DERRY — Promises to Keep has been special to Rue and Sallie Nijhof since they went on their first date there 18 years ago. Now, the two own the place and are in the midst of transforming it into Birch Wood Vineyards, an elegant wedding venue with rustic details.
Hickory wainscoting, hardwood floors, chiavari chairs and an authentic vineyard feel are all part of the couple's $2 million renovation plan.
Rue is no stranger to the building, because he's been watching his uncle run it since 1985. The space doesn't look much different than it did back then, he said, but that's all about to change.
Rue has more than 30 years of experience in the wedding industry, and has owned Vineyard Events for several years.
"It became my dream to open a place of my own one day," he said. "I have the best job in the world and I'm so excited about this."
He officially bought Promises to Keep last week and hasn't wasted a moment on getting the project started. The couple plans to have the renovations completed by April, when wedding season begins.
"We want to bring Promises to Keep back to its original glory," Rue said. "Brides and grooms want something different, and that's what we're going to give them."
They'll start by redesigning the cocktail room, which will resemble a wine cellar, Sallie said. A 20-foot-long granite-topped bar will be installed and wine barrel tables will give guests a place to gather. The existing wall of windows will continue to fill the room with natural light.
"There's no major construction going on," Rue said. "But it's a complete remodel."
Next, in the lobby, a fire place and couches will provide an area for people to get away from the noise and talk.
"What I've noticed about weddings is that a lot of people haven't seen each other in a long time," he said. "So we're going to make a place where they can relax and catch up."
From the high-ceiling lobby, guests will slide a giant door and enter the artfully rustic reception area, inspired by a barn.
Brides and grooms are already showing interest in the couple's vision — before the transformation into a vineyard has even begun, 15 weddings have been booked for next year.
"We're going to be having one wedding a day," Rue said. "Not a lot of places do that, but we want all of our energy placed on that one event."
A bridal suite and room for the groomsmen will be made available five hours before the ceremony beings.
Outside, guests will follow a pathway surrounded by grape leaves to a stone courtyard and a giant wooden pergola, where ceremonies will be held. Rue's brother, a bronze-caster in the Netherlands, is working on a grape leave fountain for the space as well.
"Our goal is to take the stress off of everyone that day," Rue said. "We're going to be offering packages that cover everything, from A to Z."
Because he's spent so long working on weddings in the area, he's utilizing his regional connections to offer services from florists to photographers.
"It works like a family," Sallie said. "We know all of these people who are kind enough to help us out when need be, and it works both ways. It provides great opportunities for everyone."
Though there's a lot of work to be done, the venue will never be completely closed, she said. Their plan is to finish the cocktail room and host wine dinners so the public has an opportunity to see what's going on.
With a big dream and the goal of hosting 100 weddings next year, Rue and Sallie will spend the next few months hard at work creating the venue of their dreams.
"We pride ourselves on customer service and making sure that every detail is perfect for the biggest day of people's lives," Rue said.
For more information, visit birchwoodvineyards.com.