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Designing a Dream: One Couple’s Pro Tips for Tying the Knot

bride and groom

Planning a wedding. The mere utterance of those words, whether internally or aloud, is enough to drive your heart rate up. There are so many elements to consider, contemplate, and decide on. Choosing a venue should be one of the initial decisions, and one that will drive many others – including ceremony, florals/decor, photographs, accommodations, and more. The venue should be a vehicle for your theme, and help to illustrate your love story throughout your wedding.

Last August, Elana and Ryan were married at Airlie, and when the photo gallery came back, our team reacted with a collective jaw drop. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe it. So we thought, why not ask them to describe it? Read on for an insider’s view of planning and hosting a wedding, and how their vision drove their decisions – there are some great insights you will want for yourself!

bride and groom

An elegant August affair. A beautiful couple surrounded by family and friends. You can actually feel the love by just scrolling through the images. Meet Elana and Ryan, a Washington D.C. metro based couple who started their wedding planning process as many would guess – by reading online reviews. An initial list of venues was created based on their specific criteria, and Airlie eventually won out due to the overall experience, accommodations, service, and location.

Originally from Colorado and Connecticut, Elana and Ryan met in D.C., and decided to tie the knot in the area, so they could be an active part of the planning process. They were living in Bethesda, MD throughout the planning stage, and were able to closely manage the details, and make a number of site visits. Their comfort level with the venue – especially one Airlie’s size – was absolute by the time of their wedding day, and allowed them to more fully enjoy the experience! Our full interview with the couple is below.

airlie house

Why did you choose Airlie as your wedding venue?

We chose Airlie because we loved that our guests would have an entire weekend experience, instead of just coming to a wedding for a few hours. We had guests travel from four different countries and over 15 states, so we wanted it to feel like a reunion with lots of different things to do and enjoy for the weekend. We were able to plan wine tastings for our guests, and they loved the activities and fresh air.

I (Elana) work a very high stress job and was also pretty type-A with wedding planning, so we wanted to pick a wedding venue where we couldn’t help but relax. It is seriously impossible to stay stressed at Airlie–that’s what I love about it! We visited Airlie several times before making our final decision, and every time we walked around or spent the night there, we got such a sense of peace and were able to relax in nature, and we decided that was how we wanted to feel on our wedding day. All of the staff are also so welcoming and warm! We loved Shiloh and felt like we’d be in great hands, and we also loved Airlie’s environmentally conscious mission. Weddings are expensive, and if we were going to spend quite a bit of money, we wanted it to go to a place where the values aligned with our own.

wedding party

Also, photos were very important to me, and no other venue provides such a variety of interesting backdrops. Finally, our wedding was multicultural, with many different style expectations. Airlie provided the perfect compromise and everybody left completely blown away.

wedding reception pavilion

wedding reception tablebride and groom first dance













You did a great job of making the Pavilion, a vast space, ultra romantic and intimate. Tell us about your overall vision for the Pavilion, and how that came to be.

To be honest, we loved the pavilion but weren’t “fans” of the large ceiling fan (Editor’s note: the ceiling fan is part of the Pavilion’s design to be a LEED Certified building and assists with heating and cooling of the space). The drapery was our way of getting rid of the ceiling fan, or at least making it not so obvious. We were going for a “rustic glam” look, so we wanted to dress up the pavilion and make it more soft and romantic while still keeping the rustic feel. We felt the drapery created a beautiful contrast with the wood and lights on the ceiling. The pavilion is quite a large room, so if you want to do something to dress it up or change the feel, it has to be big, so drapery was perfect. It was one element that completely transformed the space.

Tell us about your floral choice and how it played a role in your theme overall. For example, we love how you tied the bold, beautiful florals from your chuppah and bouquets into the table decor.

Florals were very important to us and we worked with a fabulous florist who was really able to stretch our budget with flowers from her garden and completely transform the space. We wanted our chuppah to completely wow our wedding guests, and it did! We wanted thick burgundy, ivory, and blush florals with a rich yet organic look. I love asymmetry, so we incorporated that in the chuppah design as well, which made it more modern and unique.

To dress up the aisle, we had small hanging mason jars with matching flowers and we repurposed those for cocktail table arrangements during cocktail hour. The table centerpieces were a mix of low and high arrangements to naturally move the eye around the room, in the style of the chuppah and ceremony arrangements. Airlie has a beautiful, lush garden, so it was important to us to transform the pavilion and indoor portion of our wedding into a continuation of that experience. We wanted our guests to feel like they were in a secret garden. Airlie gave us the perfect palette to work with; and our florist, wedding planner, and Shiloh helped us completely knock the design elements out of the park to make the theme cohesive, romantic, elegant yet modern, and glamorous yet rustic.

bride and groom kissing

wedding floral decoration

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wedding bouquets

wedding cake

wedding table centerpiece









Elana and Ryan’s List of Wedding Planning Tips

1. Do hire a planner, but if that’s not in the budget, then at least a day-of coordinator. Airlie is a big venue and vendors will need to know where to go and how to get there.

2. Use local vendors, and especially vendors familiar with your venue. (We had one vendor who was not local, who got stuck in traffic from Philadelphia even though he gave himself five hours for the commute, and did not make it in time for our ceremony).

3. Repurpose your florals! We used the same mason jar arrangements from our ceremony aisle for centerpieces during Cocktail Hour.

4. Understand that you are the only one who knows exactly how your day is supposed to go, so if something doesn’t go according to plan, the guests will likely not even notice. A hundred different things could go wrong, and you would still have the perfect day!

5. If you want to transform a space – go bold! Drapery, florals, and lighting were elements we used to change the feel of the pavilion, a large space.

6. If you’re having a night wedding and you think guests will want to keep the party going, rent a private fire pit. We loved getting to relax and cap off the evening with guests at the fire pit til 3am! It is much more considerate than bringing your after-party to the lobby of one of the buildings and waking up all the other guests, some of whom may be staying at Airlie for reasons besides your wedding!

Happy planning, and best of luck!

More wedding planning help from Airlie:
Download Our Preferred Vendors List

Elana & Ryan’s Wedding Vendors:
Birds of a Feather Photography
Amelia Lawrence Weddings
Growing Wild Floral
Black Tie Entertainment
Amazing Hair & Makeup