Butler County farms, barns offer couples unique settings in which to exchange vows

| Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With its bucolic scenery, Butler County has become a popular destination for weddings as couples move toward more casual, personalized ceremonies.

That's what drew Amber (Karcher) George, 26, of Penn Township to Armstrong Farms in Saxonburg when she began to plan her wedding.

“I love everything vintage, so I looked at this as a way to show off pieces I've been collecting,” she said. “And with the rustic feel of the barn, it was really just another way to have this classic, vintage, unique feel.”

George had a “1940s Irish gangster theme” wedding on Oct. 12, honoring both her love of vintage elements and her new husband David's Irish heritage. The barn reception and farmland scenery dovetailed perfectly with her vision.

“In a barn, it's a lot easier to decorate the entire room in your style, and you don't have to worry about the character of the room clashing with your wedding,” George said.

The wedding business in Butler County is strong, said Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism Bureau. Many traditional and non-traditional facilities are available to couples.

“It's a big boost to our economy,” said Cohen.

The average budget for a wedding in the United States last year was $28,427, according to a survey of 17,500 brides done by TheKnot.com, a popular wedding planning magazine and website. That's a $1,406 increase from the 2011 average of $27,021.

Jan McDonald, owner of the White Barn in Prospect, said it opened for weddings in May 2012 as another way to utilize the farmland.

McDonald hired local Amish to disassemble a 100-year-old barn in New Castle and reassemble it on the property, while adding modern conveniences such as heat, insulation and plumbing. The White Barn is already booked well into next year for weddings, McDonald said.

The Schmeiders, who own For All Family Farms in Butler, built a barn to accommodate activities related to their fall pumpkin patch and began booking it for weddings last year.

“We started booking for next year, and we're already booked all the way through the summer,” said Heather Schmeider. “It's been a wonderful outpouring of people.”

Kathy Allen, co-owner of Armstrong Farms, might have started the trend in Butler County. She said the farm began hosting weddings 14 years ago after she restored three 1800s-era barns into wedding venues.

Allen said the farm is about 95 percent reserved for 2014, as most brides book a year to year and a half in advance.

Jamie Miles, editor at TheKnot.com, said barn weddings are growing in popularity for the casual and personalized wedding experience they offer.

“The standardized ballroom is going out of style,” she said. “The open space and blank canvas of a barn lets them personalize however they'd like. And there's a big contrast element there that's appealing.”

Brides can style a barn with do-it-yourself elements for an informal affair or use elegant pieces “to give a polished look to an otherwise casual location,” Miles said.

“People want to put a personalized spin on wedding traditions,” she said. “They don't want to do what the last bride did, they want to stand out.”

Personalization is key at Armstrong Farms.

“We don't do cookie-cutter weddings,” Allen said. “We don't just have one set-up. And we don't provide exclusivity for any vendors. We want brides and grooms to have autonomy.”

She does, however, recommend that couples use local caterers, bakers, florists and overnight accommodations, to support local businesses.

“That's really an important aspect — that everyone is involved in the community,” Allen said.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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