Some days come down to this: the perfect mixture of autumnal sunlight and crispness, the throaty renditions of a jazz quartet, the elegance of dining under a tent - and the backdrop of a red house brimming with historical significance.
For Joan Thorne this was her wedding day. Her reception was held on the grounds of the Deacon John Grave Home in Madison, where she and her husband Glenn enjoyed a champagne wedding reception on a beer budget.
“I didn’t want anything generic. I didn't want a cookie-cutter wedding and neither did he,” says Thorne, a vivacious redhead with a flair for fun.
With only $5,000 to spend on everything from her wedding gown to the band to the reception hall to the church fees, she began her search. She considered the sculpture garden of a restaurant in Guilford, as well as a landmark restaurant in downtown New Haven.
“I remember it really ticked me off that the restaurant was going to charge me something like $7 for a plating fee for my own wedding cake,” she says.
Then a friend called to say that she “had found this interesting old house, the Deacon John Grave house in Madison.”
Thorne, who now lives in Wyckoff, New Jersey, had lived in New Haven for 16 years. She visited the Deacon Grave house and fell in love with the idea of getting married on the grounds of a historic home that dates back to 1681, she says.
Thorne said that the rental cost 11 years ago of several hundred dollars helped her keep her wedding within budget. The current fee is $500, according to Rosalind Fahey, who is in charge of renting the home.
“People don’t really know about it unless its word of mouth,” Fahey says. “There is plenty of parking, several churches in the area.”
One couple who got married last October said their vows on a nearby beach and arrive at the home in a horse and buggy. “The unique thing is that it’s right on the main road and it’s such a beautiful setting with the picket fence in front and the barn in back,” Fahey says.
“The house was really more like a beautiful backdrop for the reception,” agreed Thorne. “I had always pictured an outdoor reception. I loved the church I had picked, St. Joseph’s in New Haven, with its beautiful mosaics and stained glass. The more rural setting of the outdoor reception was the perfect counterpoint.”
“I liked the look of the place and the fact it was old,” says Thorne who has an affinity for antiques. “It had some pretty gardens. I loved the idea that maybe there were happy families that lived there over the years. Maybe there were spirits looking down us that day wishing us well.”
Thorne brought in a caterer and guests were allowed to tour the home at their leisure. The guided tours spoke about true Colonial Americana as the guests explored the rooms where seven generations of the same family whose members were farmers, soldiers, innkeepers, shoemakers, dressmakers and weavers, tread the home’s floorboards for 300 years.
Planning a wedding on a budget is in synch with the inhabitants of the home, which according to the home’s website, kept meticulous records, showing “their continual efforts to make ends meet in a constantly changing society.”
Thorne found other ways to give her wedding the personalized elegance she wanted without overspending. She hired a caterer and, with a friend, made jam from peaches from her own tree as favors. They made a hundred jars of jam in three days, she recalls. She also picked hydrangeas at her sister’s house for the table décor.
Other memorable moments for Thorne, who married a musician, include a jam session after the wedding at a friend’s house, a special rehearsal night surprise when a friend paid for a ragtime pianist to come up from New York to play favorite music for her and her then 86-year old father and guests.
“I think that’s the big thing — that you have family and friends who are happy for you and who would really like to help and to celebrate,” says Thorne. “It’s not just this big bridezilla event.”