Event estates

Jennifer Grove, president and creative director of Sky Blue Events, outside Trentham Mansion, an undiscovered rental location for parties. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / December 11, 2012)

When celebrity couple Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds were wed in a secret ceremony this year, the actors skipped the splashy Hollywood venue.

Instead, their reported 17th-century location in South Carolina boasted an onsite mansion, gardens and a working farm, a setting described as "rustic" and "romantic."

These days, you don't have to be a celebrity or VIP to hold your wedding, party or special event someplace that's fabulous or out of the ordinary.

Thanks to a wave of specialty companies, websites and other experts, renting private properties — such as mansions and upscale homes — has become easier and increasingly popular.

"Luxury rentals for parties and other special occasions are a hot trend," says Jennifer Grove, president and creative director of Sky Blue Events, a full-service event planning and wedding design company in Baltimore.

"These aren't venues of a traditional nature," she says, but "fantasy" locations.

Think grand estates with manicured lawns and English gardens or stunning waterfront retreats with views of sky and shore.

Fun extras often come with the territory.

"These homes have all kinds of fun amenities — swimming pools and hot tubs, or perhaps a docking area for boats," says Grove.

A graduate of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, Grove has years of experience in the fashion retail, merchandising and special event arenas that helps her design one-of-a-kind events for clients.

She works with an exclusive network of specialists and partners, primarily along the East Coast, scouting locations her clients will find suitable for events ranging from dreamy nuptials to corporate shindigs.

In recent months, her productions have included weddings, a swanky dinner party for Chanel cosmetics, and charitable functions.

"I really try to make sure my clients' personalities and strategic visions are realized throughout their special event," she says. "You need just the right location."

One company that handles such rentals is Estate Weddings & Events, which has become a key online resource for luxury private estates worldwide that are available for weddings, events, and corporate retreats.

Owner and executive director Jamie Ehrsam founded the company in 2007, after cutting her teeth as a wedding and events coordinator.

Ehrsam explains that she found many beautiful event venues, but quickly realized there were few luxurious, exclusive sites without time limits, tourists, or traditional banquet hall constraints.

"Many brides were looking for something out of the box. They didn't want the typical venue or hotel ballroom," she says.

An idea was born: Ehrsam figured she could organize the array of private homes and estates that were available, and help clients find ideal settings for the exclusive events they envisioned.

"At the time there were lots of luxury estates on the market due to the recession," she explains. "I began reaching out to Realtors, and the word of mouth grew."