Since Elaine Keightley Fields was a little girl, she wanted to get married on a horse farm. Two summers ago, her dream came true. Keightley and Jeff Fields were married at Saxony Farm, a Thoroughbred horse farm, on Sept. 5, 2015.
“We wanted to give our friends a good feel of the Kentucky experience: the horses, seeing the giant, sweeping fields, the bluegrass, the bourbon,” said Keightley Fields, who lives in Houston but grew up in Lexington. “It was the best way to honor my heritage. It was a quintessential Kentucky wedding. I loved it.”
Barn weddings are trending in Central Kentucky, wedding planners say. Jackie Lee caters to a lot of out-of-state brides who select Kentucky for a destination wedding.
“Half my weddings are in barn settings,” Lee said.
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Horse farms, plus owners of nurseries, wineries and agricultural farms, have picked up on the increasing popularity and are converting barns into stylish venues for weddings and other events.
Barns that once housed horses, tobacco or cattle are being gussied up with freshly paneled interiors, hard-surface floors, elaborate chandeliers, bathrooms, a prep kitchen for caterers, and air-conditioned rooms where the bridal party can get dressed.
Pinterest has introduced brides to a range of creative wedding options, said Jenn Abney, event barn manager at Evans Orchard in Georgetown. “Pinterest showed girls they don’t have to do a traditional wedding in a church with the reception in a hotel ballroom,”
In her experience, “a girl who wants to get married in a barn is not overly concerned with tradition. She wants her guests to feel comfortable, relaxed and have fun.” Guests come out from the city and “love the novelty of being in a barn,” Abney said.
Amanda Newsome and Derek Jeffries didn’t want a formal wedding. When Newsome suggested the idea of a barn to Jeffries, “he jumped all over it,” she said, laughing.
They were married July 15 at Warrenwood Manor in Boyle County in a pre-1910 barn that had been completely renovated. “Everyone said it was the most fun wedding they had ever been to,” she said.
Jim Doll’s daughter Megan was married on Saxony Farm in June. They served barbecue, and a bluegrass band played. “It was the best wedding I’ve ever been to, by far, bar none,” Doll said. “It was like a fairy tale.”
A barn affords guests the freedom to walk around, see horses, maybe hear a tractor in the distance, and enjoy a beautiful view of gently rolling countryside and plank fences.
“Our guests love being in these surroundings,” said Diane Lary, whose family owns the 83-acre GlenLary Estate in Paris, where they board retired Thoroughbreds.
GlenLary’s horse barn and outbuildings are set amid a pristine sprawling lawn. The farm’s original 1790s log house has been restored and is available for the groomsmen to use. The bride and her attendants can get dressed in the 1840s white Southern mansion with columns across the front.
“The brides are more relaxed in this setting,” Lary said. “It’s so romantic. I think that’s why people want to be married here.”
“Barns are a stark contrast to ballrooms where all their parents were married,” wedding planner Angela Sallee said. “Barns give a bride and groom so much more freedom to express their style.” That style could be rustic elegance or country charm. Where one wedding has crystal chandeliers, (yes, crystal chandeliers in a barn), elaborate floral arrangements and white tablecloths, for another it’s strings of twinkle lights, bouquets of garden flowers and gingham, Sallee said.
Saxony was one of the first horse farms in Central Kentucky to convert a barn into an event venue and market the farm as a wedding venue. Owned by Broussard and Rosie Hundley, the 165-acre farm boards and breeds Thoroughbreds; Rosie operates a business researching thoroughbred pedigrees.
Five years ago; the couple dipped their toes into the wedding-venue market, taking advantage of two unused polo barns, one large and one small; an expansive lawn; ample room for parking; and horses in the field for authenticity. The large barn was spruced up and can be used for the rehearsal dinner, cocktails before the wedding, and the reception afterward.
The first year the Hundleys tested the waters. “We didn’t make any improvements that first year. We did it just as an experiment,” said Broussard, whose parents bought the farm in 1968.
In 2013, the farm hosted seven weddings; more were booked for the following year. Heartened by the response, the Hundleys decided that in addition to being a working horse farm, Saxony had a future as a wedding site.
Saxony has 21 weddings scheduled for 2017 and is 40 percent booked for 2018. Wedding season at Saxony and most farms runs from mid-April to the end of October.
“Twenty-one weddings is plenty for us at the moment,” Rosie Hundley said. “We have two young children and another on the way. We have a farm to run. I have my pedigree business, and Broussard does tours of the farm for Horse Country, four or five days a week.”
In addition to weddings, she has focused on attracting smaller events for weekdays and for weekends when there are no weddings. These include corporate events; farm-to-table dinners with area chefs, where part of the proceeds go to charity; and a Christmas cookie decorating workshop.
Each year the Hundleys make improvements.
“We add a little bit each year,” she said. They laid a 40-foot by100-foot concrete pad where brides can put up their own tent, and they ran electricity to it. They built a two-bedroom cottage where brides can get ready. The loft of the small polo barn was remodeled into a man cave for groomsmen. They added concrete paths between the barns and installed new landscaping with an irrigation system.
Weddings are a welcome source of income for farm owners. “They are important to us. We are a small family farm, and it’s incredibly difficult to make a go of it, whether you have horses or are an agricultural farm,” Broussard Hundley said.
The cost of a wedding at Saxony is a flat $7,500 fee for usefrom noon Thursday until Monday. The farm provides 25 round tables, 200 chairs, five bar tables and eight bourbon barrels. “There are no service charges,” Rosie Hundley said. “We don’t restrict them on vendors. We keep it very flexible.”
Kevin Evans, owner of Evans Orchard in Georgetown, also saw the business potential of turning an old tobacco barn, where he had stored junk for 20 years, into an income-producing venue, especially for weddings. “Kevin is meticulous about planning ahead,” said Abney, the event barn manager. “I admire his forethought to see barn weddings as an up-and-coming thing and saying, ‘Lets do something with the old barn.’”
In 2014, the barn was given a total makeover. Bathrooms were added, as were a prep kitchen and air-conditioned rooms where the bridal party can get dressed. A nearby shed was converted into an office for Abney and storage for tables and chairs. In 2016, its second year of operation, the barn was rented every weekend from mid-April to the end of October, she said.
The rental charge for weddings is $3,500 for Friday nights, and $6,700 for the full package on Saturday, including Abney styling the barn with tables, chairs, a bar made of bourbon barrels and reclaimed wood, and church pews outside for the wedding ceremony.
“The wedding industry has become much more commercial and complicated,” Rosie Hundley said. “If we can tamp down some of the stress, it is nice. I think our brides are more relaxed out here. And we’re more relaxed.”
The Hundleys both enjoy this extension of their horse business, which neither could have contemplated 10 years ago. “What’s nice about this for me is it reminds me of vows I made with Rosie,” Broussard Hundley said. “I remember my vows every weekend. It keeps us grounded and that what’s important in our lives.”
Beverly Fortune is a former Herald-Leader reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.