Let’s hear it for the wonderful Danielle Rolfe, from elegant private home and characterful wedding venue, Penton Park.
I’m privileged to be consulting with Danielle, her husband Guy and the whole Rolfe family (who are the most inspiring, hard working, committed, energetic and warm-hearted people). The Rolfe family are an absolute asset to the wedding industry, with a genuine collaborative spirit and couples who choose Penton Park are in for a treat. Today, I’m delighted to hand over the blog to Danielle who shares her experience and advice on how heritage and character can make an impact and how venues-with-heart can succeed in the modern wedding industry.
Over to you Danielle!
My family and I run Penton Park – an exclusive-use country-house wedding venue, in Hampshire. The house dates from the 17th Century, but was extensively remodelled in the 1850s by William Cubitt, Lord Mayor of London and the engineer behind Covent Garden. It’s had a colourful history (including time as a hospital for members of the US airforce during World War II)!. Since 2010 we’ve been working hard to bring it back to its Cubitt-era glory, painstakingly restoring and redecorating it – room by room.
Penton Park is a house that works hard! Not only is it a beautiful space for weddings; we also open it up as a day care centre for adults with learning disabilities, and crucially, it’s our family home too. For me, it’s the fact that this glorious building is actively lived in that gives it its unique character. We pride ourselves on the warmth of our welcome and promise our couples a home-from-home experience for their wedding day.
I’m a big believer in personality over polish, and whilst I’m aware that giving a venue a double life as a (sometimes chaotic) family home is not going to be the answer for everyone, I do think that being mindful of the spirit of your venue, as well as its aesthetics will help couples make a stronger connection with it the moment they set foot inside. Here are my top tips to help make sure your venue has a big hit of heart.
Comfort Equals Character
Think carefully about the amount of grandeur you want to include in your space. If you’re a country house venue, then a certain level of elegance is important, but don’t push it so far that your guests feel like they’re in ‘library mode’ (where they can look but not touch) and feel they need to speak in hushed tones. Of course, you need to cultivate respect for the beautiful surroundings, but let your couples know that the house can withstand a party.
Make Yourself At Home
The above phrase is used a lot, but it’s particularly fitting for the relationship between wedding venues and their couples. Each couple needs to feel at home in your venue from the very first visit, and you play a big part in helping them to visualise themselves celebrating the most important day of their lives there. It’s time to put your potential customers at ease, while wowing them with how gorgeous everything is! Offer them tea, and make time for any questions they might have at the end of your tour by taking a seat with them in the most comfortable part of the house. Give them some time to relax into the space, and start to picture themselves and their friends and loved ones there.
Something that’s very important to me is a sense of pace as you walk through the house. We make sure that there are rooms that lend themselves to relaxation during every wedding that’s held here. Our sitting room is a particular favourite for this. Filled with comfortable sofas and armchairs, it’s a popular space for the older members of the wedding party to rest their feet (and sometimes their eyes) as the party carries on late into the night. Flooded with light in the summer and with a huge fireplace to keep things cosy in winter. It’s one of my favourite spaces in the house, and it always feels warm and familial (even when decked out in wedding finery and filled with other people’s relatives)!
A good way to break down that untouchable barrier and help your potential clients start to see how they might use the space within your venue is to showcase its versatility. If you have a room that can be flipped during a wedding – from ceremony space to chill-out zone, or for instance, from a dining room to party space – try to show it to visiting couples in all its guises. If not possible to physically dress the room, then make sure you have a photo book showing it set up for your couples to flip through and peruse during their visit.
Old houses have centuries’ worth of stories. When you take on a period property and open it up to others, you become the custodian of those stories – so take the time to learn some of them. Your venue needs to be introduced to your couples almost as if it were a person, to give people as many chances as possible to make a meaningful connection with it. The beautiful finish and elegant furnishings will only take you so far. The stories you tell will help you to be memorable, whether they come from the house’s history, or from recent weddings held there. In fact, it’s a good idea to have both up your sleeve.
These are all little things, really, but they’ll help you to show off the heart of your venue, as well as its gilding. In my experience, this is the most important way to make a real impression on visiting couples, and to stand out from the crowd.