01/30/2006 — Although Natalie Carlson and her fiance, Jeff Martin, live in Seattle, there was never any question where they would hold their wedding.
"I've been coming to Bellingham since I was little to visit family here," says Carlson. "With the bay and the islands, it's the most beautiful place to be."
The couple aren't the only ones who feel that Whatcom County weddings are special. Laidback Northwest-style nuptials are a growing trend.
See what makes these celebrations so memorable in Whatcom Weddings. You'll find gorgeous gowns, decorating tips, makeup ideas and a bridal bouquet of helpful hints from local women who've walked down the aisle ... and can assure you it will all be wonderful.
According to Doreen Colman, marketing and sales manager at The Chrysalis Inn and Spa, the face of weddings has changed.
"Weddings are no longer a four-hour party where everyone goes home afterward and the couple immediately leaves on their honeymoon," she says.
"Couples are planning far in advance for a celebration with family and friends that can last days and give people a chance to relax and get to know each other. They choose our area because of the variety of things to do here, boating, hiking, visiting Vancouver or browsing Fairhaven. Being on the water is a huge asset for Bellingham. It's a whole new look at getting married."
For Maria and David McCallum of Ferndale, who were married at Hovander Homestead Park last July, Whatcom County's natural beauty was a plus.
"I really like the scenery" at Hovander, says Maria. "We were going for the country setting so that was one of the best things. I definitely wanted the outside wedding."
With the average wedding now costing more than $26,000, Colman says, a Whatcom wedding can be less expensive than a big city wedding, and flying in or taking the train is easy. In addition, there aren't traffic problems here those in Seattle, or the frenetic stress of marrying in Las Vegas.
"People don't even have to have a car here, in most situations, if the hotel and reception are close by. Guests love the idea that they can walk trails, visit restaurants and shops and still see each other when they want to. They plan their vacations around the event so they can stay awhile and enjoy all that our area has to offer."
Carlson, a dental office manager, says the fact that things are less expensive than Seattle gives her the option of adding the nice touches she wants.
"This is by no means a cheap wedding," she says. "But I feel like it's easier to upgrade to using real glasses instead of plastic, and good wines for the reception. We can go all out on the flowers and do things right. There are a lot of really great resources here for putting together the perfect event."
Together for seven years, Carlson and Martin, a clay modeler at Kenworth Truck Company, became engaged last summer at the Space Needle. They are planning an August wedding reception at Lairmont Manor with A Taste of Elegance Catering.
To accommodate the 200 guests arriving everywhere from California to Texas, they've reserved large blocks of rooms at the Fairhaven Village Inn and the Chrysalis Inn and Spa. Rebecca's Flower Shoppe will create the bouquets and Classique Complexions is doing makeup.
"We got an early start with the planning," says Carlson. "We knew things would book up quickly, especially the reception hall."
Pam Needham, co-owner of Alicia's Bridal Shoppe, agrees Bellingham's increasing popularity as a wedding destination means brides need to book vendors early.
"We have a natural beauty that is amazing. It's what people travel here for, the bay, the islands, the mountains. There are a lot of outdoor weddings here in the summer. People are willing to risk the rain to marry here."
And to guarantee sunshine?
"Get a tent. It will do it every time," says Needham.