Love Big But Celebrate Small

How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Affair and Why By The Parlour at Manns Chapel

By Aimee Flynn, The Passionate Idealist, and Yvette Navarro, The No-Nonsense Creative, co-owners of The Parlour at Manns Chapel. In addition to restoring The Parlour in 2015, Aimee and Yvette are brand designers, design educators and best friends. Along with their husbands, “the Wolf & the Bull”, they have dedicated their lives to making The Parlour an intimate gathering space, fostering the meaningful joining of people and ideas around the table. 

Hello, friends and followers of Heart of NC Weddings! We are the owners of The Parlour at Manns Chapel, a dreamy little white chapel nestled on a country road in Chapel Hill. Read on and see how we are leading the charge to Love Big But Celebrate Small. If COVID-19 threatens to change your wedding, or you genuinely believe in the ‘power of two,’ that less is more, and knowing everyone at your wedding is the only way to go – we’ve got you covered. We want to share our top tips on how to make a wedding guest list for an intimate affair.

Celebrate Small,” is not a new trend or a quick response to this pandemic. It is a fundamental belief, an unwavering guide for couples and a shared way of thinking.

How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Affair and WHY

Five years ago, we stumbled across the biggest gem of our creative lives in Chapel Hill. A little white chapel stood vacant, in need of both ownership and full restoration.

Abandoned but not forgotten, some saw the building as “too far gone,” but we celebrated restoring it like saving an old friend. We spent years of thoughtful restoration to bring this chapel back to life as a place to honor the intimate gathering – 100 or less (and sometimes that means much less). Here there are no acquaintances; no obligatory invites that blow the budget — only close friends and family, because, after months of planning the perfect day, the receiving line for 150-200 people is no place to be stuck. And if you must cut that guest list due to the current state of affairs, know a personalized, inspired event is still yours to be had.

The Parlour at Manns Chapel How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Wedding MaryClairePhoto
Photo by Mary Claire Photo

But what about mom’s 3rd cousin Edna and Dad’s former boss, you ask? We know conflicting opinions from parents, family members and your future spouse can make this a challenge, but we know you’re up for it. We’ve established guidelines that will help you narrow your guest list (way) down. You will not only create but also afford the wedding of your dreams. Imagine treating your guests to a high-quality, creative and personalized experience – making your wedding an event to remember.

“Following these tips will allow you to enjoy your wedding together before it passes in a blur of faces you hardly know.”

Our couples reach across the table to share the first meal as a married couple with the ones they love – yes, they have time to eat! They dance with their besties under market lights and relax on the porch or around the fire to take it all in. They grab dessert from their favorite gelato truck and take the time to listen to advice from happily married grandparents.

The Parlour at Manns Chapel How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Wedding MaryClairePhoto
Photo by Mary Claire Photo

They understand this one-moment-in-time is for sharing with the chosen few. And they know their budget for the intimate gathering goes so much further to make these moments more memorable. Rather than allocating the majority of their budget to feeding large groups of people they may not see until the next big event, they spend time, money and effort designing the sweetest and most memorable of details that speak to who they are as a couple.

6 Tips on How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Affair 



Letting parents know that your style, budget and venue call for an intimate affair can be tough at first. We suggest that parents join us here for a tour. Seeing the special intimacy of The Parlour usually makes the vision clear within minutes. Buy-in is critical, and before you know it, they are helping to edit the list! Many of our couples allow their parents to select up to four guests – whether it be their best couple friends, close neighbors or work associates. Four seems to be the perfect number for them to show you off. We often suggest that hosting a casual picnic the day after can be the ideal guilt-free opportunity to extend an invitation to additional folks who may be on your parent’s list or want to wish you the best. It’s the perfect honeymoon send-off, wholly affordable and everyone is happy! Cast your parents in the planning role here and show up to make your ‘blissfully married’ appearance. Trust us when we tell you, once your vision has respectfully been made clear and you are about to say ‘I do,’ all expectations go out the window and parents beam their way through the event. They are the folks who seek us out later, saying, “Wasn’t that beautiful? They knew just what they wanted.”


