If stunning scenery, customizable party spots, and first-rate guest amenities top your list of wedding must-haves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more fitting locale for your big day than the Hudson Valley. “I can’t think of another region in New York that offers more,” says wedding planner Angela Christoforo, owner of Kingston-based Elite Wedding & Event Planning. “You can get everything you desire for a wedding weekend in the Hudson Valley—the farm-to-table dining experience with all the food being sourced locally, beautiful mountain or river views for ceremony and reception backdrops, venues with modern and cozy accommodations on site, and lots of fun activities for guests throughout the weekend.”
Still—just like finding the love of your life—planning a wedding can be tricky. Not sure where to start? You’re in luck: Packed with advice from Christoforo and other seasoned local pros, your guide to throwing the ultimate Hudson Valley bash starts here.
Set Your Budget
First things first: Before you begin touring those gorgeous venues you’ve been swooning over online, you’ll need to know how much money you can spend. “A lot of times, couples think the first step is to run out and find a venue, and they don’t really sit and think about what the wedding costs or their overall budget,” says Christoforo. “Finding a venue first and then establishing a budget based on the venue can become a roadblock.”
Another important budget consideration? Figuring out who’s contributing to it—and what that means for the planning process. If multiple people are chipping in, Christoforo recommends setting some ground rules about who the ultimate decision-makers will be. “If there are other people making financial decisions, you need to set up the boundaries or roles for everyone ahead of time, otherwise it can get really stressful,” she cautions.
Make the Guest List
Whether you’re after an intimate celebration with 50 or fewer guests—an option that, Christoforo notes, continues to appeal to Hudson Valley couples post pandemic—or a grand soirée for 300 of your nearest and dearest, compiling your guest list is a crucial early-stage step. “Start talking about your guest list and how many people you want to invite,” the pro explains. “You might go looking at venues and find one that can hold 150 people, but then when you book it and you write your guest list, you realize, ‘Oh my god, we have 250.’”
As for who to include on your list of VIPs, Christoforo recommends consulting with people who are contributing financially to the big day. “It might be a good idea to sit down with those family members and have them write out who they would envision inviting to the wedding,” she says, adding that a couple should make their own guest list, too. “Once you see everyone’s lists, you can come together and say, ‘OK, let’s set some standards for how we’re going to create the master guest list.’”
Pro tip: After you’ve finalized your roster of invitees, start collecting addresses for everyone who made the cut. Chasing down up-to-date address info and ensuring each guest’s name is spelled properly “seems to be one area that really stresses our clients out,” says custom stationer Caitlin Henderson, who co-owns Warwick-based Paper Heart Company with Tomai Maridou. The sooner you can begin compiling and confirming these details, the better, she adds.
Consider Hiring a Wedding Planner
Of the many pros you’ll enlist to bring your wedding-day vision to life, a planner—should you choose to work with one—is the expert you’ll want to hire first. In addition to helping you fine-tune the look and feel of your event, these wedding whisperers often take the reins on everything from managing schedules and timelines to coordinating with your extended vendor team on (and in advance of) your big day. From a vendor’s perspective, “It’s nice to have a planner involved from the beginning,” says Tammy Basten, catering coordinator at Accord-based Fig & Pig Catering, which specializes in weddings throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond.
Christoforo, who has been dreaming up local celebrations for over 10 years, agrees, noting that a planner can also prove helpful during the venue selection process. “You should get your planner before you get your venue,” she says. “It’s like searching for a house; you’d hire a real estate agent to help you. So when you look for a wedding venue, you want a professional to help you.”
Choose a Venue
From bucolic estates and farms to converted industrial spaces, there’s no shortage of Hudson Valley celebration spots. So how can you narrow the field? Along with practical considerations like date availability, budget, and head count, think about your guests’ needs, says Christoforo. Are there enough onsite restrooms, for instance? And are they—and the venue in general—ADA-compliant for guests with mobility challenges? “You don’t want to choose a venue where you have to hike a mile into the woods for this beautiful, wooded ceremony and Grandma’s in a walker,” she says. “You want to make everyone around you feel comfortable so that they can enjoy the day together.”
Of course, a venue should reflect your tastes as a couple, too. “Think about weddings you’ve been to” and what you did (and didn’t) like about them, suggests Christoforo. “The more I know, the more I can narrow the search and [eliminate] the venues that are not a good fit.” The pro also recommends beginning your venue search 12–18 months before your wedding to ensure you have your pick of the lot. “Venues book their prime dates (June, September, and October) sometimes up to a year or more in advance. Those dates are first to go,” notes Christoforo. “Usually if you are seeking a summer July or August wedding, those dates are a bit easier to book on a shorter time frame.”
It’s a good idea to begin your search for a wedding venue ASAP to ensure you have your choice of all the options. Venues tend to book their prime dates up to a year in advance.
Line Up Your Vendors
When it comes to ensuring a stress-free walk down the aisle, the vendors you select to play a part in your wedding day can make all the difference. “I think a lot of times our generation is like, ‘I’m going to do it all myself,’ and you don’t realize the [strain] it has on you,” says Henderson. “Leaning on experts in the field is a huge help.”
