When it comes to built-in ambiance and engaged attendees, intimate spaces can trump traditional meeting spots. Small venues often offer a cooler vibe, says Angela Butorac, founder of Butorac Events and co-founder of EventTrender.com. Attendees are more focused, and the spaces’ relaxed atmosphere can help people open up. “You’ll get some of those people who you never hear from who will probably get more engaged in the conversation,” she says.
Smaller venues also help planners keep rental costs down, says Traci Bahlman, director of sales at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. “[Small spaces] give us so much more to work with,” Bahlman says. From cozy clubs and historic homes to trendy galleries and even a secluded tree house, the following spaces from around the state enhance meetings and mixers.
BISSELL TREE HOUSE, GRAND RAPIDS
johnballzoosociety.org/rentals-treehouse.php | 616.336.4314
Gatherings for up to 200 feel intimate when held in this gorgeously designed, modern treehouse. The one-of-a-kind venue at the John Ball Zoo is perched on the city’s second-highest peak, with spectacular views of the downtown skyline. The surrounding forest, background animal noises and three-car tram that guests ride up the hill add to the rustic vibe. A fireplace and wraparound deck make the space enjoyable year-round.
THE COMMUNITY HOUSE, BIRMINGHAM
tchserves.org | 248.644.5832
Elegant woodworking, ceilings and chandeliers lend a country-club feel to this 1923 building. Three levels accommodate up to 240 seated guests in spaces ranging from a tented terrace to a fully paneled library. Original artwork from Michigan artists in residence, beautiful gardens and meeting-room fireplaces make for a distinctive setting. Planners can feel especially good knowing that, by holding their event here, they’re helping a nonprofit deliver programming for children and families in need, says President William D. Seklar
EVANS STREET STATION, TECUMSEH
evansstreetstation.com | 517.424.5555
Located in charming Tecumseh, 40 minutes from Ann Arbor, Evan's Street Station offers an open exhibition kitchen, fieldstone fireplace, outdoor patio and warm interior spaces. The restaurant has sourced its ingredients locally since it opened in the town’s old firehouse in 2001. Gracious hospitality, an inspired chef and professional staff make private dining a memorable experience for up to 50 guests. (The entire restaurant is available for larger groups.)
GANDY DANCER, ANN ARBOR
muer.com/gandy-dancer | 734.769.0592
Known for seafood, steaks and pasta dishes, the Gandy Dancer restaurant is housed in a landmark building: the beautifully restored Michigan Central Depot train station, built in 1886. Magnificent oak ceilings, stained glass windows and stone walls create a sophisticated atmosphere. Three private dining spaces offer views of trains or period architectural details; the largest accommodates up to 60 guests. The covered courtyard with fountain and gardens comfortably seats 140.
GO COMEDY! IMPROV THEATER, FERNDALE
gocomedy.net | 248.327.0575
Nothing brings folks together like sharing a good laugh, which makes Go Comedy! a favorite meeting destination. Attendees can bond during a private improv performance that relies on audience participation or enjoy fun meeting breaks that keep them motivated and smiling throughout the day. The flexible 100-seat theater has top-notch A/V equipment and plenty of room for catering. The bar serves hand-crafted cocktails and local spirits.
KIRKBRIDE HALL, TRAVERSE CITY
kirkbridehall.com | 231.941.1961
Stained glass windows and an intricate plaster ceiling are standouts at the renovated Kirkbride Hall, which opened in May 2014. The ornate details of the former Traverse City State Hospital chapel were carefully recreated, giving the 1885 building an inviting charm and intimacy, says Meg Gutowski, meeting and event manager. The hall accommodates 50 to 250; a 2,700-square-foot suite above the hall sleeps 10.
THE LOBBY BAR AT CRYSTAL GARDENS, HOWELL
cgliv.com | 877.545.1002
A mahogany bar, lounge seating, subtle background music and upscale atmosphere make The Lobby Bar perfect for any networking or pre- or post-function event, says Jessica Brooks, operations vice president at Crystal Gardens. The private space accommodates up to 75 guests and makes for great conversation. Menus are custom-made; food and wine pairings are popular
LONGACRE HOUSE, FARMINGTON HILLS
longacrehouse.org | 248.477.8404
Originally a six-room Victorian home built in 1869, Longacre House was expanded in 1915 and conveyed to the City of Farmington Hills in 2006. Today it’s an elegant and charming space for corporate and social events with up to 130 guests in warm months and 106 guests in winter. The lush gardens, stonewall fence and gazebo are big draws, as are the house’s history and homey ambiance.
