BARNS IN THE AREA
The Barn at High Point Farms
• Location: Flintstone, Ga.
• Phone: 423-280-3238
• Cost: Prices start at $3,500
• Description: Down-home, authentic and rustic
• Location: Trenton, Ga.
• Phone: 423-364-6624
• Cost: Prices start at $3,000
• Description: Breathtaking landscape with a modern barn
• Location: Signal Mountain
• Phone: 423-949-5511
• Cost: Prices start at $3,700
• Description: Lush gardens, elegant cathedral barn
Black Fox Farms
• Location: Cleveland, Tenn.
• Phone: 423-593-7522
• Cost: Prices start at $3,000
• Description: Woodsy and whimsical
Once upon a time, this was the wedding day little girls planned: Vows exchanged in the center aisle of a church. Billowing chiffon and satin. Red roses. Guests ushered to a fellowship hall for sherbet punch and crust-free sandwiches. Cans jingling on the getaway vehicle.
But these days, more nuptials are trending toward a more casual glamor. Think sawdust-floor casual. Think hoedown casual. Think mismatched-bridesmaids-in-cotton-dresses casual.
Brides-to-be, who've picked up the trend on popular wedding blogs and Pinterest, call it rustic chic. They say they want their weddings to be tradition-balking, spontaneous and deeply personal.
It follows in the footsteps of the economically sensible do-it-yourself wedding culture that has drawn brides-to-be into crafting their own invitations, decor and gifts.
"I'm not into the traditional stuff," said Jenny Mischler, a 24-year-old who has a barn wedding scheduled for June 23 in Chattanooga. "We like the most natural look and the more casual feel... [The barn] just kind of fit in the do-it-yourself feel."
At High Point Farms, some brides walk down the aisle in pricey dresses paired with worn leather cowboy boots -- or with no shoes at all.
Goats and horses show up in the wedding pictures. Grandmas and great-aunts may watch promises exchanged from their seats on hay bales. People dance under stringed lights in old country barns to an iPod playlist.
"When you pick an unusual venue, none of the rules apply anymore," said Margie Gardner, Hutchinson co-owns The Barn at High Point Farms.
She did her first barn wedding for her daughter, Jill, eight years ago. "Brides like that freedom," she said. "A generation ago, things were much more in a box."
A small cottage industry has been cropping up in the Tennessee Valley to meet demand for outdoor and barn weddings. Wedding barn owners around the region say there are almost no spots left for a 2012 wedding and 2013 weekends are getting snapped up quick.
Depending on the bride, barn weddings can help trim costs. Many barns include use of tables and chairs. And decorating with old Mason jars, burlap and wildflowers can be a cheaper alternative to more sleek decor.
The average wedding now costs $27,800, according to wedding website The Knot.
Getting a barn wedding can mean planning a year in advance, some say.
Gardner said some couples have started paying to reserve a spot before an engagement ring has been given. Others are willing to travel from as far as Charlotte, N.C., or Augusta, Ga., to get hitched on a goat farm where they offer a tractor valet for guests and nighttime bonfires.
The horse pens in the barn are now sitting areas and food display areas and bathrooms, Gardner said.
"This whole farm thing is kind of reminiscent of things in the past," she said.
Farming in the South continues to decline. Since 2002, the number of farms in Tennessee has declined more than 10 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The total numbers of farms in the United States has fallen from more than 5.6 million in 1950 to 2.1 million in 2011, the USDA reports.So many families have remodeled their old, unused barns to lure in the wedding crowds. Many couples feel a deep connection to the area's agrarian roots, said Brown. Maybe their grandparents worked the land? Maybe they just listened to too much country music?
Others just want the scenery.
Sunrise Farms in Trenton, Ga., is on Sand Mountain at the beginning of the Cumberland Plateau. Mark Douglas, who helps run the wedding venue with his wife, Cheron, said some girls want that Old South feel. Some come dressed like belles, like they just walked off the set of "Gone With the Wind," Douglas said.
"There is sprawling countryside," he said. "There aren't wires and cars [in sight]."
Brides-to-be want their weddings to reflect their tastes and quirks and are opting out of doing things that have been done a million times before. Unity candles, flying birdseed and bubble favors are some of the things falling out of vogue, said Kelly Brown, who co-owns Homespun Parties and Events in Chattanooga.
"People are looking for things that are personal," said Brown. "[They] want to make their wedding shine."
Wedding barns in the area come in all shapes and sizes. Some are modern with concrete floors and full kitchens. Some have epic interiors of heavy oak that look like gothic cathedrals. Laurelwood has a pipe organ and chandeliers inside. Others have hay lofts and weathered wood and rusted farm equipment hanging on the walls.
But with any barn, Brown said the key to making the wedding day unique is to not be afraid of juxtaposition.
Pair the unexpected: beautiful bouquets with weathered wood or burlap with lace. Instead of traditional bunting, hang flower garlands or string doilies.
"It's hard to explain [it] to [our clients'] parents. All they see is a barn," said Brown. "They can't see how you dress that up and make it look reverent. Just because it's a barn doesn't mean it isn't elegant."
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...