By Kerri Creel
Nestled snug in the woods of Louisa County lays a picture perfect spot to say “I do.” Picture this: a bride appears on the covered terrace. The gasps and murmurs of seeing her arrival are punctuated only by the background sounds of nature and the spray of the water fountain. She walks down the slate staircase and over the white-washed wooden bridge.
As she makes her way down the “aisle” and crosses the pond, she passes by the fragrant flowers and her family and friends seated on the little island. Through the arbor of roses, her groom waits at her final destination, the gazebo. Over 350 brides have taken just such a walk in this place. Earlyhouse is a 150-acre wedding and celebration venue located on Yanceyville Road in Louisa that Kathy and Bruce Stiles have called home for 30 years. As owners of a construction company and beautiful property, the couple began building “things” for personal use as they raised their family.
They entertained friends and held private family weddings and company picnics, and as they did, they kept adding more and more to the serene, woodsy scene.
Kathy remembers that they soon realized they had “created a little bit of a monster” that needed to be maintained and continually invested. So, approximately 13 years ago, the Stiles opened their picturesque property to the public to be rented for special occasions. Since then, many milestones of life have been celebrated here including weddings, anniversaries, reunions, and memorial services.
In the early days, the Stiles just allowed their patrons to use the location, but as Earlyhouse grew and evolved as a wedding venue, Kathy now acts as a wedding coordinator. Since she is so in- tune with their own layout and property, she knows exactly when to send the individuals of the wedding party over the bridge so that they are spaced perfectly – one on the bridge, one at the arbor, one at the gazebo.
If the couple wishes to include traditional elements (such as first dance, blessing, cake cutting, etc.), Kathy keeps things moving and ensures it flows smoothly. She whisks the newlyweds away quickly while the guests enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the pavilion. She also makes
sure the happy couple actually gets to the dinner table, which is sometimes hard to do when all the wedding guests are vying for their attention!
Earlyhouse accommodates up to 150 people. The climate-controlled (and newly renovated) reception hall houses tables, chairs, a cozy fireplace, and restrooms.
Under the chandeliers and ceiling fans in the 1700-ft.covered terrace, more linen- clad tables surround the dance floor area.
During the ceremony when guests aren’t eating or dancing, chairs are set up just outside the gazebo, providing a beautiful and intimate setting to watch the nuptials up close. The bridal party dresses in the Stiles’ guest room, which is in their living quarters, a historic 1790 home.
Kathy guides and assists her brides every step of the way as they personalize the timeline for the ceremony and reception and they piece together the details of the big day. She is available for questions, suggestions, advice, and plenty of reassurance.
According to Kathy, they haven’t had any “bridezillas” which she attributes to the nature-loving dispositions of the patrons. “Our brides are people who embrace the outdoors and therefore have a certain, relaxed personality,” she said.
Of course, any outdoor bride has a nightmare playing in the back of her head that her magical day will be a weather disaster. However, Kathy understands this nervousness and stays prepared and ready with a rain contingency plan.
Kathy has a connection and bond with her brides because she is not only an integral part of the planning process, but also she (and her family) have a participatory role in the celebration as well. “After a year of planning with Kathy, when it was over, I missed talking to her as a friend,” recalled Angela Reagan, a recent bride. “She was like family.”
Angela and her husband looked at many venues in the Charlottesville area, but when they visited Earlyhouse in Louisa, they knew it was the place for them. (The Reagans’ lovely wedding was recently featured in the wedding magazine Borrowed in Blue.)
Kathy shared that some of her most interesting and favorite wedding memories come from the diversity of different heritages that are incorporated into the ceremonies. During a Russian wedding, the couple played out a tradition in which the bride’s shoe is stolen and the groom has to pay to get the shoe back. A religious ceremony included the washing of one another’s feet. One couple planted a tree. Another bride and groom combined pieces of a cross to join together.
The traditions and requests are “as varied and endless as the number of brides,” Kathy explained. One particularly touching moment she recalled was watching a disabled father of the bride who surprised his daughter when he stood up from his wheelchair and WALKED her down the aisle.
Eleni Rackley marvels that her rainy wedding in May was an amazing, magical, and perfect day at Earlyhouse. Months later, her out-of- town guests are still talking and raving about the beautiful setting.
“There are so many different spots that are tucked-away on the property (woods, bridge) that make for breathtaking wedding photos,” said Eleni. “You wouldn’t know that down this dirt driveway, it just opens up to… paradise.” It’s not all about the bride, either, because Eleni said that her family and friends enjoyed fishing in the pond, and their picky eaters loved the food!
Weddings are only one way to enjoy the hospitality and location. The Stiles can also accommodate other special occasions and social situations. Recently a couple marked their 50th anniversary with dinner and dancing at Earlyhouse. Memorial services and celebrations of life are also important to the Stiles and their patrons. White doves can be released for an especially symbolic and poignant moment.
In the fall, as the air turns crisp, it’s the per- fect time for an annual favorite event at Ear- lyhouse. The Charity Chili Cook-Off raises money for the National Kidney Foundation and the Good Doctors Foundation. These charitable organizations are particularly dear to the Stiles because Bruce is a kidney transplant recipient. In the twelve years that they’ve hosted this event, the Chili Cook- Off has raised $100,000.
This year on November 4th, any chili connoisseurs can pay $10 to sample all the chili they wish to eat. Fifteen to twenty teams will be competing for their votes to win the People’s Choice award. Winning teams will also be chosen by local “celebrity” judges in a blind taste test. Teams are required to produce five gallons of chili.
In addition to satisfying your taste buds, guests to Earlyhouse can also participate in a silent auction, play in a corn hole tournament, and listen to music. For extra spice, the UVA drumline will play during the welcome ceremony, and the chili teams will try to out-do each other for the “most spirited team” award.
Kathy, Bruce, and their family have shared a unique and beautiful venue by opening up their home to others’ celebrations. They are committed to providing impeccable service and creating a space for people to feel as if Earlyhouse is their own special place for the day. Their wish is for everyone “to have a wonderful time celebrating their milestones, and for Earlyhouse to be an extension of what the guests would have at their own homes.”
The Stiles completed some renovations over the 2016-2017 winter, including a permanent roof over the terrace, and Kathy has future ideas for their family business. She is considering hosting a monthly Ladies’ Night to listen to speakers on interesting topics and enjoy an evening to gather with friends in this peaceful, natural setting.
In talking with Kathy about how much she wants people to enjoy, celebrate, and be comfortable and relaxed, this writer noticed a framed quote on her pavilion wall which speaks volumes of her desire for herself and her guests:
“Life is not a race – but indeed a journey. Be honest. Work hard. Be choosy. Say thank you, I love you, and great job to someone each day. Go to church, take time for prayer. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Let your hand shake mean more than pen and paper. Love your life and what you’ve been given; it is not accidental. Search for your purpose and do it as best you can. Dreaming does matter; it allows you to become that which you aspire to be. Laugh often. Appreciate the little things in life and enjoy them. Some of the best things really are free. Do not worry; less wrinkles are more becoming. Forgive; it frees the soul. Take time for yourself – plan for your longevity. Recognize the special people you’ve been blessed to know. Live for today; enjoy the moment.
– Bonnie L. Mohr
Earlyhouse is located at 3998 Yanceyville Road in Louisa, Va. For more pictures and information, please visit earlyhouse.com and/or call Kathy Stiles at 540-967-1832 or 540-967-5550. For upcoming events, please follow Earlyhouse on Facebook.