About UsAvondale Estates ‘wedding chapel’ provides a fancy setting for modest weddings
Last Valentine’s Day John Howard was busy preparing for weddings—six of them. His business, A Perfect Wedding Chapel in Avondale Estates, Georgia provides a setting for quick, simple events—weddings especially—with photographs and videography that might suggest a more elaborate event.
Usually, he explained, it might be just the 2 of us (the couple) or up to 50 guests and an optional reception—maybe cake and punch or hors douvres. Sometimes, there’s not even a wedding. The couple may already be married; they just want wedding pictures.
Howard, who’s been a professional photographer for more than 20 years, said he was often hired to come to the courthouse to photograph a marriage. “A judge’s chambers is not really a good place for wedding pictures. In the background are the judge’s diplomas, pictures, awards—it’s not very romantic,” he said. “I thought it would be nice to have a setting where traditional wedding pictures could be taken even without a full-blown wedding.”
A wedding with flowers, a cake, a reception and other traditional touches can cost approximately $27,000, according to theknot.com. “In the current economy, not many people can afford that, so they get married in the courthouse instead,” Howard said.
He said the money saved is not the only advantage to the wedding chapel approach. “Planning a wedding can be very stressful. Sometimes women end up getting upset with their fiancés because they’re not helping enough. There are problems with musicians, problems with the flowers, problems with the cake. You don’t have to worry about any of that here. It’s all here; you just show up and get married.”
Howard also pointed out that instead of months of planning, everything can happen very quickly. “You can call me on Monday morning and get married Monday afternoon,” he said. “You can even get a wedding album the same day.”
He said even couples opting for a low-budget wedding want it to have special touches, noting that some couples come to the courthouse in tuxedos and full-length bridal gowns. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “But when they’re dressed that nicely, they should have the pictures to go with it. Sometimes after the fact, they regret not having a photo album.”
Howard said his plan when he first conceived the idea two years ago was to find a place close to the DeKalb County courthouse. He settled on a space a few miles east in Avondale Estates, which raised other issues. “Zoning is very restrictive here,” Howard said, noting that all buildings in downtown Avondale Estates must maintain the city’s distinctive English Tudor look.
Because the word “chapel” is in the name of the business, Howard had to convince the city that what he was opening is not a church. “They have strict rules about churches—they must have a certain number of parking spaces, for example. It’s not a church. There’s no pastor. No one attends services here. I wanted chapel in the name because people searching the internet for a setting in which to be married are more likely to put ‘chapel’ in the search engine than ‘studio.’
The retail space, previously a hair salon, had to be completely revamped. “It took a lot of work to create the look we wanted. I’m not a decorator,” said Howard, who explained that he got ideas from friends, family, customers and pictures of wedding chapels in the nation’s unofficial wedding chapel capital—Las Vegas. He pointed out an oil lamp that his mother contributed.
Howard describes the place as similar to a Hollywood set. Actually, it’s like several small sets. There are such props as an arch of artificial flowers, electric candles, a mirror ball under which a couple can have their first dance, even a fake wedding cake. “But in a photo it all looks very real,” he said.
“Ordinarily photographers have to set up special lights, white umbrellas—all that—to get this effect, but this one simple piece will do it. I’m so proud of it—U.S. patent D650,000S granted to Johnny Howard Dec. 6, 2011.”
“Even when you spend thousands of dollars on an wedding or event, what you have of the day once it’s over are the pictures, a wedding album , a Video or DVD for your big screen T V and each other. If you can’t afford to do the whole thing, you should do the part that lasts. That's what we do here at A Perfect Wedding Chapellette", he said.