Wedding planning for destinations like your family cottage

My son and his lovely wife-to-be Liz are getting married at the end of July (two weeks – gasp!) and they settled on a country wedding at our little cottage in Muskoka.  

At first, we thought the planning was going to be much easier: It was going to be fewer people with a bohemian vibe. Plus, overall, it was meant to be casually elegant — less fuss, less muss.  

 Well, weren’t we wrong! It’s been a lot of work. But I think that’s just the way it is with weddings — you never truly know how much goes into that special day until you’re in the midst of planning it.  


My advice — Elope! (I’m partially kidding.) No, instead, get your checklist in order. For me, part of lessening the anxiety of a big project — whether that be my son’s own wedding, or a home design I’m working on — is achieved by writing down my list and then proactively checking items off as I go along.  

 This is my fail-safe in wedding planning, and maybe you can find some worthy tips as well.  

Nine-to-12 months before the wedding:  

Reserve date and venue. Country wedding venues are just so gorgeous, so it’s no surprise they fill up quickly. If you have a place in mind, set the date and reserve the location right away.  

If you’re planning the wedding at your cottage, do your due diligence on your space: How many people can realistically fit inside your cottage (in the event you have inclement weather) or in your surrounding property? This single step will help you decide, quite definitively, how many guests you can accommodate.   

Do you need to touch up anything? A deck, chipped wall, a powder room that needs a fresh coat? Does your garden need a bit of pruning? You want your cottage to be a beautiful stage for your wedding, so it doesn’t hurt to get it up to snuff!   

Book your officiant. Along with the venue, you need to make sure you have an officiant to conduct the ceremony. It’s best to book this as far ahead of time as possible. 

Set up vendors. Included in this group are the caterer, photographer, baker, entertainment, and florist. You want these professionals to both match your personality as a couple be willing to work with your venue.  


Do your research and find individuals or companies with experience, ability to listen to your input, and can meet your needs for a country wedding. 

Six-to-nine months before the wedding: 

Pick out dresses. It’s time to find your wedding dress and decide on your bridesmaids’ dresses. This will give you enough time to order the dresses and have alterations done if necessary. 


Purchase invitations and send out save-the-date cards. Your invitations will help you communicate the tone of your wedding and will give guests information about what to expect. You should think about including a map to your country location as well as any special instructions for guests. 

Four-to-five months before the wedding: 

Decide on your caterer: There are some fabulous caterers in Toronto who do country weddings. My son went with the Drake Hotel. We’ve have had them up to the cottage a couple of times, so they can get the lay of the kitchen and determine how guests will be served. That’s critical – they need their roadmap, so they can organize their time well.  

Schedule hair and make up appointments. Appointments often book out a few months, so get your name on the calendar now to ensure you have an appointment with the hair and make up artist you prefer.  

Select music. Little details like selecting the music to be played at your wedding are fun to plan and can be done ahead of time to free you up for other last-minute plans. In the case of my son, hiring a DJ from Toronto was a slightly exorbitant cost, so they’re simply making a playlist of their favourite music and asking guests to come with playlists as well. 

Three-to-four months before the wedding: 

Figure out decorationsSince this is a country/cottage wedding, you can stick to a rustic, bohemian theme. You could gift your guests something appropriately symbolic, like seed packets, soaps from a local shop or even fresh jars of preserves or jams. At this point, consider table centerpieces that use flowers indigenous to the area.


Two months before the wedding: 

Send out invitations. You should have the invitations printed, so now you should officially invite your guests. Include some suggestions on accommodation, because your guests will be staying for the night. 

Finalize ceremony and reception details. Meet with the officiant to work out music and readings for your ceremony. This is also when you should finalize the menu and work out details with the best man and anyone else who will be giving a toast at the reception. 

One month before the wedding: 

Get marriage license. This is a necessary step that can take up to six days to process, so be sure you get it done in plenty of time. 

Assign seating. In our cottage wedding, we decided against seating for the ceremony. Everyone will gather around the property as they wish, as they will be getting married on the dock. This is always a hassle, so my advice is to keep it simple and don’t over-think it.