Tying the Knot: Simple Beauty


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The Hay Barn offers a versatile canvas of rolling hills and mountain scenery, and its proprietors encourage couples to make their wedding celebrations as unique as themselves.

by BRETT JAILLET | photos by AMBER HOLRITZ AND IAN RILEY of the lifestyle photographer

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Shortly after Kristi and John Blackwell got married in the early ’90s, they began talking about an idea. The couple was living on a portion of a 250-acre family farm where John grew up in Collinsville, Ala., and they wanted to clear a spot near their home and build a barn. But this barn would be different from others scattered on the property where John’s parents and siblings also lived. Instead of housing livestock, it would host weddings and special events.

“We didn’t realize it was going to take 23 years,” John laughs. “But we had the dream a long time ago.”

Opened in 2013, the Hay Barn has become a coveted spot for couples seeking an idyllic setting – and a venue teeming with rustic elegance – to tie the knot.

Situated near the southern tip of Lookout Mountain, the Hay Barn resides among rolling hills, and its wooden doors open to grassy fields against a backdrop of tall trees and mountains. Once a year, bales of hay dot the entire landscape, a scene that earned the venue its name.

“It’s a really great location,” John says. “We’re only 9 miles from I-59, but we’re far enough out that our guests can really enjoy the natural beauty and quietness of the land.”

The Hay Barn took a year to complete. John, his son, his brothers and brothers-in-law, cousins and nephews all chipped in as a family.

The 5,500-square-foot venue has 34-foot-high ceilings, plank floors, grand rafters overhead and central heating and cooling. An industrial kitchen sits behind the scenes, along with dressing areas with private bathrooms for both the bride and the groom.

A focal point is the chandelier hanging just above the doors.

“It’s made of hay rakes,” Kristi says. “A friend who lives not far down the road built it for us.”
Couples can choose from a range of décor that comes directly from the farm (think galvanized tubs, wooden arbors, old wagons) or antiques gathered by the Blackwells over the years.

While the interior of the barn is breathtaking in its own right, the outside of the barn gets just as much attention. Couples often hold ceremonies outdoors, taking advantage of the majestic  scenery while using one of the arbors built by the Blackwells as a focal point.

But it can be done the opposite way, with the ceremony held inside and the reception outdoors. This is how Juliana and Jason Harper used the venue for their May 24, 2014, wedding.

Juliana and Jason met online. She’s from Fort Ann, N.Y., and he’s from Geraldine, Ala. “We often joke that we were an unlikely match, simply based on geography,” Juliana says. “However, we both grew up in small towns in rural counties in our respective states. We both have said many times in dating one another, it was just ‘easy’ and we both had that ‘you-just-know’ feeling about the other being ‘the one.’”

After the couple got engaged in Capri, Italy, in June 2013, they looked at numerous wedding venues before deciding on the Hay Barn. “The Hay Barn provided a blank canvas that was simple beauty alone, one we could add our special touches to to make it all our own for our day,” Juliana says. “Most other venues we visited had guidelines of what they would allow you to do. Kristi and John were open to us and listened to our ideas and even encouraged us to be as creative as we wanted.”

For the couple’s ceremony inside the barn, the doors were left open, allowing the scenery to serve as a backdrop for the exchanging of vows before about 100 guests, some of whom traveled from New York, Nebraska, Tennessee, North Carolina and Mississippi. Lights wrapped around the rafters, hung from the chandelier and framed the doors.

After the ceremony, the party moved outside, and guests enjoyed the reception as the sun went down. Juliana and Jason shared a sweetheart table, while their guests dined at two long, farm-style tables (rented from Tent Tech in Boaz, Ala.) that were decorated with arrangements of greenery and flowers by Aldridge Farm, LLC, also in Boaz. “Our dream was to create family-style seating characteristic of an Italian family dinner during our reception,” Juliana says. “The weather cooperated and thus we were able to do this outside overlooking the beautiful view that northeast Alabama has to offer.”

The Harpers included other details reminiscent of their engagement trip to Italy, and Jason even added a cigar bar for the reception.

“We had a very clear vision of what we wanted,” Juliana says. “While we were getting married in the country, we wanted to show our unique style. We are eclectic in our tastes. We are both from the country, but also enjoy urban elements. We like a polished antiquity, a cultured one.”

Almost all the décor belonged to the couple, and many of the pieces they used hold sentimental value for them. Some of Juliana’s favorite accents were a carnival glass dish that belonged to her great-grandmother, an amber-colored light that hung above the groom’s cake and belonged to Jason’s greatgrandmother and an “LL Harper” sign from his grandfather’s poultry farm.

Jason surprised Juliana with a tea table that included her childhood tea set, white milk glass and antique teapots that belonged to her great aunt and his grandmother. “Everything had a story and meaning,” Juliana says.

Operating the Hay Barn is now a full-time job for Kristi Blackwell, who meets with clients, shows them around the space and works to create a wedding customized for each couple.

“We’ve had elegant weddings, we’ve had cowboy boots and hats and everything in between,” she says. “We want anybody to be able to come out and choose the venue and fit it to their uniqueness,” she says.

The Blackwells plan to build another, smaller venue this winter. The process of improving the site never really stops, John says.

“This isn’t a cookie-cutter venue,” he says. “We want clients to be able to choose how they’ll use the space. We want this to be a friendship.”

Learn more about the Hay Barn at its Facebook page or by calling 256-523-3343.