Heritage venues: Modern weddings with a nod to the past

You’ve heard of heritage-listed homes, chapels and barns, but what about a heritage-listed hallway? Yes it’s a real thing. And it owes its protection to the tastes and traditions of a bygone era.

According to new owners Deborah and Andrew, the hallway that wends it way through Marybrooke Manor – a destination guesthouse in the Dandenong Ranges – enjoys heritage listing because of its unusual design, which takes the form of a curve.

“The building itself isn’t heritage listed, just the hallway,” Deborah explains. And its origins are all tied in with appearances.

“When the owners originally built the property in the 1930s, they didn’t want to have one big, long narrow corridor, so they decided to have a curved hallway,” Deborah says.

However, the job was much easier said than done, as it involved both the ceiling and the cornicing, incorporating only 20cm at a time.

“It would have been almost impossible to do,” she says.

“It would have literally involved joining 20cm pieces all together and then seamlessly joining, sanding and buffeting them so you couldn’t tell they were separate,” she says. Just imagine the time and dedication it must have taken.

But it’s stories such as this, which cast a romantic eye on history, that make heritage-listed properties an increasingly popular option for modern weddings.

Here are some others perspectives to consider.

Enjoy the blend of old and new

Properties that incorporate heritage listing are well protected, so any renovations or expansions must be done with a careful and considered approach. This ensures a seamless blend between the spirit of yesterday and the full complement of modern conveniences.

“Heritage and ambience are something you can’t fake or replicate,” says Deborah.

People can absolutely tell when something is the real deal and that’s why heritage properties walk a fine line to ensure features such as old fireplaces or ornate ceilings are enhanced, rather than overshadowed, by luxuries such as private ensuites, self-controlled heating and flatscreen TVs.

It’s all about tapping into the rich character of history and following in the footsteps of those who came before, while still ensuring your guests enjoy the full complement of modern amenities.

Use the gardens

Heritage-element homes often date back to a time when formal gardens were lovingly created with precision and perfection, from stunning rose gardens to water features. This opens up perfect locations for wedding celebrations that encompass the great outdoors.

“The beauty of these types of garden is they’re not something you find everywhere,” says Deborah, whose eight-acre property encompasses elegant English-style gardens. “They’re very structured, with lots of hedges and lots of manicured lawns.” It’s absolutely breathtaking.

The types of trees that feature are also different, with pine trees and conifers taking the place of the usual natives found in more rustic designs.

“We actually don’t have any gum trees at all,” says Deborah, pointing to other drawcards such as a wine garden, outdoor garden gazebo and waterfall.

There’s also a massive oak tree that tries pride of place in the front roundabout, providing a signature element and stunning welcome in line with the property’s English guesthouse character.

“In autumn it’s just amazing,” she says. “It’s an orange burgundy sort of colour, which is just sensational.”

And don’t worry if it rains – most heritage properties have indoor ceremony options available.

Treat the architecture as a character

From sprawling staircases to hidden water features, polished timber floors, ornate ceilings and exquisite garden statues, heritage-styled homes are more than just four walls and a house. They’re a readymade and beautiful backdrop for celebrations big and small, so bring them front and centre.

You could make your entrance down an aisle laid out in stone or serve canapés under an enormous veranda that cries out for cocktails and chatter.

The key is to go exploring and find the nooks and crannies that will help create just the atmosphere you’re looking for, from a love seat perfect for couples to the perfect spot to let babies have a crawl on a picnic blanket.  The fun, as always, is in the exploration.

Capture a photographic journey

By nature of their outlook, heritage-feel homes feature untold photographic backdrops that can be used to tell a wonderful story. This could be something as small as an ornate cupboard with intricate craftsmanship on the doors to a spectacular handmade chandelier. Thanks go to the old-fashioned eyes that valued beauty big and small.

“To give you an example, we have a library, or drawing room, which is very much in keeping with the original building from the 1930s,” says Deborah.

“It has gorgeous timber walls and, when you walk in, it has that beautiful antique smell, just like a house from Canterbury. It features a three-piece lounge suite and a coffee table with an oil lamp and it has amazing lighting. In the afternoon, with the sun streaming through the window, it’s an amazing place to take photographs.”

Likewise the property has beautiful wrought iron gates and a striking timber staircase that allows the train to flow behind the bride as she descends. Again, exploration is the key to uncovering the perfect photo location.

Create a story for your guests

A wedding is the ultimate love story, and the place you choose to make it official can contribute a wealth of material to the tale. Guests often bring a sense of curiosity with them to a new venue, and there are lots of ways you could feed it.

You could reserve a page of your ceremony booklet or reception menu to detail the history of your venue or even arrange a guided tour or talk if available. Your friends and family will be amazed at the stories old buildings have to tell.

Marybrooke is no different. Having began life as the grandest guesthouse in a chain of six, all of which used the prefix Mary in their names, it eventually fell into disrepair, to the point where it was nearly bulldozed 20 years ago.

Today, after a two-part renovation, it now stands as the largest and grandest guesthouse in the Dandenongs, and can cater for a sit-down reception of 110 people or 160 for a cocktail-style celebration. Want to know more about the transformation? That’s something you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Make a weekend of it

As destination weddings have continued to grow in popularity, many heritage properties have been able to capitalise on the interest by offering accommodation options that allow one-stop celebrations. Deborah, who oversees a restaurant and bar, two function rooms and 20 accommodation suites, says this can ensure a magical time.

“The bride can come up the night before and have dinner with her attendants. Then the groom and his groomsmen arrive and they’ll get ready at separate ends of the house so they don’t see each other before the ceremony. With guests, you’ll sometimes find they come up early and have lunch before checking in or they’ll congregate in the wine garden, which has beautiful timber tables and chairs in the sun. The next morning they all enjoy breakfast in a private function room before heading off, so a destination weekend is a wonderful chance to rekindle a sense of friends and family.”

Embrace tradition

It’s fair to say heritage-themed properties are ripe with opportunities to enjoy an elegant moment or setting straight from days of old.

A glass of port in an old-fashioned armchair. A private heritage bridal suite to relax with attendants amidst the craziness of the big day. A small sitting room where children can be entertained away from the main event.

It’s almost like taking a step back in time, and it’s something many couples welcome the chance to share with guests.

It’s certainly something that has long held sway over Andrew, who also owns another Dandenongs wedding venue, Chateau Wyuna.

“He actually first made an offer on Marybrooke 10 years ago, and was unsuccessful. But he always wanted it, as this kind of English country house is just so magical,” Deborah explains.

Another benefit it offers is the chance to let guests explore a part of the world, and a venue, they may not know.

“We’re very hidden up here as not many people have heard of us, so we encourage people to come out and have a look for themselves as we’re open seven days. It’s a great opportunity to host a wedding somewhere people haven’t been,” she says.

It’s all part of a growing trend that encourages couples to embrace the sense of tradition offered by heritage properties.

“The minute you drive through our gates it takes your breath away,” says Deborah of their hidden heritage gem.

“You see this big three-story Tudor house and it’s just spectacular. I know every time we drive through it, even being the owners, we go, wow, this is ours.”

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