RICHARD APP GALLERY, GRAND RAPIDS
therichardappgallery.tumblr.com | 616.458.4226
The Richard App Gallery’s original artwork lends a personal, creative flair to events. “People love it because it’s not so cookie cutter,” says Robert App, co-curator. “[You can] make the gallery your canvas.” The flexible, 1910-era space is best-suited for 10 to 125 guests. In warmer months, a 2,500-squarefoot sculpture garden and tents raise this number to 180. Fine dining is steps away, or can be catered in.
With four separate wings, 16 bedrooms (sleeping up to 64), private baths, a large kitchen, a recreation room, a beach and fire pits, this inland lake property offers endless options for groups to meet, eat and relax year-round. Team-building activities, from boating to snowshoeing to beer tastings, can be arranged.
WEALTHY THEATRE, GRAND RAPIDS
wealthytheatre.org | 616.459.4788 x130
More than a century old, this restored movie theater and performance center run by the nonprofit Community Media Center hosts live music, film, theater and dance. The Dirk Koning Micro-Cinema, located in the same building as the 400-person auditorium, was created in 2007 to provide a multimedia-capable yet intimate gathering space for events, lectures and forums. A/V and professional support are provided.
THE WELLINGTON INN, TRAVERSE CITY
wellingtoninn.com | 877.968.9900
This exquisitely restored 1905 mansion offers a refreshing change of pace for business professionals, says FirstMerit Bank Vice President Luis Pardo, who hosted a quarterly meeting here for 25 managers, including nine who stayed overnight. “It was like having a mansion to themselves,” he says. The inn accommodates up to 50 for meetings, has 12 separate guest rooms and is an easy walk to the city’s finest restaurants.
WOMEN’S CITY CLUB, GRAND RAPIDS
wccgr.org | 616.459.3321
Located in the historic Sweet House, a Heritage Hill two-story Italianate villa built in the early 1860s, the Women’s City Club offers several well-appointed rooms (or the entire club) for meetings and events. Desdemona’s Dining Room holds 125 people; the Vanderberg Auditorium seats up to 150 for presentations, conferences and galas. The stately Wedgwood Room and elegant Drawing Room accommodate smaller groups for meetings and receptions.
MIREPOIX COOKING SCHOOL, ROYAL OAK
The long kitchen line and cozy seating vignettes at Mirepoix (located upstairs at Holiday Market) make it a hot spot for cooking and noncooking events alike. Companies regularly host hands-on events to build employee teamwork. “You make a lot of progress getting to know people fast [when cooking together],” Bahlman says. Guest count: up to 80 people; 60 for seated dining; 30-40 for hands-on cooking.
MEDITERRANO, ANN ARBOR
mediterrano.com | 734.476.4880
This restaurant is known for its Mediterraneaninspired food, olive oil from the family grove in Greece and La Piazza, a private event space with warm goldand- mahogany décor and separate entrance and kitchen. The boardroom seats 22; the well-appointed Pomegranate Room accommodates up to 90. Groups can use both rooms, which offer state-of-the-art A/V equipment. Custom menus are available. Mediterrano celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
Small spaces do pose some planning challenges. Here’s how to maximize the experience:
Cast a wide net. Seek out venues with a history or theme that reinforces your message and sets the mood, Butorac says. From raucous craft breweries to sumptuous bed-and-breakfasts, options are endless, so get creative.
Evaluate the A/V. High-quality A/V equipment is essential for a successful event. Thoroughly investigate music, lighting and presentation capabilities to create ambiance and achieve meeting goals.
Consider comfort. Visit the space in person—don’t rely on the spec sheet— to ensure guests will feel cozy, not claustrophobic, Butorac says. Imagine how the space would feel filled with 100 bodies, and explore your HVAC options, adds Bahlman. Small spaces can get hot.
Focus on the floor plan. Getting everything you need in a small space and having it flow well can be a challenge, Bahlman says. She recommends using six-top rather than 10-top tables, for more flexibility and tighter conversational groups to foster intimacy.
Move stuff out. “[Functions] that can be pulled out of the room need to be pulled out of the room,” Bahlman says. These may include registration tables and coat check. Work with the venue to rearrange or remove extraneous furniture and floor items, if necessary.
Prepare to flip tables. Catering staff must be ready to reinvent tables so they can serve double duty, such as one table for appetizers and then dessert. But remember: no one wants dessert from a table soiled by spinach dip. “Have extra linen up your sleeve,” Bahlman says.
Personalize a Large Space
Even large spaces can feel intimate with the right approach, though the cozy feeling might cost a bit more to create. Soft seating and clever room dividers create distinctive spots for tête-à-têtes without impeding the flow of the space. Big, fluffy rugs define conversation areas and help to absorb some of that big-room sound, Bahlman says. Draping softens walls and lowers ceilings without covering up gorgeous architectural details, she adds.