In terms of the hiring process, Christoforo cautions against relying on reviews or enlisting a company merely on the cost of its services, recommending instead that couples take the time to interview potential vendors about their portfolio and process instead. “When couples reach out to vendors, they don’t know what questions to ask or how to approach them, so their first question is always, ‘What is your pricing?’” she explains. “It’s more important for you to understand the way that vendor works and to interview them—whether it be on the phone, Zoom, or in person—to see if you match. That person’s going to spend a lot of time with you, so you want to make sure that you have a good connection.”
Christoforo also recommends hiring your vendors in a particular order, beginning with your caterer, which typically accounts for the largest portion of the budget. (Fig & Pig’s Basten suggests that Hudson Valley couples book a caterer 12–18 months in advance.) Other “essential vendors” (i.e. your photographer, videographer, and DJ or band) should come next, the planner says, followed by designers. “The reason we suggest you wait for all design vendors until you have catering is because your dining style is going to impact your floor plan,” explains Christoforo. “Once you have your floor plan, you can think about things like rentals and the florals that are going on the tables.”
Book Your Band
Want to kick off your ceremony with an assist from a trendy string quartet or tap a brass band to help you lure your guests to the dance floor? Start by asking your venue and other trusted vendors for their recommendations, says Jill Prince, who co-owns Bedford Hills-based Hal Prince Music & Entertainment with her brother Jay. Chatting up potential performers helps, too, she says, adding that couples should inquire about everything from a group’s ability and willingness to learn new songs to whether a band “provides continuous live music or pipes music in on breaks,” she notes. It’s also important to make sure you and your musicians are on the same page about the soundtrack for the big day. “You are hiring a band that specializes in weddings and knows how to read the crowd,” explains Prince, who says her company offers 3- to 14-piece ensembles in addition to elements like stages and uplighting. “But we do suggest that you provide us with a special requests list and, sometimes more importantly, a ‘do not play’ list if there are any artists or songs you don’t want to hear.”
Set the Tone With Stationery
Sharing the news of your forthcoming fete isn’t just a major wedding-planning milestone—it’s also a chance to get your loved ones excited about what they can expect on the big day. “Stationery is a beautiful first impression,” says Henderson, noting that she and Maridou incorporate everything from illustrations of a couple’s venue and florals to vintage postage in bespoke paper goods. “It’s one of the first glimpses your guests get into your day.”
As for timing, the pro recommends sending out save-the-dates up to one year in advance, and mailing invitations six to eight weeks before a final head count is due to your venue. “I know sometimes couples are hesitant to invest in stationery. We often hear, ‘Oh, but it gets thrown out,’ but everything about your day gets thrown out. Guests might save your invite,” says Henderson. “It’s a keepsake for a lot of people.”
Provide your band or DJ with a special requests list and—sometimes more importantly—a ‘do not play’ list, if there are any artists or songs you definitely don’t want to hear.
Wedding planner Angela Christoforo recommends a celebration spot for every style.
Hutton Brickyards, Kingston
What was once a hotbed of brick manufacturing in Kingston now offers a trio of party spaces, including the appropriately brick-clad (and masterfully restored) Hutton Hall. Bonus points for the site’s well-appointed guest cabins. “You won’t find another venue in the Hudson Valley that offers this unique mix of river views, historical buildings, and modern accommodations,” says Christoforo. huttonbrickyards.com
Additional industrial places to check out: The Wire Event Center in Coxsackie, City Winery in Montgomery, Senate Garage in Kingston, The Roundhouse in Beacon, Foreland in Catskill, and Basilica Hudson in Hudson.
Meadow Ridge on Hudson, Coxsackie
Set on 100 pastoral acres, this Coxsackie standout features a refurbished 19th-century dairy barn with ample room for an evening of dinner and dancing. Plus, unlike other pastoral venues, the barn is blissfully temperature-controlled. “A modern rustic barn in the Hudson Valley with heat and air conditioning is a rare find, and Meadow Ridge offers it,” the planner notes. meadowridgeonhudson.com
Additional barn venues: Blooming Hill Farm in Monroe, Stonehill’s in Accord, Cedar Lakes Estate in Port Jervis, the Bird & Bottle Inn in Garrison, The Barn at Liberty Farms in Ghent, and Roxbury Barn & Estate in Roxbury.
For Vineyard Vibes
Milea Estate Vineyard, Staatsburg
Perfect for parties of 80 or less, this chic vineyard dazzles with locally sourced food and plenty of sustainably produced vino. “It’s a great choice for couples looking for a modern event space,” says Christoforo. mileaestatevineyard.com
Additional vineyards: Red Maple Vineyard in West Park, Millbrook Vineyards & Winery in Millbrook, Nostrano Vineyards in Milton, and Magnanini Winery in Wallkill.
For River/Mountain Views
Southwood Estate, Germantown
Why choose between river and mountain vistas when you can have both at the centuries-old Southwood Estate? At this intimate Germantown property, which you’ll have all to yourself for the weekend, weddings are always hosted outside on the tree-dotted grounds. “You don’t feel like you are at a wedding venue when you arrive here,” the planner says. “I can’t think of another property that sits so close to the river and feels like you’re hosting a wedding at your own private home for the weekend.” southwoodestate.com
Additional venues with views: Lambs Hill in Beacon, Boscobel House + Gardens in Garrison, Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, The Garrison in Garrison, The Kaaterskill in Catskill, and Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville.