Thinking of Having a Rustic Barn Wedding?

Unless You’re a Farm Animal, You May Want to Reconsider.

Rustic. It’s a word that conjures up visions of simpler days gone by when life on a farm was the epitome of Americana. Rustic makes us think back to when things were more pure, fresh, and straightforward. Life was wholesome, and decorations weren’t bought at a store but instead crafted by hand from wood, tin, and glass. 

At least that’s how most of us picture rustic in our minds. The truth is, however, the vision of rustic we see is usually one we’ve gotten from movies and TV since the vast majority of us did not grow up on a farm (or even close to one).

Still, rustic can be endearing, especially when, say, decorating your home. It’s got a style and flair that’s attractive and pleasing, and, for that reason, many people seek it out. It’s also for these very reasons that, when getting married, a rustic setting is also sought, which leads to what most consider the most rustic setting of all; a barn.

What Is a Barn?

This section is for those of you who have never been to a real barn. A barn is where livestock is kept—everything from cows to sheep, horses, pigs, llamas and other beasts. A barn is also where hay and different types of food for farm animals are kept, usually in vast quantities. Plus, of course, farm equipment is kept in barns, including tractors, balers, sprayers, plows, and combines. 

A barn is used to house animals, store their food, and store farm equipment. Because of this, the typical barn also features these exciting things;

  • Rats (and rat feces)
  • Mice
  • Spiders and spiderwebs.
  • Birds
  • Bees
  • Animal excrement and urine
  • Moldy Hay
  • Flies
  • Snakes
  • Owls
  • Bats
  • Wasps
  • Germs and Bacteria
  • Toxic Chemicals like Strychnine and DDT

Now, sure, if you were lucky enough to have your wedding in a barn that was recently emptied, it might look nice. But there’s no way to completely clean all of those above-mentioned ‘extras’ out of any barn. It would be practically impossible, especially if it is a working barn when weddings aren’t held there.

What Are the Risks of Having Your Wedding in a Barn?

Do you still think a barn would be the right choice for your nuptials or the best place to hold your reception (or both)? If yes, let’s take a quick tour of all the possible risks you’d face, some more deadly and disgusting than others.

1- A Barn is Made of Dark Wood that Absorbs Light.

Ask any pro wedding photographer or videographer, and they’ll likely tell you the same thing; barns are an awful place to shoot photographs. The wood absorbs light so much that they usually need to bring in special lighting to ensure the results are up to par. It’s more work for them and, for you and your spouse-to-be, more expensive. 

Plus, those bright lights won’t exactly be pleasant for your guests who are forced to stare at them every time they look up. As bright as they need to be, they’ll definitely detract from the rustic charm you’re hoping to achieve.

2- Barns Aren’t Made For Safety

Unlike a house or apartment where people reside, a barn may have been built before many safety rules and regulations were enacted. They may not have had any building codes to follow and may be structurally unsound in many cases.  Old barns were built before fire alarms, earthquake retrofits, ADA regulations, and safety exit signs.  An old barn may make a cute photo, but some are just flat unsafe for large groups of people.

Farmers also store all sorts of chemicals in barns all the time. Weed killers, lead-based paints, and strychnine are just some of the nasty, deadly chemicals you’ll find in a typical barn. Plus rusty, exposed nails, roofing that’s lightweight and leaky and creaky, leaky doors and windows. If children are coming to your barn wedding, you’ll need to keep a close, constant eye on them, that’s for sure.

Barns don’t have to be earthquake-proof either. One good California shake, and who knows what might happen at your barn wedding.  Especially if you’re in an older barn that’s been through many seasons of wear and tear, and earthquakes can happen at any time, without warning.

3- Barns Are Fires Waiting to Happen

It doesn’t take much to imagine a fire at a dry, old barn. Not to rain too much on your parade but dry wood, dry hay, dust, and the chemical residue is a fire waiting to start. Heaven forbid someone knocks over a candle or tosses their cigarette butt in the wrong spot.

Have you seen pictures of barns where there is light showing between the boards?  Unfortunately, that old wood is flammable, and the light showing between the boards is let’s in the air to fan the flames into an inferno.  

Since most barns don’t have to follow regular safety laws, most of them don’t have fire extinguishers, let alone sprinkler systems. Getting out of a barn could be difficult, too, as most don’t have ADA-compliant door handles that are easy to open. (We don’t even want to think about what could happen.) 

If you think we’re pessimistic, we can point you to one barn wedding we witnessed where a cigarette butt was thrown and the barn and nearby farmhouse burnt to the ground. Thank goodness nobody was hurt, but we’re sure the owner of the (un-permitted) venue was financially hurt.  And then there were two weddings down the road that were disrupted because of the smoke.

4- Barns Are Filled With Rodent Feces

No matter where it’s located, every single barn has one thing in common; rodents and other critters. While they might not make an appearance during your wedding festivities (emphasis on might) you can be sure that their poop is still all over the place. 

That includes the barn’s rafters, which, if you look up when you’re there, are right over your head. That means they’re also right over the tables where you and your wedding guests will be eating and drinking. One of the nastiest things we’ve seen happen was at one wedding where a stiff breeze blew into the barn, and it suddenly started raining rat poop onto the food and drinks below. It was an unmitigated disaster since the menu had recently been served, not to mention all the poop on every guest’s head and clothing.  Ick.

6- Barns May Have Lead-Based Paint and Asbestos

Have you ever seen a rustic patina on a barn?  Maybe there’s some flaking paint.  As the barn is old, and before the restrictions on lead-based paint, flaking paint may be dangerous to you and your wedding guests.  

People don’t think about it much, but what happens to those flaked off paint chips?  They fall to the ground and are ground into the soil, so it’s contaminated with lead as well.  So just walking through the dirt surrounding a barn can be problematic.

Did you know that some of the old-timers would buy white lead by the bucket, and mix it with mineral oil to make paint?  It saved the rancher money when painting his fences and barns.  

And if the farmer did buy paint for his barn ( decades before you were born) some paints included asbestos as a component of the paint.  Asbestos was used in all sorts of materials before it was found to be dangerous. 

7- Agricultural Wells

A nasty little secret about some California wedding venues is the water is contaminated.  What!?  Can people get sick by simply drinking the water?  Yup.

Barns are agricultural buildings and are frequently serviced by agricultural wells.  Back in the olden days, wells didn’t have to have sanitary seals.  What does this mean to you?  Well, remember the lead, asbestos, animal feces, agricultural chemicals we’ve mentioned?  The side of the well isn’t sealed, so the winter rainwater can run all those chemicals down the well and into your drinking water.

Here’s something to ask, “Does the caterer have to bring water to the venue?”  If the answer is “Yes,” they have a contaminated water problem.  If the barn venue doesn’t have potable water (safe to drink), it likely doesn’t have permits to operate as a barn wedding venue. 

You have your answer; you should really look for another wedding venue no matter how picturesque the rural location.  It’s unsafe.

8- The Proper Permits and Licenses

We mentioned earlier about a barn that burnt to the ground during an event and, not surprisingly, that venue did not have the correct permits to hold events. They didn’t have any permits at all and were completely unlicensed to host any events, including ceremonies or receptions.

That’s a problem because, without those permits, you can be sure nothing in their Sonoma County wedding venue has been professionally inspected or engineered for safety. That includes, for example, railings on the mezzanine section that many barns feature. Meant to store hay, you can be sure the railings on these sections aren’t strong and have gaps wide enough for children to fall through easily. You’ll also find electrical wiring and fittings aren’t up to code and, in many cases, exposed in a barn that’s simply to be expected.  It’s a barn, after all.  

In one Marin County case, the barn roof blew off during the wedding.  I wonder what the guests thought about the couple’s choice?  And this unpermitted Marin County wedding venue and many other California wedding venues like this continue to operate until this very day.

9- Barns Don’t Feature Bathrooms

If there’s one thing that you’ll rarely find in a barn, it’s a bathroom. Yes, the cows, horses, sheep, and other animals (and rodents) go wherever they darn well please in the barn, but as for a proper human bathroom, there’s none to be found. What that means is you’ll need porta-potties which, in our honest opinion, are pretty gross. 

Of course, you can always hire luxury portable toilets on trailers, which aren’t bad, but they’ll also set you back a few bucks. Plus, that forces your guests to navigate around outside at night where horses, cows, and other farm animals have likely already gone to the bathroom.  So lights to avoid ‘meadow muffins’ are a must. 💩

And don’t get us started on un-permitted Northern California wedding venues that have installed their own toilets. From the absorbent flooring to septic systems that don’t follow any codes, they’re an unmitigated and nasty disaster waiting to mortify your wedding guests. Imagine, if you will, 150 people or more with full bellies and even fuller bladders. Then imagine many of them being drunk towards the end of the night. It’s a scene right out of Dante’s Inferno if that inferno were a bathroom and would make practically anyone cringe.

The septic tanks were overflowing with sewage through the fields.  Not a great end to your perfect day.

10- Some Barn Owners are Looking for the Quick Buck

They’ve seen other wedding barns and think, “Heck, I can use our old barn for that.”  They put the word out through unscrupulous wedding planners, telling them they’ll get a kickback for booked weddings.  Their name gets around through Facebook, and other social media platforms, and soon they are having one wedding after another.  Some unpermitted California barn wedding venues even advertise on WeddingWire, Here Comes the Guide, and The Knot.

Some Northern California wedding venues allow you to bring your tent or rent glamping tents to set up in the field for overnight stays.  Okay, we can kind of see the attraction, but let’s discuss the reality.  If it’s an animal field, it has what animals do in it.  Late at night, while looking for your tent after the reception, there’s a chance you can find the miscellaneous meadow muffin.

Something that concerns us, and should you too, is what if a fire should occur in a dry field full of tents?  A single discarded cigarette could result in nightmares for years.

While talking to one barn wedding venue owner, she expressed her annoyance at the guests who were complaining about the flies.  You see, it was a barn and they allowed the cows to graze around it during the week.  On the weekends, the cows were moved to other fields, and cars were parked where the cows once roamed.  No parking lot lights were provided, so meadow muffins became a reality.  She just couldn’t understand why anyone would complain, saying, “it’s a barn, after all.”  

Barns Weren’t Made For People (Let Alone 150 or More of Them)

We’ve seen that barns posing as Northern California wedding venues can be unsafe and, frankly, rather gross (unless you’re a farmer who’s used to that, of course). However, they simply weren’t made for people. More than that, they weren’t prepared for celebrations like a wedding, one of the most important days of your life. 

There are simply too many things that can (and often do) go wrong. From rodents to cow poop, overflowing toilets and fires, and the occasional stench, barns should be the last place you should ever consider to hold your all-important nuptials and reception. 

More importantly, if the barn where you plan to hold your wedding isn’t licensed and doesn’t have permits, there’s also a good chance it won’t have access to emergency vehicles if something awful happens. (And yes, we’re playing devil’s advocate. We’ve seen too many problems not to.)

All Northern California wedding venues have to have a Use Permit that provides for weddings and events.  Many of the Use Permits have specific requirements of how many people are allowed, how many events per year.  The neighbors are provided notice that the wedding venue exists, and what to expect.  We’ve seen circumstances where the venue has exceeded the number of events or didn’t even have a Use Permit, and was shut down just before or during the wedding.  There is no notice, no recourse against the  County.  

In many cases, we’ve seen the wedding displaced, and no refunds are given. Our advice, if the venue looks the least bit sketchy, run, don’t walk.  They’ve been there for years, have done many weddings, and don’t guarantee you that they are permitted.  Your entire wedding budget is at risk.  We’ve received panicked calls from couples that just learned their venue was closed by government action, two weeks before the wedding day.  We hate getting those calls, and they happen every year during wedding season.

What You Want For Your Wedding Is Rustic Elegance

In California’s Sonoma wine country, explicitly made, there are several Northern California wedding venues where rustic and elegance meet. Locations with the licenses, permits, and safety factors you need, with the beautiful, emotionally-charged rustic charm you desire.

One of those locations is Mountain House Estates, an intimate, private setting that wholly embodies rustic elegance and charm. From the old-timey oak barrels and antique tractors to the rustic decorations and barn wood accents, Mountain House Estate has all the rustic charm with none of the drawbacks of a shelter explicitly made to house farm animals. (You know, a barn.)

If rustic is what you want, skip the barn and choose from a number of Northern California wedding venues that offer the rustic charm without the rancid and revolting. Years from now, when none of your wedding memories feature cow poop, fires, overflowing toilets, and bats getting stuck in your hair, you’ll thank us.

About the Author, John Alden

John Alden is a Wine Country Wedding expert and the owner of Mountain House Estate, a Northern California wedding venue located near Cloverdale,  Sonoma County. Over the past 5 years, John has tirelessly worked to keep the property in pristine condition and has unmatched expertise about wine country weddings. In his free time, he enjoys working on classic cars in his garage.

Barns in Northern California Wedding Venues

So maybe you’re rethinking that “barn” wedding. You can still have all of the rustic elegance you want without any of the smells or sights of a barn at our Northern California wedding venue. Plus, among hundreds of Northern California wedding venues and Sonoma County wedding venues, we always promise to be upfront with our inclusions and pricing. You won’t be surprised with any hidden fees or shocks before or on your wedding day. And we’re pretty relaxed about a lot of things other Sonoma County wedding venues aren’t – BYOB or bring in food trucks if you’d like, it’s your wedding day after all. With multiple ceremony and reception locations, a groomed landscape, and maintained structures, our private estate offers you rustic elegance and comfort.