By: Kris Unruh

I knew my husband was the "one" in 1983. There were no lightening bolts or audible voices, just a quiet knowing that he was my best friend and I couldn’t imagine living my life without him.   We have faced poverty, sickness, insecurity, starting our own business, the birth of six babies; survived toddlers, broken bones, teenage drivers and six college tuitions. We have had the privilege of living on 20 beautiful acres for the past 24 years. We've sweat and cursed and cried together trying to cultivate our little piece of heaven. We've given away three daughters in marriage on our property, and acquired 3 daughters-in-love through the wise decisions of our sons. We’ve cared for aging parents, hosted a decade of youth events, gathered friends, welcomed grand babies, buried beloved pets, and through it all, I'm still married to my best friend.

In the summer of 2015 we entertained the idea to double the size of our barn, add some parking, create a whimsical  outdoor amphitheater on our wooded hillside and plant several new flower beds. Our barn sits on the edge of a creek that turns into a river when in rains. It makes two bends on our property so it was easy to name our newest business adventure: The Barn at Riverbend. Hospitality has been something our family has always embraced. Now that our three sons and three daughters have started their own families (they’ve made us grandparents to 17 sweethearts under the age of 8!) we are happy to have a reason to mow lots and lots of grass, shamelessly plant flowers and host wedding events for couples with all the hopes and dreams that we had 36 years ago.

Because we own a property management company we have the infrastructure to maintain other event spaces. In the past three years we have taken 2 distressed buildings in Kansas City and turned them into stunning spaces for people to celebrate. We have an amazing group of people who manage and support these venues, they enjoy treating our guests like royalty and we have a ton of fun working with them. Together we have hosted over 100 weddings! I would like to share some of the things that I wish I would have known when I suddenly became a mother-of-the bride.

Think about the things that are most important to you. If you are the bride-to-be or even the mother-of-the-bride, close your eyes and picture yourself exactly the way you want to look and feel on you or your daughter’s wedding day. Who do you see surrounding you? Are they happy to be there? How can you show them your gratitude for coming from miles away and giving their time and hearts full of well wishes to you and your daughter?

One of the best things you can do is provide your guests with something to drink and eat immediately after the ceremony. If you were inviting people to your home for a formal or informal dinner, the first thing you would do is offer them something to drink and a bite to eat. If alcohol is taboo to one side of the family but not the other then come up with a couple of signature drinks one virgin and one with alcohol. Serve sparkling flavored waters with real lemons, limes or strawberries. My favorite after ceremony appetizer that I’ve seen is a large charcuterie board. These can be quite affordable and they feed a lot of people giving them many choices of nuts, fruits & vegetables, chunks of chocolate, cheese, olives, deli meats & crackers. I’ve even seen a very cleaver sweet charcuterie with cupcakes, gummies and candies of all assortments, brownies and small cake bites.

Three of my children (2 daughters and a son) got married within 6 months of each other! The girls both dreamed of getting married on our property. My son found the prettiest girl in TX so they were married in Houston. I didn’t get much sleep that year laying awake at night thinking through every wedding detail. My daughters and I planned very complicated, hand made centerpieces. There was dirt and live plants involved with tree branches and wires tied to baby food jars filled with candles. These centerpieces were lovely, but once our guests arrived, not one person commented on our works of art. They were all so happy enjoying each other’s company, to even notice the centerpieces.

Some of my favorite center pieces that I’ve seen over the last 100 weddings are simple greenery with white votives, tall glass vases filled with water and floating candles, a colorful San Marzano tomato can filled with vibrant colored flowers. Citrus cut in half (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit) tucked into fuchsia, pink and orange table bouquets. Every one of these centerpieces was simple and took very little time to put on the tables. Less is more when it comes to wedding decor.

One of my favorite weddings was with a bride and groom who were both from out of town. They choose our outdoor barn venue as a destination wedding. Their guest count was 100 of their closest family and friends. The wedding party arrived at 10am on a SUV limousine. They all helped decorate the reception tables and then they took time to eat brunch together and spent the rest of the day playing games casually getting ready for their ceremony and celebration. For those brides and especially mother’s of the brides who can keep their guest count between 100-125 they have the best receptions ever! The guests feel privileged to be there and  stay through the send off. The party feels intimate and the stress levels go way down.

I am privileged to work with 3 women who love the wedding industry. Recently our social media expert, Tracy, took on the job of creating and planning an open house and photo shoot for our outdoor barn venue. She and her boyfriend, Matt, spent time in Italy last year and she let that trip be her inspiration for the evening.  Tracy purchased a bolt of scrim, a cheese cloth type fabric, and created a romantic ceiling above the head table. She chose a caterer who was willing to prepare Tuscan inspired appetizers. My favorite was a lovely tower of infused olive oils with a basket of rustic bread cubes for tasting these beautiful oils. I gave Tracy permission to forage through my garden and she cut down several of my out-of-control tomato vines and used them for the food station table decor. I had an abundance of purple and green basil that she put in vases. She used inexpensive cutting boards to calligraphy the names of the food items. Of course we served Italian wines and the night was magical. Picking a theme that has the feel that you want for yourself and your guests is very helpful in narrowing the decisions about food and decorating choices. So many things come together when you find the theme that brings the most inspiration.

My biggest take away from out last 100 weddings is to major on the majors and minor on the minors! This means doing a few things really well and not to get lost in the details that really don’t matter at the end of the night. Without a doubt the best weddings I’ve seen have a planner or even just a day-of planner who allows the bride and her mother to be stress free and full of grace and beauty, exactly as they imagine themselves to be.