As we are snuggling in for what is promising to be the biggest snowstorm the midwest has seen in years, I though it would be a good time to feature a venue that defines coziness and warmth for me. For awhile now I have been toying with the idea of offering some blog posts that are a little more geared towards advice and planning – not because I fancy myself a wedding planner, but because as photographers, we see a lot of stuff. We are usually one of the first vendors to arrive on your wedding day, and usually one of the last to leave. And when you’ve photographed as many weddings as we have, you can’t help but gleam some pearls of wisdom.
So here’s the first in what will be a series of posts that feature my personal advice to brides. Here’s my caveat though – I am going to be 100% honest and I tend not to sugar coat things. Also, if you have a question you want me to answer, feel free to head over to the contact form and send me a message. You don’t have to be a current client, or even live in our area – just tell me what wedding questions you are struggling to answer. (Also, any info you give us is kept confidential and we won’t add you to any crazy email list, so no worries!)
Okay, that said, first up is River Birch Lodge in Hartland, MI. I choose to start with this venue for two reasons. Number 1, it is hands down, one of our favorite places to shoot. Secondly, we get a lot of web traffic from brides searching for more info on River Birch Lodge. Their website, which can be found HERE, is hard to find on google and the images on it are a bit small. It’s hard to get a sense of what the space is really like and how well it would function as a wedding venue. It’s also a really unique venue for a number of reasons, and there are things to consider if you plan to have your wedding there.
River Birch Lodge is a privately owned home located in Hartland, MI which is about an hour northwest of Detroit. You enter from a wooded, one lane gravel driveway and wind your way to the house, which is much larger than it appears in this photo. (There’s so many trees and foliage that it’s difficult to really get a clean shot that shows the entire estate off.) There is a grassy yard which doubles as a parking lot for your guests.
The house itself is a wonderful sprawling log cabin full of unique decor collected from literally all over the world. (Ask the owners about the arched doorway they brought over from Europe.) This place is pure eye candy if you are into a rustic, natural setting. Think of a cabin you’d find after driving 5 or 6 hours up north. You feel like you are in the Upper Peninsula. It smells heavenly. The wide plank floors, stone fireplaces and the actual trees used as supporting beams are standout features that give the home real soul.
As this is a private home, you’ll find that it is laid out much differently than the typical wedding venue. Rather than one large space and a vestibule, you walk into a family room and from there go into a larger room that flows into the kitchen area. The kitchen is open and nicely appointed with granite countertops and attractive appliances. There are four main entertaining spaces, however if you are doing a seated dinner you’ll probably need to use more than one space for dining, so your guests will be spread out.
Both upstairs and in the basement, you’ll find a series of guestrooms – this is another benefit of this venue, you can have your closest relatives or bridal party spend the night either before or after your wedding. This is fantastic if you have a lot of out of town guests, or want to draw out the experience by hosting a brunch the morning after your wedding.
The bridal suite is spacious and has its own large private bathroom – it’s a great place for the bride to get ready and can definitely accommodate a crowd of doting relatives and bridesmaids. It has a separate tub and shower, plenty of natural light for applying make-up, walk-in closets, and oh yeah, a fireplace! The groom can take his pick of the other guestrooms to get ready in.
So let’s talk about the grounds – they are as amazing as the house. The area surrounding the home is densely wooded and there are lovely pathways that lead you around the house. There are millions of photo opportunities from every angle. The backyard features a huge deck (not pictured) that would be great for mingling at a summer reception. It leads down a flight of stairs to an expansive lawn, and then transitions into a series of terraced patios with a water feature. River Birch Lodge is truly an all-seasons venue. We’ve been there three times now, and ironically the only time we haven’t been there is summer! The photo above is from an outdoor reception in April. Just the first buds of spring were starting to open up, and most of the trees were still a bit bare. On the left, you can see how there are several areas you could use as the ceremony site. This particular event had a lot of guests, so guests were seated on the lawn, but a more intimate event could possibly have guests seated on the patio.
Here’s one of the options for a seated dinner. In the photo on the right, you see the room that I call “the chapel” set up for dining. This room has a high vaulted ceiling and windows on each side for the length of the room. The first wedding we photographed here was in the winter and they used this room for their ceremony. After dinner is served, and the tables are removed, this is also a great room for dancing.
Here you can see the room adjoining also set up for dinner. For this particular event, the tables were moved after dinner finished and this room housed the band and dance floor. There are couches and seating off to the right that aren’t in frame. There are a number of small couches and chairs scattered throughout the house, and clustered near the fireplaces, which become ideal places for guests to mingle after dinner.
Here’s the same room a few hours later:
There’s already so many great details at the house itself that you really don’t have go overboard with your own decor. Simple, rustic, DIY-inspired decorations are a great fit for this venue….think wildflowers placed in mason jars, or make simple coasters out of wood slices like one of our couples did below. Take the money you save and get a cute whimsical cake like our bride did!
Here’s another wedding we did back in 2008. This was in the winter and River Birch Lodge was beautifully decorated for the season. Note the lodge kitty! He’s a cutie!
I absolutely recommend this venue wholeheartedly. It’s beautiful. It’s unique, and your guests will never have seen anything like it. We love the owner, she is super sweet and accommodating. Below are some final thoughts and considerations.
Here’s some advice for fellow photographers that have booked an event here and found this post via google. The interior of the lodge can be challenging to work in. Every surface is either wood, or a dark muted color. (Note the dark red walls in the room posted above, and the olivey walls in the “chapel” room. ) Plan on bringing off camera lighting and a diffuser or big bounce card for your flash because bouncing off the ceiling/walls is not going to cut it. Unless you like people looking like oompa loompas. There are also a lot of soffits and overhangs that will make bounced light unpredictable.
River Birch Lodge Contact Information:
Contact Laura Palmer (Email) – Tell her we sent you!
Phone: (810) 599-6587
11000 Hibner Rd.
Hartland, MI 48353
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