It goes like this: Invite the people closest to your life. Follow that simple model and you can’t lose. And let’s be clear – no one has 200 close friends no matter how popular they are. Start by asking: “Can we see having dinner, drinks or coffee with them in the next year after the wedding?” If you haven’t seen them in a few years (i.e., that high school friend that surfaces every once in a blue moon on Facebook), then your answer is likely no. Off the list they go. If you are worried about the fallout when you post those gorgeous wedding pics, then be sure to say “super small affair, would love to get together after the honeymoon!”.  A 3-4 year gap rule makes this pretty simple for eliminating both friends and extended family (heck, some of us say one year). As you create your list, continually remind yourselves: It’s a guest list, not an audience.


Whether you’re planning a formal or casual dinner, a kids-free policy can open up precious spots on your guest list. We highly suggest this if hosting a creative chef dinner that may require a more sophisticated guest. However, if you are considering inviting some kids and not others, choose a clear rule and stick to it. Settle on an age threshold (older kids require less parental oversight), or restrict it to immediate family. Most children who have wedding duties are close relatives though they don’t need to stay for the reception. *We adore sweet little things at The Parlour, but if you are struggling with the numbers (both guest count and budget), consider inviting families to the more casual post-big-day-picnic mentioned above.

Not sure how to best tell guests that they should leave the little ones with a sitter? Let your invitation do the talking. If you are worried your friends won’t get the message, reach out beforehand. It sounds something like this: ‘Hi! We just sent out the invitations, and we’re so excited to have you join us. We are keeping the event intimate and kid-free, so you can truly enjoy yourself. We wanted to give you advance notice, so you have time to find a sitter and get excited about a night out. We hope you can make it!’ Remember – don’t cave here and grant any exceptions; that would be rude to guests who abide by your request.


Consider only offering a +1 to those friends and family members who are either engaged, married, already living together or have been dating for more than six months to a year. While technically you should give +1s to your wedding party members, we think it’s OK to use the same +1 rule applied above. If used across the board, this rule will help you avoid that random person in photos that has you both questioning “who is that?” for years to come after their break up.


We all have that coworker whom we love sharing the office gossip or lunch. But unless you’re hanging out with them enough (outside of work) to call them a close friend, they’ll understand if you tell them you had a very intimate guest list. They’ll happily opt for a drink after work or extended lunch at your favorite place to celebrate. This rule applies to your boss, too! If your boss has been both mentor and close friend, include them. But if it feels like an obligatory invite, trust your gut and skip it.


Do I have to invite someone just because I was invited to or attended their wedding? Great question! Reciprocal entertaining makes for some pretty straightforward rules as long as you’re careful. If your friends’ wedding was recent, and you are still quite close – and if your big day is on a similar scale as theirs – they should already be on your guest list. But maybe your friendship has faded some since their event, and you don’t foresee the relationship going much further. Well, then it is entirely appropriate to leave them off the list. Exercise some caution if you have mutual friends who are attending. Be sure to forewarn those people of the limits of your guest list and the intimacy of your special day. You don’t want them to go on and on about your wedding and create an awkward moment for everyone. Be careful with social media here too – don’t go posting too much about you and your friends dancing the night away. Stick to posts of your new spouse and family.

Trust us when we tell you that if you follow each of these steps, you’ll be able to cut your wedding guest list down to the size you want and feel guilt-free while doing so. And if you stay the course with your intimate affair messaging, it should be sans drama. While you might still worry about offending somebody you didn’t invite, know that it’s better to explain to your third cousin why you have to keep it small then go into credit card debt for a guest list you can’t afford or miss out on the venue of your dreams.

The Parlour at Manns Chapel How to Make a Wedding Guest List for an Intimate Wedding SamanthaFloydPhotography
Photo by Samantha Floyd Photography

“Our motto: Love Big but Celebrate Small is more important now than ever. It’s who we are- it’s what we do.”  


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