The Great Venue Hunt: Why a Red Barn Made Me Crazy, and How I Almost Needed Therapy

So begins the cold, snowy, icy, expensive Venue Hunt of 2010. I’m sure by now you know we are living in Chicago, but we drove all over God’s green Earth (or so it seemed) to find a decent venue for a small-ish (we were hoping), laid-back wedding. No ordinary banquet hall would do, and we have that strict $10k budget nipping at our heels.

And what were we even looking for in our wedding-day locale? Paying homage to our roots in rural Illinois, we ached for nothing but a country wedding ceremony outside with a rowdy reception inside an old red barn. Renovated, of course. We didn’t want our guests to freeze to death after the sun goes down or, God forbid, step in a cow pie.

And so began my first torrid venue love affair with a big red barn, hours away from my hometown.

Source for above images

The Jams would get hitched at a farm, and I didn’t care what anybody had to say about it. Just look at that country inspiration oozing from every photo! Check out the hoards of delicious wedding-y potential! Imagine a bride and her ‘maids carrying wildflowers tied up with twine!

All of that sweetness only added to my ardent love, and when budget was considered, my crush only grew: it was budget friendly and we could bring in our own food and alcohol, and only minimal decorating would be necessary.

I was so in love with the farm venue there was no breaking us up. Ever.

Until I realized that the barn would be a two to three hour drive for most of our guests, and since it’s a country barn, there weren’t a lot of hotel options for our guests to choose from. What did I expect, grandma to sleep in the back of her car? My drunk friends to try and hitch a ride 30 minutes away to the nearest town with a motel?

For a while after this realization, I was a lot like a crazed banshee: I screamed about this barn to everyone I encountered, said that if guests didn’t like it they didn’t have to come, and defended my barn love to Mr. Jam when he disagreed. I may have been hotheaded, but it was my first venue crush. And considering the emotional roller coasters that are most relationships, it was pretty close to normal.

Eventually, I calmed down and tried my best to move on, and being from rural Illinois, we searched high and low for renovated barns closer to home. We talked to farmers and random country bumpkins, reached out to people over message boards, made deals with the devil, etc. How hard could it be to find a red barn closer to home to rent for the weekend?

BUT, being from rural Illinois, one thing was certain: all of the cool barns we found were not wedding options. Why? Because they are filled with animals and farm equipment. A barn being used as a barn! Go figure.

Long story short, we kicked the barn idea to the venues-that-didn’t-work dump to join a too-small one-room schoolhouse and a multitude of state parks we crushed on first. It seemed perfect, I KNOW, but the whole reason for this wedding is to throw a kick-ass party for our guests in celebration of our unique love and lifelong commitment to each other. A cool spot two hours away couldn’t be an option for us, no matter how hard we tried to make it work.

With no suitable barn in sight, we had to move on and plan to give our guests a time they’ll never forget…closer to home…in a unique venue…within our $10,000 budget.

Did we find a place? Was our June Saturday available? How many arguments did we have over the chosen spot?! Stay tuned.

Ain’t nothin’ like a venue crush to take you back to junior high love. Can you relate? Did you turn ‘zilla defending a venue, and then it turned out to not even work for you at all? And let’s be honest…did you and your beloved agree on your final venue decision?


Mrs. Jam

Wedding Date:
June 2011
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  1. Member
    KaileeMarie 56 posts, Worker bee @ 11:55 am

    I too fell in love with a venue that was unrealistic for our wedding. It was a renovated barn on a vineyard, and it was beautiful. The catch was that the $3,500 price was only for 5 hours – set up, ceremony, reception, and clean up. I thought it was crazy!!!

    I did find the perfect venue though, after nearly giving up!

  2. Member
    lola2011 434 posts, Helper bee @ 11:58 am

    OMG. Twine wrapped bouquet. Must. Email. Florist.
    Thank you! Brillant!

  3. Member
    crystalirene 364 posts, Helper bee @ 11:58 am

    Well fell in love with one in Austin nearly 3 hours from Houston where we live. After considering how many people couldn’t make the drive. We opted for something closer. I am so IN LOVE with the venue we chose though. It will be perfect and nearly everyone should be able to make it.

  4. jam Member
    jam 310 posts, Helper bee @ 12:06 pm

    @crystalirene: Smart thinkin’, lady. What’s the point of having a fun shindig if no guests can make it?

  5. Member
    KassieD 40 posts, Newbee @ 12:15 pm

    I love your unique ideas. Our venue really just fell into our lap. I knew we were on a budget but I didn’t want something that looked like a run down hall. I had read books that talked about finding a place w/ enough character on it’s own, to save you the money of having to decorate it.

