bride’s father and his farmhands first prepared the ground with a sterilizing spray, then laid down fresh sod far enough ahead for the new grass to take root properly. The team also pruned, planted and even built structures including a custom wedding platform.
While vendor discounts and the family's work were vital to executing the wedding as budgeted they went only so far. Equally important was Helbush’s ingenious suggestion that some wedding components be considered permanent rather than party-specific.
When the lighting vendor’s bid came in at a price much higher than budget would accommodate, for instance, Helbush recommended installing permanent outdoor lighting rather than setting up temporary fixtures. She explained to the bride’s parents that the new lighting “would allow them to extend the hours for what they could do outside,” such as teaching night lessons or holding evening events for riding students. Opting to install permanent lighting also allowed the farm’s owners to write off the cost as a business-related capital expense, rather than including it in the wedding budget.
Other property upgrades that also acted as wedding elements included a fountain, new gates and fencing, and a stage where “kids can get their ribbons after riding competitions,” Helbush notes.
The planner adds that a similar reallocation of funds could be applied under other circumstances--a business with a large warehouse or outdoor parking lot, for instance--as long as it is done in consultation with both financial professionals and city or county zoning regulation offices. “Choose your improvements wisely,” Helbush advises. She adds that she wouldn’t recommend it to a client unless it was "something that was a permanent benefit to their business." Otherwise, she warns, “The IRS might get involved,” and that’s not an aisle anyone wants to walk down.
On the wedding day, tax affairs took second place after affairs of the heart. Each of the 153 guests was too busy enjoying the festivities, which included tuxedo-clad servers bearing trays of pre-ceremony pink lemonade and a ceremony conducted by the bride’s uncle beneath a wisteria-covered arbor.
Highlights of the reception included a lavish dinner of smoked beef tenderloin and ginger-glazed poached halibut medallions, courtesy San Francisco-based McCall Catering. Guests also went gaga for a postprandial candy station, where they could fill monogrammed bags with their favorite combination of M&Ms, Hershey’s Kisses and jelly beans, all in the wedding’s pink-and-green palette.
Departing guests found themselves surrounded by the scent of farm-grown lavender, which had been bundled in sachets made by the mother of the bride and placed in vehicles by the event’s valets.
As for Helbush, she found herself with an invaluable marketing tool: “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the hardest thing is to be able to show [prospective] clients what we do.” With a bounty of still photos plus time-lapse videography and, of course, the client’s rave review, “Now, I can really show them."
Come and Get It!
House-smoked Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce and Creamed Horseradish
Ginger-glazed Poached Halibut Medallions with Bok Choy
Made-to-order California Risotto
Where to Start
CATERING & LIGHTING
Heather M Whiting Photography