    A coworker suggested a place she looked at for her daughter’s sweet 16…I knew she had money but really? A sweet 16? Who picks such a nicer place for a sweet 16? Ugh, we loved it. On the outside our venue looked like an old Colonial Home. Our guests entered into a larger than usual foyer that looked like the entrance to a home. To the left a sitting room with a fireplace and then, straight ahead through two double doors the building opened up into a huge ballroom that the USO once used for theater performances. The seats have long since been taken out and the stage with vintage curtains was a great backdrop for our DJ. The ceiling was 30 feet high and the windows went straight to the top. We were the only wedding that day and the price was perfect…NO DECORATING NEEDED! Oh when I think about it, i still love it.

  6. Guest Icon Guest
    Mandi, Guest @ 2:11 pm

    Have you considered renting a school bus as a shuttle? I’m have a barn wedding in June 2011 and we have considered renting a school bus for the day to shuttle people from the hotel to the wedding and back. The great thing about this is that it guarantees that the guests arriving on the bus will get arrive to the ceremony on time and it kind of gives an ‘end time’ to the reception. Charter bus rentals can be pretty expensive, but school bus rentals tend to be reasonably priced.

  7. Guest Icon Guest
    Erin Sparkle&Hay, Guest @ 2:25 pm

    as a barn lover myself i can completely understand how you feel! just know that if it is meant to be it will work out (like the schoolbus idea above) or you will find something even better!

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    starsael, Guest @ 8:12 pm

    i so badly wanted a barn wedding!!!! oh joy!
    too bad for me, theres nothing near me either!

  9. Guest Icon Guest
    Iuxta, Guest @ 1:03 pm

    We tried to organize a barn wedding, too, and put it all together ourselves. It turned into a nightmare really quickly. The barn was $4000. Even with the barn, we’d have to rent tent, tables, chairs, linens, and lights. The only reasonable caterer didn’t do plates, but could contract someone for us for an extra 10% on top of the plate rental. None of this included alcohol or anyone to serve it! The mounting price was consuming our budget, meaning we’d have to skimp on music, photography, and nice details – plus all the insane amounts of organizing we would have to do. NO WAY! We “sold out” and got a nice full-package deal at a country club where someone else does all the work for us and we will pay a lot less! A no-brainer!

  10. Member
    schnzchx MOB 1 posts, Wannabee @ 10:42 am

    I spent 6 months looking for a barn in Central Illinois, we finally gave up and planned a wedding in Grandmas country backyard. Only to have hurricane Isaac blow thru and completely destroy all those plans. All in all it was a beautiful shabby chic wedding indoors.
    Central Illinois: There were a couple of places that weren’t for us, but maybe for someone else. “The Farm” in Petersburg, IL……great for a smaller wedding. Beautiful setting and Gail is awesome; she would’ve been absolutely wonderful to work with! Just wasn’t big enough for my daughters wedding. It also has a loft above their barn so you can spend your honeymoon night right there!!! Here’s a link to the place:

    There was also a lady in Champaign that rents her barns out for college barn dances…..she was reasonable…..but it wasn’t exactly the greatest wedding set up. They call her the Chex mix lady. Her name is Loretta Dessen. I don’t have her number anymore and I don’t remember how/where I found it. But I did find it easily enough. No air, but electricity.

    In Shelbyville, IL the Chautauqua building was available as an option; although it wasn’t a barn…….but it was in a public park, you could have the wedding there, but no alcohol and out of the park by sunset. I saw photos from a beautiful vintage/shabby chic wedding there.

    I’m sure there were several more I came across; but it was very difficult. And the one place we did find was booked on her wedding date.

    Just remember this: my daughter wanted a beach wedding as she lives in Florida now. Then she decided to come home and wanted a barn, settled for an outdoor wedding and got an indoor wedding at a country club……and she tells me that it was perfect and she wouldn’t change a thing!

    You can take a look here too:

  11. Guest Icon Guest
    Sandy Whisker, Guest @ 1:11 pm

    Just wondering where this barn is located? I am a photographer looking for something closer in central illinois around the I55 area -Pontiac-Odell area. Thanks so much

  12. Guest Icon Guest
    Steve, Guest @ 5:47 am

    @Sandy Whisker:
    After reading this blog now I see why we have couples driving all the way from central Illinois to get married at our barn wedding venue. It seems that there are very few in the Midwest to speak of. We opened our venue up for booking last summer and this spring we kick off our first weddings here at Dodson Orchards. Being in the Midwest you would think there would be tons of venues like this, but there just isn’t. Our venue happens to be over 100 years old and we’re located in Fredericktown, Missouri.

  13. Guest Icon Guest
    katie, Guest @ 9:55 pm

    Is this at walnut grove? My fiancee and I are looking for a barn… We found one we love but the only opening they have is less than 5mo away. Though we live in the country on 9acres w our own barn…. Ad a back up plan but rather enjoy our day vs playing babysitter e a guest list of 200. Please let me know of any places. We live in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. Thanks

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